Are You on a Mission?

Janie Reinart over at GROG posted about creating our personal mission statement. This exercise seems like it could be a bit “woo-woo” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Following our path starts from knowing where we want to go. 

Here is my mission statement: to write stories that help children understand the world and their place in it, to exemplify a supportive, professional perspective, and to provide leadership and connection within the children’s literature community.

It’s a little wordy but it works for me.

If you don’t have a personal mission statement YET, take a couple of minutes to read Janine’s post. Create your statement. Then post it on GROG and here, too. Okay? That makes it real.

Remember, we can change our mission statements as our perspective changes. And it’s not graded or judged. This work is all for you.

Go on a mission. Yours.

How to Tackle Big Topics for Growing Thinkers: Nonfiction


Okay. I might be biased because Charlesbridge is publishing my forthcoming book STRETCH TO THE SUN: FROM A TINY SPROUT TO THE TALLEST TREE ON EARTH and I know firsthand they are an amazing team, but this post by Charlesbridge nonfiction senior editor Alyssa Mito Pusey is all-by-itself excellent. Getting to “I GET IT!”: Scaffolding in Nonfiction is shared on Charlesbridge’s Unabridged blog (a great place to visit, BTW). In this post, we learn four techniques for tackling big topics in children’s nonfiction. Many thanks, Alyssa and Charlesbridge.

“Why Don’t Agents Give Feedback?”


I follow agent Jessica Sinsheimer on Twitter and she offered this great behind-the-agent- curtain look at why (most) agents don’t give feedback (very often). (Parentheses are my own. Some agents do give feedback and some give it occasionally, but I certainly understand the spirit of Jessica’s thread.) 

Disclaimers: Settle in. This will take a bit to read but it’s important to understanding the industry so it’s worth it. And, forgive the wonky formatting. 
Jessica Sinsheimer @jsinsheim Ravenous reader, lazy gourmet, literary agent + cheese-obsessed human. Co-creator of #PubTalkTV#MSWL, Manuscript Wish List® + 
New York, NY
Joined April 2011
 Jessica Sinsheimer‏ @jsinsheim

So it’s very common for writers to ask why agents don’t give feedback. The answer, usually, is that we’re busy–but that’s hard to grasp on a concrete level. Today, the lovely and talented @BenFaulknerEd mentioned reading tons, and out of curiosity, I did the math to compare.

    • Jessica Sinsheimer‏ @jsinsheim Feb 6
      So we get (I did the math awhile ago) an average of 39.98 queries a workday times 5 days = 2,158 pages/month from queries. I probably read an average of 2/10 of the included pages, so that’s 1 query + 2 pages times 2,158 = 6,474 pages/month.
    • With a 7.5% request rate (2.99/day times 5 (M-F) times 4 (weeks in month) = 59.97 manuscripts. If I read 20 pages each on average (keep in mind many are picture books), that’s 1,199.4 pages of requested material/month + 6,474 unrequested = 7,673.4 pages a month of submissions.
    • Now, I strongly suspect the 7.5 percent is high (this was calculated maybe two years ago?). But even say it’s 3 percent now, that’s 1.1994 requests a day, times 5 (M-F), times 4 (weeks) times 20 (average pages read) = 479.76 requested pages read/month.
    • So, yes, we are busy. No, we are not sitting here cackling like “Haha, I know exactly how to fix her manuscript, and I’m not telling her! Why? Because! Bwahahahaa!” Much as I receive a lot of correspondence to this effect.
    • I suspect a lot of agents have similar inboxes (I’ve heard everywhere from 10-50 average queries a day). Many probably have lower request rates (perhaps closer to 1-2%). Many have assistants, interns, teams. However, I suspect that 0% of agents enjoy making writers wait.

      Keep in mind that I don’t get all day to read submissions. I actually spend more time on clients, meetings, my own submissions, contracts, and the like. I’m pretty much reading during downtime–evenings, weekends, subway, train trips, plane trips, waiting in line.

      Things I could do to be faster (of course I’ve considered them!): 1) Not respond to queries. This would save about 30 seconds from each, times 39.98 times 5 (M-F) times 4 (weeks) divided by 60 (convert to minutes) = 399.8 minutes a month, or 6.6633 hours.

      2) Let readers make all of the query requesting decisions for me. Now, if you know me at all, you know I am waaaaayyyyyy too much of a control freak to let that happen. I read all queries myself.

      3) Manuscripts–same. 

      4) Drink more coffee, sleep less. I’m up to two coffees a day, one tea. Just tried the Starbucks app for the first time today (it was weird–too easy). I think that’s enough. Otherwise I’ll just run around all day. And bad things happen fast if I don’t sleep.

      5) Give Up Everything Fun And Just Be An Efficient Human, Dammit: Believe me, I’ve tried. Strangely, this makes me miserable and worse at my job. I do need some degree of happiness in my life to be able to function as a creative person–which an agent is. Always. So. That’s out. 

      So, that’s where I’m at. Do I still expect lots of “Agents are so mean because they don’t give feedback” emails? Yes. And the check-ins at three weeks? And the “I am so tired of agents being SO UNPROFESSIONAL and NOT GIVING ANY FEEDBACK” tweets? Yes. 

      And there’s one now. Cool.

      You may be asking, “Jessica! Why in the world are you doing side projects when you have all of this happening?” The answer is that, for me, it’s easier to keep moving. A change, for me, even if just a setting (office vs coworking space vs home) is more restorative than a rest.

      And I get genuine energy and pleasure out of connecting people. I think all agents do. Makes me feel like what I do is meaningful. And that means so much more than numbers could. 

      Keep in mind that there are a LOT of “Dear Sirs” and “I have published the next bestseller please take it on or else here’s my number” queries. At time of tweeting, I have 6 “Dear Sir/Madam,” 2 “Next bestseller,” and 1 “Next JK Rowling” queries waiting. Do I try to keep up? Yes! Do I achieve inbox zero? No! Inbox 100? No. Do I try to keep in touch about delays? Yes! Do I always manage to check in with everyone when things take a long time? Sadly, no. Am I constantly feeling guilt about making so many people wait? Yes. Yes, I am. 

    • Do I suspect some agents just manage to be faster through…magic? Better systems? Better coffee? Not sleeping? Working harder? Being better at life? Yes. Definitely. This is just where I’m at, now. Catch me in a few years, and things may be very different.
  1. New conversation
    • Replying to @jsinsheim @BenFaulknerEd Wonderful thread. I’ve however had only 1 unanswered question about all this. Perhaps cause I’ve hardly ever asked! And it’s this: with soooo much reading, doesn’t reading fatigue set in badly enough to color your judgement? Do you then respond well mostly to formulaic writing

      Jessica Sinsheimer‏ @jsinsheim Feb 6 The opposite, actually. I feel like I’m reading for voice, energy. A lot of things–unusual things, specific things too–make me go “Oh, I’ve seen five of those this month already.” But a query that feels like it’s alive on the page? Shockingly rare, and I love it.

What’s Your Path to Promotion?


You may know that my next book releases in October, 2018. I’ve been working on a publicity platform, discovering lots of neat ways to let folks know about the book and myself. However, I discovered that, though I’ve been very active in the children’s book industry for a decade (yikes)  and have promoted two other books, I know my newest book could use a fresh perspective.

​I was thrilled when my friend, colleague, and general smartypants gal Deb Gonzalez contacted me to be part of her new on-line publicity course suitable for published and prepublished authors and illustrators. Preparing for presenting my part of this course has helped me prepare my own publicity. That’s a lot of ‘p’ sounds but still, win, win!

Here are the pieces I know my publicity campaign needs. I need to:

  • utilize social media and digital resources in creative and authentic ways
  • develop and/or expand my reader community 
  • develop and/or expand my SCBWI and creator community and influencers I’ve come in contact with over the years
  • increase my connection with the school/library market

While I’m blessed to have tremendous support from my publisher, I’m fully aware that they have other authors that deserve their attention, too.

I desire all these things, and yet I have limited funds and time to devote to developing this campaign.

Where should I start? Where should anyone start? We need a plan, Stan! Let’s set some practical, affordable, and achievable goals. Let’s devise a strategy by asking guidance from professionals who know what to do. Let’s take some action! That’s what Path to Promotion: A Six-Week Online Book Publicity Course is all about.

Together, we will navigate our way down the Path to Promotion.

Path to Promotion is an online collaborative program designed to share promotional information and techniques, to guide in the publicity preparation process, and to clarify steps required to create an affordable marketing platform that is personal, authentic, and professionally sound. In this session, we’ll explore topics such as podcasting, the school/library market, creating a digital footprint, and others.  At the end of the course, participants will receive a Path to Promotion Publicity Planner packed with graphics and guides to assist in the quest to make a splash in the world.

Here’s how the Path to Promotion 6-week course works:

  • On Monday of each week participants will access an audio interview featuring one of the Path to Promotion faculty members focusing on their area of expertise. In addition, they’ll access a handout and (look out, now) a homework assignment due on Wednesday of that week.
  • On Wednesday, participants will access a live webinar (affectionally known as The Debinar) during which they can connect with the featured faculty member by asking questions via live chat. The Debinar will be recorded for later viewing. Questions may be submitted in advance.
  • At the end of the course participants receive a Path to Promotion Publicity Planner packed with graphics and guides to assist in the development of a practical, affordable, and effective promotional plan!

Some important registration and fee information:

  • Session run from Monday, May 14 until Wednesday, June 18
  • Early Bird Registration – $175 (opens March 1 – closes April 8)
  • Full Registration Rate – $200 (opens April 9 – closes May 7)
  • Spaces are limited

The Faculty list and their topics include:

  • Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy of Blue Slip Media present EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT PUBLICITY, BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

I’m so excited about this course. For you and for me. I’m going to learn from each of the faculty members. The topics are timely. I love the fact that the Path to Promotion coursework is interactive, flexible, and versatile – perfect for authors and illustrators, at what ever stage they may be in the quest for publication.
Join us, won’t you?

For more information, contact Deb Gonzales at
 Deb’s Bio: Debbie Gonzales is a career educator, curriculum consultant, former school administrator and adjunct professor, and once served as a SCBWI RA for the Austin Chapter. Deb currently devotes her time to writing middle grade novels, crafting teacher guides and various other freelance projects. She’s the author of six “transitional” readers for New Zealand publisher, Giltedge, and the forthcoming non-fiction picture book Play Like a Girl: The Road to Breaking Barriers and Bashing Records (Charlesbridge, 2019). A transplanted Texan, Debbie now calls beautiful Ann Arbor, Michigan home where she lives with her husband John and spunky pup, Missy. Deb earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

It’s Your (Book) Birthday! Or… Free Advertising for Your Book!


​Submissions are now open for the March 2018 edition of the Happy Book Birthday program.

This new SCBWI program invites all members to celebrate and promote their newly published work in the same month the book is released.

​From SCBWI: On the first Monday of each month, we will display all of the books together on our beautiful Book Birthday page and advertise them through our social media channels.

Each Book Birthday announcement will remain up on our site for two weeks. We hope that all of our traditionally and independently published members will take advantage of this opportunity to celebrate their achievement and launch their work into the book-buying community.

The first Book Birthday will be for all books published in February 2018, launching February 1.

We are currently accepting submissions for the March 2018 Book Birthday.

Only authors and illustrators with books published in March will be able to participate this month, but we will have Book Birthdays for every following month.

On February 5th, members with March books can start submitting their information. The deadline is February 20th, no exceptions.

Please gather the following information:
1.) Title of book
2.) Name of author and/or illustrator
3.) Image of book cover (.jpg or .png). Name the file the full title of your book, for example “What_Girls_Are_Made_Of.jpg”
4.) Summary or statement about your book, 25 words or less

Send this information to


Want to see the January books? Click HERE!
Happy (Book) Birthday! 

You Just Might Get What You Need


Anyone who hangs around me long enough will hear me say, “You have to ask for what you want.”

I don’t mean this in a self-serving way. What I mean is that the universe is busy. There are lots of people and creatures and big things going on all the darn time. (Sort of like parenting, right?) So I think it’s okay to ask the universe to focus on a particular want. I think it’s okay to call some attention to it.

The first part of asking for what we want is putting words around the want because we have to know what we want before we can ask for it. This can take some time to figure out and some practice. I know I have it right when I ask the universe (or the car dealer or husband guy or airline worker) for what I want and the answer is an easy “yes,” or “I can do that,” or “sure, I can make that work.”

Sometimes I’m surprised how easy it is. And if I never ask, I’ll NEVER receive exactly what I want.

Try it. Ask for what you want. It just might be what the universe wants to give you.

Rejection? Don’t Pout; Be a Detective.


​Have you faced rejection on your picture book manuscript/s lately?

Know that subjectivity ALWAYS plays a role in this. What one editor or agent loves another might not (and in this crowded market, ‘loving’ is almost always a prerequisite for acquisition). Also know that there is nothing you can do about subjectivity.

However, there are many other reasons that rejection might be popping up and these reasons might be fixable. Instead of pouting or giving up or trashing a good idea out of frustration or saying “it must be THEM and not my work!” (I’ve NEVER done any of those things, nuh uh), become a detective and piece together some clues as to why this might be happening.

So what about the clues? 
Let’s look at the following submission tips from the Rutgers University Council on Children One-on-One Plus Conference. To be part of this mentoring-based conference, a creator needs to submit work and have it selected. Check out their insights about why certain picture books were not selected last year. For more information on the RUCCs One-on-One Plus Conference, click here.

  • ​Clue One: Not picture book language

Some manuscripts were lengthy and overly descriptive. The writer did not exhibit an understanding of the play between words and images that are essential to the picture book format. Sentences described what could have been shown instead. Shorter, snappier language where every word is carefully chosen is preferred. Some writers paginated their submission, with large paragraphs on every page—not the norm for a modern picture book. Overall, there was too much unnecessary text—text that did not move the story forward.

  • Clue Two: Story arc needed development

Some submissions did not contain a clear beginning, middle, and end. The story had a muddled arc or a “one and done” plot—the character tried once and succeeded, which creates an unsatisfying ending because there isn’t sufficient tension. The reader has not had time to build empathy for the character’s struggle.

  • Clue Three: Concept needed development

Many submissions last year focused on the main character or the character’s friend moving. This concept is common and needs a fresh twist. The pretty, fancy princess theme also turned up a lot. The market is saturated with Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious-like books, so again, a fresh twist is needed to make these concepts stand out. What about your character makes her different than what is already on the market?

  • Clue Four: Common concepts need a fresh take

If you are writing about a common concept, it needs a fresh twist to make it different and new. Try changing the character (from a child to a robot) or the setting (from modern times to prehistoric, from land to the sea) to create a new perspective.

Apply these clues to currently published mentor texts and you’ll see patterns emerge. Study these patterns and you’ll see where you can improve your picture book manuscript and resubmit.

C’mon Sherlock. You got this.

What are the clues you use, my picture book writer friends?

Picture Book Art Notes Decoded

Picturecreative commons

We all want to be the conductor of our manuscripts. We want them to reflect our creativity, our voice, our idea.

However, picture books are not solo pieces. Text plays with illustrations. Illustrations play with text. So, what happens when, as writers, we feel we need to offer something that is not text but sets the stage, provides an orientation, and/or shares our vision? 

We learn writers have an option to do this through short notes included in the manuscript. Called ‘art notes’ or ‘illustrator notes,’ they are meant for initial readers (critiquers, agents and/or editors) but won’t stay in the manuscript after it is illustrated.

HOWEVER, after we’ve begun to receive critiques and listen to agents and editors speak about what they want to see in manuscripts, we quickly realize these readers’ opinions about art notes can be as unique as they are. Some, like vice president and publisher Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books (imprint of Simon & Schuster), clearly feel it is “not the writers’ job to control what happens with illustrations.” Read author Barb Rosenstock‘s interview with Ms. Johnston at Picture Book Builders blog. Bottom line: art notes could be a kiss of death for a manuscript submitted to Ms. Johnston. The text must stand alone.

Similarly, ​Sarah Rockett, editor at Sleeping Bear Press says in this interview with Only Picture Books blog, “In general, I strongly advise against them. A submitting author’s goal is to have the acquiring editor feel personally and passionately about their story. It’s hard to feel an attachment to a story if every other line the author is telling you what you’re seeing. The beauty of publishing a picture book is that everyone involved brings something to the project (author, editor, illustrator, and designer) that makes it stronger. Let editors have that moment to really be engaged in the story.” 

However, Brett Duquette, senior editor at Little Bee Books, has a slightly different viewpoint. (Sterling publishes about 40 books a year and most are picture books.) Mr. Duquette encourages writers to submit manuscripts showing page turns and art notes where they are deemed crucial. He wants writers to show their vision of the story, but also trust the editor to “get it.” Bottom line: judicious imperative-only art notes are acceptable and page turn indications are encouraged. 

And, although she admits she might be unique in this viewpoint, Carol Hinz, editorial director of Lerner imprints Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books, likes pagination in her manuscripts. Read her recent blog post to learn why.

Going one step deeper with art notes, what do we do when our text: 
* doesn’t reflect the full story we’ve envisioned?
* is in cognitive dissonance with illustrations?
* is limited or non-existent?

Remember that submitting a cover note including a well-crafted logline/blurb can provide enough information to replace art notes. While we don’t have access to authors’ cover notes, we can research blurbs as mentor texts… 

If your text doesn’t reflect the full story? Try this blurb for SNAPPSY DID NOT INTEND TO BE IN THIS BOOK (Falakato/Miller published by Viking Children’s). This is a book-length sparring match between exasperated alligator Snappsy and an offstage storyteller-foil who criticizes Snappsy and ignores his pleas to scram.

Text is in cognitive dissonance with illustrations? Try this blurb for QUIT CALLING ME A MONSTER! (Jory/Shea Random House BFYR) A pear-shaped, purple-fur-covered creature speaks directly to listeners. “I’m no monster!” This not-a-monster’s appearance and behavior belie his message.

Limited or non-existent text? How about this blurb for FISH (Liam Francis published by Roaring Brook/Porter) In this nearly wordless book, a boy and his dog go fishing and pull in not a fish but a large letter F. I soon follows, then S. The boy, after reeling in a disappointing letter Q, is then pulled underwater for a mini-adventure. 

Michigan author Shutta Crum says this about art notes for her adorable nearly wordless book, MINE (illustrated by Patrice Barton published by Alfred A. Knopf) in the SCBWI Bulletin: 

Picture— Shutta Crum, SCBWI Bulletin March April 2013

​If you are an SCBWI member, you can log in and read the full article here.   

After reading this post and others on the topic, IF art notes are still imperative for understanding an aspect of the text and IF your intended reader is amenable, this seems to be an accepted format: [brief art note]. Art Notes 101 includes: don’t make a note for specific characteristics (colors for clothing, hair, etc.), don’t demand (use terms like “consider” “possible” or use a question mark after a suggestion), learn a few illustrative terms like “vignettes” or “spot art” to describe your idea if necessary.

In the end, let’s recognize that readers are people with subjective tastes and opinions. This applies to art notes, too. Learning those tastes and opinions helps us submit material that honors the reader. Keep going to conferences, listening to webinars, reading interviews, etc., and know what the agent or editor prefers before submitting. 

Understanding our readers — and letting go of our grip on the baton — can make the difference between a pass or an accepted submission. 

How do you use art notes? Or not? Opinions? Experience? Share it out! 

What’s Your Target for 2017?

Do you want to make 2017 the year you:

  • secure your first book contract? or your 21st?
  • find your ideal agent?
  • land a spot in a critique group that will push you to create your best work yet?
  • explore a new genre or POV?
  • attend your first big conference? or an event that has seemed out of reach until now?
  • ink your first school visit? or finalize a full tour?
  • make room — or more room — for writing in your life?

​The real question is…

What’s your target?

We must know our target before we can hit it. So, let’s start by being clear about what the target is. (See above list and add your own!)

Then, let’s visualize that target as a smallish red circle in the middle of the board. Maybe when we start throwing the dart, we will skewer the wall (yes, it, um, happens), but we will keep aiming and throwing. Soon, we will hit an outside ring, then an inside ring, then after lots of aims and throws, BOOM! we will hit the bullseye!

And it will be sweet. 

To help you stay creative and motivated, here are several writing challenges starting in January.

Jan. 1-31 STORYSTORM with Tara Lazar. Formerly known as PiBoIdMo — create one new story idea each day of the month. Read daily inspiring posts by authors, join a private FB group, and win prizes like books, swag, and agent critiques!  Sign up is open now.

Mar. 1- 31 CHAPTER BOOK CHALLENGE (ChaBooCha) with Becky Fyfe — write the first draft of your early reader, chapter book, MG, or YA novel in a month. Read daily inspiring posts by authors and win prizes. 

Mar. 1-31 READING FOR RESEARCH MONTH (REFOREMO) with Carrie Charley Brown — read and research mentor picture books. Read daily posts about mentor texts, join a private FB group, win prizes. Sign up begins Feb. 15.

May 1 -7 NATIONAL PICTURE BOOK WRITING WEEK (NAPIBOWRIWEE) with Paula Yoo — write 7 picture book manuscript drafts in one week. Get inspired by authors and win prizes.

2017 PICTURE BOOK READING CHALLENGE – challenge yourself to read over 50 books and keep track with a handy list or a pre-made Bingo board. 

My target for 2017 is at least one contract in fiction and one in nonfiction. To maintain my inspiration and prime the creativity pump, I’ll jump into Storystorm and REFOREMO and will track my reads on the Bingo board! 

What’s your target for 2017? 

Where’s Abe Going with that Axe?


meme credit: Tim Fargo @alphabetsuccess

I recently found Tim Fargo on Twitter and appreciate that almost all the quotes he shares resonate with me. This one by Abe spoke to an issue that is rumbling around in the picture book creating community right now: how to move your manuscript from “it’s good” to “I’m taking this to acquisition.
​Even though (or maybe because) we are living in what some industry experts call a golden age of picture books, competition for space on publishers’ lists is fierce. We’ve seen a rise in sales, a corresponding rise in publisher interest, and deeper conversations about picture books as an important form of literature. All of these factors have contributed to more submissions in the pipeline. 
​So how do we make our manuscripts stand out? 

Moving a manuscript from good to sold takes a lot of axe sharpening.

First, we have to start with an effective manuscript (carefully considered, fresh in concept, revised with a critique group as far as you think is possible).

Then, the real work begins.

Sharpen: if you don’t have an agent or even if you do, consider paying for a critique from an industry expert who sells or publishes what you write. Find one through your SCBWI chapter, Kidlit College, Writer’s Digest, Twitter kidlit contests, Kidlit411, Rate Your Story, Children’s Book Insider/Write For Kids, etc. They are out there. 

Sharpen further: try the suggested revision even if you don’t think it will work and/or improve the manuscript. Copy the manuscript into a new file called, “It will never work” and just try it. Do NOT dig in your heels at this stage thinking you’ve already done enough work on this manuscript. The revision that moves the work to acquisition might be next! Transparency alert: this stage is my cryptonite. I certainly recognize the value and I do it, but I start out looking like Grumpy Cat’s identical twin. 

Sharpen even futher: read the manuscript to a new crop of target audience members. I’m not talking about your writer friends, your family, or your trusted beta readers. (What?! You aren’t reading the manuscript to your target audience? Gong!) Notice where their sweet little eyes wander (ooops, need a revision there!) and where their happy little faces engage (huzzah!) 

Sharpen even furtherest: compare your latest version to the published book(s) closest in feel, theme, style, etc. to what you want your published book to be. (What?!? You haven’t looked for comp titles? Gong!) Really dissect that comp title. Type it out in pages, study it, tape yourself reading it aloud and listen to it. Where do you engage? Lose interest? Revise accordingly. 

Is your axe as sharp as it can possibly be? 

If so, your manuscript might be ready to submit. I wish you the best of success. Let me know when you get to acquisition. 

Feel free to share other sharpening techniques, too.