Picture Books: Disabusing Aspiring Authors of Some Misconceptions

image003Let’s talk about picture books, ok? I made a little quiz for you all. Check off all the reasons why you might want to write a picture book:

☐I like kids! I even have a few of my own.

☐It would take too long to write a novel.

☐Writing a picture book is easier than writing a novel.

☐I just got a silly idea and it would make a great book.

☐I want to teach kids that <fill something in here>.

☐I wrote something for my kids and I think every kid would love it.

☐I want to be rich and famous like Dr. Seuss or Jane Yolen or Eric Carle or Patricia Polacco, etc…

Let me set the record straight, right here and now: picture books are really hard to write. I want you to understand, on a visceral level, that being a writer of picture books isn’t easier, simpler, or in any way less than being a writer of longer form work. And having or teaching kids doesn’t necessarily give you the authority to write picture books. In some ways, it’s just irrelevant. Some of the greatest children’s book authors didn’t even have kids (like Theodore Geisel and Maurice Sendak). What’s more helpful than having some kids is being able to experience the world like a child, remembering how to see and hear and think like a kid.

It might not take as long to write a picture book as it would to write a novel, but the game isn’t just to write the book. The game is to write something interesting, unique, perhaps funny or poignant or informative… and you want it readable, sellable, marketable… and well written! So, if you can do that in the flash of a hat, congratulations! For most people though, writing a picture book takes a while. You need to be thoughtful. You need to mold and craft and hone the language to work in every single sentence and on every single page. The overarching story needs to work, too. Your characters need to pop off the pages and into the minds and hearts of your readers. Plus, there’s the pacing, of course. Doing all of this, getting it right, takes time.

Picture books that are overly didactic and teachy-preachy aren’t so much fun for kids to read. When you write a picture book, get out of your own point of view as the author and jump into the shoes of one of the kids who you hope will be your reader. Would they like what you’re writing? Check in on that. Not on what you think (because you’re a grownup), but on how it will land for a kid.

Also remember (and this is not just for picture books!) that just because your family, and others who love you, are interested in something you’ve written, does not mean it will have universal appeal. Ask yourself why what you’re writing will be interesting to people who don’t know you. But remember to be honest when you answer yourself.

Lastly, anyone who’s going into writing because of the money, my advice is “don’t quit your day job just yet.” Write books because it’s what you love, what you have to do, what lights you up. If you end up getting paid for it? Bonus! It’s the rare lucky author who is able to pay their bills from the money they make writing picture books.

Any questions?



Filed under Uncategorized

Guest Blogger Natasha Sinel: Tips for Debut Authors

imagesMy debut YA novel, THE FIX, is in bookstores now. The official publication date is tomorrow, and I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned this past year, as I’ve gotten ready to become a published author.Fix-cover-final

Join a debut author group. Promote other authors’ works.

Do not underestimate the importance of connecting with others who are traveling the same road as you. You advise each other on tactics that work and don’t work, you vent and commiserate, you celebrate.

Also, read books by your fellow debuts. Compliment their books online if you liked them. Email the author and tell him/her the parts you loved. It doesn’t cost anything and it can make someone else’s day. Of course it’s a competitive business, but someone else’s success does not equal your failure. If you need more of a reason to do this, then you can consider it good karma.

Spending money to promote your book is inevitable.

You may have thought that you could collect your advance and put the whole thing in the bank. For a lucky few debut authors, that might be the case, however, for the rest of us, you’ll be spending some (or all) of that money on book-related things—professional author photos, marketing materials, an outside publicist, perhaps. You probably shouldn’t quit your day job just yet.

Know that you will become jaded.

There are many unexciting things that must be done for the launch of a book. Things you’d expect like revising, editing, copy-editing. But also so much more: social media, blog posts, self-promotion, postcards to libraries, bookmarks. ARCs. Planning launch parties. Media. Bookstores. So. Much. To. Do. Your list of things will be endless. It will be very easy to forget that publishing a book is actually the thing you’ve always wanted—a dream come true. Try to remember that every now and then. Also, write another book.

Friends and family will be excited and proud and they’ll say amazing things to you. Some people might also say insensitive things.

As jaded as you may be by the publishing process (see #3), your friends and family are not. They truly believe that what you’ve done is an amazing thing. Your book is going to be on shelves. And they know you. That’s pretty cool. When it comes to insensitive comments (and they will come), remember that people say dumb stuff all the time when they don’t know how something works—you do it too. Try not to get too upset with them—most of them are not hurt you intentionally (it’s possible that some are, but try to chalk that up to jealousy).

If your book is on a top ten list, featured at a major conference, or receives a starred review, you might feel pretty amazing, but you probably won’t. But if your book is not on a top ten list, not featured at a major conference, doesn’t receive a starred review (or receives a negative review), you will definitely feel horrible.

This phenomenon is something I’ve labeled the “numb overcoat.” It’s a big, puffy, toasty warm, comfy overcoat. It protects you from the bad stuff—the snarky, cruel reviews, the inferiority complex when you’re not included at the “cool table”—made up of authors on best-of lists or those have top-priority books at your publisher. However, if you keep the overcoat on all the time, you’ll miss out on feeling the wonderful moments—holding your hardcover book for the first time, the positive thoughtful review, the outpouring of pride from your friends and family. This is a tough thing to learn, but practice taking off your overcoat so you can feel the good stuff.

Most people won’t understand how much work it takes.

They may think that now that you have a book published, you’ve “made it.” Maybe you even thought that. But you haven’t made it. It’s true that you’re now a legit author. You don’t have to worry so much anymore that people think you’re just pretending to be a writer while you sit in your pjs watching TV. But legit isn’t the end game. You need to write the next book. And the next. And so on.

Separate writing from the publishing of writing.

You love writing. It makes you feel alive. Remember when you first started writing it was for you and only you? It still is. That publishing stuff is separate. Go back to writing.

Natasha SinelNatasha Sinel writes YA fiction from her home on a dirt road in Northern Westchester, NY. She drives her kids around all afternoon, but in her head, she’s still in high school, and hopes that no one near her can read minds. Her debut YA novel THE FIX comes out from Sky Pony Press tomorrow, September 1, 2015. You can buy one here.


Filed under Uncategorized

Guest Blogger Elaine Kiely Kearns: It Takes A Village To Be A Writer

bee-hive-clip-art-690775A few weeks ago I was having lunch with a friend who is a writer. Although she isn’t new to writing, she is new to the online writing community and is ready to begin the process of submitting to agents and editors. As we were chatting about submission how-to’s and query letters, I mentioned to her that she really needed to find a critique group.

“How do I find a critique group?” she asked.

Good question. And that question brings me to this post.

I am fortunate enough to belong to a fabulous online critique group, the Penguin Posse. We are a group of seven women kid lit writers from all over the world. We hail from New York, Virginia Beach, Massachusetts, Indiana, Texas, Italy, and Australia. I love these talented, brainiac women. And after a few years of working together, we are not only a fabulous critique group but also friends. And while you definitely need to study your craft and attend conferences, a critique group just may get your writing where it needs to be a little faster.

Writing is a solitary act. But time and time again, studies have shown that people need a support group in order to be successful. It’s the “Hive Mind” theory, and a critique group fills this need perfectly.

From Google:
hive mind
noun: hive mind; plural noun: hive minds; noun: hivemind; plural noun: hiveminds
1. a notional entity consisting of a large number of people who share their knowledge or opinions with one another, regarded as producing either uncritical conformity or collective intelligence. "He has become one of those celebrities whose online presence has made him a favorite of the Internet hive mind.”

So let’s get back to the question. How do you find a critique group?

Find Your Community. The invention of the Internet is a blessed thing for writers. As introverts, we get to be alone (YAY!) and still connect with the outside world (double YAY!)—all from the privacy of our homes. Are you a kid lit writer? You can join the SCBWI and connect with peeps in person at conferences. Or, if you join one of the many online kid lit groups via Facebook, you can make online friends and form a critique group there. The key? Join groups, sign up for classes, participate in monthly challenges. All of these communities will lead you to hive-minded people who could potentially become critique partners. I found my group in an online kid lit forum through Facebook, and I know many other writers who have found successful groups that way too.

Get Involved. Don’t join a community and then never participate! Don’t be a lurker! Comment on posts, ask questions in forums. If you join without participating, you will never feel like you belong. Get involved! Force yourself, especially if it’s outside of your comfort zone.

Do A Trial Run. Not sure you want to commit to a group right away? Many communities have manuscript critique places on their sites. Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 (membership fee required) has a forum where you can post the first 250 words for open critique by her members. KidLit411.com has a Manuscript Swap Facebook group (free) where you can privately swap manuscripts without any critique group commitment. Ladies Who Critique is a free site where you can connect with other professional writers who are also looking for critique partners.

And there are many more. All you need is a quick Google search and you are on your way!

Happy critiquing!


unnamed-1ELAINE KIELY KEARNS is a kid lit writer of picture book and middle grade stories. She also scours the internet for golden nuggets of information about children’s writing for the website she founded, KidLit411.com.  She lives in New York with her husband, two beautiful daughters and a menagerie of animals. Find her online at elainekielykearns.com


Filed under Uncategorized