12 X 12 Member Peter McCleeryNever has a How I Got My Agent Post made me laugh out loud, but Peter McCleery’s did. When you read it, I’m sure you’ll know why. It’s tough out there, folks, but with persistence it IS possible to reach your dreams. I sense a Sid Fleischman award in Peter’s future. Many congratulations!

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

Like a lot of newbies to the world of children’s lit, I came out of the gate a-kickin’ and a-buckin’ and ready to take the kid lit world by storm. Little did I know what little I knew. That first year I sent a few manuscripts to a select group of top agents and waited for the slew of offers. Instead I learned what a “form rejection” looks like. And what a “no response” feels like. Luckily, there’s a little thing called the Internet. So slowly but surely I learned what I didn’t know. I wrote. I researched. I read. I did that for another year or so. Then I subbed. I was really ready this time. And this time I got. . . personalized rejections! I was on to something! So I did it all again. Wrote, researched and read. Every few months I thought I was ready and sent out a small batch of queries (1-3). I got a few more rejections, but this time I also got more encouragement. A kind word here, a request for more there, a positive conference critique, etc… Enough to keep me going until I actually WAS ready. From my very first draft to landing an agent, it was probably about four to five years, off and on.

I’d like to share with you my all-time favorite rejection. It shows just how crazy and subjective subbing can be. This is the entire email: “This was hilarious and so vivid. Somehow the writing just didn’t appeal to me.”

Huh?

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I scoured the internet. Websites, blogs, twitter. As every writer knows, it’s not procrastination when it’s research. I dug deep and not only did it help me find out what agents would be a good fit, it helped me avoid sending manuscripts to the wrong agent. If I wasn’t truly excited to send something to a particular agent, then I didn’t. And now having landed the perfect agent, I’m so glad I didn’t end up with someone I was “meh” about.

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

I was rather choosy about who I sent my manuscripts to (see above) so I don’t have a ton of rejections. Maybe 15. But the ones I did get stung extra hard.

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

Yes, definitely. In fact I got frustrated enough that I started working on a middle-grade novel. And, when I started mentioning it in my queries, I noticed better responses right away. Agents’ ears perked up for sure. If you work in other categories DEFINITELY mention it in your query.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

I had previously researched Heather Alexander back when she was an editor. I loved her books and had planned to query her (they took unsolicited manuscripts) but never got around to it. I started following her on twitter and thought she was delightful and smart and funny. So, when I heard that she moved over to the agent side at Pippin Properties, I was pretty excited. One day she tweeted that she was looking for “smart-funny” manuscripts. She mentioned Monty Python. I couldn’t get to my email fast enough.

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 is basically a support group for people crazy enough to write picture books. When you are in the midst of querying and writing and revising and getting rejections, being part of a community of people going through the same thing is very important.

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

One thing that surprised me after signing was how much more pressure I feel. Things suddenly got real. Now there is someone with a vested interest in what I do and I don’t want to let her down. To steal a line from pregnant women: “Now I’m writing for two.” But it’s actually more of a positive, inspiring kind of pressure.

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

Have confidence in your writing. Be bold. Take chances. Don’t write what you think they (agents, editors, etc…) will like. Write the thing YOU like. The thing that’s uniquely you. That’s the kind of manuscript that gets noticed.

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

I don’t think it played much of a factor because I don’t have much of a social platform. Heather probably did a quick google search on me but only AFTER she liked my manuscript.

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point 🙂 )

I would love to write a screenplay that gets made into a movie starring Nick Cage.

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

Besides numerous picture book drafts in various states of condition, I’m also very excited about the previously mentioned middle-grade novel I’m trying to finish.

 

Peter McCleery has been a member of 12 x 12 since 2013. His debut picture book BOB & JOSS GET LOST will be published by HarpersChildren’s in Fall 2016. Peter was awarded the Author of the Month Award in October 2014 from Highlights for his story, “Invasion of the Space Monkeys.” He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and kids. You can find Peter at www.petermccleery.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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anti-resolutionFour years ago I wrote a blog post that garnered quite a bit of attention. It was titled, 2012 Anti-Resolution Revolution. I skipped 2013, but got back on track in 2014 and have stuck with the tradition. Now it’s time to reveal successes from 2015, and I’ve asked participants in my 12 Days of Christmas for Writers program to do the same.

Here is an excerpt from the original post:

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

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

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

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

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

Because I am a firm believer that it takes far more courage to celebrate and compliment yourself than it does to criticize and berate yourself, I’ve invited 12 Days of Christmas for Writers participants to post their successes on their blogs and websites too. Feel free to share links to your posts in the comments here!

Here is a list of my major professional accomplishments of 2015. 

  1. This was the year of revision. Nine out of twelve months this year were focused on MAJOR revisions to multiple manuscripts. All of those manuscripts ended up on submission.
  2. Two of my manuscripts made it all the way to acquisitions, one at two different publishing houses. Although those ended up as rejections, I got feedback about how “gorgeous” and “evocative” my writing was. I was also invited to revise and resubmit, which I am working on now.
  3. One of the manuscripts I’ve been working on all year is a picture book biography. I can honestly say it’s been the most difficult and most rewarding writing I’ve ever done.
  4. I wrote two new picture book manuscripts.
  5. I once again shepherded the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge participants through a year of writing, revising, submitting, and SUPPORTING. With almost 800 members in 2015, I take pride in the fact that the community still feels like family.
  6. Successfully launched the brand new 12 x 12 webinar series with fabulous speakers such as author/editor Emma Walton Hamilton, agent Jill Corcoran, author Jane Yolen, and editor Emma Dryden.
  7. A Jefferson County school got a grant to buy 300 copies of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, and I spent the whole day at their school presenting to each elementary grade. One of the most rewarding author experiences I’ve ever had.
  8. Speaking of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, my agent Erzsi Deak sold Korean rights. The book has been translated into Korean and will likely go on sale in Korea this coming year.
  9. Co-hosted and launched the first-ever Picture Book Summit, an online conference that boasted keynote speakers Peter Brown, Andrea Davis Pinkney, and Mac Barnett. With more than 700 registrants, it was a smashing success.
  10. With my partner Emma Walton Hamilton, fully updated and re-launched The Complete Picture Book Submissions System.
  11. I managed to get my taxes done, which showed a nice increase in income from 2013 to 2014.
  12. I sought more professional help, which I desperately needed.
  13. Came up with 30+ new picture book ideas in this year’s PiBoIdMo
  14. I managed to keep up with my work despite suffering a pinched nerve due to a bulging disc in my cervical spine. The injury was quite debilitating, and while I’m much, much better, I’m still recovering. So I honestly need to give myself credit for all I accomplished in the last six months of the year, given most of it was done while in chronic pain.
  15. Attending the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference in September, seeing old friends and making new, and learning loads in the post-conference picture book intensive.
  16. Spoke at two SCBWI Connect local events – one in Boulder and one in Colorado Springs (virtually)
  17. Was a guest lecturer at a University of Colorado Children’s Literature course. Super fun!!
  18. Presented a 12 x 12 webinar on crowdfunding
  19. Spoke with an editor at Scholastic for an hour, soaking up advice on possible revisions for my picture book biography.
  20. Got 20 agents for 12 x 12 in 2016 lined up BEFORE Christmas, plus five webinar speakers, and eight professional “critique ninjas,” a new feature for 2016. For once, I feel pretty organized for the launch of 12 x 12.

Now it’s your turn to make YOUR list! Share in the comments if you’d like! 🙂

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Holidays, My Love For You Is The Sun, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member and Author Amy MooreI‘m so pleased to bring such a heartwarming “How I Got My Agent” story to you today. Not only are Ginger Harris and Liza Fleissig from the Liza Royce agency two of the biggest and best supporters of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, but, like Amy, my own commitment to my writing career deepened after the loss of my father. It’s inspiring to see someone turn loss and sorrow into pursuing their dreams. Please give a warm welcome to Amy Moore!

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
I have written stories my whole life, starting with my poem “People” in first grade and my first book “The Waterproof Boots” in third grade (which included a hastily added last chapter about boots after I finished and read the whole book only to realize my masterpiece had nothing to do with boots!)

I persevered after that mishap and studied journalism in college and took my first writing for children course the fall after I graduated. I was hooked and knew this was what I wanted to do with my writing. I worked at it for many years and slowly got better at it as I got older. I started receiving personal rejections and got an honorable mention in a Writer’s Digest contest shortly before I got married. Things seemed on the upswing!

I kept working at it and then my first baby girl came along. Little did I know how much my writing would be put on the back-burner! Though my writing was on a pretty large hiatus, I spent five years reading, reading, reading every picture book my two baby girls and I could get our hands on. (It’s so much fun raising little bookworms!) This time of reading and constant inspiration from my girls really got my creative juices flowing again.

After losing my Dad suddenly a year before, I had a long, hard cry on New Year’s Eve of 2013. It was one of the saddest, most gut-wrenching nights of my life. I was determined to put the most horrible year of my life behind me and make all of my dreams come true in his honor, even if he would never be able to share in my joys and success.

I decided to “make something happen” with my writing my New Year’s Resolution. I wasn’t even sure what that something would be, I just knew it was time to get really serious about it. A few weeks later I found 12×12 and went for Gold right away. What a decision! I can’t tell you how therapeutic it was to sit and work on my writing every night and to connect with other writers in this amazing 12×12 community. Needless to say, this is when I decided I should be targeting agents rather than publishers. The opportunity was in front of me!

What kind of research did you do before submitting?
I read everything I could find on the internet about the agents I submitted to. Some had more information available than others but I did my best to read any articles I could find and look up authors and books that each agent represented if possible. Twitter also proved helpful in seeing what kind of rapport they had with their authors.

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
I submitted to three agents through 12×12 in 2014 (two of them at the same agency) and got one rejection…after I had already been offered a contract from the other agency. (Though oddly enough that rejection still stung a bit.) Mind you, this does not include many rejections from my early years submitting to publishers before I was truly ready.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
Thanks to 12×12, no! I had a whole group of picture book agents ready and waiting to read my manuscripts.

How did you know your agent was “the one? Ginger Harris and Liza Fleissig
When I was researching which agents to submit to, I kept coming back to a photograph of Ginger Harris and Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency just beaming. Something about the smiles they had in every photograph I could find made me hope their agency was the one for me.

After submitting separate manuscripts to both Liza and Ginger, I heard from Ginger that they’d like to represent me for both books. Obviously I was going to jump at the chance. But I truly knew Ginger was “the one” the first time she sent me a list of revision requests. I can’t even explain how spot-on her requests were and how she clued me in to the things I didn’t even realize were missing from my story. She turned out to be the critique partner I have been looking for all my life!

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 🙂 )
12×12 has honestly been the single best thing I’ve ever done for my writing career. The level of talent and support in the community is unmatched and the opportunity to submit to agents directly was well worth the enrollment fee.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
Not too much, although I have become of fan of major revisions. I think prior to this I would write a story, fine-tune it as much as I thought it needed and move on to the next story. Now, as I’m moving toward the submission process with my agent, I’m learning how amazing the revision process can be. I’m also inspired to write a lot more frequently.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
Read, read, read! Then write, write, write!

Also, write what is inside of you. We all know we are not supposed to write in rhyme, not supposed to do this, not supposed to do that…but I am here to say I was signed based on two rhyming picture books. Because that is how I naturally write best. Write what YOU do well and the rest will hopefully fall into place.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
It did not since I currently only use social media on a personal level with family and friends and to promote my dance business.

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point 🙂 )
I really want to see Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person at least once in my life. I love New York City (living there is also a dream!) and would love to experience the thrill of the parade I’ve watched on TV all my life up close. I’m just not sure how I’d handle missing Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

And I really, REALLY want to be one of Santa’s elves. A girl can dream.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?
I’m currently working on revisions of my first accepted manuscript with my agent. I’m also working on a few new picture book manuscripts and a revision of one I wrote a few years ago that I LOVE but just can’t seem to get “just right”.

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

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There’s a Twitter hashtag today, #pb10for10, where folks are sharing 10 of their favorite picture books in different themes and categories to provide inspiration for teachers getting ready for a new school year.

I couldn’t resist jumping on this and featuring a few books published within the past year (or coming soon!) by some of the many talented participants of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. (NOTE: I edited this post to include a BRAND NEW picture book by one of our members that releases tomorrow!!). So now there are 11 books on the list. 🙂 In no particular order:

1. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Cheesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia, by Miranda Paul

Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way. One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred. The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. Some were buried, but they strangled gardens. They killed livestock that tried to eat them. Something had to change. Isatou Ceesay was that change.

One_Plastic_Bag_Cover_Miranda_Paul

2. What About Moose? by Corey Rosen Schwartz

When Fox, Toad, Bear, Porcupine, and Skunk set out to build a tree house, they know just what to do: they’ll follow a plan and they’ll work as a team. But when bossy Moose barges in and upends their plans with some of his own, his friends become more and more frustrated…until things go hilariously awry!

what-about-moose-9781481404969_hr

3. I Thought This Was a Bear Book, by Tara Lazar

After an unfortunate bookcase collapse, Alien suddenly finds himself jolted out of his story and into a very strange world, complete with talking bears. Desperate to return to his book, Alien asks the Bear family for help so he can get back to his story and save his beloved Planet Zero from total destruction before it’s too late.

bear-book-final-cover

4. When A Dragon Moves In Again, by Jodi Moore

Preparations are in full swing to welcome a new family member in this sequel to the award-winningWhen a Dragon Moves In. A young boy has become a big brother and he and his beloved dragon dedicate themselves to entertaining the little baby. But when the drooling, crying baby somehow charms the dragon and his attention, the boy decides he’s had enough of this baby business.

dragon moves in

5. Buster, The Little Garbage Truck, by Marcia Berneger

Buster is a sweet little garbage truck. He can’t wait to grow up to be a big truck, just like his father. Buster practices driving and lifting and beeping with his friend, Kitty. There’s one small problem. Loud noises frighten Buster. When his father takes him to the truck yard to meet the other vehicles, their air-horn blasts and roaring engines send Buster skidding away to hide. He wants to be big and brave, but how can he work with Daddy and his friends when their loud sounds scare him?

buster

6. Circus Train, by Jennifer Cole Judd

As the circus train rolls into town, excited children and their parents get in line for their chance to experience the Big Top. Clowns paint faces and people scurry to their seats. Then the show begins, wrapping readers in all the wonders of the circus. Dancing elephants, flipping trapeze artists, and pie-throwing clowns captivate both young and old.

Circus train

7. King Cake Baby, by Keila Dawson

When an old Creole woman bakes dessert on King’s Day, she has no idea what shenanigans will ensue. In this New Orleans adaptation of The Gingerbread Man, a mischievous king cake baby escapes his cake! He outruns a praline lady and a waiter at Café du Monde, but can he outsmart the clever baker?

king cake baby

8. Missing Nimama, by Melanie Florence

Kateri is a young girl, growing up in the care of her grandmother. We see her reaching important milestones her first day of school, first dance, first date, wedding, first child along with her mother, who is always there, watching her child growing up without her. Told in alternating voices, Missing Nimama is a story of love, loss, and acceptance, showing the human side of a national tragedy.

nimama

9. Albie’s First Word, by Jacqueline Tourville

Three-year-old Albie has never said a single word. When his worried mother and father consult a doctor, he advises them to expose little Albie to new things: a trip to the orchestra, an astronomy lecture, a toy boat race in the park. But though Albie dances with excitement at each new experience, he remains silent. Finally, the thoughtful, quiet child witnesses something so incredible, he utters his very first word: “Why?”

albies word

10. My Love For You Is The Sun, by Julie Hedlund

My Love for You is the Sun is a love letter from parent to child, expressing that timeless and unconditional love through soothing verses evoking the beauty and wonder of the natural world. My Love for You is the Sun, a Tree, the Rain, a River… but more than just familial or parental love, it captures the universal, infinite nature of love itself.

MLFY_cover

11. If An Elephant Went to School, by Ellen Fischer

Would an elephant learn the ABCs if she went to school? No way! She would learn to use her trunk as a nose, a straw, a hand, and a hose! Through a series of questions and answers, readers learn about animals and their unique behaviors. And in the end, you might find yourself asking just what would you learn.

elephant

Have you read any of these books? Have favorites? Found ones you want to check out? Let us know in the comments!

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Books, Children's Books, My Love For You Is The Sun, Picture Books · Tags: , , ,

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RIP, Cecil the Lion 2

I, like hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people am sickened, saddened, and outraged over the tragic death Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe

Much has been said and written in plenty of forums about Cecil’s death at the hand of a trophy hunter. I myself have said much and felt far more. I don’t want to use this post, however, to continue that discussion. Instead, I want to DO something.

For several days, I’ve just felt helpless. Too often, these tragedies occur and then fall out of consciousness so quickly we’re left to wonder if anything will ever change. I’ve handled my own desire to take action in the past by donating money to causes as they’ve arisen. I wanted to do more this time.

TROOP CoverAs an author, one of the reasons I write is to make a difference in the world with my books. My first published book, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS, makes an appeal at the end to protect wild animals and their habitats. It also, I suddenly remembered, features a “pride of lions.”

This book is now technically out of print, but I still have a healthy amount of stock right here in my house. So here is what I am going to do.

The retail price of TROOP is $16.95, but in support of World Lion Day on August 10, I am offering copies for $15 for the next 10 days. For every book sold, I will donate $5 to WildCru, the organization that had placed a collar on Cecil and had been studying him since 2008 as part of their mission to promote lion conservation. I will take a video recording of my donation so that you all will see how much I’m able to contribute. Here is the link if you’d like to take advantage of the opportunity to buy a book AND support a great cause.




A few points before I provide more info on WildCru and on TROOP.

  • ALL purchasers will be ALSO entered into a drawing to win a print of the gorgeous lion spread from TROOP by
    A "Pride of Lions" print from illustrator Pamela Baron

    A “Pride of Lions” print from illustrator Pamela Baron

    illustrator Pamela Baron. The winner will be announced on August 11.

  • I regret that this offer is only for folks living in the U.S., due to shipping costs.
  • Speaking of shipping, there is a flat rate of $5, regardless of how many books you purchase.
  • If you want your book signed or personalized, there is a space under “instructions to seller” where you can leave this information.
  • If you can’t or don’t want to buy the book, shares of any kind to those who might be are equally appreciated! Some samples are provided below.
  • Likewise, if you are not interested in the book, I encourage you to learn more about WildCru and it’s mission, and consider making a direct donation.
  • I welcome and appreciate comments on my blog posts. However, I do ask you to refrain from comments pertaining to all of the other suffering that is going on in the world among both humans and animals and asking why Cecil’s death is more important than those. It isn’t. There is enough misery and tragedy to go around, and believe me, I contribute both time and money to many other worthy causes. In this case, I was moved to respond in this way. Thank you!

More about WildCru and their work with lions

At the WildCRU, in the Recanati-Kaplan Centre at Oxford, we are studying lions in various parts of Africa to uncover the science that will inform and underpin their conservation. This is urgent, because lion numbers are precariously low, estimated at fewer than 30,000 across the continent and we have evidence that there are actually fewer. We have worked on the lions of Hwange National Park, with the support and collaboration of the excellent Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. Our goal is to understand the threats that lions face, and to use cutting-edge science to develop solutions to those threats. Our work is scientific, we have satellite-tracked the movements of over a hundred lions and monitored every detail of the lives of more than 500 individuals, but WildCRU’s work is also highly practical – we run a courageous anti-poaching team, a local conservation theatre group, and education campaign that gets information into every school in the district, and we work with local farmers to help them live alongside lions and improve their livelihoods.

More about A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS

First published as a storybook app for the iPad and named as a Top 50 “Best Apps for Kids” by The Guardian (now available, along with it’s companion A SHIVER OF SHARKS on iTunes via the Demibooks Storytime app), TROOP is an award-winning book featuring collective nouns for animal groups told in romping, read-aloud rhyme.

A “surfeit” of skunks, a “caravan” of camels, and a “flamboyance” of flamingoes are just a few of the animal groups both kids and grown-ups will learn about, all of them accompanied by stunning watercolor illustrations from artist Pamela Baron.

Once again, here is the link if you’d like a to receive copy of A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS and donate $5 to WildCru as part of your purchase, PLUS be entered for the drawing for the beautiful Pride of Lions print.




Swipe copy for sharing

Shares appreciated too! Hopefully these pre-written posts for FB and Twitter will make it easier for you.

Twitter

Get a AND support + in memory of  (Click to Tweet this)

Get A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS and support too.  (Click to Tweet this)

I just bought A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS + supported #lionconservation #WildCRU #cecilthelion http://bit.ly/1Ige5gc (Click to Tweet this)

Facebook

One of my Facebook children’s author friends is donating $5 to WildCru and lion conservation for each of these books, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS purchased now through August 10 (World Lion Day). In memory of Cecil the Lion. There’s a special on the book itself, plus a chance to win a gorgeous print from the book featuring a Pride of Lions. Here’s the link with all of the details. http://wp.me/p2pGqV-3CZ

Image for Instagram and other social media sites

Honoring Cecil (2)

Last, but not least, I owe thanks to Jimmy Kimmel, whose monologue about Cecil was not only courageous and inspiring, but it also brought my attention to the worthy work that WildCru is doing in support of wildlife conservation. Here is the link if you haven’t seen it yet. WildCru reports that more than $150,000 has been donated as a direct result of Jimmy’s plea to take action in support of lions. So nice to see celebrities using their platforms in efforts to make the world a better place instead of to share selfies of boobs and backsides in support of their own fame. Just sayin’! Thanks, Jimmy!

Categories: A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Books, Children's Books, Giveaway, Picture Books · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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reforemo2

If you write picture books, have you been over to Carrie Charley Brown’s website this month to check out her ReFoReMo (Reading for Research Month) challenge?

If not, head over there NOW and learn from all of the guest educators who have been sharing picture books that inspire their own work. Reading the posts will give you ideas for how to do this type of “reading for research” to inspire and improve your own work.

I am honored to be today’s guest educator. Head on over to learn why I “Delve into the Dark Side” of picture books.

On a separate (but related to picture books) note, Emma Walton Hamilton and I put together a free 7-step checklist for picture book submissions, which you can grab here.

Categories: Authors, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , ,

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TimMcCanna_8x10_smToday I have the great pleasure of introducing someone to the How I Got My Agent series who is not only a mind-blowingly (that is totally a word) talented writer and musician, but also someone I’m fortunate to call a friend. Tim McCanna tells the story of how we first met and came to collaborate on a couple of my projects, so I won’t steal his thunder, but let’s just say that the first time you encounter Tim’s work – whether his writing, music, or blockbuster videos – the only viable response is, “Wow!” Add to that the fact that he is just about the nicest person on the planet, and Tim becomes a “quadruple threat” on his way to sure stardom in the children’s writing world. It’s been an honor in every way to work with him and to have him “in my corner” on this crazy publishing journey. Please welcome Tim! 

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

Thanks for having me, Julie! You know, I had zero strategy when I started out writing picture books in 2009. Within months I was submitting to slush piles and I have a binder full of form rejection letters to prove it. I eventually mixed in some agent submissions here and there, but I really didn’t know what I wanted or needed in an agent.

In 2010, Caryn Wiseman from Andrea Brown Literary spoke at a local SCBWI conference. I liked her right away (as everyone in the session did) and submitted to her after the event. Alas, my story didn’t resonate with her, so she kindly passed.

At some point I dialed down the submitting and focused on improving my craft and building my network. I participated in Picture Book Idea Month and 12×12, kept attending conferences, joined a critique group, and wrote lots of new stories. Three years later, I had a much more robust portfolio of polished manuscripts. Plus, I became an Assistant Regional Advisor for my local SCBWI chapter, and I even sold my picture book Teeny Tiny Trucks on my own. At that point, I felt like my work was strong enough and I understood the industry so much better that I started to think about who might be the perfect agent for me.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

In the early days, all I had was my copy of The Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. I occasionally queried agents who were spotlighted on LiteraryRambles.com. Of course, meeting folks (or at least sitting in on their sessions) at conferences to get a sense of who they are is always a good thing. I’m a total introvert at events with lots of people. But volunteering for my SCBWI chapter created great icebreakers and gave me opportunities to just talk to editors and agents without trying to wow them in sixty seconds with an elevator pitch.

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

Oh gosh. Lots of both. In the first three years before I made my first sale, I submitted around 15 manuscripts of various length and style to twenty or thirty different publishers and at least a dozen different agents. I never once got one of those personal, magical, uplifting, hand-written rejection letters of encouragement from editors you hear about. I wonder if they’re just urban legends.

For a while there, I was completely flummoxed. What was I doing wrong? Why didn’t anyone other than my critique group partners like my stories!? Granted, 2009 to 2011 were especially tight years in the publishing world, but I began to slip into a resentful dark place. I pulled myself out of that self-inflicted slump by focusing on writing shorter, snappier, more commercial stories while getting out and volunteering and joining online communities. A positive attitude and persistence is key. We’re very lucky that the kidlit industry is so friendly and supportive.

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

Not really. That never came up. I had an early chapter reader to show a slightly longer work, and I’m currently writing a middle grade novel that I mentioned in my follow-up emails, so perhaps having a little variety helped. All I knew was I didn’t want to beg for representation. I was going to wait for an agent who loved my work and was enthusiastic about partnering with me.

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

So, nearly four years after first seeing Caryn at that regional conference, she participated in an Agent’s Day event in San Francisco in early Fall 2014. I submitted my rhyming picture book Bitty Bot! for critique and she immediately connected with it. After a couple weeks of sharing additional pieces with her and talking some more, she officially offered and I officially accepted! That just goes to show that “no thanks” doesn’t necessarily mean “not ever.”

Caryn has a great business sense—and I really kinda don’t. She also offers editorial feedback, which I knew I wanted in an agent. And she didn’t shy away from my rhymers. That was crucial. I write both rhyme and prose, but I knew if an agent said, “Gee, rhyming books are tough to sell,” that we weren’t a good match.

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 🙂 )

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. 12×12 has done a lot for me. At its core, 12×12 is about writing. Getting those first drafts down. I love the simple goal-setting aspect of it. But of course, there’s much more. The community, the support, the people, the networking, the knowledge you gain from the blog and forums. It’s a great resource that became a lovely part of my journey as a children’s writer.

Katie Davis’s kidlit podcast, which led to writing a song for 12×12, which led to writing a song for Julie’s A Troop is a Group of Monkeys app, which led to my selling Teeny Tiny Trucks to the same publisher. It was a 2-year domino effect that I never planned!

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 you’ve already checked off! 🙂 )

Two words: Dog Dancing. It’s totally a thing.

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

Well, after signing with Caryn, we sold Bitty Bot! a month or so later in a 2-book deal to Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster. Woo! The first book comes out Fall 2016, and I’m tossing around ideas for a sequel right now. My working title is Bitty Bot 2: Bitty Does Something Else In a New Location, Perhaps During a Holiday, Or Not.

Tim McCanna played accordion in a punk rock band and composed very silly sci-fi musicals in New York City before he finally got a real job as a children’s book author. When he’s not daydreaming about dancing with dogs, Tim serves as Assistant Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators San Francisco/South chapter. He lives in Mountain View, CA with his wife and two kids. Find Tim online at www.timmccanna.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Storybook Apps · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Bad Query, BatmanA funny thing happened the other day (seriously, it IS funny, and it did just happen the other day). Emma Walton Hamilton and I were working on adding concept book (books where the focus is on a concept – such as ABCs or counting – rather than a narrative arc) examples to the “Hook/Pitch” Unit in The Complete Picture Book Submissions System. Since A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS is a concept book, I figured I’d go back and look for query letters I’d sent before it was published.

Emma convinced me to share my earliest one with you as proof that NOBODY starts as an expert on writing query letters and submitting. The query I am about to share with you contains many of the same errors we teach you how to avoid in the System. It also took THREE YEARS after first submitting with the query you see below before I got a publishing deal for TROOP. The manuscript improved some during that time, but honestly not much. My mistakes were mostly in my query and submission approach.

Read this query and see if you can guess what is wrong (BEFORE looking at the analysis)! If miss some of them, you owe it to yourself to check out The Complete Picture Book Submissions System. The main reason Emma and I created The System was to help you avoid train wrecks like this one and to shorten your time from submission to success.

Here it is. Take a look, then see the analysis of what went wrong.

TROOP Query

 

Let’s start at the beginning.

Paragraph 1

 

Things don’t improve much in the second paragraph.

Paragraph 2

 

Not bad, but not great.

Paragraph 3

 

Here’s where things start to go completely off the rails.

Paragraph 4 colors (2)

OMG – WHAT?

Paragraph 5

 

One final word of caution here. One reason for the debacle that is the last paragraph of this email is because I got some horrible, no good, very bad advice from an author who taught one of the first courses I ever took on children’s book writing. She gave me a lot of other advice I had to unlearn, too. It is SO IMPORTANT to consider the source of where you are getting your information!!

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that my story has a happy ending. Shortly after I got form TROOP Coverrejections or no responses from TEN different agents and editors (!!!), I gave myself a moratorium on submissions and focused on studying the craft and the business of publishing. That’s why it took three more years before I got a book deal, and another year before I signed with my agent. (The revised query that got me success is included in our Query Clinic Module as a “before/after” example.)

Once again, the intent behind The Complete Picture Book Submissions System is to ensure you don’t make these same mistakes or any of the MANY others we cover in The System. We want to shorten your learning curve significantly, so you can go from submissions to success in, if not a single bound, at least several bounds fewer than it took me. 🙂

The System is available until 6:00 p.m. EST on March 6th. After that, we’re closing registration to the public so we can focus on our new members. If you learned ANYTHING from this post, it’s likely there are aspects of querying and submitting picture books you would learn from The System. Take a look and see if it’s for you.

Have you already purchased The Complete Picture Book Submissions System and want to leave feedback? Or do you have questions? All comments/questions are welcome!

Picture Book Submissions System

Categories: A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 WebinarTwo weeks ago, NYT Bestselling author, children’s literature professor and freelance editor Emma Walton Hamilton and I launched the 12 x 12 webinar series with a discussion on how to KNOW when your picture book is submission-ready.

Now we’re moving on to the submission itself. We have some exciting updates in the works to our product(s) on picture book submissions, but we need your help! So here’s the deal. If you click on this link and answer this ONE question, we’ll instantly send you a free video outlining the four essential elements of a picture book query.

The entire process (including watching the video) takes about five minutes.

Here’s the link again.

Oh, and this ONE time I have to ask you not to leave your question in the comments, but instead leave it in the survey at the link.

If you’ve already seen the Four Essential Elements of a Picture Book Query video, we’d love for you to leave feedback in the comments for others.

Please feel free to share this post with your picture book writing friends. The more responses we get, the better we’ll be able to help you with your submissions.

Thanks so much!

Categories: 12 x 12, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Author Illustrator Julie Rowan-ZochSQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Can you hear me screaming all the way in Colorado? I’ve been looking forward to this post for two years (which is how long I’ve known Julie Rowan-Zoch‘s talent is extraordinary). I KNEW she would get an agent, and I waited patiently for the day to come. 🙂

As you might guess from the tone of this introduction, Julie is a dear friend of mine and a model citizen of the kidlit community. Her talent speaks for itself (her Facebook feed is one I check every day because I’m addicted to her art), but she is also warm, funny and generous. She supports her author and illustrator friends without fail, and is always willing to help our community in any way she can. She may not be the best at backing out of a driveway in winter (sorry, Julie!), but she has excellent taste in beer, books, cheese, and friends. 🙂

Please welcome Julie Rowan-Zoch, here to tell her “How I Got My Agent” story!

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

I had but two drafts before joining the inceptive 12 x 12 in ’12 Challenge. That first year was an eye-opener to the hard-nut-to-crack world of the kid-lit industry as well as the warm and generous kid-lit community. Luckily I had a blind passion for picture books and enough naiveté to keep going! By the time 12×12 began offering the chance to submit to agents, I had one solid manuscript. Slowly but surely I rustled up the courage to start subbing, but I still had so much to learn about researching suitable agents.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

Julie Hedlund’s agent posts with all the links gave me a good start. I followed links, also read agent posts on Kathy

Julie originally made this for my assistant, Kelli, and me last year to celebrate 12 x 12. Yesterday, however, we were the two chickadees sharing champagne!

Julie originally made this for my assistant, Kelli, and me last year to celebrate 12 x 12. Yesterday, however, Julie and I were the two chickadees sharing champagne!

Temean’s blog, and googled the agents of author-illustrators whose work I admired. I joined Sub It Club, and another Agent/Editor discussion group online, both of which have been hugely helpful. Not methodical, but not bad either!

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

None of the agents I submitted to focuses solely on picture books, but all of them do represent children’s literature up to YA.

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

I know this makes me look careless, but because I didn’t sub to many agents, I never kept a detailed record (I should have!). I submitted to about 10 agents through 12×12, and 3 or 4 outside, mainly through SCBWI conference opportunities, and received an chance to sub by winning a design contest. Another invited me to submit through Facebook. That brings the total to about 16. I heard back from 8, received requests for more materials from 4. All was rather quiet when I got lucky, very lucky: my agent found me.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

Just before leaving town mid-December I got a surprising but delightful email from Marcia Wernick. I knew most of her agency’s clients (all of those focused on PBs!), but not much about the agency. I read every article I could find online, and asked around in the groups I mentioned above. One can determine a lot through correspondence, and Marcia’s graciousness and confidence shone through. We arranged for me to submit a package of manuscripts and illustrations, and made an appointment for a call early in the new year. After Marcia offered representation, I notified the other agents I was still in contact with. I received a total of three offers, and might have had a fourth, but before that call, I already knew. My best friend said, “You know already – you’re pitching her to me!” But the best advice I received in making that decision was to follow my gut as to which one I felt most comfortable with and genuinely liked my work.

What I did not anticipate, was difficulty in finding the right words to inform the agents I was turning down. Both of them had shown such generosity and kindness.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how?

I can promise you, I would not have found an agent without all I have benefitted from as a 12 x 12 participant. The support, encouragement and sharing of information: to write more, read more, start blogging, doodle every day, critique artwork, join a writer’s critique group for PBs, form a local critique group, go to conferences, keep learning, start submitting, keep going, chin up, chest out, breathe, read more, write more… And above all else? Keep laughing! This is how I found my tribe!!!

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

Can’t tell, it’s only been a week! But my enthusiasm moved up ten notches!

A toast with two Julies!

A toast with two Julies!

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

Join 12 x 12, do all the things I mentioned two Q/As back, and join SCBWI. And when you are preparing for ‘the call’, and believe two pages worth of questions are enough, think again and double that!

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

I most certainly do! My agent found my blog, and I got illustration and design work through posting sketches on Facebook. To push my daily doodles, I started drawing birthday greetings: almost every day I drew something new for any friend on Facebook and posted it to their timeline. I believe, in this manner I made deeper connections within the kid-lit community, and I value that very highly.

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 🙂 )

Two things: I want to see a grand display of the Aurora Borealis, and to witness the arrival of migrating monarch butterflies in the forests of pine trees and fir in Michoacan/Mexico.

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

Sketches for one polished manuscript, and, for the first time, I’m developing a dummy while I am constructing the narrative of a story.

Julie R-Z

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Friendship, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Social Media, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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