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OMG I JUST realized that today is the last day of 12 x 12 2014!!! Forgive me for allowing this to take me by surprise. I haven’t even had a chance to be sad yet! 

Seriously, the whole month of December has been like this. Christmas was over just as I fully realized it was upon us. Tonight is New Year’s Eve and I made dinner reservations last night. 

Perhaps it’s a form of rebellion against saying goodbye to another OUTSTANDING year of 12 x 12. Yet, I know it’s not truly goodbye. Many of you will come back in 2015. Some of you won’t. But no matter what, I cherish you all and the community we shared this year. I myself wrote 7 new drafts and revised 12. That is a personal best for me in terms of volume of writing, and I know it would never be possible without the support and motivation of this group.

I wish I had something more profound to say, but I always get a little verklempt at this time of year. So, allow me to wish you all a Happy, Safe, Joyous, Prosperous, CREATIVE, New Year!

Please visit our BRAND NEW 12 x 12 website if you are interested in joining next year. See you on the other side!

Now tell us about you. Did you get your draft or revision done this month? Let us know in the comments and in the Rafflecopter. Remember one lucky 12 x 12 member will win a picture book critique from our very own Marcie Colleen.

How did you do this year? If you completed 12 picture book drafts this year, send us a video or a headshot and tell us how many drafts you wrote and we’ll add you to the Winners Wall! Entries for the Winners Wall are due by midnight tonight!

Here is what you need to do to check in for a chance to win a Picture Book Critique from Marcie Colleen:

  1. See the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post that says “Picture Book Critique from Marcie Colleen” at the top.
  2. Click on the “Comment on the Featured Post” button. It will reveal the task, which is to comment on the featured blog post. Commenting on the featured post is mandatory and gets you one point even if you didn’t complete a draft in December. If you haven’t yet commented, click here to do so. Then you click ENTER on that option in Rafflecopter, which will then open the next two options.
  3. Click on the “Wrote a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you completed a PB draft in December. If you did, click ENTER, if you did not, move on to the next step.
  4. Click on the last “Revised a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you revised a PB in December. If you did, click ENTER. If not, move on to the next step.
  5. Submit your entry. Rafflecopter will track your points.

You have until midnight Eastern on January 1st to enter your results. Rafflecopter will draw a winner and I’ll announce it on the blog on January 2nd.

Keep on writing! We hope to see you back in 2015!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Giveaway, Picture Books · Tags: , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member L. Michelle Quraishi

Believe it or not folks, this is our last Tuesday 12 x 12 post for 2014, and what a great one to capture the spirit of our community as we roll from 2014 into 2015. Today’s author, L. Michelle Quraishi, brought tears to my eyes because I saw myself in every part of her journey. I suspect all of you will see yourselves too. Dreams deferred, crushed. Climbing out of the rubble to take hold of them again. (Side note: WHY do so many people get clobbered in college, at the very time teachers should be encouraging young writers the most – UGH!). Then of course, once free of the rubble, a community stretches out its hands. Please welcome L. Michelle Quraishi!

I always thought that what I needed in order to write was an audience. So much writing in me never makes it onto the page unless there’s someone out there waiting to read it. I write MORE when I have a deadline connected to a real person. I joined 12 x 12 because it offered readers and deadlines—a ready-made audience to stand-in for the nurturing agent and editors I have yet to meet.

As a child, finding an audience was easy. My mom typed my stories before I could write them myself, on a real old-fashioned clackety-clack.

© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

My teachers glowed and encouraged when I set pages in their hands. My great-grandmas wrote back to every letter I ever sent them, letters that survived fire and flood, still tied up in bundles in my garage. By the time I was old enough to get in trouble for speckling my dad’s typewriter with white-out (I’ve always loved revising 😉 ), Creative Writing classes and literary journals gave me an outlet and an audience.

And then came college. I loved college, but nobody cared about my writing anymore. I applied and was accepted to the Creative Writing Department, which included the remote but enticing possibility of working with Toni Morrison, an opportunity lost that I’ll never cease to regret. Nothing in my young life as a writer had prepared me to swim with the big fish, and a freshman semester with a scathing graduate student in fiction seminar sent my writing voice scuttling to hide under a rock. I dropped out of Creative Writing and instead majored in English with a focus on children’s literature, to spend three years reading and writing about the children’s books I treasured.

De grote vissen eten de kleine, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569)

De grote vissen eten de kleine, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569)

I never stopped writing, but my failure to connect to an audience in college put Maleficent’s enchantment on my writing ambition, cursing it to a deep sleep. Ten years of my young adulthood were dedicated to writing about education, as I struggled with the dilemmas urban teachers face in underfunded schools, and took solace in my classroom library of picture books.

 

Louis Sußmann-Hellborn (1828- 1908): Dornröschen - Mutter Erde

Louis Sußmann-Hellborn (1828- 1908): Dornröschen – Mutter Erde

I stopped teaching to stay home with my children, writing in scraps and corners of time stolen from each day. Then, when my youngest turned two, I could see the time looming when the financial contribution I’d been making to our family—childrearing—would have to be replaced with something else. And at that moment in 2012, I determined that the something else would be my writing. Somehow, I would learn to make my way as a writer in the world again. It was my daughter’s promise to grow up that rousted my ambition from sleep.

I went to the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Conference at Book Passage, three years in a row. There I learned about SCBWI, and have attended every local event since. Heard about Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo, where I read about 12 x 12, and joined this year for the first time. All along I thought that it was audience I needed. Turns out, what I really needed was community.

I’ve been mostly quiet here in 12 x 12, and feel pretty shy about sending this little essay to Kelli. But I also get pretty choked up when I think about how 12 x 12 has transformed and enlivened my writing life since I joined. I wanted to share my gratitude for those badges, the “Well, done, Michelle,” the thoughtful feedback on 250 words, Query Corner and Pitch Perfect, and the support of my online critique group.

Long ago, I locked myself into a tower where my writing dreams withered. And I rescued myself, too. All it took was putting my hand on the doorknob, and turning it. But when I opened the door, all of you folks at 12 x 12 were right there waiting for me, and you welcomed me as if I already belonged. Thank you.

Born to a Pakistani father and American mother in California, L. Michelle Quraishi was raised in Half Moon Bay, CA, on a balanced diet of donuts and liverwurst, Madeleine L’Engle, and sitar music. She now lives in Walnut Creek, finding inspiration for her books in goddess lore, brain science, animal behavior, her children, calculus and kung fu. Inspired by Julie Hedlund’s How to Make Money as a Writer course, she’s just started work on her author website. You can also find her on Twitter or check out research for her new novel about Baba Yaga in middle school on Pinterest. When she’s not busy making up stories, Michelle blogs at amomnextdoor.wordpress.com, folds origami, collects rainwater in jars, pickles green beans and keeps knives in dangerous places.

 

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

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12 x 12  Member Erik AmmonI love hearing stories like the one shared by this week’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author Erik Ammon, where 12 x 12 not only helps a writer overcome fear and inertia but also helps improve his or her writing. It’s amazing what being part of a supportive community can do for your confidence and your craft. For someone who needed to overcome a great deal of doubt to get where he is today (at a minimum, a near shoo-in for winning this year’s challenge), Erik has shown exceptional bravery. It takes courage to share your work with others, but it takes even more courage to recognize that you can get better and put in the hard work to do just that. I hope you’re as inspired by Erik’s story as I am. Welcome, Erik!

I’ve always loved writing. For a while, in the early to mid 90’s, I wrote some poetry and started the next great epic fantasy novel. Then I stopped. I’m not sure why I did, I just did. Honestly, it may have been the thought of actually writing 150,000 to 200,000 words.

Fast forward twenty years…

I started writing again while recovering from hip and knee surgery in 2013. It gave me something to do since I couldn’t run. I started with a running novella about my life in running that, in an ultimate world, would have ended with me getting back to ultra-marathons, qualifying for and racing in The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Trail Run. But, life isn’t perfect, and neither is my knee. I’m hoping to still finish that story, but it’s going to be a long time.

With a pause in the running novella, I turned to writing short stories, which I put up on a writing site. Someone on the site liked my writing and asked me to write a children’s story with a moral for a possible site published anthology to benefit multiple sclerosis (if I remember correctly- the site is now defunct, so I can’t check in to be sure). The story was quickly reviewed by many and received several 5 star reviews. With this confidence, I hired an illustrator and self-published The Rabbit Who Wished He Could Fly on February 14th, 2014. a writing blog! All things I never would have done without 12×12. If you’ve heard of 12×12 and are not sure if you should join next year, put those fears aside and sign-up!

My name is Erik Ammon. I’m a 2nd grade teacher in my 15th year of teaching. I’m also a running coach and a pre-published writer. I have a wonderful photographer wife, a trumpet playing 10 year old son and a 9 year old soccer star daughter. Oh, and a cat, Kona, that runs the house.

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

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12 x 12 Member Kirsten Bock

I love that today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Kirsten Bock, recognizes that if we want our children to follow their dreams, we must first follow our own. Perhaps that realization is the greatest gift that comes from being a parent. And as someone who also kept a diary for each year (the equivalent of the “school journal”), I can now say the contents make great material for school visits and provides a mainline right back into the heart of of childhood. I think you’ll agree with me that Kirsten’s dreams are anything but “loony.” Please help me give her a warm welcome!

When I was in elementary school my mom started a “school journal” with me. Each year, we glued a school photo onto the page and then dutifully filled out important information: hobbies/interests, current friends and future career. Although my friends and hobbies changed from year to year, my aspirations for the future never did. The answer to the last question was always “an author and a teacher” (well, there was a brief stint where “racecar driver” made it into the mix, but who has time for three careers?).

I was made to be a teacher. I love to boss people around…er, I mean “lead and inspire.” My idea of a fantastic day is a trip to the container store and then, wielding my very own label maker, spending hours organizing a room. And I absolutely must have a job that includes dressing up for Halloween and acting like a complete loon.

Writing is also perfect for me. In my stories, I can boss my characters around all the live long day. My idea of an even more fabulous day is spending hours reading picture books in the teeny seats of Barnes and Noble’s children’s section. I also get to play dress up with all of my characters, acting like a complete loon through the eyes of each and every one of them.

After elementary school, though, the answer to that “future career” question grew shorter. A teacher sounded like a reasonable goal. Something that would help me earn a living (or at least rent in a shoebox apartment). An author? Not so much.

So, I went on to teach. And I loved it. But there was always that nagging voice in the back of my head. It motivated me to write occasionally and it definitely gave me a strong passion for teaching writing. It wasn’t until my twins were born that I realized what I wanted…no needed to do.

I needed my sweet little babies to believe wholeheartedly that they could be anything they wanted to be. What kind of role model would I be if I didn’t at least give my dream a decent kick in the behind? So, in between nighttime feedings and chasing two giggling monsters, I picked up my pencil and began to write again.

My twins are four years old now and my youngest is two. A lot has changed in my life and I am proud to say that my writing is definitely one of those changes. With 12X12, PiBoIdMo, SCBWI, Susannah Leonard Hill’s Making Picture Book Magic and the fantastic support of my critique groups, I have come such a long way towards my goal of being an author. Although I don’t keep a school journal anymore, the answer to that last question would definitely be “an author.”

Kirsten Bock is a writer and stay at home mom of three, living in North Carolina. In between changing diapers and pulling children off of the drapes, she finds a moment or two to write picture books. Most of the stories and dialogue are taken from her children, so she fully expects to give them the royalties when she becomes rich and famous.

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

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12 x 12 Member Kim MacPherson

As I sat down to write the introduction for this week’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Kim MacPherson, I was reflecting on a school visit I conducted today (Monday, September 22). Rarely does a picture book author meet with high schoolers, but this was a small private school so I got every grade from K-12. In speaking to the high schoolers, I talked about “dreams deferred” and choosing “logical, rational” career paths over doing what you love. It seems Kim and I both came to writing books for children via the circuitous route after leaving “responsible” jobs. So I appreciate her willingness to share her story to inspire others of you out there who have done the same, may be considering the same, or will perhaps bypass the detour altogether and go straight for the goal. Please welcome Kim! 

Until 12 x 12, I had a whole lot of “works-in-progress.” Oh yes, I’m a very good starter. (You non-finishers out there know of what I speak!)

I am not kidding or exaggerating. Over the past couple of years, I think I’ve started no less than several dozen children’s books.

Granted, over these last couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to have more time to dedicate to the craft since leaving a big corporate job. However, until 12 x 12, I’ve mainly only come up with ideas and first drafts. Or just first paragraphs. Sometimes only first lines.

And endings? Ah, there’s my nemesis. (Actually, to clarify—I’ve become an expert at writing the first 2/3 of a book, and then the very last page. It’s the in-between that always has me flummoxed.)

Perhaps My Past Explains It…
As a child, I was all about art and words. All I wanted to do was draw and paint and color. I was an only child, so I had a lot of free time to explore my imagination. By the end of elementary school, I was also writing. A lot. However, I didn’t LOVE it in and of itself (and by itself) like I loved drawing.

When art and words came together for me, though, my brain exploded. I was downright prolific. AND I finished everything I started! Imagine that.

Then life got in the way. I won’t bore you with the details, but a lot of home moves (eleven of them before I graduated high school) and tumultuous times had me heading for a “logical” degree by the time I went off to college. All of that led to a sometimes fulfilling marketing career that completely stalled my artistic ambitions. I mean it ground them to a screeching halt. Bella_illo_stand_600_2

Having a Baby Really DOES Change Everything
That is, until one crazy day, I simply quit. My son was eight years old at the time and my love of words and pictures had been simmering in my heart from the time I was reading him books in utero. Something was rekindled when HE was created… and it has never waned. In fact, it has only gotten stronger.

Again, though (and I’ll mention this for a third time), there was still that non-finisher in me. Where was that prolific girl who finished everything she started? Oh sure, I had all kinds of excuses. My son’s activities took up a lot of time. My freelance editing work took hours. Tennis… school volunteer gigs… etc. They all got in the way. I was busy, but I was trying.

As Yoda says, though: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
And that’s what 12 x 12 makes you do. It makes you DO! I thought about joining in 2013, and then actually joined in January of this year. And I’m so grateful that I did, because while it hasn’t completely brought me back to my astoundingly productive past, I have actually finished—and I mean polished-finished, not just “completed”—no less than three picture book manuscripts this year, and I’ve written five new drafts. I am going to polish those up starting in September. What progress!

Thank you, Julie Hedlund (AND Kelli—can’t forget about Kelli!) in addition to all of the great 12 x 12 volunteers for helping authors like me (as well as the already-productive ones) stay on task and connect to a like-minded community.

Oh yeah… and for helping us actually finish all of those great works-in-progress.

Kim MacPherson is a children’s author, illustrator, and editor. Her favorite book as a kid was the original (and gorgeously illustrated) Golden Book of Fairy Tales. She was also obsessed with Dr. Seuss, but some of Sendak’s early drawings creeped her out. (Sorry to say.) She blogs about writing, drawing, and reading children’s books at KidLitDish.com and also edits PBs at PictureBookEditor.com.

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

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Jackie KramerWhen I said I was behind with the 12 x 12 agent success stories, I meant it! Here’s one from last year that features the very first agent who accepted submissions from 12 x 12 members. Today Jackie Kramer is here to talk about her journey to finding an agent.

What I love most about Jackie’s story is how much her personal experience and practice of craft is woven into the outcome. You can feel her passion for writing and storytelling in this post, and I think that pure zest is often what is missing from the “average” success story that’s shared. I know as writers, we want to know the mechanics of another person’s success. How they got from A to B to C so we can try to follow the path. Jackie reminds us that if you lead with your desire to tell and share stories, eventually your path will reveal itself to you. Please welcome Jackie!

Tell us about how long you had been writing before seeking an agent and your journey through the submissions process.

Four years ago I had returned from volunteering in the rain forest of Ecuador. The trip was a transformative experience, and more so since part of my family is from Ecuador. I decided to write a picture book about the children and families I had gotten to know and love.

“Welcome Daisy”, a tight 2000 words, was my magnum opus. I wasn’t part of a critique group, nor had I heard of SCBWI. However I found an old copy of Writers Market, and thought, “Easy, peasy…I’m on my way!”

On my way, indeed! After many grueling months of bad queries and submissions, I had not traveled far from those first steps into the unknowable and vast forest, otherwise known as literary agencies. But, here’s what–I was bitten by a story I had to share, and with my passion undiminished, albeit my ego a bit bruised, I was ready to learn.

I hunkered down for my journey to reach Mecca, like a mirage in the dessert…the illusive offer of representation. Looking back on it now, I had no idea how long the journey would take or what I was in store for, and whether I’d have the mettle to stick it through.

I became a SCBWI member and started to attend fun and ego boosting SCBWI Conferences and regional events. At workshops and seated at lunches, I got to meet those mysterious agents and editors, only to find out that they’re people too, and they want you to succeed. In the three years leading up to signing with an agent, I had about four different manuscripts that I was submitting.

I followed their guidelines carefully… no rhyme means, no rhyme! Behave like a professional and I discovered you build good will. Some agents replied with constructive and positive feedback. A subtle relationship was established, and they remembered me when I submitted a new story.

Yet, the rejection letters reached epic numbers, maybe 25 or more. Many times on this journey I felt defeated and deflated and derailed. However, the most important lesson I learned, a mantra I’d repeat to myself as my head hit the pillow, were the very words that seemed to end every rejection letter—“The publishing industry is very subjective.” So don’t give up, don’t quit writing. You truly need to be in it, to win it.

How did you know your agent was the one?

Okay, so here comes the circuitous way that I signed with my agent. It started with 12×12 when I submitted “The Green Umbrella” to the first agent to kick-off the 2013 12 x 12 challenge. Within a week, he had replied. In short, he said my story was, “… unique and that he could truly imagine it as a charming picture book.” However, he had a suggestion about one of the characters. I asked if he would accept my revision, and he agreed. YIPPEE…this is it! I’m in!

Not quite.

I sent him the revision and heard nothing. And every month following I sent a polite email nudge and didn’t hear back. Yes, I was disappointed and a bit frustrated, but Mecca was in sight and I wasn’t going to stop now. I continued my monthly submissions on 12 x 12, which kept me focused on the end game—to one day share my stories with many little readers.

Then this past August I was reading my back copies of Publishers Weekly and I read an article describing that a Swiss publisher, NorthSouth/NordSud, had bought the German rights to Jon Klassen’s books. Furthermore, they were actively looking for American writers. I sent NorthSouth an email asking for their submission guidelines and heard back within two days from the editor. It read, “Yes, please send us all your manuscripts. We look forward to reading them.” I feasted on her response for days. No joke, how often does that happen? That week I sent them a few mss and heard back in ten days.

The email went something like this, “Blah, blah, blah, blah…you’re a great writer, buut…” Okay, here comes the kiss-off. But, no! The editor finished by saying, “We LOVE “The Green Umbrella” (TGU) and your story would TRANSLATE well for the German market. SCREECH, went my brakes as I was in my car (note to self: don’t drive and read emails).

So, now we need to rewind a bit. Remember the agent from 12×12 who I’d been gently nudging monthly with TGU revision, well, the very same week I sent my MSs to NorthSouth, I had decided to send a complete new story to said agent, since I decided that TGU was rejected by him. About two days BEFORE my good news from NorthSouth, he replied and said, “I really like this, and please resend TGU.” He added that maybe I shouldn’t have assumed that he rejected TGU if I hadn’t heard from him. I did and he loved it.

Here’s the interesting part–I now had some leverage with NorthSouth’s offer. I decided to reach out to those agents I had gotten to know and asked if they would be interested in representing me in this offer. They all immediately replied and I was now having phone conversations with various agents. In the end, there was a clear match…drum roll, please. I’m sure you’ve guessed the agent was the one who liked my work from the start…Stephen Fraser of Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Simply put, Stephen really likes my work. As a writer, I like to write in different PB genres—rhyme; concept; non-fiction; poetry; fractured fairy tales, etc. He assured me that I should trust my writing instincts and myself and that creativity expresses itself in many forms. That advice is priceless…I now felt I had reached Mecca.

Has your writing process changed since signing with an agent?

No, not really. The only difference is that I have Stephen as a trusted sounding board. Perfect example, I wrote a fractured fairytale about a plucky chicken, Claudette’s Forgettable, Inedible Egg and the Fairy Hen Coach. I really felt good about it, and yet something was missing. I had overworked it and decided to put it away. Then Stephen read it once, and made an insightful suggestion. Needless to say, the story now works…all we have to do is sell it, haha!

What advice would you give to PB writers looking for AGENTS today?

If anything my story reflects that there are a few avenues to acquiring an agent. Refine your gift of storytelling by taking a writing class, join a critique group, and register for 12 x 12, of course! Read, read and read many picture books, and be brave when it comes to revisions. But, here’s what–live your life, and find inspiration…because it’s EVERYWHERE. This is the stuff and the foundation for good stories. Envision your MS like a piece of sculpture and you’re the artist. You’ve a toolbox with tools like: plot; structure; character; pacing; language and tension. Your story is a block of marble and with your tools you chip away. Step back and take a good look at your creation, chip away some more. You may need to cover it and let it rest awhile.

Or, share your WIP with a trusted peer for their honest, yet encouraging feedback. Return, relaxed and recharged with a fresh set of eyes to polish your work to a gleaming shine. Finally, be courageous and share your masterpiece with agents you’ve researched and feel that they will like, maybe love your story. All this work is important because when you receive a rejection, it may not sting so much. You know you’ve done the work. Breathe…and trust in your process.

Do you think your platform helped you find your agent?

The simple answer is ‘no’. Not even Facebook. Well, I have a profile that I almost never post anything. However, I’ve had four of my stories published as eBooks on uTales.com. – a site of original picture books from around the world that allows you to directly collaborate with illustrators. I included uTales in my query to agents hoping that it was a better reflection of my work than my FB page. Recently, I opened a Twitter account and that’s been fun! I’ve connected with many kidlit peeps and industry folks. One does need to stay in touch with readers, teachers, librarians and parents…I look forward to that!

Tell us something that is on your bucket list.

Let’s call it a ‘Must-Do’ list. I have traveled to many places around the world, and I fancy myself an amateur anthropologist. It stems from my curiosity in my Incan ancestry. I’d like to visit and study the ancient cultural sites around the world: Stonehenge, England; Easter Island; the Pyramids; Machu Picchu, Peru; Anasazi Cliff Dwellings, Colorado; Pumapunku, Bolivia. There is something mystical and spiritual about these places. Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Ancient Aliens!

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

I’ll keep Stephen busy selling the stories that I’ve written in the last few years. And, I’m currently working on a revision for one of my favorite publishers. However, recently I went to a wonderful exhibit at the New York Public Library, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter”. Part of the exhibit displayed a couple of letters between Anne Carroll Moore, head of children’s library services for the New York Public Library system and Beatrix Potter. I was immediately inspired by their transatlantic friendship. My plan is to write a creative non-fiction picture book about Anne Carroll Moore’s journey across the Atlantic to personally meet her literary hero. However, this genre requires much research to get the facts right, and yet tell an entertaining story. As part of my research, I’ve been transported in time and place as I sit in the gorgeous NYPL and have the honor of holding and reading their actual letters.

You can find Jackie’s work at uTales.com and you can follow her on Twitter @JackieKramer422.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Queries, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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

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

Please welcome Alayne!

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you know your agent was “the one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I am having a difficult time believing it’s spring since there was snow in my yard just two days ago. But I CAN report some good news from March. I revised like ca-razy — major revisions on at least three different manuscripts. And I did write a new draft, albeit not one that will be suitable for future publication because it’s already been published on my blog. It’s a little ditty I created in honor of Jane Yolen after spending a magnificent weekend at her master picture book writing boot camp. How Does Jane Yolen Say Goodnight? I’m counting it because it would be a book if Jane had written it, and not every draft will be one that ends up on bookstore shelves. This draft came straight from the heart too. If only all my manuscripts would! 🙂

How about you my 12 x 12 friends? Are your manuscripts roaring like a lion? Let us know in the comments and in the Rafflecopter. Also, thank you once again to the wonderful Deborah Underwood, March’s featured author, who showed up how to succeed in difficult genres. Be sure to stop back tomorrow to meet our April author!

Here is what you need to do to check in for a chance to win signed copies of Here Comes the Easter Cat and Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood:

  1. See the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post that says “Signed copies of Here Comes the Easter Cat and Bad Bye, Good Bye” at the top.
  2. Click on the “Comment on Deborah’s Blog Post” button. It will reveal the task, which is to comment on Deborah’s blog post. Commenting on Deborah’s post is mandatory and gets you one point even if you didn’t complete a draft in March. If you haven’t yet commented, click here to do so. Then you click ENTER on that option in Rafflecopter, which will then open the next two options.
  3. Click on the “Wrote a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you completed a PB draft in March. If you did, click ENTER, if you did not, move on to the next step.
  4. Click on the last “Revised a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you revised a PB in March. If you did, click ENTER. If not, move on to the next step.
  5. Submit your entry. Rafflecopter will track your points.

You have until midnight Eastern on April 1st to enter your results. Rafflecopter will draw a winner and I’ll announce it on the blog on April 2nd.

Three months down, nine to go!
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Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Are you reading this and haven’t yet joined 12 x 12? TODAY is the last day to join. Don’t miss your chance!  Register now!

I have some excellent advice for anyone who needs serious motivation to write and revise (besides joining 12 x 12 of course)! Sign up for an in-person picture book writing boot camp with Jane Yolen (which I did, and which is coming up in TWO WEEKS). I can tell you the specter of sharing your work with Jane (who is my FAVORITE children’s author) will act like super glue between your butt and your chair. 🙂

Suffice it to say my February was productive. I fully revised two manuscripts and wrote a new draft. Then it occurred to me that for the first time ever, I am in a position to win my own challenge! Believe it or not, in the previous two years, I’ve been out of the running by this time. So I am quite giddy.

So my little 12 x 12 friends, how did you do in February? Are you off to a drafty beginning? Let us know in the comments and in the Rafflecopter. Also, thank you once again to the fabulous Wendi Silvano, February’s featured author, who gave us excellent instruction on writing character-driven picture books!

Here is what you need to do to check in for a chance to win a critique from Wendi Silvano:

  1. See the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post that says “Critique from Wendi Silvano” at the top.
  2. Click on the “Comment on Wendi’s Blog Post” button. It will reveal the task, which is to comment on Wendi’s blog post. Commenting on Wendi’s post is mandatory and gets you one point even if you didn’t complete a draft in February. If you haven’t yet commented, click here to do so. Then you click ENTER on that option in Rafflecopter, which will then open the next two options.
  3. Click on the “Wrote a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you completed a PB draft in February. If you did, click ENTER, if you did not, move on to the next step.
  4. Click on the last “Revised a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you revised a PB in Febuary. If you did, click ENTER. If not, move on to the next step.
  5. Submit your entry. Rafflecopter will track your points.

You have until midnight Eastern on March 1st to enter your results. Rafflecopter will draw a winner and I’ll announce it on the blog on March 2nd.

We are on our way to another successful year in 12×12!
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Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Giveaway, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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