12 x 12 Member Laura GehlThis is an especially fun “How I Got My Agent” post for me to share because Laura Gehl not only got her agent through the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge, but she signed with MY agent, Erzsi Deak! That makes us fellow chicks in the Hen & Ink “coop.” When you read Laura’s story and see how hard she works and how accomplished she is with her writing, you won’t be surprised she landed an agent. AND, I’m very excited that she’s getting started building her platform with a brand new website and blog. Recently, she blogged about her writing process at Hen & Inkblots, our agency blog.

If all that weren’t enough, her first picture book, ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, releases next month – the SAME DAY as my book release!! So get ready for a party on September 9th! In the meantime, please welcome Laura.

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

I’ve been writing for about ten years…but mostly magazine articles, not books. Once I decided to look into publishing picture books, I could see that I would have a lot more options if I found an agent. I did get my first two picture book contracts without an agent, though…it is not impossible!

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I read everything I could find on-line. And I do mean everything.

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

I’ve never counted! I did send out a large number of queries before finding an agent. The agents who took the time to write a personal response helped me keep going. I started by querying only with rhyming manuscripts, and I think I would have found an agent much sooner if I had dropped the rhymes. However, my first two picture books (ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR/Beach Lane, fall 2014; AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP/Kar-Ben, spring 2015) are in rhyme. So if you love writing in rhyme, don’t give up.

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

I did feel daunted by the number of great agents who said they only wanted to represent author-illustrators. And I felt particularly worried when one agent said she loved my picture books but only wanted to sign me if I had a submission-ready middle-grade text in addition (she explained that picture books are just too hard to sell). In the end, though, several agents ended up expressing interest in my picture book texts.

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

I read an interview with Erzsi Deak, who is now my agent. In the interview, Erzsi said that she tries to make sure all of her writers and illustrators feel attended to, or coddled (she probably put it better than that). I am NOT patient and definitely couldn’t go weeks without hearing from my agent, so I thought Erzsi’s style would be perfect for me. Sure enough, if Erzsi ever gets impatient with my constant emails, she hides it well! ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR by Laura Gehl

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

12 x 12 provided me with the chance to submit to Erzsi and encouraged me to develop picture book texts, two of which are now under contract (PEEP AND EGG: I’M NOT HATCHING/FSG, spring 2016; HARE AND TOROISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL/Kar-Ben, spring 2015). Equally important, 12 x 12 set me up with my fantastic critique group. I cannot imagine how I ever wrote anything without them! When we started, no one in the group had an agent. Since then, three of us have found agents, and I know the others are getting very close.

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

Not really. I try to get my manuscripts into the best possible shape before sending them to Erzsi. Which means my mom and my husband read a manuscript (and say “This is great!”), and then my critique partners read the manuscript (and say, “This is great…but here are 28 things to change”). Only after I fix those 28 things, and probably 27 more things that are wrong with the next few drafts, do I send the manuscript along to Erzsi.

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

I agree with the frequent advice that you should research agents in advance and submit only your best work. On the other hand, I think it is important to get your work out there. At some point, you need to stop researching, stop revising, and just submit. Also: have a list of agents ready before you submit to even one. That way, if you get a rejection, you can just move on to the next agent on your list, which will limit your moping (eating chocolate while moping briefly is still definitely allowed). Lastly: keep a file of any positive words you get from agents. Literally cut and paste JUST the positive words from a rejection and put them in that file. Then read through your positive words file when you start getting discouraged.

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

In my case, no. I am currently working on a website, in advance of my first book coming out in September, 2014. I’m also trying to figure out how to use social media without it becoming a black hole that sucks up all of my writing time.

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 :-) )

Riding a tandem bicycle. I can’t wait to have my husband do all the work while we zoom uphill.

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

I am always working on a gazillion projects at once. Right now I am working on several picture books, an early reader, three fiction chapter books, a nonfiction chapter book, and a middle grade novel. I’m also excited to announce my new website is up! Come and find me at www.lauragehl.com.


Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Books, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


12 x 12 Member Dani Duck

I need to begin today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 post from Dani Duck by making a correction. Dani is not, as she described herself, unpublished. She is PRE-published. This is an important distinction we make because for someone like Dani, working hard on her craft and actively engaging in communities like 12 x 12, publication becomes a “when” not an “if.”

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll allow you to be inspired and encouraged by how Dani has taken ownership of her identity and path as a children’s picture book author/illustrator. Her contributions to 12 x 12 have been many, and you can bet that we will be there cheering her on WHEN her first book is published. Welcome Dani!

My name is Dani Duck and I’m an unpublished Writer/Illustrator. It feels like an admission at an AA meeting. It’s not that I’m trying to quit, but actually the opposite. I’m finally admitting to myself, and more importantly others, that I am a Writer and Illustrator.

I’ve struggled most of my life with identity issues. I’ve always wanted to be this great _____. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was creative. My whole life I’ve fought discovering myself by doing things that weren’t suited to me.

I never had that eureka moment (at least not just once)! I picture my path coming at me like a hammer. This hammer followed me around smacking me upside the head. I’d feel it connect, and then worry about everything else over the big bump on my head.

I don’t know what made me ignore that nail being smacked. As a Freshman in high school I had to create a picture book and mine was the best in class. *Wham* Second year I was the most invested writer in my English Class. *Wham* In University my favourite books were kidlit. *Wham* I attended a Grad. Level Picture Book Illustration Course, created my first submission package, and loved it! *Wham* *Wham* *Wham*

It wasn’t until I had my son David (January 2011) that I had no doubts about my path in life. It wasn’t just that I decided my path, but also I became passionate and focused creatively. I don’t know if this was a result of having almost no time to work, but it seems that way.

2012 brought my first SCBWI conference. I brought a terrible portfolio, but got great tips in the conference for improvement. I joined later that year, all ready to become a great Picture Book Writer/Illustrator. I was still missing a bit of motivation, but mostly opportunity. That opportunity came with the 12×12. The fly swatter by 12 x 12 illustrator Dani Duck

Last year I joined the 12×12 for the first time. I wanted it to be the best year ever, so I joined at the gold level (without having a polished manuscript). I knew that this was something I needed to do for my career. Then I shot myself in the foot – figuratively speaking. I took on too many responsibilities and my focus was not on picture books. Sure, I wrote a few books, but soon ran out of ideas. The stories I wrote never got farther than a first draft despite having a wonderful critique group.

I don’t regret joining the 12×12 last year even though I didn’t submit anything. Because of the 12×12 I was able to make concrete(ish) plans for achieving success. My first step was making blog posts of my goals. I also decided to have a smaller critique group, and to work on a full dummy submission. Two events last year helped me out: The first being Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo so now I have no excuses for not having enough ideas! The second was in Jamie Morrow and Erin L. Funk’s “What’s Up Wednesday!” which keeps me scheduling my time and motivates me weekly. I also can’t forget Meg Miller (who was actually in my critique group last year) started ReviMo this year. ReviMo helped me with revising my neglected stories. It all sounds like a lot of non-12×12 things, but if it weren’t for the 12×12 I wouldn’t have known about these events. I certainly wouldn’t have found the motivation to continue my craft.

I feel like the 12×12 is helping me with my final exam of getting published. All the members are like my graduating class. I love that we are all here motivating and helping each other. I have a long way to go before I’m published, I know. When I do finally get that first book published I’ll have Julie Hedlund and everyone involved with the 12×12 to thank!

Born in Ohio, Dani now resides in the outer, outer reaches of the greater Vancouver area. She lives in constant fun and loving chaos with my husband, Peter, & three year old son, David. Dani blogs several times a week at http://daniduckart.blogspot.ca/ where she has artwork, updates, interviews with writer’s/illustrators and anything else she can think to post. You can find her website is: www.daniduck.com. You can connect with Dani on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/duckgal and Twitter at: https://twitter.com/DaniDuck. Any mistakes you see in this post are imaginary.

Categories: 12 x 12, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


12 x 12 Member Susan Schade

Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Susan Schade, reminds us that at one time or another, all of us have been (or should be) inspired by the children we write for. In many cases, those children are our own. Susan’s story of how she is following her passion and the impact that is having on her children is immensely inspiring. We sometimes forget that watching others in the act of following their dreams encourages children to do the same – another wonderful byproduct of this writing life. Please welcome Susan!

“If You Write It, They Will Come.”

My passion for writing children’s books began when I became a mother. I would tell my toddler stories just to watch his eyes widen with excitement and little body shake with giggles. He continued to ask to hear the same stories over and over. And like many children, would correct me when I got the details wrong. It was my husband that first suggested that I write my ideas down on paper.

After having two more children and filling notebooks with my writing, I decided to learn more about the industry by attending SCBWI events. At the recommendation of an illustrator friend, I joined the 12 x 12 group in 2013. I renewed my membership this year, setting more goals for myself. Being connected with other writers is motivating and inspiring. The amount of information shared is invaluable.

It is said that writers should write stories for themselves. As much as I believe this advice, I also find myself pursuing new ideas and building storylines for some hard critics, my kids. After closing myself into my creative office, I will emerge announcing, “Who’s ready to hear my new book?” These seven words will initiate the trampling sound of six little legs running towards my voice. I anticipate their reactions and predict the moments of surprise and bursts of laughter. But the stories don’t always deliver. My kids are brutally honest. They will tell me what doesn’t make sense to them, what doesn’t sound right and they aren’t afraid to crush my seemingly perfect ending.

But sometimes, there is magic in the room. As the words flow from my tongue, I glance off the paper to see my three boys sitting on the edge of their chairs, hanging on every word. As I finish the last sentence, someone mutters the phrase I hoped for, “what happens next?”

Some manuscripts I love, while others have not turned out as I expected. However, for each self-rejected story, I am often led to my next new idea.

It was just last month that I was having a particularly discouraging week when I received three rejections of three different manuscripts. With the chaos of life and family, I wondered if perhaps my focus should shift away from writing for the time being.

That night, as I tucked my five year old into bed, we were discussing jobs, something they had talked about in school. He was describing our family. He and the boys have the job of going to school. Daddy’s job was to be at his office all day.

“Do I work?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered. “You take care of us.”

“Is that my job?”

He looked at me and said without hesitation, “Your job is writing books.”

It took a five year old to remind me to keep working, keep perfecting, and continue to love writing.

As a mother and a writer, I struggle to find a balance of time. As with most things worthwhile, it takes much patience and devotion to become a published author. It hasn’t happened yet. But I believe, if you write it, they will come.

Susan Schade enjoys writing quirky picture books about topics such as spinach, socks and quarreling sandwiches. Her background includes media buying, marketing, advertising and writing articles about pregnancy and parenting for the women’s health website, EmpowHer.com. She lives in Gilbert, Arizona with her husband, three young boys and corgy/ jack russell mix puppy, Jedi. This is her second year as a 12 x 12 member.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes a great read-aloud Picture Book?

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Emotional/Universal Truth

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

What is an emotional truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

READ poetry every day – ALOUD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All of earth is crammed with heaven…”

Or, as Emerson said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of Titles mentioned in this post:


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t wait to see where I am in 2015.

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

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


12 x 12 Featured Author Sue Fliess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


12 x 12 Member Erika Wassall

There is no doubt in my mind that when you read today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 post, you’ll recognize Erika Wassall as the picture book author she is. Personally, I love stories like this, where the reluctant participant becomes one of the most active members and then extends a hand to help others. That is the transformation community can bring. Please welcome Erika! 

Hello. I’m Erika, The New Jersey Farm Scribe. And this is Thought…

…. nope, not a typo. It’s capitalized because Thought is alive.

Soon after I met Thought, he burrowed in my brain and soon would not stop screaming…. “Hello! I’m here! I’m a story and I NEED to be written!!”

After first writing him, I sat back and sighed, with mixed emotions. Proud and thrilled…and oddly relieved in a way… that Thought could stand on his own. But I also felt even more lost.

I knew that Thought would not allow me to stop here. Thought wants to be shared with the world.

So… what now????

With Thought’s encouragement, I dove into research. At first thinking… I’ve written a children’s book!!

Soon to learn… oh. There’s more than one type?

After much discussion, Thought and I decided picture books made the best home.

I pored over Kathy Temean’s blog, Writing and Illustrating. I bookmarked www.literaryrambles.com and Upstart Crow Literary’s Writer’s Toolbox. They were lifesavers. I sucked up as much of their immense knowledge as possible. They have a seemingly endless supply of it and I was HUNGRY!

At first, Thought and I were both excited. This was quickly followed by Thought getting very, very angry as I tried to explain to him that there were RULES about these things and many, MANY alterations had to be made.

Thought fought back. A lot!!

Thought felt these changes would strip him of what makes him special. “I LOVE that word, don’t remove it!” he shouted. “NO! I won’t let you change that!!”

Sigh. I needed help.

I talked to friends and family. As encouraging and wonderful as they were, they did not fully understand. They didn’t know how real Thought was nor understood what our arguments were about.

At times, Thought and I felt like enemies.

One day Thought and I were going head-to-head in a particularly bloodthirsty battle.

I said some things I didn’t mean: “I wish I had never written you! What a waste of time!!” Thought was hurt, upset and threatened to walk out and never come back.

I had seen Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 forum and watched her blog. But the last time I had checked the forum, they were not open to new members.

That day, I checked back and they were open. To be honest, I only half-heartedly joined. Telling myself….. for probably the 7th time… This is my last try!

Within 24 hours, I was inundated with help. Real live comments from people who understood!! They even have Thoughts of their own and understand how alive Thought is. Interaction between all these amazing writers, some published, some not, got me and Thought over our worst obstacles.

They helped show me how I could explain to Thought that I was not taking anything away from him with my changes, but helping the real essence of who he is shine through.

Thought and I were happy together once again.

Sure, we still argue sometimes. But with the information from websites and support and feedback from 12×12, we’ll always find a way to makeup.

So what thoughts do Thought and I have to pass on?

Find support and sources that work for you: A lot of us are the “lone-wolf” type. I know I can be. But finding people that achieve that magic balance of supportive and offering constructive criticism, will change your writing WORLD.

Don’t EVER Give Up: One of my friends from 12×12 said it best: “You are a writer. You will be published.” Thought is not available for sale yet, but we are both confident that he will be someday.

Sometimes I feel like Thought burrowed into my brain and took over my body. But then Thought and I laugh, because we know, the truth is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Fact is, Thought is undeniably part of who I am.

Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. She’d love you hear from you on Twitter @NJFarmScribe, or check out her website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where she talks about being a 1st generation farmer, which means she often learns things the hard way! She is also a regular guest poster on Writing and Illustrating by Kathy Temean, where she posts every other week. Erika is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts.

Categories: 12 x 12, Creativity, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,


12 x 12 Member - David Martin

Well, it’s fair to say that today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, David Martin, blew me away with this post, given the seemingly uncanny coincidences that led to our connection. Our one-degree of separation was closed by my now-agent, Erzsi Deak. As writers we know that a coincidence is really a nudge from the universe to set you on your correct path. Who knew Erzsi and her writerly and literary self would be so pivotal for both of us? I am glad that David found his route to 12 x 12 and look forward to celebrating his publishing success. Please give him a warm welcome!

Why you should be preparing for Success

I read this week in PublishersWeekly.com that Julie Hedlund’s agent, Erzsi Deak, negotiated North American rights on a YA novel about Paris written by Ann Jacobus Kordahl. I had the good fortune of being a member of SCBWI France when both Ann and Erzsi were aspiring writers and hyper-dedicated club presidents. They led our group through a fantastic schedule of events, workshops, and conferences where stellar writers and illustrators shared their knowledge and energy.

Like Ann and Erszi, many of the members I met during those inspiring years have reached publication, including Sarah Towle who is active in 12 x 12. Proof that rewards come to people who do the work, even me. My picture book, Troy’s Tuba, was named among the finalists for the 2007 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant.

My time for success had almost come, right?

In March 2008 I rode to Erzsi Deak’s apartment in the center of Paris to meet Franny Billingsley as part of a mentorship program. As we discussed my work, Franny asked me why I wasn’t actively trying to connect with publishers. All I could say was I was thinking about piranhas.

Piranhas thrashed in my mind. I thought everyone could see them too. I went home and boxed up my stories. Ten years of writing, sketches, dummies, drafts, and notes. Everything. I knew it was useless to bother editors and agents until I was prepared for success.

A few months later I attended a Toastmasters meeting in a café a block from Erszi’s apartment. As an English teacher, I enjoy speaking in public so I wasn’t sure why I was there. My pride almost made me turn around. Luckily I stayed.

I wrote and delivered speeches that surprised me. The humor I had developed in my stories came to life on stage. Fellow Toastmasters encouraged me to compete in competitions. I adapted a story written while in SCBWI France into a zany speech which I delivered wearing colorful oversized oven mitts. The speech won first prize.

I wanted to tell better stories and so looked deeper inside. I told the story of the terrible accident my brother and I had when I was 15. An accident which put our names on the front page of our city newspaper. As I told that story, I realized that the piranhas were the black letters which formed my name in that old newspaper article. The reason I was not sending out stories became clear. Did I really want my name in print again? Was I prepared for success?

To beat the piranhas, I became president of the Busy Professionals club and exposed myself to new challenges. I took up stand-up comedy on stage in Paris, expanding my network to comedians and clowns.

And picture books? In February, a Linkedin.com article led me to 12×12. When I read Julie Hedlund’s agent was Erzsi Deak, I knew my path had led me back to the beginning. I reopened my boxes and discovered a letter from a prestigous publishing house. It offered advice for revisions and an open invitation to submit any picture book manuscript I wrote. I had ignored it in 2008 because I had only seen piranhas. Today I see differently because I have been preparing for success. I’m participating in 12×12 with the knowledge that I now have the skills to accept advice, modify, and rewrite. I can pitch my ideas to publishers and connect with audiences. Today I am not only writing, I am preparing for success. Are you?

David Martin is proud to be a late bloomer. Originally from Calgary, Canada, he studied English Literature at McGill University in Montreal. He visited France for a weekend 25 years ago and never left. He now lives north of Paris in a creaky old house with two children and a French wife. Nobody in the family pretends to be bilingual.


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

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