Monday, November 14, 2016

Guest Post by Picture Book Author Julie Murphy

SPECIAL GUEST! I’m ecstatic that I have a guest post from picture book author Julie Murphy about her latest book Gilly’s Treasures. Take it away Julie.


Hi, June, and thanks for hosting me on your blog to help celebrate the October 11 release of my picture book for children (4-8), Gilly’s Treasures.

Writers often see the advice, “write about what you know”. I have always loved the beach and often spend my holidays there, so it was natural to write a story set at the beach. And that story evolved into Gilly’s Treasures.


One of my favorite books as a child was Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper. I loved it so much that I still dream of visiting Cornwall one day, where the story is set. And of course, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull is a story for all ages. Contemporary children’s books set at the sea that I love are Magic Beach by Alison Lester (fiction), Tanglewood by Margaret Wild and Vivienne Goodman (fiction), and When Elephants Lived in the Sea by Jane Godwin & Vincent Agostino (creative non-fiction).

My daughter and I loved snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef
My husband, daughter and I still often visit the coast for our holidays. We have quite a few gorgeous natural places within a days’ drive. Plus we are very fortunate to have visited some more distant places, such as the Great Barrier Reef, and Ningaloo Reef in north-Western Australia where we saw green turtles!


One of the green turtles we saw at Ningaloo Reef

I love animals so, after school, I trained as a zoologist before working as a zookeeper for a decade. It wasn’t until I left that job to have a baby that I became immersed in the wonderful world of children’s books – both as a reader and a writer. My love of picture books really took over from that point. Many of my favourite picture books are about animals, as well as the ones I write.

I have been writing picture books for about a decade. My training in zoology helped me get a foot in the door with work-for-hire projects, which I wrote to specific briefs provided by the publishers. Most are non-fiction books about animals, but it is only by chance that many are also about the sea. Ocean Animal Adaptations, Coral Reefs Matter, and Anglerfish are just a few examples.

I am proud of my non-fiction books, but I must admit to being extra excited to welcome Gilly’s Treasures into the world. It is my first fiction picture book, and began as my own idea (rather than to a publisher’s brief). With the feel of a traditional children’s fable, it tells the story of Gilly; a seagull who is so busy finding pretty, shiny things at the seaside that he forgets everything else – even to eat! Thankfully, with a little help from his partner, Swoop, he eventually discovers what really matters most to him. Illustrator Jay Fontano has done a wonderful job bringing Gilly and Swoop to life, and balancing my fable-like story with fun, friendly illustrations. I especially love the new character he introduced - a cute little crab who children will love spotting on each page.

I hope that children who read Gilly’s Treasures will want to visit the beach and another natural places for themselves, and maybe find a treasure or two of their own. And it might even spawn a conversation about what they think is most important in their own lives.

I think it is important for children to visit natural places. It gives them a chance to unplug from their devices, slow down, breathe the fresh air, and learn something about the real world. Who doesn’t find nature relaxing? Even a back yard or local park will do the trick. I think it not only benefits the child, but also conservation because kids will be more likely to look after what they know and care about.

My daughter (3) has always loved exploring the beach.


Where to learn more about Julie and her books?

Julie’s web site –

Facebook page with book preview -



Gilly’s Treasures is available from many on-line book stores, including Cedar Fort’s sales page, Books & Things (free for most parts of the USA):


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Concept to Completion: Librarian Matthew Winner

So we’ve come to the end of the series from Concept to Completion. The part where someone with money (adults) buys our books for readers (mostly kids). The people with more experience than any other when it comes to getting books into the hands of a young reader is a librarian. I’d like to welcome Matthew Winner, Elementary Librarian, Podcast Host, Author, and super nice guy.

Welcome to the Blog Matthew. So why did you and how did you become a librarian?

 I taught 4th grade as a general educator for a few years, but began work right away on my Master's in School Library Media after being inspired by the school librarian where I taught. I became a school librarian soon after when a nearby school had a position open and I felt the calling to step out beyond the classroom into a role that served the whole school. It's been a great career so far and there's not much better than watching readers grow and championing global citizenship through books, authors, literacy, and technology.

 How do you stay on top of what to purchase for your library? There are so many choices.

I read a lot. Mostly I'm reading for my podcasts (All The Wonders podcast and The Best Book Ever [this week]), but I also read reviews monthly in School Library Journal and daily across various library a teacher blogs. Beyond that, I try to listen really closely to the interests of our students and the needs of our teachers when selecting materials for our library.

How do you match up books to readers?

Ahh! This is the art of being a school librarian! Knowing readers, knowing their interests, and knowing the reading level where they feel most comfortable as a reader as all things I take into consideration when helping to connect kids with books. Often they are excited to read whatever I'm excited over or whatever we put on display. I think they've come to trust the hard work we've put into building a really strong collection, so they know there are endless excellent choices for them in our library.

 I know I was always grateful when my librarian handed me a book she thought I’d like! Since you are also a writer, how does that affect the way you look at books that come into your library?

I'm aware that I don't write for all kids and I acknowledge that the books in our library were also not written for every single reader. I know what I like to read aloud and I know what books move me or make me smile or keep me thinking about them long after I read them aloud. Being a librarian and reading books aloud as regularly as I do has helped me to understand and identify those qualities that make good books work so well. As I write I try to keep in mind those qualities in addition to those readers I see every day. If I can picture the faces for which I'm writing, I can usually tell if I'm on the right track.

Are you ever shocked, impressed, or amazed at the books kids end up loving?

 I'm amazed by my students every single day. I'm amazed at their avid reading habits (I was not an avid reader as a child). I'm impressed that they read and retain as much as they do (I have memories of the emotions I felt reading books, but not so much of the stories themselves). I wouldn't say I'm shocked by what books they end up loving, but often I'm taken aback when they read a story and tell me a personal connection stirred up from reading the book. Some of the experiences my students have lived already at such a young age are quite profound. But I'm never ever surprised when they love a book, no matter what the book is. After all, that book was written for them.

I'm never ever surprised when they love a book, no matter what the book is. After all, that book was written for them.

What a perfect thought! What are your top three favorite picture books?

My favorites change all the time, but my students would probably say Shh! We Have a Plan! by Chris Haughton, Press Here by Herve Tullet, and A Hungry Lion, or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins.

I love A Hungry Lion, or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals. So clever. What do you wish you had in your library? Do you see any holes in the bookshelf that need to be filled?

We're always in need of more stories depicting diverse individuals, backgrounds, and experiences, but quite frankly the thing I wish I had more of in our library is space. We're blessed to have a revolving door of students visiting us each day, but having more space (and maybe even more time) would allow us to better serve as a place for the students to call their own. But if you're in need of picture book ideas, we could use more books featuring talking boats that enter dance competitions with stories themed around friendship , acceptance, and navigating the choppy waters of pier pressure.

 Okay... that was a long way to go for a joke. But, seriously? There might be something there!

 Yup, that on was a long hull… J What fuels your creative time? Chocolate, coffee, music?

Podcasting fuels my creative time. I scheduled interviews at least once a week and I find that I think about the things I've talked about with guests throughout the rest of the week. Being connected with others. Having a platform to be enthusiastic over their work. Helping others to know their work matters to a much greater audience than they may realize. That is what it's all about for me.

Thank you, Matthew, for joining us. I can’t wait to see more of your podcasts and your future books!

BIO: Matthew Winner is an elementary library media specialist in Elkridge, Maryland. He is the co-founder and content director of, a children’s literature website and more, and host of the All The Wonders podcast, a weekly podcast where Matthew talks to authors, illustrators, award winners, up-and-comers, and everyone in between. Matthew is represented by Danielle Smith of Red Fox Literary. For more information, connect with Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewWinner or online at

Concept to Completion: Sales, Publicity, and Marketing

     So after the writing, editing, and art are complete there are magical folks that make book sellers and libraries want to carry your books. The Sales team gets your work out there.

Publicity and Marketing get people interested and curious about your book.  

I imagine they all work their magic around a cauldron, brewing up the necessary trailers, promos, and swag.
Then they spell the book to make it irresistible.

While I was not able to pin anyone down just yet for an interview (the flying monkeys are working on that for me) I’m using this post as a place holder. Then we’ll learn the truth from an insider.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Concept to Completion: Illustrator

Welcome to Reading, Writing, and Reaching for Chocolate. The next stop on the road from concept to completion of a picture book is the Illustrator. Today we have an interview with Vanessa Brantley Newton, Illustrator of My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay, The Hula Hoopin’ Queen, and (one of my personal favorites-literally made me tear up) Sewing Stories. Her most recent illustrations can be seen in Mary Had a Little Glam.

Thank you for joining me Vanessa. So let’s start at the beginning. What happens when you get a call from an art director?

I really love to hear from my art directors, but of late some of them I only get to talk to once or twice on the phone and sometimes not at all.

I prefer a phone call instead of emails. Email sometimes can come across as cold to me. I like to hear the excitement in an art director's or editor's voice. It helps me to understand what they are looking for as well. I like to start all of my projects off with a kick off call. Just to get a feel for who I am going to be working with, what they expect of me and what I in turn want to express through my work.

So when I get a call from art director, they basically tell me what the size or specs of the project are. I am asked if I have any idea of how I will approach the work. If it will be live work (meaning traditional paint, paper, collage) or will it be digital files. We talk about building characters for the stories and if it's historically based, they will sometimes send references and information they have collected to help in the process. Sometimes all I get it the spec of the project and they leave me to created sketches and then after the first round of sketches they will tell me what they would like to see changed and if the author has anything suggestions they include those as well.

 Do you communicate with the art director, the editor, or both?

So, some Publishing houses don't have art directors and it's all left to the editor. I get to work with both and sometimes just one or the other.

What is your process when getting started with a new manuscript? 

I am dyslexic and so it takes a while for me to get through the simplest of stories. I read them to myself and then I have my husband or daughter or someone read it out loud to me so I can picture it in my head. Hearing it read out loud is super important for me. It helps me to grasp the story and the characters or character in the story and what the story feels like.

That’s amazing, and wonderful that your family helps! I like to hear my words aloud by others too, to get a sense of flow.

So once you get the go-ahead from the art director what is your final process?

Every time I start a picture book or middle grade reader, it's like doing it over the first time every single time for me. Some illustrators don't have that situation. I do.  I have been at this for years now and still it's like the very first time every single time LOL!

I usually take a week to just think of how I want to approach the book. During that week, I start to birth the characters. I look through magazines and photos. I visit Pinterest and look at children. I go to Barnes and Noble and watch the children. Collecting information and references all the while. I am a people watcher and this helps me greatly in my illustration work.

Then I starting working out the story and story boarding and doing some rough sketches and then they are sent to the publisher and then they will send them back in a few weeks and then there is usually a second round of sketches and then when approved I take it all to finish. Even after they are all finished and colored and collaged, there is still the process of looking them over and finding anything that isn't working or needs to be adjusted.

When everything has been fixed and adjusted it goes to print for proofing and then F&G's* are sent to me and the author to see what the first print looks like. Before you know it, a box of book are sitting at your doorstep. LOL!!

(Note for newbie’s to the industry-or oldies who don’t do acronyms: F&G means a folded and gathered or an unbound book. This gives those working on the book the first glimpse of what the finished product can be. This is the last chance to catch changes that need to be made before final printing.)

What is your favorite part of the process?

I am just starting to embrace and like the process of sketching, but my favorite part of all is actually creating the character and then creating the finishes! So I have two parts that I love.


As an author-only, I am so jealous of the creation of the character. I’m can’t wait to see what my characters look like ‘in person.’  What is the longest and shortest time you’ve worked on a manuscript?

3 months and 3-4 years.


Do you deal with any other people within the publishing house? If so, who? 

Sometimes when they are wanting to promote the book I will hear from a publicist for the publisher and they will tell me what they have in mind to move the book. Such as book festivals, book signings and other events.

Is there anything you wish authors knew that would make your job easier?

That illustration is a whole other ball of wax. Some illustrators don't like artist notes, but then there are some of us that do. I am one of those Illustrators that do. It's when they begin to interfere with the process that it becomes a problem. I have only had two of those situations. One was with a publisher and another with a self-published job. Nearly drove me crazy LOL! Mostly it's a process and sometimes it goes rather quickly and then sometimes it takes a whole lot longer.

Any advice for aspiring illustrators?

Hone your gift! Draw everything and every day. Try different art supplies. The ones that go together and the ones that don't. Be brave and break the rules and see what comes from it. You may surprise yourself and others too.  When building a portfolio only put the things that you are proud of in there. Don't put half done work in there when you are looking for work. They only want to see what puts a smile on your face and what you are most proud of.

When trying to get a job in children's pub please put children into your folio. Children, moving, dancing, bouncing, singing, being kind or being rambunctious! Create characters that speak to the audience. Give them personality by giving them names and places that they come from and remember there is never any competition unless you invite it in. Nobody can do what you do. Your style is your style and nobody can bring to the creative table what only you can bring so develop your style and then hone it.

What fuels your creative time? Chocolate, coffee, music?

Music, music and music. Oh my goodness I can't go a day without music. I listen to a lot of happy music as to why my illustrations are often happy ones. R and B, Hip Hop or conscious music, gospel, classical, meditative. It creates an atmosphere for me to work in. Music is like paint to me. I have different paints for different illustrations and the same goes for my music.

What wonderful advice and insights. Thank you again for coming out to the blog, Vanessa. I can’t wait to see what you draw up next.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Concept to Completion: Art Director Jim Hoover

Next on our journey following a picture book from concept to completion is the art director.



Joining us today is Jim Hoover with Viking Books. Jim, thank you so much for being willing to be a part of this series.  

Let’s start at the beginning. What happens when you get a call from, or have a meeting with, an editor?

I have worked with my team of editors for many years now, and I am proud to call them my coworkers, colleagues, and friends. So—often, a meeting isn’t so much ‘called’ as it sort of morphs from a casual conversation where we turn from shooting the breeze to “oh, you actually wanted to talk about work. Cool.”

Other times, someone shows up at your door with a stack of printouts or proofs, and it’s like “hey. What did we decide to do about this?”

“I dunno.”

“Okay, let’s figure it out.”

I truly think the world of my team and enjoy their company. We love our work, and it is completely collaborative. I always say that the fun and love we have for our books shows through in the final package.  We work hard, but most of the good days we barely notice.

And like any relationship, communication is key. If some snafu happens along the way during the process of a book it almost always boils down to miscommunication.


Above is a picture of me holding court with some of my coworker peeps. This is a picture from a very important meeting where we discussed the end of the last Game of Thrones season. I’m sure we did real work that day, too. To my right: Maggie Rosenthal (editorial assistant), Abigail Powers (copyeditor), Mariam Quraishi (design assistant), Amanda Mustafic (associate publicist), Krista Ahlberg (copyeditor), Nancy Brennan (associate art director), and Kate Renenr (senior designer.)

Sounds like a wonderful way to work. When working on a picture book do you communicate with the illustrator, the editor, or both?

With both. An art director’s job is to mediate comments from the editorial, sales and marketing teams to the illustrator and keep them on task and on time. We usually have a few ideas of our own, too.

What is your process when getting started with a new manuscript?

It actually still can surprise me after fifteen years how much the process can shift from one book to another. But GENERALLY, when I get a manuscript and need to find an illustrator, I have a few sources that I start with.

1.) I have a running list of illustrators that I have either always wanted to work with or am dying to work with again. Sometimes, it can take YEARS to find just the right (or another) book to work on. Patience is a virtue on all sides.

2.) I have a number of illustration agencies that I have worked with and trust. (I also have agents that I avoid like the plague.) I will go through their sites and (re)familiarize myself with their clients, and in many cases, reach out and ask for recommendations.

3.) I’ve usually found someone by this point, but every now and then, I’ll talk to other art directors and we will recommend folks to each other. Again, we also all have a running list of whom to avoid.

I’ll try to stay off the list of people to avoid. :-) Easy since I’m not an illustrator. What is your favorite part of the process?

Oooo, tough one. My favorite part of the process is probably when I get a few hours to sit with some good tunes on and just play with type and color. There is this wonderful ‘quiet before the storm’ moment when you are onto an idea for a cover or something when the whole thing is just YOURS to develop and work with, before anyone has weighed in on if it works, or needs to change, or just pulls the whole thing apart and sends you back to the drawing board.

I’ve lost days chasing an idea that I am pretty sure won’t make it past the first round of feedback, but I just want to let it breathe for a bit and enjoy it. Sometimes you can push through and really find something that’s special.

That sounds fantastic. I’m really seeing that every person on the path for a picture book is wildly creative. So when is your job finally ‘done’?

I guess when the book finally comes in from production as a finished, printed, bound object—that book is done. Otherwise, I am Sisyphus pushing that big ol’ boulder up the hill.

I think it’s like that at every phase. There is always ‘one more thing’ we can do, or tweak, or change. Now my favorite question; what is the longest and shortest time you’ve worked on a manuscript?

This really varies in an old skool hardcover imprint like Viking. We seldom push something through too fast. I would say the shortest has been five or six months.  On the flipside of that, I have one project that I have been working on for three years and it’s STILL not done. I know editors closing in on FIVE YEARS with some manuscripts. Some books just need more room to develop and grow than others. One of my favorite author/illustrators once lamented that she wishes she could do one picture book a year, and it usually takes her a year and a half, and occasionally two. But her books are perfect and beautiful. I am a quality over quantity sort of guy.

Six month to 5 years. That's a pretty big range. Publishing = Patience.
Do you deal with any other people within the publishing house? If so, who?

Publishing is a team effort. We work with marketing, sales, publicity, upper management, sales reps out in the field, authors, estates, stock houses, foundations, sometimes even spouses. It takes a village to raise a child and a House to make a book.

It takes a village to raise a child and a House to make a book.


Best. Line. EVER.

Every author needs to know, are illustration notes evil? This is something we hear conflicting info on.

Here’s what authors need to know about working with illustrators on a picture book. Once an illustrator has been assigned, you both become COAUTHORS. They are going to bring something to the table that you could not have counted on. Illustrators turn word documents into living, breathing things.

So, as you write, breaking a story down by spread is a great idea (I do know some art directors and editors that disagree with me here) but breaking down a manuscript by spread allows you to control the pacing of a story. There are some broad illustration notes that may be necessary, but beyond these two things, it really is best to keep illustration notes down to a minimum. This is not something that should be micromanaged, and it could even work against you in finding an editor.

Is there anything you wish authors knew that would make your job easier?

The biggest frustration is when an author doesn’t understand that once a publisher is signed up, their book is no longer their own thing existing in a vacuum. We have teams of people with decades of experience and direct knowledge of what will do well out in the market and what won’t. Have faith in the team that has faith in your book.

Have faith in the team that has faith in your book.

No I in team. Check.

Is there anything you wish illustrators knew that would make your job easier?

Deadlines are SO important. There is always a few days or even a week or two grace period, but some illustrators will blow deadlines by MONTHS. Understand that you are shooting yourself and the book in the foot the further away you get from an agreed-upon deadline.

*Double checks calendar to see if I’m late for anything.*  No, I’m safe for now. What fuels your creative time? Chocolate, coffee, music?

Are you a mind reader? :o) This is the holy trinity of my creative fuel. Sometimes I get caught dancing in my chair while making boring corrections to a novel interior, and I keep a chocolate stash in my top drawer, but shhh! Don’t tell anyone! 

Shh. Don’t blow my mind reading secret.  And thank you for that image. Now I’m going to imagine everyone chair dancing as they work on their books. :-P

Thank you again Jim for sharing your part in the publishing journey. Thank you for what you do! And P.S. I’m totally snagging some chocolate if I ever come visit your office.

For you readers who want to know more about Viking follow them on Twitter at:

Or find them on the web at:

Friday, September 2, 2016

Concept to Completion: Editor

Since this is a holiday weekend we are posting a little early. Have a great Labor Day!

This series of Concept to Completion started during a Skype session with Editor Kelly Delaney. I took a class with her and invested in the one-on-one session. (SO WORTH IT.) I asked just how many hands are on a picture book from writing to reader.  You know what I found out? WAY MORE THAN I IMAGINED.

Today I’m happy to introduce Kelly Delaney, Associate Editor at Alfred A. Knopf Booksfor Young Readers.

Thank you for coming out today, Kelly. So we all want to know, what exactly does an editor do for picture book manuscripts?

Editors work with authors to make the text as clear, concise, and engaging as possible. We also work with the design department to select an illustrator and, with the book’s designer, act as the go-between with the illustrator and author as the sketches and final art are developed.

After the text and illustrations are on their way, we present the book to the rest of the company—sales, marketing, publicity, subrights, etc.—and work with them to make sure the book finds its way into the hands of readers who will treasure it. There are a million little details in between, but that’s the gist of it!

That’s a lot of people you have to deal with! What happens when you fall in love with a picture book manuscript?

Usually I take the manuscript to an editorial meeting to solicit feedback from colleagues about its quality and, more importantly, its marketability (just because I love something doesn’t mean it will sell). If we’re in agreement that it’s worth acquiring, I fill out a form and a spreadsheet detailing how much I think it will sell and why, based on its sales hooks and comparative titles. I use those details to craft an offer, and present it to the book’s agent.

Do you ever have to fight for a story you love?

Yes. Sadly, not everything with great writing is marketable, and publishing is a business. I’ve often gone back to an author and asked them if they’d be willing to revise based on my editorial feedback in an attempt to bring it to where it needs to be. Sometimes this leads to an acquisition, but often I do just need to let a book go. That’s never easy, but in that situation I’ll usually tell the author (or agent, more likely) that I’d love to see more work from them in the future.

How long do you edit a picture book or, a better question may be, what were the shortest and longest periods of time you spent editing a picture book?

I’m working on a book now that is ready for copyediting a week after I signed it up! The edits were very spare and didn’t require any major restructuring. Other books can take much longer, depending on what needs to be addressed or on the author’s schedule—they may have other projects that take priority, which we’ll factor into the book’s schedule. And of course, more edits may come with the art. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, but I’ve never worked on a book that didn’t need any editing at all.


I’ve never worked on a book that didn’t need any editing at all.


That is a great thing to keep in mind. There is always room for improvement. Is there a separate copy editor in your house or do you do the copy editing after the big picture changes are made?

We have a copyediting team that looks at every book several times.

A team?! Wow. Is editing a 9-5 gig or do you find yourself doing editorial work at home?

I read at home a lot. It’s easier to get it done away from email, a busy office, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever brought a picture book home with me, though—just novels.

How much caffeine/sugar/health food of choice is needed to fuel you through your workday?

 I don’t really track my diet in this way, but I usually have an iced coffee in the morning and eat as balanced as I can (though an abundance of treats and snacks in the office seems to be an occupational hazard of working in children’s publishing). My energy is more impacted by how active I am, so I try to work out daily and/or walk to and from work. 

Something we should all try to work into our day. My hair looks like Wally's when I'm done a work out. And you can feel free to share the chocolate in your office. Just sayin'.

So is there anything else you think authors should know?

Remember that revision is a part of the process that doesn’t end when your manuscript is acquired—and that an editor wouldn’t work to revise something with you if they didn’t love it. It’s not an attack on your work, but an attempt to make it as strong as possible so that it will appeal to as many readers as possible. We all have the same goal, which is to get your book into the hands of as many readers as we can!

Also, I’ve talked to a lot of writers who worry about details like how to format a manuscript submission, how art notes should look, and things like that. That should not be a source of stress for you. Be organized and clear, and follow any submission guidelines that exist. The more important part is to focus on your writing and hone your craft. If I love a manuscript, an unnecessary art note is not going to change that.

You heard it here authors and illustrators: Editors are on our team and want the same things for our books as we do.

Thank you so much Kelly for taking time to share your job with us. It’s great to peek behind the curtain and see just how much work, and how many people work, to get a picture book out into the world.

Next time...Art Director

Monday, August 29, 2016

Concept to Completion: Agent

Agents are busy people who only make money once a book is sold. I had many kind and generous agents who have agreed to interviews for this blog. Unfortunately none were available in time for this series. (We'll be seeing them in the fall.)

Since I wanted to keep this in order for when future readers go through the entire series, this is going to be a placeholder for an interview.

I will say that having an agent opens doors that you may not be able to get through on your own.

Some publishing houses are closed to unsolicited manuscripts and without an agent you can only sub to them if you've met them at a class or conference.

Also, a good agent is going to be honest with you about if your manuscript is ready. They may even be editorial and assist you in getting your manuscript to the next level before sending it on submission.

An agent will also be more likely to get you better terms if/when you get an offer. They are familiar with contracts and clauses, advances, royalties, rights, publishing houses of every size, plus they become a supporter of your work in many ways.

When subbing to agents be mindful that this is a professional situation. Letters should be organized, proofread, and polite. If an agent gives you any feedback, even if they don't offer representation, please appreciate it. They don't get paid unless they are selling books, so if they take the time to give you a personal rejection, then you should take it as a compliment to your work. And I do believe it is a compliment.

If you are querying agents, I wish you the best of luck.

Coming Soon: An actual Agent Interview

Up Next:  Concept to Completion: Editor

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Concept to Completion: Critique Partners

You know what you MEAN when you write. You know the pacing that the reader is SUPPOSED to use. You know the RHYTHM of the rhyme.

But is it obvious to the reader if you aren’t there to explain? Are you so close to your work that you didn’t notice a missing word? Did your point get across?  Are you ready to submit? HOW DO YOU KNOW?!?!

Critique Partners.

Good critique partners are worth their weight in chocolate.

Most writers are too close to their work. It is just a fact and we need to be real with ourselves. Others will judge the book, for better or worse, when we submit it to an agent or editor. So wouldn’t we want to know up front what people think? What we need to improve?

Phase One: Critique yourself. Try to go line by line and look at it from an outsider’s perspective. (Not easy! Takes practice!)

A trick I use is to read the picture book manuscript backwards so you are focusing on sentences individually. This prevents you from going autopilot through the story you’ve read 7,982 times.

Phase Two: Text to Speech. Most all computers have a text to speech capability. A trick if you don’t have it in Word is to copy and paste it into Excel. The computerized voice that is stilted and staccato reads much like a child would. It also may catch errors that spell check missed. You may have written loose when you meant lose. Spell check won’t save you there. But that computerized voice will shock you when you say, “That’s not what I meant.”

Phase Three: Other people. This is where the big fixes happen. They will help you with a number of things.

Big Picture Items:

Is your character’s motivation strong and apparent?

Is your story arc complete? Picture books still need a beginning, middle, and end in most cases.

Is the MC relatable to a child and do they react in childlike ways or is our adult brain seeping into the story?

Super Necessary Things:

Word chopping – Most contemporary picture books must be below 1,000 words and the sweet spot, currently, is less than 500.

Does it leave room for the illustrator? Do you really need to mention their hair color or their shoes? It better be a part of story arc if you did.

Is your word choice active or passive?

What energy is your picture book conveying? Is it loud and humorous or quiet and contemplative?

Smaller Things:

Line edits.

Word choice like ‘a’ vs. ‘the’.

Any word choices or clusters that make it difficult to read aloud or cause your reader to stumble. Read-Aloudablility is necessary for a good picture book. Ask any librarian.


Being a good critique partner yourself:

Some people like the ‘sandwich’ technique.

Bread –  Say what you like. (Positive)

Meat/Cheese/Veggies – The items that need work and will make your manuscript stronger and healthier. (Not negative per se, but the stuff that is harder to hear.)

Bread – Say more of what works and what you like. (Positive)

I personally like club sandwiches, so throw some of that bread in the middle too. Just sayin’.


Your job as a critique partner is to help others find weak spots in their structure, build on solid foundations, and polish a beautiful and strong story. An added bonus, when critiquing other’s work, is you may notice areas that you need to work on too. This will help you when critiquing your own work and will make you a stronger writer.

It may take a few tries to find a group or partners that are a good fit. If you write in rhyme, find other poets. If you lead a super busy lifestyle, find an online group that has more flexibility. Do you need accountability? Find a local group that you have to look in the eye every week or every month. Go find your people.

Happy writing and happy critiquing!