Author Alayne Kay ChristianWow, we have had such a surge of success stories from 12 x 12 members that we have a BACKLOG of “How I Got My Agent” posts that we’ll be sharing over the next few weeks.

Today I am delighted to introduce my friend and three-time 12 x 12 participant Alayne Kay Christian, here to tell the story of how she signed with Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink. What is even more exciting, for me, is that Alayne and I are now agency sisters. Fellow chicks in the coop. It is my secret desire to populate the coop with all of my favorite PB writers, so I did my own Snoopy dance when Alayne got signed. 🙂

Please welcome Alayne!

Thank you for inviting me to share my story, Julie. And thank you for 12 x 12 and all the opportunities to submit to agents in 2013.

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

I have written most of my life, but I had been writing picture books since 2006. I pondered seeking an agent for many years. However, I was discouraged by the “experienced” authors who told me it is even harder to get an agent to accept your work than it is to get a publishing house to accept your work. One author even told me it took her twelve years to get an agent. She suggested I start by submitting to editors.
Between 2010 and 2011, I submitted solely to publishers (about 28 submissions).

In 2012, I was feeling pretty discouraged and submitted very little. But I did dip my toe into the agent world. I subbed to two agents because of opportunities from the 2011 North Texas SCBWI conference I had attended in the fall. I submitted to Erzsi Deak because of Hen & Ink’s Open Coop Day. While I was busy pondering the idea of agents, I was finding a growing number of publishers that would only accept agented submissions. This warmed me up to the idea of submitting to agents.

After my first year of 12 x 12 in 2012 and two years of the Picture Book Marathon, I realized I was doing a lot of writing and very little submitting. So, I set a goal to submit at least six picture book manuscripts in 2013. But who was I going to submit to? What was best for me and my writing career? Coincidentally, 12 x 12 in 2013 offered the new benefit of an opportunity to submit to a literary agent each month. Ta-da! My decision was made. Agents would be my submission focus for 2013.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I started by reading about Literary Agencies through “Book Markets for Children Writers” and “2013 Guide to Literary Agents.” To an extent, that was like looking for a needle in a haystack when it comes to picture book submissions. I was fortunate that a couple lists of agents who accept picture books circulated around 12 x 12, and I was able to narrow down my research.

Many agents offer information about what they are looking for and who they represent on their agency websites. There are often articles, blog posts, interviews and so on that offer a wealth of information about agents. A lot of my friends submit to agents, so sometimes they would tell me what they had learned about the agent. In the case of 12 x 12 submissions, Julie offers links for each agent to get us started with our research. I also followed agents on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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

In 2012, I submitted to 3 agents and received 3 rejections.
In 2013, I had 26 submissions to agents and 20 rejections.

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

Once, I learned which agents accept picture books, I don’t feel like it was difficult. However, I personally did not want an agent who represented picture books only, as I might want to shop chapter books, MG, or adult books at a later date.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

My agent, Erzsi Deak, Hen & Ink Literary Studio, was one of the three agents I submitted to in 2012. Over time, as my rejections built, I never forgot the lovely rejection she sent me in 2012. If not for that rejection, I might not have had the courage or confidence to continue submitting to agents. Given most of the form rejections that I received, or the lack of responses that indicated a rejection, I grew to appreciate Erzsi’s style and kind consideration even more. On top of that experience, I paid attention to what was being said about various agents around the virtual writing community water cooler. Erzsi seemed to be highly respected in the community.

When offers of representation started coming my way, I had a long phone conversation with Erzsi, and I felt like we clicked. I asked her tons of questions during the phone call and many more via email. I felt like we would work well together. I also felt like she would represent me in the way that I wanted to be represented. Much of the decision was made by going with my gut. I have since learned that she is a lovely and patient person who works her butt off to support her clients. I believe we have a partnership that will lead us both to success.

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 🙂 )

When I submitted to Erzsi in 2012, it was during an open coop day. Generally, Hen & Ink is closed to unsolicited submissions. I waited and waited for another open coop day for picture books, and none came. In 2013, Erzsi was one of the 12 x 12 agents. There has not been another open coop day for picture books yet, so without 12 x 12, it could have been a very, very long time before I was able to submit to Erzsi again. In addition, I would not have been aware of the 2012 open coop day if my critique group (established through 12 x 12) hadn’t told me about it.

It is common for an agent who is interested in your work to request more work, and maybe even request a list of your works. 12 x 12 in 2012 and 2013 motivated me to keep writing. I can’t recall how many manuscripts I wrote in 2012, maybe 18? I wrote 14 in 2013. So, I had plenty of manuscripts to choose from when agents started requesting to see more.

As far as development of craft, I have discovered classes through 12 x 12. I have joined several critique groups and made many close writing friends who I can turn to with questions. I discovered other writing challenges through 12 x 12 – PiBoIdMo, WOW nonfic pic, and ReviMo – to name a few. I formed Sub Six – a group of picture book writers who support each other in achieving our submission goals. I met most of our members through the 12 x 12 Facebook forum.

12 x 12ers share blog posts with an unbelievable amount of information. Just having the 12 x 12 community to hang out with inspires me to keep writing and learning. The beauty of the group is that writing veterans help those just coming into the picture book writing world. I am honored to be a part of that. Butterfly Kisses

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

I think my writing process will gradually change. I have only been working with Erzsi since November 2013. But I can already see that I will learn from her. I think as I learn her style and preferences, my process will change to accommodate those things. I can also see that I will be spending much more time revising, as I polish stories for submission. I believe the biggest change in my writing process is that I now have someone else that I am responsible to. I have much more accountability.

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

  • Keep developing your craft.
  • Join a critique group.
  • Make sure you have several submission ready manuscripts before you start submitting.
  • Get support from other writers.
  • Do your research.
  • Remember rejections are not personal. They have nothing to do with you as a person. They are about the agent’s preferences, needs, experiences and so on. That is not to say you shouldn’t take rejections seriously, because at times, it can be a sign that you need to keep improving your craft.
  • Understand that having the first manuscript you submit accepted happens about as often as someone winning the lottery.
  • Be realistic and be prepared for rejections. One way to be prepared for rejections is to have a plan for coping with the rollercoaster ride that submitting to agents brings. Some other things that help are having other writers to vent to; keeping a journal where you can express your feelings and thoughts; trying meditation; and avoiding comparing yourself and your experiences to others.

I have learned that when I have trouble coping with rejections or the writing world, it is sometimes because I am not in the moment with my work. My ego has jumped in and is filling me with fear and doubt by putting me into some imagined future that I truly can’t predict. I have also learned that when I work to keep my ego out of the way and let go of my fears, my mind becomes clearer. I am able to write from a happy or peaceful place. When I say “ego,” I am talking about the part of me that wants so desperately to control and have things my way – I want what I want – and I want it NOW.

I believe focusing on your craft and the writing process and not getting ahead of yourself is the most important thing a writer can do. If you write it and submit it, the agent will eventually come. That is, if you don’t give up. Martha Alderson wrote the following passages in her excellent book “The Plot Whisperer.” I think it is good advice.

“Know about the energy of the Universal Story and you are better able to bypass a crisis yourself and every day to write with a sense of consciousness. YOU ARE MORE CONCERNED WITH THE NEXT SENTENCE THAN REACHING THE END, MORE CONCERNED WITH SENDING OUT QUERIES THAN ATTAINING AN AGENT, MORE CONCERNED WITH YOUR NEXT STORY THAN THE REVIEWS YOU RECEIVE.”

“See your work as perfect no matter where in the process. Know that every day you sit down to write you improve your writing. Every time you look deeper into the structure of your story, you see an even more meaningful perfection awaiting you.”

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

No, I don’t think my platform helped me find my agent. I do think making friends via Facebook and groups like 12 x 12 did play a big part because I learned about submitting to agents. Joining Twitter helped because a pitchfest resulted in positive responses about my work from agents. This built my confidence and inspired me to submit more.

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 🙂 )

I just shared this in another interview. Please forgive me for repeating. On a personal level, I would love to see Aurora Borealis from one of the best places in the world – maybe Alaska, Canada, Finland or Sweden. One of my writer’s dreams is to learn illustration and illustrate my own picture book.

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

I am working on polishing a picture book for submission with Erzsi’s help. And I am excited about a project that I have almost completed, which is converting a picture book to a chapter book. After that, I will be polishing other manuscripts while I try to fulfill my 12 x 12 commitment to write a picture book a month.

Represented by Erzsi Deak of Hen&ink Literary Studio, Alayne Kay Christian is an award-winning children’s book author, a certified life coach and a blogger. Her independently published picture book, “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa,” Blue Whale Press, LLC, received the Mom’s Choice Awards gold medal and an IPPY Awards silver medal. The newly released anthology,“Jingle Bells: Tales of Holiday Spirit from Around the World,” Melusine Muse Press, includes two short stories by Alayne, “Christmas Spirit” and “Christmas in June.”

Alayne is a member of the SCBWI. She is an active participant in the 12 x 12 writing community, an annual participant in the Picture Book Idea Month challenge and a member of many other writing groups. She is the founder and administrator of Sub Six, a Facebook group intended for supporting and motivating picture book writers with their submission goals. 

“Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa” is available in bookstores and libraries, at Amazon.com and at Barnes and Noble.com. It is also available through Baker & Taylor Books and Follett Library Resources. For more information visit http://www.butterflykissesgrandparents.com or bluewhalepress.com. 

“Jingle Bells: Tales of Holiday Spirit from Around the World” is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com.

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

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yolen01It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of children’s author Jane Yolen, May’s 12 x 12 featured author (just check the bottom of this post for links to all the others I’ve written about her). Before I even THOUGHT about writing for children myself, I fell in love with her work by reading it to my own children.

So when the opportunity arose to spend four days under her tutelage at an advanced Picture Book Boot Camp at her farm in Massachusetts, I waited all of two seconds before deciding to splurge and treat myself to what I knew would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I will never be the same writer again. Attending that retreat was one of the BEST DECISIONS I ever made, reminding me again why it is so important to nurture your writing and creativity. We should never stop learning, stop growing. Jane is proof of that with more than 300 books published and, I now know, 40 or so completed and/or at various stages of development.

I’ve been wanting to document and share what I learned during our time together, so I asked Jane if she would let ME write her featured author post summarizing the high points (which honestly only scratch

Jane reading to boot campers

Jane reading to boot campers

the surface). She agreed, but did add a few words of her own at the end of this post.

I also have a special treat for you – a video compilation of some of the lessons Jane provided on revision, rejections and critiques and publishing trends.

We covered SO MUCH over the course of four days. It would be impossible for me to share everything, so I am focusing on what resonated with me the most about the craft of writing, as opposed to the business.

First, one thing picture book writers have to keep in mind is that great books are not ones that have a message to deliver to children. We started with a bang when Jane elaborated on this point. She said books are not about “delivering a message,” but rather “the gaining of wisdom.”

“All good books are about questions. Not giving the reader the answers, but teaching them how to ask the right questions.”

In this way, we allow the child reader to relate, reflect, and ultimately determine the meaning for him or herself.

OWL MOON Desk

OWL MOON Desk

Jane also spent time warning us not to be “beguiled” by our talent. For example, she can rhyme in her sleep, and something she tosses off in 2 minutes will be 95% better than most people could do after hours of work. But that doesn’t mean it’s GREAT rhyme or that it’s new or innovative.

Everyone has strengths in their writing, whether it’s a facility with rhyme, humor, poetic prose, etc. But if you rely on those talents TOO much, you will cease challenging and stretching yourself and your writing will suffer. “Don’t confuse yourself with a genius,” she said. “They are the outliers. For the rest of us, it’s just hard work.”

Here are some more gems from Jane – direct quotes on the subjects of being prolific and taking risks.

Build a Body of Work

  • In the midst of seismic change [in the publishing industry] find opportunities.
  • The best way to avoid writer’s block is the write a bunch of stuff. Work on multiple projects that cross-feed each other.
  • We all have themes that revisit in our lives. We can write and rewrite on that theme, subject, passion again in a new way.
  • Write for your child self. Ask her (or him), “What did you want to read?”

Take Risks with your Writing

  • The worst thing for an artist of any kind to do is to get comfortable. Because then you are not growing, and art dies.
  • Following trends is not writing.
  • Don’t accept parameters that you should be stretching.
  • You can always push the boundaries.
  • Know the rules and structure of writing so you can break them in a meaningful way.
  • Sometimes recognizing where the story is leading you is the most important thing. And if it’s taking you outside of your comfort zone, FOLLOW IT.
  • You do not know what you can and can’t write until you try it. Try it all. Maybe the one thing you thought you could never do will be the thing that breaks you out big.
  • Get outside of yourself. Be open to the universe.

I sent Jane this post for her review, and she asked me to add the following tidbits. So here you go:

  • If you believe your good reviews, you will have to believe your bad reviews, too. Better to believe in the piece that you are writing.
  • Be elastic, ready to bend your storytelling in new ways.
  • Don’t listen to the critic in your head, listen to the story.
  • A lifetime as a writer is a journey, not a career. Even the mis-steps, wrong turns, detours are part of the journey.
  • Reinvent your writing every five to ten years. 

And now for the finale! I invite you into Jane’s living room to see her teaching first-hand. In the first third of the video, she demonstrates a revision technique that has already revolutionized my own revisions. Essentially, you break your prose into “breath spaces” and write it as a poem rather than a paragraph so you can “see” the words better.

Without further ado, here’s Jane.

And as promised, here are my other posts featuring Jane. These go waaay back, and all except one predate 12 x 12.

One lucky 12 x 12 participant will received a signed copy of TAKE JOY, Jane’s treatise on the writing life. So butts in chairs people! I know you’re going to want to be in the running for THAT prize.

Jane Yolen is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century.

Jane Yolen’s books and stories have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award among many others. 

Lucky inaugural Boot Campers!

Lucky inaugural Boot Campers!

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Giveaway, Goals, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, Rhyming, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Author Wendi SilvanoWhen I first came across the book TURKEY TROUBLE a couple of years ago during my kids’ school’s Scholastic book fair, I had no idea Wendi Silvano lived in Colorado or that we would eventually meet. I just knew, after I read the book, that I HAD to have it. So I bought two copies — one for my daughter’s classroom and one for us. You can imagine, then, how excited we were when TURKEY CLAUS came out.

And that is the power of a character-driven picture book. One book is seldom enough because we know these characters so well we just HAVE to find out what happens to them next. 

Fast forward to fall 2013 and I found myself sitting next to Wendi during the Rocky Mountain SCBWI book signing. I was a little nervous and a lot starstruck, so I said the first thing that came into my mind: “Want to be a featured author for 12 x 12 next year?” Wendi not only agreed, she one-upped me by JOINING the challenge too. So now she’s one of us, and once you read her post, I know you’ll agree with me that we’re lucky to have her in our midst. AND one lucky 12 x 12 participant will win a critique from Wendi at the end of the month. Here she is, giving her thoughts on writing good character-driven picture books. Please welcome Wendi!!

PSST: Haven’t signed up for 12 x 12 yet? 530 of your peers have! Click here for all the details on how you can join us before time runs out and we close the doors until 2015.

Engrossed in a Goose

So, that wily goose you saw out-smarting all the other geese for the bread you tossed out at the lake just won’t leave your head. You keep thinking about him—chuckling at his clever techniques: how he slyly moved in and snuck the crust when the two bigger geese were fighting over it; how he took it behind a nearby bush to eat it before either of them noticed it was gone; how he proudly honked as he waddled past them, scoffing at how oblivious they were.

If someone like him seems to take up permanent residence in your mind, rejoice! Ask him his name. (He will tell you if you listen). Then ask him what he wants more than anything in the world. Ask him what keeps him from getting it. Ask him what he is afraid of. Ask him what makes him the happiest, who his best friend is and what he’s planning to do this weekend. In other words, learn his whole story (not just what’s going on today).

Then, once you know him inside and out try writing a story about him. He just might become the star of your very own character-driven picture book… the most sought after picture book manuscripts, according to many editors and agents today!

You might ask, “Aren’t all of my picture book manuscripts character driven? They all have a main character.” Turkey Trouble

The answer is no. Not every picture book with a main character is character-driven. So, what makes a picture book a character-driven one?

A character-driven picture book is just what it says—a picture book where the character drives the plot. Think of it this way: In a character-driven picture book the story is more about the character than about the plot. What happens in the story happens because of the attitudes, personality and character traits of the main character.

Think about two different well-known picture book characters, Fancy Nancy (created by Jane O’Connor) and David (from the book No, David! by David Shannon). If both of them encountered the same problem in their story—let’s say being stuck indoors on a rainy weekend—would the same plot ensue? No way! We know these characters well enough to know that Fancy Nancy would surely “fancy” up the place and put on some type of elegant to-do, whereas David would likely end up in a load of trouble for wreaking havoc all over the house. Their unique personalities and desires would determine the plot.

The wonderful thing about writing character-driven stories is that, once you have developed a compelling character and come to know him well enough, all you need to do is come up with a dilemma for him to face and you will know pretty well what he is likely to do.

So, just what will make your character compelling? Try asking yourself these eight questions to see if the character that is stuck in your head is compelling enough for a strong, character-driven picture book or picture book series.

Just One More
1. Is he likeable and authentic? Readers won’t connect with a character that doesn’t seem real. He can’t be entirely mean or completely good. He must have genuine flaws, but still have a good heart.
2. Is he relatable? A child needs to care about your character. This will happen when readers recognize themselves or others in him, and when the character experiences the powerful emotions of childhood in an authentic way.
3. Is he “one of a kind”? What makes him memorable? A stereotypical character is boring. Your character needs a distinctive or oddball feature that distinguishes him from the other multitude of characters out there. But remember, this shouldn’t be a quirk just for the sake of having a quirk. It should be something that emerges from who the character is or what he experiences.
4. Does he have a dream, a passion or a deep fear or worry? The stakes for your character have to be high enough to capture the interest of the reader.
5. Does he stay true to himself? Your character must consistently act “in character” (unless there is some compelling reason not to). As you write, let him drive the story, not you. The story should move forward because of how he reacts to the various situations he encounters.
6. Does he have the ability to act and change the things around him and solve his own problem? Young readers desire control and power over their own lives, and they like characters who have that and who become their own heroes by finding solutions themselves.
7. Does he have a distinctive voice? Would the reader recognize the character from just hearing one of his conversations? Is he someone the reader would recognize on the street?
8. Have you fallen in love with him? If not, it is unlikely anyone else will.

So, grab that goose. Let him move in with you for a while. Get to know his motivations, what inspires him, what upsets him. Get to know how he understands the world. Then go write his stories!

Thank you Julie for asking me to write this post on character-driven picture books… they get my vote as the most fun to write!

WENDI SILVANO has always loved picture books, but she didn’t always know she wanted to write them. As a child, a sister to 8 siblings (6 of whom were younger), a teacher and a mother of five, she had innumerable opportunities to read and fall in love with picture books. When she quit teaching after her third child was born she made a discovery that lead her down the path of writing them as well. She discovered that she wasn’t the least bit domestic (cooking, sewing, gardening, decorating and the like were all either disasters or terribly boring!). The only part of being a “stay-at-home” mom that she loved was the “mom” part. So, she began turning her love for picture books into a passion and a career. She has been writing for children for almost 20 years and is the award-winning author of seven picture books, more than a dozen emergent readers, numerous magazine stories and teacher resource books as well as hundreds of educational reading passages. Her books Turkey Trouble and Just One More both won the IRA’s Children’s Choice Award, while Turkey Claus was named one of the “Ten Best Picture Books of 2012” by YABC. Her other awards include the IRA’s Paul A. Witty Short Story Award, the EdPress Award for Excellence in Children’s Magazine Fiction, The Highlights Magazine Fiction Contest, The Children’s Writer Early Reader Contest and others. She currently writes from her home in Grand Junction, Colorado. Her latest picture book, Turkey Trick or Treat will be released in 2015 from Two Lions Press.

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Creativity, Giveaway, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new banner

Hello there everybody! Here we are with our first 12 x 12 check-in of 2014. Most of you know that January turned out to be a difficult month for me (understatement), BUT fortunately for once I was ahead of the game. I both wrote AND revised a manuscript the first week of January. I had hoped to be finished with another set of revisions on both, but alas that was not to be. I am motivated for February though and feel that, writing-wise at least, I’m off to a roaring start.

Are you reading this and haven’t yet joined 12 x 12? You have precisely 29 days left to do so. Don’t miss another day; register today!

For existing members, how did you do in January? Are you off to a drafty beginning? Let us know in the comments and in the Rafflecopter.

Here is what you need to do to check in for a chance to win a Emma Walton Hamilton’s course Just Write for Kids!

  1. See the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post that says “Just Write for Kids” at the top.
  2. Click on the “Comment on Emma’s Blog Post” button. It will reveal the task, which is to comment on Emma’s blog post. Commenting on Emma’s post is mandatory and gets you one point even if you didn’t complete a draft in January. 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 January. 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 January. 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 Febuary 1st to enter your results. I will then have Rafflecopter draw a winner and announce it on the blog on February 2nd.

We are on our way to another successful year in 12×12!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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Emma Walton Hamilton

Emma Walton Hamilton

What do you get when you mix a shiny new year, the beginning of another round of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge, and an amazingly talented and generous NYT-bestselling author kicking us off with the first featured author post?

You get phenomenal writing tips to start your year AND unprecedented opportunities to get even more help to improve your writing.

Because Emma Walton Hamilton is not ONLY an author. She is also a gifted freelance editor (I know because I’ve hired her!) who can work magic on both manuscripts and query letters. So much so with query letters that I’ve dubbed her “the query whisperer.”

Several opportunities will be coming to 12 x 12 members as a result of Emma’s generosity. First, this month’s winner will receive access to Emma’s online, self-paced, 8-week picture book writing course — Just Write for Kids. I, along with other 12 x 12 alumni, have taken this course and trust me when I say it will change your picture book writing life! This course costs $297, but one lucky 12 x 12 winner will get it for FREE.

Secondly, Emma has once again agreed to critique query letters from Little GOLDen Book members who pay the one-time fee to join 12 x 12. This year the event will be bigger and better, however, because Emma and I are going to create a webinar where we record her giving verbal critiques (names will be removed from queries to keep them anonymous). GOLD members will then receive a copy of the recording to keep for reference. A single query critique from Emma normally costs $150. But one-time fee paying GOLD members will get the critique free AND have the benefit of watching Emma work her magic on many other queries.*

One 12 x 12 member, Marcie Colleen, had this to say about the query critique she received last year: “(Emma) made (my query) SING! And that is the query letter I sent out and landed my agent. What an amazing opportunity that was to have Emma’s expertise work on my little letter.”

But there IS a catch. In order to participate in the query event, youh must sign up for 12 x 12 by the end of the day January 17th at the Little GOLDen Book level AND pay the one-time (vs. quarterly) fee. Hurry so you don’t miss out!

Now, let’s move on to Emma’s fabulous advice – perfect to get us going on a great new year of picture book writing! Welcome Emma!

So, it’s the first month of a New Year, and twelve new picture book challenges stretch out ahead of us.

Maybe you participated in PiBoIdMo in November, and have a stack (or even a handful) of ideas waiting to be developed into picture books over the course of 12 x 12 in 2014. Now what?

How do we take the seed of an idea and develop into a story? One way to begin is to write down everything you know so far about your idea. Free associate – what do you know about any of your characters, the subject matter, the setting, the takeaway you’d like to leave your readers with? What words, images, smells, tastes or sounds come to mind when you think of this idea?

Then, organize these thoughts into categories or relationships to one another. You can use index cards, Post-its, or a mindmapping tool like Freemind (freemind.sourceforge.net) to assist you. Once you have jotted down everything you know, you can begin to think about the central dramatic question of your idea.

A central dramatic question is at the core of every successful children’s book. It is the question the story raises, or what the book is really about. It can usually best be stated as:

“Will (the hero/protagonist) find, get, solve or achieve ______?”

For example, the central dramatic question at the heart of Whistle for Willie is: “Will Peter ever learn how to whistle?”

knuffle bunnyThe central dramatic question at the heart of Knuffle Bunny is: “Will Trixie ever get Knuffle Bunny back?” (or, more specifically, “Will Trixie be able to communicate to her parents that Knuffle Bunny is lost – and thus, get her back?”)

If you don’t yet have enough information about your idea, or it isn’t fleshed out sufficiently to determine the central dramatic question, you can prompt yourself with other leading questions. For instance, if you have an idea for a character but don’t know what their story is, ask yourself:

  • What does s/he want?
  • What is his or her problem that must be solved, or difficulty that must be overcome? (Another way of thinking about this is, what is standing in the way of their getting what they want? What are the obstacles?)
  • How does s/he solve or overcome the problem?
  • What does s/he learn in the resolving of their problem, or how might s/he change or grow by the end?

If you have an idea for a theme or subject (such as adoption, bullying, feeling different) but don’t yet know who the characters are, or what the story is, ask yourself:

  • What do you want to say about your subject? What point or message do you want to give kids, or leave them thinking about?
  • Who might be the main character – someone kids can relate to and connect with – that can help you tell your story, or make that point?
  • What problem might they have to overcome?
  • What would they need to learn or achieve over the course of the story in order to illustrate the point you intend to make?

Can you see a central dramatic question emerging now? Identifying your central dramatic question helps you focus your story, and ensures there will be a compelling plot with a built-in conflict or problem for your character to overcome.  It is also a helpful pre-cursor to being able to summarize your story in a concise sentence – a powerful exercise when it comes to focusing an idea, but even more valuable later, when the time comes for pitching, selling and marketing the book.

Now, here’s a down and dirty template for converting your central dramatic question into a plot and character driven sentence: (Name of hero/main character) wants/needs to (need/goal), but s/he can’t because (problem/obstacle) so s/he (actions/resolution) and ultimately realizes that (message/takeaway).

Happy writing!

EMMA WALTON HAMILTON is a best-selling children’s book author, editor and arts educator.  With her mother, Emma and Julieactress/author Julie Andrews, Emma has co-authored over twenty children’s books, seven of which have been on the NY Times Bestseller list, including The Very Fairy Princess series (#1 Bestseller), Julie Andrews Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies, the Dumpy the Dump Truck series, Simeon’s Gift, The Great American Mousical, and Thanks to You – Wisdom from Mother and Child.

Emma’s own book, RAISING BOOKWORMS: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, premiered as a #1 best-seller on Amazon.com in the literacy category and won a Parent’s Choice Gold Medal.

Emma is a faculty member of Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature, where she also serves as Director of the Children’s Literature Fellows program, and Executive Director of the Young Artists and Writers Project (YAWP), an inter-disciplinary writing program for middle and high school students.  A former actress and theatre director, Emma was a co-founder of Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, and served as co-Artistic Director and Director of Education and Programming for Young Audiences there for 17 years.

Emma also works as a freelance children’s book editor, and hosts Just Write for Kids! – an online home-study course in writing for children as well as the Children’s Book Hub – a center of resources and support for aspiring children’s book authors.

*Emma will critique as many queries as she can in a two-hour period. Julie Hedlund will critique any queries Emma is unable to get to in that time period.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Giveaway, Goals, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new bannerTODAY is the day! Your (challenge) is waiting. So get on your way! 🙂

Are you a picture book writer? Do you want to challenge yourself to write 12 picture book drafts in 2014? Do you want to revise as many picture book drafts? Are you looking for the world’s most friendly writing community, open 24 x 7, 365 days a year? Do you want to do all this without leaving the comfort of your own home?

Look no further! Registration for 12 x 12 in 2014 is now open! All of the information you need to register is on this page.

But hurry! You have until February 28th to join. After that, the doors will be closed again until 2015.

Not convinced? Check out this page to view loads of testimonials from participants going all the way back to 2012.

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Goals, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , ,

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anti-resolutionTwo years ago I wrote a blog post that grabbed the attention and touched the heart of none other than Katie Davis, who is now one of my very best friends. It was titled, 2012 Anti-Resolution Revolution. Katie was so inspired by that post, she created her own special tool to capture her accomplishments throughout the year and evaluate them at the end. She has graciously offered to share this workbook with you – click here for more info.

Here is an excerpt from the original post:

It is so tempting to start listing all the things one wants to accomplish at the start of a New Year, but in my experience, the process (and thus the result) is flawed.

I believe the reason resolutions often don’t work is because they start from a place of lack, of negativity, of failure.  We think about all the things we weren’t happy with in the previous year and set out to “fix” them in the new one…  Lose weight = I weigh too much…  Make more money = I don’t have enough money.  Write more often = I don’t write enough

There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals, and achieving them is even better.  However, the goals need to be set on a strong foundation.  So I figured, why not start with what I did accomplish this year and set goals from there.  Let’s first celebrate success and then determine how to carry that forward into the New Year, rather than berating ourselves for what did not get done..

I didn’t write a similar post in 2013, but I should have. It is CRITICAL to reflect on what you DID accomplish in the previous year. How else can you build from the base you already have? If you don’t take the time to tally up and celebrate what you’ve already accomplished, your resolutions will crumble. You’ll be starting from scratch in every category, and starting from scratch feels scary.

Here is what GOALS (vs. resolutions) look like when crafted this way. Lose weight = What did I do last year to improve my health, and what can I do to continue that progress? Make more money = How much money did I make last year, from which sources, and how can I increase output from those sources and add new ones? Write more often = What did I write this year and how am I going to use that writing in the new year while also writing new stories/articles/books, etc.?

Here’s an example from my own year. All year long, in my head, I lamented how little writing I got done. So much so that by the end of the year I was sure I’d done almost nothing. Yesterday, when I tallied it all up, I was pleasantly to find I’d written far more than I thought I had. I had written full drafts that I’d completely forgotten about. Drafts that I can continue revising and working with this year.

I am a firm believer that it takes far more courage to celebrate and compliment yourself than it does to criticize and berate yourself. So let’s get started.

Here is a list of my major professional accomplishments of 2013. 

In addition to this list, I ran the 12 x 12 challenge all year, wrote new drafts and revised existing ones, and continued to contribute to Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast. Whew! I’ll be sure to come back to this whenever I feel discouraged about how much I “don’t get done.” 🙂

Now it’s your turn to make YOUR list!

Categories: 12 x 12, A Shiver of Sharks, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Apps, Authors, Bologna Children's Book Fair, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Crowdfunding, Digital Publishing, ebooks, Florence, Goals, Holidays, How I Got My Agent, Italy, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Social Media, Storybook Apps, Travel, Video Idiot Boot Camp, Works in Progress, Writer's Renaissance, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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I Kept Going

I Kept Going

Here’s what happened. With the holidays compressed this year and the craziness that ensued, the featured author originally scheduled for this month cried uncle (Boy, can I relate to THAT) and will be joining us in 2014 instead.

So I sat pondering who I could coerce invite to be our featured author on such short notice. Then it dawned on me that, well, I am an author. I could write a featured author post.

There was just one small problem with that idea. I’m not an expert on writing picture books.

WHAT?!?” you gasp. “But you’re the LEADER of 12 x 12! You got an agent and had three books published this year. Plus had your next one crowdfunded!”

Guilty as charged on all counts. But here’s the thing. I started 12 x 12 two years ago, not because I was an expert on writing picture books or motivating others to write. I started the challenge for the exact opposite reason — because I needed motivation to write and wanted to learn more about the craft of writing picture books. I needed the accountability, the education, the community. I still do.

Here are just a few things I haven’t yet accomplished. I haven’t mastered the art of writing a character-driven picture book with a strong narrative arc. My agent hasn’t taken any of my manuscripts out on “official” submission. I haven’t sold a book to a large, traditional publisher. I haven’t seen my book on a shelf in a bookstore or done a signing in one.

In many ways, I still consider myself at the very beginning. As I suppose many of you do too.

So why am I still talking to you? Because I do consider myself an expert in one thing, and that is to KEEP. GOING.

Keep Going

We all hear the advice to “never give up” and “be persistent.” It’s good advice, but it’s so… BIG. “Never give up” sometimes seems nebulous when you are mired in a moment so disheartening you can barely breathe. “Keep going,” on the other hand, means to take one more step in the direction of your dream. Just one. The logical next step. Maybe that step is to stop crying. Maybe it’s to put a manuscript away for a while. Maybe it’s to revise that sentence one more time. Maybe it’s to refrain from sending an emotional response to that agent who rejected you. Whatever the step, taking it will make the others come easier. It’s tactical to keep going. It’s possible to keep going.

  • Write a draft so putrid even burning it won’t rid your nose of the stench? Decide not to throw it away because no writing is ever wasted. Keep Going.
  • Have one of your manuscripts shredded by a professional – at a conference or in a critique? Give yourself space before making any decisions. Keep Going.
  • Just get a rejection from your dream agent? Get your next submission ready. Keep Going.
  • Have your agent tell you that your umpteenth revision of your favorite story still isn’t working? Revise again or start something new. Keep Going.
  • Somebody told you to write your story in prose instead of rhyme, or in third person instead of first person? Try it. See how it goes. Keep Going.
  • Find yourself feeling jealous of someone who’s recently enjoyed the type of success you dream of and then hate yourself for feeling that way? Allow the feelings. Get over them. Keep Going.
  • Divorce, death or illness in the family or some other seemingly insurmountable personal problem that gets in the way of your writing? Be kind to yourself. Take care of yourself. Take tiny, baby steps. But Keep Going.
  • Receive a scathing review of one of your books? Stop reading reviews. Keep Going.
  • Become immobilized by fear, such that you’re convinced you’ll never be able to make a living from your writing and will be forced to live in a cardboard box under a bridge and eat cat food for the rest of your foreshortened life? Visualize yourself as a huge success instead. Keep Going.

Wherever you are in your writing journey, if you keep going, I promise success will find you. Or rather, the success that is already within you will become visible to everyone else. You will enjoy and bask in that success, but at the same time you’ll find it’s not permanent or a panacea. You’ll probably find yourself facing some of the same demons as before PLUS new ones.

Writing picture books is not so much a career as a calling (but PLEASE don’t interpret that as meaning we shouldn’t get paid for it!!!). If we are called to write for children, we’re lucky because our reward is in the work just as much as the outcome. Which is fantastic, because that means we get to…

Keep Going.

P.S. I found myself quite pleased that I procrastinated postponed writing this post just long enough that it’s landing on the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice. Here in the U.S., we will have our shortest, darkest day of our year while our friends in the Southern Hemisphere will enjoy the longest, lightest day of theirs. It seems a fitting metaphor.

We experience solstices in our writing careers too. Long, light, happy days eclipsed by dark, cold, miserable days. And vice versa. No matter which solstice we find ourselves in, we must … you guessed it … Keep Going. Fortunately, in a community such as 12 x 12, we are all at varying stages of solstices, so we lift up those experiencing dark times and celebrate those enjoying light times. This balance makes it possible for us ALL, myself included, to keep going!

P.P.S. I am pleased to announce that I am giving a FREE Little GOLDen Book membership for 2014 to one lucky winner this month in the hopes it will help that person to keep going. 🙂 So finish strong folks! Get that last draft written. Revise one of your earlier drafts. Get yourselves in position for a phenomenal 2014!!

Julie Hedlund is a Children’s author. She’s had two books published as interactive storybook apps for the iPad by Little Bahalia Publishing — A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS and A SHIVER OF SHARKS. A print version of TROOP was released in fall 2013.

Julie is the creator of Julie Hedlund’s Template for Storybook App Proposals and the founder and host of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge, with more than 500 members. She is a monthly contributor on Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books children’s literature podcast, a PAL member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and a contributing editor on the subject of 21st Century Publishing for Children’s Book Insider (CBI). She has been a speaker at SCBWI, O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing, and other industry events.

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

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12-by-12-Tuesday - Tanja-Bauerle - www.juliehedlund.com

Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Tanja Bauerle, gives us a different spin on the challenge from an illustrator searching for her writing voice. I find it impressive how hard Tanja has worked toward achieving her dream! It takes a great deal of courage to step outside your comfort zone and try your hand at something new. And don’t worry Tanja, I’m willing to bet 90% of us, when we first started, thought an agent or editor was going to love our work the minute after we wrote it. It’s part of the process and now that you’re past it, you’re ready to soar! How many others want to fess up to that while welcoming Tanya?? 🙂

Children’s books are my playground! My own collection is off limits to my girls, who may only check books out under close supervision. I have illustrated several books and have been always been an artist, but my dream has always been to write and illustrate my own stories. To create, both in writing and visually, a world that kids (and grownups) can get lost in. I am a step closer to fulfilling this dream and Julie Hedlund’s 12 by 12 has played a huge factor in this.

It began in November of last year, when I participated for the first time in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). I came up with over 40 new picture book ideas in thirty days and got very excited about developing these further. Even though I had been writing for a few years, my focus had always been illustration. When I stumbled across a post about the 12 x 12 challenge, I was intrigued. What a great opportunity to work on my new story ideas! Therefore, I signed up.

I opted for the Gold Level Membership, which allowed me to submit to the guest agent each month. Perfect! I’ll submit to an agent, and they will immediately fall in love with my work and sign me on as a client, right? Silly little ol’ me! Here is what really happened over the past nine months:

Feedback
Once the forum opened, I started posting the first 250 words of manuscripts and discovered something I was not expecting. Here was an incredible community with a full spectrum of novice to seasoned writers, who were ready to give feedback and share their expertise with a relative newbie like myself. I was hooked. The feedback and critiques where so helpful and helped push my writing towards where it needed to be.

Community
The 12 x 12 Facebook group became a favorite cyber hang out for me. It was an incredible community where like-minded individuals share, support, and encourage each other. The expertise of the other participants was amazing. Connecting with other illustrators and writers around the world was the sanctuary I was looking for, even if I did not realize it at the time. I found many new friends. This forum, filled with answers and resources, was simply priceless.

Resources
The group provided resources and tools designed to hone your craft. The many posts of the other participants provided such a concise writing education that I was not able to gain in the years that I had been fiddling with my writing on my own. Every day someone posted something about another tool, web link, or article that helped guide me in honing my craft.

Accomplishments
I have birthed seven manuscripts this year. Alas, I did not complete the twelve I was aiming for, but it is a solid start. As I Iearned about writing and the submission process, I came to a realization. I needed to perfect my existing manuscripts instead of writing as many as possible. I now have two, which are almost “submission ready”.

Connections
The greatest impact that participating in the 12 by 12 challenge has had on my writing, and me, is that I discovered Picture Book Academy and the amazing Mira Reisberg, also known as the picture book whisperer. I am taking my second class with PBA, The Hero’s Art Journey, and I feel that both classes have forever changed me. Thank you, Julie Hedlund, for your incredible forum because the resources that participants have access to are unparalleled.

The 12 by 12 challenge helped me discover that I love writing as much as illustrating. I love the process. Who knew that slashing your word count and massaging your voice into lyrical language could provide such a euphoric feeling? The evolution my writing has gone through has been astounding and I have the 12 by 12 challenge to thank for that.

Tanja Bauerle is an award-winning illustrator who escaped from many years in the corporate arena of design to pursue her love for children’s book illustration. She has illustrated several books, but is currently focusing on developing her own stories.
Born in Germany, Tanja moved to Australia at age 11 and now lives near Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband, Kevin, her daughters, Isabelle and Zoe, her menagerie of dogs, cats, chickens, a horse and two alpacas. Her backyard exudes happiness and inspiration. She is a longtime member of the SCBWI and is always working to improve her craft. In her free time, Tanja loves to go kayaking and camping with her family and continues to volunteer at a local horse rescue.
You can connect with Tanja through:
Website: http://www.tanjabauerle.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tanjabauerle
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/tanja.bauerle
Facebook Illustration Page: http://www.facebook.com/Tanja.Bauerle.Illustration

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Goals, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new banner

It will probably come as no surprise that I did NOT get a draft written this month. Instead, I have confirmation that my next book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, will be published next year thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign with a week and a half left to go!! So I consider that worth a draft for sure. 🙂

Now it’s your turn. How did you do in November? Let us know in the comments and of course in the Rafflecopter.

Quick reminder: Our December featured agent, Jennifer Starkman, will accept submissions from GOLD members December 1st at 8:00am through December 15th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Here is what you need to do to check in for a chance to win a critique from Linda Ashman or a copy of her book The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, even if you didn’t complete a draft!

  1. See the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post that says “Critique with Linda Ashman” at the top.
  2. Click on the “Comment on Linda’s Blog Post” button. It will reveal the task, which is to comment on Linda’s blog post. Commenting on Linda’s post is mandatory and gets you one point even if you didn’t complete a draft in November. 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 November. 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 November. 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 December 1st to enter your results. I will then have Rafflecopter draw a winner and announce it on the blog on December 2nd.

Many, many thanks to Linda Ashman for showing all that a bad beginning can lead to a great ending!

Finally, don’t forget to come back soon to meet December’s talented featured author!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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