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 [email protected].


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.

Want Some Frelpful (Fresh + Helpful, Duh!) Curated Content with that Coffee? #2


1. New book launching in 2017? Are you thinking about a book trailer? Do you worry that you don’t have the knowledge or expertise to do a great job? Check out this post by Therese Walsh, editor of Writer Unboxed (a stellar blog to follow, BTW)
She shares about Fiverr, an amazing resource for all kinds of creative talent that you can contract inexpensively to do what you need done (critiques, logos, book trailers, etc.). Put Fiverr in your quivver of How To Get Stuff Done Without Doing It All Yourself. 
2. Manuscript Wish List: if you are a cool kid, you already know about #MSWL and derivitives of it like #MSWL MG and #MSWL PB, but do you know about the Manuscript Wishlist website? What a treasure trove for querying and subbing. Book contracts are all about making the right match at the right time so check this site often.

Want Some Coffee with that Curated Content #3: Finding Your Agent

I chose this image because this post is really about what comes BEFORE a steamy cup o’ coffee. This curated content is related to the work we need to accomplish BEFORE submitting to agents. 

Start with this fresh post Do I Need an Agent…by Giuseppe Castellano [from his website: Giuseppe Castellano is an award-winning Designer, Illustrator, and Executive Art Director at Penguin Random House; with over seventeen years of book publishing experience]. Even though the post leans slightly toward illustrators, it is a very thorough look at the agent search experience.

Then, investigate In The Inbox which offers online query advice from a smart literary intern. Although she hasn’t posted since August (presumably because she is overwhelmed with queries!), there is a wealth of information here including a chart to ensure a query is ready to be sent:

Another valuable resource is Literary Rambles that provides interviews and information on many children’s literature agents. 
Hope you find these beans helpful!

Want Some Curated Content with that Coffee? #1

Content Curation is the act of discovering, gathering, and presenting digital content that surrounds specific subject matter.                                                                                                  –

​Okay. Since this is #givingTuesday, how ’bout I give you some fresh, interesting children’s book industry info? And how ’bout I do this each week? ​Let’s try it!

1. Ripple Grove Press Founder and President, Rob Broder, offers some thoughts about what he’s found, and not found, in his inbox since their origin in 2013.  (P.S. it appears rhyming is NOT a sweet spot). This is interesting info about RGP, but also a cautionary tale for subbing in general. UPDATE: Mr. Broder reached out to assure me that RGP does not NOT like rhyming. Good rhyming works just fine.   

2. Chuck Sambuchino at Writers Digest has nicely curated (see what I did there?) agents looking for manuscripts about diverse topics or by diverse voices via Twitter. Thank you, Chuck! 

3. Dan Blank, an industry expert, posts on Writer Unboxed about what editors and agents really want. The headings alone are worth emblazoning on a sticky note. 

Hope there’s something here that resonates! If so, let me know. 

Revision Tip: Wanna Get Fresh? Try Forward Momentum

Editors do not want same old, same old. Believe me; I’ve heard that message loudly and clearly at every conference and retreat. To catch an editor (or agent) eye, we must stretch into new territory which means trying different approaches, twists, mash-ups, and/or upends. It’s the only way to produce work that has that “fresh” quality.

Look at your current WIP with only this thought in mind and create at least three new approaches for your ms. BTW, just changing POV doesn’t count for this exercise!

Even if the approach doesn’t sing, you’ll never regret trying because you will learn something in the process. I pinky promise. 

S   T   R   E   T   C   H!