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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


12 X 12 Member Miranda PaulI am so delighted to introduce you to my friend AND our June 12 x 12 featured author – Miranda Paul.

In many ways Miranda and I have “grown up” together in the picture book world, beginning with joining communities, searching for and securing agents (Miranda with Karen Grencik and me with Erzsi Deak), then taking on leadership roles by forming writing communities (Miranda with Rate Your Story and me with 12 x 12).

We are both originally from the Midwest (Miranda from Wisconsin and me from Michigan), share a passion for both writing and helping other writers, and enjoy sneaking contraband wine into the hotel during conferences. :-)

But Miranda and I are also different. How? Well, that is the focus of Miranda’s post, probably the first where someone has advised you NOT to think about writing or to think of yourself always as a writer.

And, with the welcome advent of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, I’ve found myself applauding the movement while also worrying a little — what can a white, blond, American woman from the Midwest contribute to this discussion/community? Luckily, Miranda has answers. Read on folks!

One lucky 12 x 12 participant this month will win:

They can have an RYS PRO free membership for the rest of 2014  (= 12 anytime submissions for a free critique rating plus access to monthly editor/agent interviews and other exclusive Bonus emails)

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

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

Lucky you guys!! :-)

The Bigger Picture: Beyond Writing

Last fall I attended a retreat, to work on a picture book biography of an influential American poet. I split the time between the beautiful nature trails and my cozy cabin, where there was a shared journal in which I could leave a message for future visitors.

I waited until the last morning to write anything in the book. I wanted what I wrote to be true to my voice and what I believed about writing, and helpful to other writers.

This is part of what I wrote:


of being


a writer.

Before you scream, “ONLY a writer?!” let me explain.

In the quest to get published, we often focus on “being only a writer.” We hope to quit our non-writing jobs. We back away from non-writing community projects we’ve volunteered for in the past. Sometimes we neglect our families or non-writer friends. We invest time, energy, and money in becoming “official” writers. (And we spend too much time pondering if we’re qualified to put that title on our business cards.) We shamelessly self-promote our books, sometimes to the point of embarrassment or annoyance, even though we claim that we don’t want to.

Here’s the thing: You’re a writer.

But…what else are you?

You are unique.
More than one thing should define you.

We all are unique.
More than one thing should define us.

Simply put, we’re…diverse.

comp_ling_and_tingThe generation of kids growing up right now is more diverse than the books and lifestyles we expose them to in literature and media. They don’t define themselves into single categories like grown-ups tend to, or aspire to be only one thing—at least, not until our culture prompts them to figure out where they fit.

As a member of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign team, I’ve been asked versions of these questions a lot lately:

“As a white writer, what can I do about the diversity gap?”
“Should/can white writers even write diverse books?”

Let’s study those questions. They both involve a preset notion that writing is the only way to contribute. To which I say:


of being


a writer

Don’t forget that we are also educators, parents, or librarians. We are book readers, book buyers, and book promoters. Some of us are editors, agents, or book sellers. We might be SCBWI volunteers, committee members, organization leaders, and event coordinators. We aren’t “only” one thing. And that’s great!

We have immense power to balance the scales and get all kinds of books into children’s hands. That power begins with our role as listeners. Listening helps us understand and support children and adults who have had diverse experiences. As supporters, we become good role models and foster new relationships. Our networks and groups begin to be more diversely integrated. As groups, we become doers, or change-makers.

We can support an underrepresented writer by inviting her to speak on a panel or visit a school. We can place free copies of already-published diverse books on park benches or pull books from the isolated “multicultural” section and face them out more visible locations. We can create promotional tools, like this:

Grace Lin Diversity Cheat Sheet

Examples of ways in which we can promote diverse books and authors include recommending titles or creating graphics that can be printed and displayed online or in bookstores. The strategy is to try not to separate or isolate “diverse” books from just “books.” Credits: Miranda Paul, #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, and Grace Lin (Full “Cheat Sheet for Selling Diversity” is available for download here.)

The many things we do—beyond writing—shape us as writers. Don’t forget to live first, write second!

(And if you do decide to write a “diverse” book, I encourage you read this article.) comp_big_red_lollipop

One of the jacket flaps for my 2015 books lists that I like to garden, swim, and scuba dive. The other mentions my zest for recycling and rummage sales, and some of the projects I’ve worked on while traveling internationally. They’re purposefully not about me as a writer. Think about it—what kid wants to flip to the back and read,

The author is an agented writer. She writes every day. When she’s not writing a book, she’s reading her kids’ book aloud at schools, promoting her book, or blogging about writing and helping other authors become writers.

Go out and celebrate the diversity in your own life and in others’. Do things that you love to do. Try a few things you’re afraid of. Take yourself out of your comfort zone. Talk less, listen more. Be passionate, be generous, be adventurous, make a difference.

Whatever you do when you’re not writing—it matters.

Miranda Paul credits her productivity to a lack of cable TV and smart phone, as well as easy access to an “Internet OFF” button. She has lived in and/or traveled through more than a dozen countries, including The Gambia, where she met the subject of her debut picture book, One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of The Gambia (Lerner/Millbrook, 2015). Over the past fifteen years she has worked a number of paid and volunteer jobs ranging from International Student Coordinator to elementary school Spanish teacher to poop-scooping zookeeper. She loves learning rules, then breaking some, and helping other writers do the same. Visit her at www.MirandaPaul.com, http://mirandapaulbooks.blogspot.com, or http://www.RateYourStory.org. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is hosted at www.diversebooks.org.


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


12 x 12 Member - Erin PeedI adore how small the world is and how many different planes people can collide to find each other. Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Erin Peed, despite being modest and describing herself as having a lack of courage, is very brave indeed. She decided to follow a dream instead of a degree, realized she needed help (THAT is rare all by itself), and found a coach and mentor. It just so happens that her coach was the lovely Esther Hershenhorn, one of the attendees of my inaugural Writer’s Renaissance retreat (and the STAR of it’s promo video :-)). I, for one, am glad Esther directed Erin further into her writing and to us in 12 x 12. Please welcome Erin!

Getting the Moxie Needed for a 12 X 12 Writing Challenge

Full disclosure, I am über new to this industry. In August of 2013, after a more than moderate amount of encouragement from my fiancé, I decided it would be better for my sanity if I went after my dream of becoming a writer of children’s books. After all, who honestly would want to use a degree in Applied Economics that they just completed no less than two weeks prior?

The logical next step was to research, read, and learn about how exactly to write picture books. Quick tip: Universities and their faculty often publish publicly, possibly without intending, the books and the syllabuses for their courses. It became apparent that the most assigned book throughout a number of University courses was WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, By Ann Whitford Paul. I plugged through the book, wrote a first draft, and realized I was grossly in over my head.

Since I just wrapped up my third degree, I couldn’t at the time face any more courses. On a speedy trip back to Chicago, the place I use to call home, I meet up with my long time mentor. Her name happens to be Esther. During the course of our lunch I ran my dilemma past my trusted friend and advisor. Of course she had an answer. Esther recommended that I contact another Esther she had taken writing courses from. This Esther was Esther Hershenhorn.

Before contacting the new Esther, I got all my ducks in a row. I completed my draft as best I could, I joined a critique group, I became a member of SCBWI, and I did as much research as I could about the industry. Then I sent an email to Esther to enquire about her writing coach services. She spent several weeks with my oh-gosh-I-can’t-believe-I-wrote-that draft and then we Skyped for a few hours.

During my time working with Esther, I learned a jumbo amount. It all started clicking. This, the process of learning, can be both exhilarating and terrifying. Over the next several months, in preparation for the SCBWI Conference in New York and my participation in the Roundtable Event (which I never would have signed-up for without her encouragement), I worked with Esther on one picture book MS. She helped me wade through the revision process and find the story I was meant to tell. Working with a writing coach, like Esther, allowed me the chance to make my story the best it could be and make me a better and smarter writer.

Now you might be wondering how a writing coach like Esther Hershenhorn helped get me to join the 12 x 12 Writing Challenge. Well, in all honesty, I have the confidence of a vegetarian in a hot-dog competition. I can admit that without Esther’s help, guidance, and cheering I would not have had the confidence to keep going or join the 12 x 12 Writing Challenge and its talented community.

I still find the 12 x 12 Writing Challenge incredibly intimidating. When I told Esther I signed up as a Bronze member, she encouraged me to up the ante to a Gold member. Sometimes you just need that little shove to do more. If someone like Esther believes I can, then I should believe it as well and just go after it already. Her overall coaching has made me a sharper writer and industry professional. That combination is invaluable.

Having Esther as a writing coach, gave me the moxie I needed to face a challenge like 12 X 12. To learn more about Esther Hershenhorn and her coaching services, visit her website at http://www.estherhershenhorn.com.

Raised in the capital city of Nebraska and current resident of Prague, Czech Republic. I am an aspiring writer of children’s books. My blog, http://www.learningfromaesop.tumblr.com, is a chronicle of me attempting to write children’s books. Unfortunately, it has never been described as being in the same vein as the much acclaimed television series Keeping Up with the Kardashians. However, it is up to you to determine if the same could be said for my website www.erinapeed.com. Yes, my last name really is Peed and you can follow me on Twitter @thepocketqueen





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


Bethany TellesAnother “catch-up” How I Got My Agent post from last year, today I’m so pleased to feature author Bethany Telles. Those of you who know Bethany are aware that she has faced hardships over the past couple of years that would test the strength of any mother – any human, actually.

Her oldest son has struggled with a rare form of epilepsy requiring experimental surgeries, treatments, and many hospital visits without the promise of a cure. During these trying times, the amount of courage, strength, faith, and yes, humor Bethany has pulled forth has inspired me and many, many others.

I KNOW her stories, once published, will be a beacon for children everywhere, just as Bethany is herself. Needless to say I was ecstatic for her when she signed with agent Danielle Smith (now with Red Fox Literary), another incredibly genuine and kind person. Please welcome Bethany!

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
I have been writing since I was quite little. I’m talking, since I was eight or nine, maybe? Yeah, I would make up stories about strangers in restaurants (much to my parents’ sheer joy). However, it wasn’t until I decided to make a career out of what had only been a late night habit, that I thought an agent might be the perfect aid.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?
I did a little, here and there, but it wasn’t something that I spent hours of research on. I found that becoming a super-stalker on Twitter gave me more information about any agent I was interested in. I figured yes, I could read each and every interview/profile/bio on whomever I was interested in, but would that give me what I needed? No. You see, having an agent is so much more than having someone in your corner who will one day whisper your name to the right publishing Gods. Having an agent is like gaining an insta-best friend. So, it was important for me to know what kind of person my potential agent was like. And Twitter gave me the opportunity to take a peek into their lives on a daily basis (sounds creepy, I know!).

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
Twelve queries, eleven rejections (one was done within a matter of 4.5 minutes; it was a personal one, too!).

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
To me, it really wasn’t. Although Danielle also represents chapter books and middle grade, she sure loves picture books. I really admire her for that.

How did you know your agent was “the one?
I had won a pitch contest sometime in 2012 from an agent I really thought I’d be excited to work with. But after months and months of not hearing back, I started reading up on a few “newbie” agents. I saw that Danielle Smith had joined Foreword Literary, so like the crazy person I am, I read everything I could on her. The thing that jumped out at me first was that she lived only three hours from me. And, in California, that’s a bit of a rarity. I liked that she was professional, down to earth, and super open. She didn’t hold herself above we writers because she was an agent. When I entered a pitch contest on Twitter some months later, she quickly asked to see ALL of my pitches. In that moment I thought, Yep. I could so hang out with her. A few months later, when we were sitting at Pinkberry, surrounded by our kids and husbands, I chuckled to myself remembering that moment.

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 helped motivate me to the millionth degree. Each new agent that became available, I saw an opportunity to keep pushing through. And though I got Danielle on my own, the rejections I received early on in the year (from the 12 x 12 agents) gave me the right criticism and insight on how to perfect my craft.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
Honestly, I feel free. I feel free to really write and not fear that I am wasting my time/life/passion. Now I can write, and write, and write, then email my knowledgeable friend, saying, “Am I nuts? Or is this working?”, and she’ll tell me the truth. It’s fabulous.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
I would beg fellow picture book writers to never, EVER, query agents whom they know nothing about. Wouldn’t you hate to be married to someone you cannot connect with? It’s also extremely important to continue to write from your heart. Don’t write a manuscript based on what you think an agent might like, just so you can impress and possibly sign with them (yes, I know of more than two people who have done this; they have all regretted doing so.). Be YOU! Dr. Seuss said, “There is no one alive who is you-er than you!” I like to repeat that to myself when I write… It was my anthem when I’d get rejections from agents.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
Y-E-S!! Twitter was HUGE, as I’ve said before. If you can, look into any Twitter pitch contest available. There are several throughout the year. I highly recommend exploring them.

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 :-) )
Well, if we aren’t talking about writing goals… I’d have to admit, I have a thing for elephants. I would love nothing more than to go to an elephant reserve in India and totally play with and work with a few of those beautiful creatures.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?
I’m finally organizing my work! Yipee! I’ve found it’s the ONLY thing that one can do while they wait for that call. Also, I am constantly revising the things that I wrote in 2012 (as many of you know, 2013 was a difficult writing year for me due to all the goings on with my sweet son). But, I am working on a story right now that is another Bethany’s-heart-in-plain-sight, story. Let’s just hope those publishing gods agree. ;)

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


12 x 12 Member - Pam MillerToday’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Pam Miller, is not just a goal-setter, but an accomplished goal-achiever. And if she falls short, she tallies that result into her “lessons learned for the future” and moves on to the next one. We should all be such masters of invention and reinvention. I have absolutely no doubt that picture book publishing success is part of Pam’s latest journey. Please give her a warm welcome!

Be a Goal Setter
Mom always said, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I learned, as I grew older, that there is more than one right way to achieve a goal. It’s even more important to never lose sight of the goal.

Trying to publish a children’s picture book has brought that lesson to mind. When the goal is elephant in size, it can only be devoured in small pieces. So, I have the goal, (Thank You 12×12 admin/elves and participants). I have a plan broken into steps: days to write, to post and comment, and to read. I have a back-up plan, (self-publishing) and extra plans: Webinars, http://illinois.scbwi.org , and blogs at www.juliehedlund.com . Bases covered?

Haven’t you heard of Murphy’s Law? Plan on it. To combat something going wrong, tell a friend, tell a sibling, tell lots of folks. They will ask about your progress and encourage you. They may come through when Murphy strikes.

For one decade of my life I was an independent sales rep/manager for a direct selling company. I taught and sold needlecraft at home demonstrations. I set my own goals, earned commission. I was about ready for work, after loading the last bag in the car, when our son threw his fast ball to his younger sister at bat. No, he wasn’t using the whiffle ball. Not only was there blood, but her lip was so swollen; and she lost a tooth. I called my hostess, thinking I would be driving to the ER and not making money that night. My spouse drove up the drive in time to make the ER. I settled the boys and went to work.

My hostess and friend told me to come when I could. After I arrived, everyone ate dessert again and asked about my daughter. The orders were already added, totaling the biggest sale of the year. By the time I got home, my daughter was home. I met my sales goal, thanks to my spouse and friends. Don’t ever give up, and, don’t give up too soon. The latter was a self-taught lesson.

Like the Rafflecopter, sales and recruiting had to be timely. For achievement during a three-month period the prize/goal was a fabulous trip for me and my spouse. I had reached this goal three years in a row. The fourth year I made a good plan and got everything mailed early. What a shock to get a call from the V.P. saying that I was less than $100 short. I recalled that my last hostess offered to mail in her own paperwork, after she collected from one other. I called her to confirm that all was well, but, evidently, it was not.

The goal was mine, not hers. Lesson learned: Don’t take your eye off the ball. If you want to catch the ball, follow it all the way into the glove.

The real Forum prize is learning: how to write a better query letter, amazing feedback and sharing from 12 x 12 like-minded participants and elves, and encouraging badges.

So here I sat today, totally embarrassed for not navigating technology last night while trying to purchase a GREAT DEAL from savvy Katie Davis and finally join her Boot Camp, UNTIL her graciousness, and knowing I am a Video Idiot, prompted her to extend the offer for attendees like myself. Today, you are part of my plan. Thanks, Katie, for the offer. Thanks for kicking Murphy in the can.

Here is my real photo with all my wrinkles. When in college as an adult learner for life, I read Gail Sheey’s book, Passages, in which she suggests that, at age 45, we could develop another life. Expected mortality being 85, for women, gives me lots of years, still, to write.




Categories: 12 x 12, Goals, Guest Blogging, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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