Inside Scoop: Dish from a Literary Agent Intern – On Motivation

Today I want to talk about that thing called motivation, something that might be hard to find when you are feeling defeated, lost or unsettled, like nothing in life is going to work out. Sometimes these times feel insurmountable to me, like I want to crawl into a hole and never come out again. For you writers this might happen while sending out queries, trying to finish up a manuscript or when you get another rejection letter. In these moments, I like to remember there are things I can do to remain motivated. Staying motivated in the face of rejection can be difficult, but I’ve taught myself some little tricks to keep me on track.

  • Create a mantra – When I’m feeling particularly unmotivated and sorry for myself, I pick out a mantra. It can be as simple as ‘just be’ or as specific as ‘you can finish this chapter.’ Finding a mantra that works helps in conquering those feelings of defeat.
  • Write a goal/gratitude list – Sometimes I forget what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. Getting rejected, not hearing back from anyone, or hitting a road block, are things that can make us forget what we’re doing in the first place. In order to battle those feelings, I make a list to remind myself of the goals I’ve already reached, my hopes and dreams, and what I have in general. These lists help me remember why I’m doing what I’m doing.
  • Take a break – Rejection, constant critiquing, or even silence sometimes feel like too much. That’s when I like to take a break. And no, I don’t mean a 6-month hiatus while I wallow in despair. I mean a day or two where I can collect myself, focus on the positive and recharge my battery. If I don’t give myself the time I need to appreciate my end goal, I get bogged down in the rest and forget what I’m doing in the first place.

I recently went through a time where I was questioning what I was doing with my life (ahh!) and I had to take some time to remind myself of my end goal: getting a paying job in publishing. I’m back on track now, and looking forward to the day I borrow Linda’s blog to let you all know about my new job in publishing!

I would love to hear some tips & tricks that you use to stay motivated!

Kim Photo BioKimberly Richardson is currently interning for Linda Epstein at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, while pursuing her Masters degree in Pace University’s Publishing Program. She also interns at the National Association of Professional Women. You can follow Kimberly on Twitter @kimberly_ann688.


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On Pooh and Writing Our Lives

pooh-balloonI’m thinking about storytelling. I was in Boston for the weekend at my daughter’s graduation from college. Not only am I someone who’s in the business of stories, but I can’t help but see the stories in the raw material walking and breathing around me. So besides the story of my own daughter’s graduation, for me the weekend was a series of vignettes coming together and fading away.

We heard the Korean student who delivered the student speech at commencement tell a story of resilience and perseverance, taking 7 years to finish his undergraduate degree, with stops and starts in the army, and as a journalist reporting on North Korean atrocities. So inspiring! Hosts of families beaming with pride or stressing about getting into the stadium for graduation; the grandmothers and grandfathers; the single moms and single dads; siblings who looked like they wanted to be elsewhere or looked to their graduating brother with envy or looked up to their graduating sister; a family with a dog in a carrier; the students who lined up for a picture standing on the seal of the university, which you’re not supposed to stand on until you graduate; the sorority girls doing that sorority pose, in their caps and gowns; the multitudes! Sheesh, if I could only capture it a fraction as well as Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass!

And my daughter. What can a parent say to their child at the culmination of their education? Besides the pride I felt at her achievement, besides the happiness of sharing this special time, besides the feeling of accomplishment I personally felt, knowing my husband and I have done a good job raising her, I felt at a loss for the right words to speak. What “wisdom” do I want to impart? I realized that what I want to tell my child is the same thing I delivered a keynote on a few years back at NOH-SCBWI and that I’ve touched upon intermittently here on the blog, as advice to writers.It’s this:

We are the authors of our own lives. We write the narrative. Things will happen in our lives that are out of our control. What we do with those things, how we contextualize them, speak about them, internalize them, are in our control. And we each get to decide about so many other things, that are in our control. We get to decide when we’re going to do something brave or risky or outside the box. We get to decide when to do things considered totally “normal.” There are so many things that are in our control! Life may be long or short. We never really know how much time we’re going to have on this earth. I firmly believe in following one’s dreams. I’m not saying be reckless or dumb about it, but I am saying not to settle for anything less than a glorious life.  Writers, are you listening? This message is for you, too!

And to the little girl who I watched the VHS tape of The Blustery Day with too many times to count, to whom I read the poems in When we Are Six and When We Were Very Young before bed, who painted “Think, Think, Think” and a picture of Pooh flying to his future on the string of a balloon on the mortar board of her graduation cap, I also have these words for you, just as Christopher Robin spoke them to his friend Pooh:

“You’re braver than you believe,

and stronger than you seem,

and smarter than you think.”


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The Low Down on Writing Picture Books

children-s-book-clipart-booksDon’t kid yourself thinking that writing a picture book is easy. In my opinion, writing a picture book takes more skill and craft than writing a novel. Well, perhaps that’s not true, but it takes a very specific kind of skill and craft, that not everyone has. Here are some of the things you need to think about if you’re going to write picture books.

  • The current market for picture books supports very low word counts. When I started in the business 6 years ago, we were looking for word counts of <1000. Now, it’s not unusual for word counts to be <500. Keep this in mind when you’re writing.
  • Some of the things that make a picture book manuscript work are interesting word choices, repetition, assonance, internal rhyme, meter. Pay attention to this. It’s not only about the content of your story, it’s about how you tell your story even on the sentence level.
  • If you’re going to write a rhyming picture book text, have the rhyme serve the story, don’t jam a story into a rhyme.
  • Picture books can’t be too teachy-preachy or didactic, or kids aren’t going to want to read them. If you have a “message,” don’t slam your reader over the head with it.
  • Don’t talk down to the miniature humans you’re writing for. Kids are astute and will pick up on a condescending tone.
  • The world that you build in your story usually has rules to it, even though it may only be 467 words long. Don’t break those rules, or the story won’t work.
  • If you’re not an illustrator, you just send your manuscript text when you’re submitting to agents or editors. You don’t need to find an illustrator. The publisher will want to do that if/when they buy your manuscript.
  • Only include illustration notes if you need something in particular in the illustration to tell your story. Otherwise, it just feels like you’re micro managing the illustrator’s job. (Plus it’s unprofessional and will peg you as a novice.)
  • Picture books are usually 32 pages long. If this is new information for you, read this blog post to familiarize yourself with just how picture books are laid out.
  • There are all types of story structures: cumulative, circular, increasing/decreasing, parallel, linear, etc… As with rhyme, have your story structure serve your story, don’t jam a story into a particular structure.
  • Remember that the game is to write a book that kids are going to want to read again and again and again and again.

This is not a comprehensive list. What other things do you think picture book writers need to keep in mind? 


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