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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t wait to see where I am in 2015.

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

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

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12 x 12 Featured Author Sue Fliess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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: , , , , , , , ,

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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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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:

beware

of being

only

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:

beware

of being

only

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

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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: , , , , , , ,

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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: , , , , , , , , ,

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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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Poetry expert Renee LaTulippeI am SO delighted to be hosting my friend Renee LaTulippe today. I met Renee initially through my 12 x 12 challenge, and quickly discovered her talent and effervescence as a children’s poet/actress/performer. So much so that I corralled her to serve as the “Poetry Elf” for 12 x 12 these past two years, where she passes her poetic passion onto other bards to be (and already are… no not to be…).

I then got to meet Renee IN PERSON in Florence, Italy where she came to film the inaugural participants of Writer’s Renaissance performing individual poems and a group poem we wrote together. You can see all those videos in this post of her blog, No Water River. 

Renee is so full of fabulousness and vivacity that no matter how shy you are or how much fear you have about poetry, she’ll immediately set you at ease so you can experience the FUN of poetry. (Case in point is my A Lotta Gelatta poem)

Now, Renee has long been an advocate for poets and a supporter of poetry for children, but now she’s passing on her gifts in a course designed to help ALL writers write more lyrically and rhythmically in her course THE LYRICAL LANGUAGE LAB: Punching up Prose with Poetry. Because I am signed up to take this course in July, Renee gave me a sneak peek into the course and a spot in the private Facebook group.

I’ve taken quite a few writing courses in my time, and I must say it’s ASTONISHING how much learning Renee packs into this class. Whether you’ve never written a line of poetry or you’ve been writing poetry your whole life, this course will help you hone your skills as a writer so that ALL forms of your writing shine. In addition to the formal lessons, Renee provides a huge amount personal attention, teaching, and support in the Facebook group. I’ve read some “before feedback” and “after feedback” assignments from the students and the improvement is amazing.

I asked Renee if she would pop into the blog to provide a bit of wisdom and wit about poetry and why studying and “playing” with it is so important for writers of all genres. Please welcome Renee!

First a little about you.

How did you develop your passion for poetry?
I don’t think I developed it so much as it developed me. I guess I had an innate love of language, words, and wordplay. I wrote my first poem when I was seven and was immediately hooked. Putting together sounds and syllables has always been really satisfying.

I also have to point out that I had a couple of wonderful teachers to support and encourage me along the way. Without them, I probably would not have continued writing. I wrote about my early poetic adventures here.

The focus of your blog, No Water River, is reading and performing poetry out loud. Why do you think this aspect is so important?

Poetry is music and is meant to be spoken and heard and savored by ears, mouth, eyes, and bodies, and not just dissected on paper and left there with its guts hanging out. I am especially adamant about this when it comes to sharing any literature with kids – whether it’s a poem or Huck Finn – because, for me, appreciation (of language, story, character, and craft) must come first. And you just can’t do that in a chair!

My high school students rarely sat down. I ran a noisy and weird classroom. I’m pretty sure that “formal text analysis” happens naturally if you just let kids live the literature and get excited about it. I mean, who wants to analyze something she doesn’t first feel in her bones and heart? [Off soapbox, exit stage right]

So now I do poetry videos and ask other poets to do the same because I want kids to see that poetry is alive and fun and not scary, and is waiting to be slurped up with a straw.

What other genres do you write? Is poetry your favorite?

I am published in the educational market with nine award-winning leveled readers for beginning readers through fourth grade, which I co-authored with Marie Rippel. Published by All About Learning Press, these books are collections of short, illustrated, vocabulary-controlled stories that range from 100 words at the early end to 1200 words in the higher levels.

Through 12×12, I also began exploring the world of picture books and have a lot of ideas but only a few paltry drafts. They’re so hard! Why are they so hard?! Oh, and here’s an odd tidbit: although I am a poet first, I prefer prose picture books, both for writing and reading. Go figure.

And yes, I do have a special affinity for poetry because of the art itself and because it’s what comes most naturally to me. I feel at home when writing poetry, and it doesn’t make me angst-eat nearly as much chocolate as PB and short story writing does.

Okay, now on to the course.

What inspired you to create your online course, The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry? Lyrical Language Lab with Renee LaTulippe
As a full-time editor in the educational and personal development markets, I see a lot of books with good concepts but weak language. No matter what you’re writing, it has to be engaging or you will lose your audience in the first paragraph. Over the years, I’ve found myself repeating the same advice to authors: punch up your prose. Engage and delight your readers. Surprise them with unexpected turns of phrase. Keep them on their toes.

And once I started writing for young people and doing critiques, I realized that the advice is doubly important for children’s writers. I have a profound appreciation for language and craft, and a desire to impart that to others.

Many people are intimidated by poetry. How do you address that fear in the course?
Poetry schmoetry! The first thing I do is stress that the The Lyrical Language Lab is not a poetry course. The focus is on using poetic techniques to enhance your writing, not on “becoming poets,” so poetry is simply a vehicle for understanding lyrical language and how it can be applied to all writing. And most of the mentor texts are non-threatening, user-friendly children’s poems and PBs. So be not afraid, prose people!

Why do you think ALL writers need to understand poetry and poetic form, and what approach do you take to teaching it?
Poetry has so much to teach all writers, but especially PB writers. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, so using poetic techniques simply makes sense. You need to create read-aloud language that transports both children and parents into a world of imagination in as few words as possible.

Poetry is about conciseness, word choice, imagery, emotional weight, storytelling, rhythm, and sound – and so must be all texts for young people.

My approach is to
• introduce one concept per lesson
• explain it in detail through the use of mentor texts and my own “points to ponder” analysis
• show students why and how the poetic technique works
• enhance lessons with infographics to visually organize the material
• provide audio files in which I verbally demonstrate the concept

Daily assignments give students the chance to
• put the concept into practice
• write new material, with both prose and poetry options
• apply the concepts to a work in progress
• get personalized feedback

An important part of the class is the private Facebook group, where students post assignments for my feedback. I work hard to create a nurturing and encouraging environment, and to give detailed, honest feedback so students know which areas to work on.

The course is fun but challenging. No gimmicks; just solid teaching.

Is the course targeted to prose writers who want to learn to write more rhythmically or writers who want to write poetry and/or rhyming books specifically?

I designed the course with prose writers in mind, but it’s really versatile and serves all sorts of writers:

Prose writers looking to write more lyrically and enrich their writing with poetic techniques
Rhyming PB writers who would like a stronger foundation in the mechanics of poetry
• Writers who would like to learn more about writing poetry for children
• Anyone with a WIP in need of revision – the class is great for revision!

So far students have included non-fiction prose PB writers, prose and rhyming PB writers, children’s poets, and MG and YA writers, from beginner to advanced. Recently an accomplished published poet used the class to polish a new collection for submission.Ann Whitford Paul Quote

What about writers, like me, who already have a grasp of meter and writing in rhyme? Are we candidates for the course too?
While I do teach meter at the beginning of the course, it’s a small part of the whole, and all the concepts covered are beneficial to all writers. I go into enough nitty-gritty detail that I think everyone will learn something new.

But don’t just take it from me! Here’s a great article by Jane Yolen on revising for lyrical language, and some words of wisdom from Ann Whitford Paul on the need to be familiar with poetic concepts.

What do you hope your students will walk away with at the end of your course?
• The knowledge that every word we use is more than just a verb or a noun or an adjective; it’s also an emotion, an image, a sound, and a memory that can elicit a specific response from the reader.
• The skills to put that knowledge to work to make their own stories and poems more powerful and memorable.

Two questions to finish (and to satisfy my curiosity)

If you had to choose two of your No Water River poetry performances that are your favorite, which would they be?
The only full performances I do are of those poems in my Classics series. Of those, I’d say my favorites are “Jabberwocky” because of the delicious sounds and language (and the costume!) and the three witches from Macbeth because it took me fifteen hours to figure out how to get three of me talking on screen at once.

I also have a whole lot of amazing guest poets, from Joyce Sidman to J. Patrick Lewis. One of my favorite videos of all time is Janet Wong’s performance of her poem “GongGong and Susie.” What a storyteller!

You live in Italy with your husband and two children, and you are fluent in Italian. Do you think having a second language, especially one as beautiful as Italian, informs and enriches your poetry and other writing?
Definitely. As a girl, I wanted to be a multilingual interpreter, and at some point or other I’ve studied French, Portuguese, and Italian in depth and dabbled briefly in Spanish and German. And I love accents of every kind. Studying foreign languages attunes your ear to all the different cadences and nuances of speech and heightens your awareness of sounds and rhythms. Idiomatic expressions also catch my fancy and can spark new writing ideas.

And even the syntax can make me look at things in new ways. For example, in English we say “This flower is beautiful,” while in Italian the syntax is reversed: “È bello questo fiore” (It’s beautiful this flower). I have been accused of Yoda-speak when I use this syntax, but to me “It’s beautiful, this flower” says something completely different than “This flower is beautiful.”

Thanks Renee! I had to ask that last question because I SO want to learn Italian and become fluent. In my spare time – LOL. But on my recent trip for Writer’s Renaissance 2014 I learned that instead of saying “sweet dreams” to someone at bedtime, Italians say “sogni d’oro,” which translates to “dreams of gold.” Talk about a phrase that’s used the same way but says something completely different!

Thank you for this fabulous and heartfelt interview, Renee! I hope I’ll some of my readers will sign up for the Lyrical Language Lab and be classmates with me in July!! :-)

****
Click here to learn more about The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry.

______________________________

Renée M. LaTulippe has co-authored nine early readers and a volume of poetry titled Lizard Lou: a collection of rhymes old and new (Moonbeam Children’s Book Award) for All About Learning Press, where she is also the editor, and has poems in The Poetry Friday Anthology Middle School and Science editions (Pomelo Books). She developed and teaches the online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry and creates children’s poetry videos for her blog NoWaterRiver.com. Renée holds theater and English education degrees from Marymount Manhattan College and New York University, and taught English and theater in NYC before moving to Italy, where she lives with her husband and twin boys.
Facebook: NoWaterRiver
Twitter: @ReneeMLaTulippe

Categories: Authors, Books, Childhood, Children's Books, Creativity, Guest Blogging, Poetry, Rhyming, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member - Lynn BaldwinI love how taking one leap of faith, as today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author Lynn Baldwin did, can lead to a trove of additional discoveries. My first hope when people join 12 x 12 is that they will write more, become an active member of the community and realize they are capable of far more than they thought they were before joining. So please welcome Lynn, not just to 12 x 12 but to the whole wide web world of writing. I know I’m glad to have her! :-)

Like many writers, I struggle with time management and am wary of things that detract from the limited amount of time I have for writing. That’s why I was initially skeptical of Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge.

Sure, I’d heard good things about the online challenge. But, really – how much time did I want to spend reading blog posts, critiquing other people’s work, contributing to an online forum, being part of yet another Facebook group? If I did all this, when would I have time to work on the 12 picture books I’d be committed to writing? And, could I really write one picture book a month for all of 2014?

Despite my skepticism, I decided to take the plunge and nervously signed up for the Little GOLDen Book membership. After all, if I was going to do it, I might as well jump all the way in.

I couldn’t be happier that I did. It’s only mid-March, and I’ve already found a lot of value in my participation in the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge. In addition to the fantastic opportunity to submit my work to agents, I have benefited from…

• Writing More: So far, I’ve completed three new picture book manuscripts and have been working on revising two others. I always feel I could/should be doing more, but this is a huge increase from the amount of writing I did last year, so I’m pleased.

• Query Critiques: The query critique I received from Emma Walton Hamilton was great, even though I learned that I erred on the side of “giving away the ending.” I’ve also really enjoyed critiquing other people’s queries on the online forum and getting feedback on mine.

• Online Community: I’ve been so impressed by the participation on the Facebook group and the willingness of other members to share their expertise, ideas and writing-related opportunities and contests…which leads to my next benefit…

• Learning about the Wide Web World of Writing: Before joining the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, I really wasn’t doing much online beside reading an occasional blog. Thanks to 12 x 12, I’ve learned there’s a wide world of writing opportunities out there. I’ve participated in Red Light, Green Light: Freetiques, Rate Your Story..and a few others I can’t think of right now! I am also probably going to do RhyPiBoMo. if I can get over my fear of committing to another writing challenge. :)

So, thank you, Julie Hedlund, and thank you to all of my fellow 12 x 12ers. It’s been a great first few months, and I’m looking forward to a fantastic rest of the year!

Lynn Baldwin is an aspiring picture book author, marketing freelance writer, mother to an adorable preschooler and lover of the Spanish language, travel and dark chocolate.

 

 

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

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