Would You Read It Wednesday #66 – Dim Sum Dog (PB)

Happy Day Before Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Given that even I am busy cleaning and cooking (I know – the mind reels at the concept because you all know how I feel about those “c” words :)), loving having my kids home, and preparing for more family on the morrow, I’m sure you are all very busy too, so we will keep today’s post very brief!

Although we normally indulge in Something Chocolate right about now, our lovely Stacy has prepared these delightful and festive Turkey Cookies (as in looks-like- a-turkey, not made-out-of-turkey because that would probably not taste very good :)) which seem very appropriate for Thanksgiving.  So grab a few…

photo copyright Stacy Jensen 2012 used by permission

… and something to wash them down with (cider sounds good, doesn’t it?), and let’s jump right into today’s Would You Read It!

Today’s pitch comes to us from Larissa, a writer in Hawaii, mother of two kids, college minister, and blogger at The Larissa Monologues (speaking of good recipes, which we weren’t exactly, but definitely go check it out! :))

Here is her pitch:

Working Title: Dim Sum Dog
Age/Genre: Picture Book (ages 4-8)
The Pitch: A man and his wife are about to close their beloved yet deserted dim sum stand. But when they discover a clever, dim sum-loving dog at their doorstep, maybe the stand can be saved after all.

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Larissa improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)
Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in January, so you have time to polish 🙂 for a chance for it to be read by editor Erin Molta!

Larissa is looking forward to your thoughts on her pitch!  And I am looking forward to having so much of my family together over the next few days!  Remember, anyone who is too busy for Perfect Picture Books this week, don’t worry!  We’ll see you on the 30th 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!  I hope you all enjoy some lovely time with your families and have as much to be thankful for as I do 🙂

Oh Susanna – How Do You Decide Which Blogs To Follow?

Batten down the hatches, all my fellow east-coasters!  In spite of the fact that I bought candles on Friday and filled the bathtubs with water this morning, the Frankenstorm appears to be coming anyway. I hope you are all in a safe place with plenty of batteries and chocolate and possibly your floaties and a rowboat!

To keep your minds off whether or not your basement is likely to approximate Lake Superior by tomorrow, let’s dive in to today’s Oh Susanna question, which is one that strikes a real chord with me, and I’m guessing a lot of you will feel the same way.

Penny asks, How in the world do you decide which blogs to follow regularly??? I would love to follow everyone! I would love to comment on all posts! But, if I do that, I have no time to do what I really love, which is writing! I read lots of blogs that I only comment on randomly, so the writer never knows that I read them often. We have become so connected by the Internet that I sometimes feel rude because I can’t spend time with all my writing friends equally. Does anyone have a “qualifier” list for what blogs they will choose to best suit their goals? Do those who blog rely on comments to “keep them going”…or are you going to blog no matter what? Is anyone else as frustrated about this as I am? (I know you covered time management in one of your Oh Susanna! posts…but I think I need a refresher focusing on blogs.)

Yes, Penny!  I am definitely as frustrated as you are! 🙂

As Penny mentioned, we did discuss this a little in the Oh Susanna post on Time Management.  But I decided to post this more specific question because it’s something I think  lot of people wrestle with every day (including me! :)), and I’m very interested in hearing from everyone out there about how they handle this issue.

I think the answer partly depends on what you hope to get out of blogging.  If you’re trying to hone your craft, then you’ll read a list of blogs that focus on craft and you might not need to comment unless you have a question.  This is a very different picture from that of someone who is trying to build a platform and will have to visit and comment on many blogs regularly in hopes of encouraging them all to follow back.

If you, like me, blog for community – for the connection, the interaction, the discussion, the feeling of being part of a group of like-minded people, the friendship – there’s really no limit to how much time you CAN put in, which is where the problem lies.  And from the way Penny asked the question, I think this is at least partially what she’s talking about.

This is a knotty problem, because we do develop friendships.  There is a large group of people out there who I am very fond of even though technically I’ve never met them in real life :)!  I feel guilty if a day goes by when they post and I don’t have time to read, or I read but don’t have time to comment.  I worry they’ll feel slighted and think bad thoughts about me!

But let’s face it: there are only so many hours in the day.  And most of us here have things to do besides blog 🙂

Just for fun, let’s take a quick survey:




I’m very interested to see how these turn out!  And I have a feeling the results may be a very informational part of this post for all of us.  I hope a lot of people will respond.

If it helps to share concrete information, I’ll tell you what I do: (and I will admit straight out that I DO NOT have the answer!)

The blogs I follow regularly belong, as a general rule, to writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, and a few agents, editors, book reviewers, and mom bloggers – at least, those are the blogs I read with commitment.  (I confess there are a couple funny ones I read sometimes that don’t fit into any of those categories :))  These are the people I share common ground with, the blogs where many of my interests lie, that also intersect with what I have time for.  (I would love to read blogs about horses and dogs and a few other things, but I simply don’t have time, so for me blogging centers in a more professional area.)

I like having new posts delivered straight to my inbox, even though it fills up, because then I’m sure to see them.  Anyone whose blog does not include an email option is likely to get sporadic reading from me because I read so many that I tend to forget about some without the reminder.

I try to carve out a chunk of time at the approximate beginning, middle, and end of my work day to read and comment on blogs, but it is rarely that neat… reading and commenting on blogs feels deliciously like being productive at moments when the writing isn’t going well which makes it a nearly irresistible distraction 🙂

I read an average of 30-40 blogs per weekday (fewer on weekends – I’m trying to cut back :))  I comment on an average of 20-25 per day, maybe a little more.  Chances are high that if you ever see comments from me (and you have an email option for delivery :)) I’m reading your blog all the time – every post.

As for comments on my own blog, they are very important to me.  They let me know that I’m not just shouting into the abyss – that I hopefully provide something enjoyable maybe sometimes even valuable on some level.  And I genuinely like hearing everyone’s thoughts on everything.

Truthfully I feel like the amount of blogging I do is both insufficient and far too much.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could agree on some sort of system?  So that we could spend a little more time on our actual work without worrying that our friends are feeling neglected and unloved?  Maybe an “I’m-Up-To-My-Eyeballs-But-I-Took-The-Time-To-Come-Over-Here-So-You’d-Know-I-Still-Love-You-Even-Though-I’m-Not-Reading-Or-Commenting-Today” button? 🙂

What works for one may not work for another, but it sure would be helpful to hear from you all about how you manage.  How do you decide who to read?  How much is enough?  Please share!!!

(And remember!  Only 2 days until the Halloweensie Contest!  Rules HERE!)

Meet Natasha Yim – Children’s Author (Plus A Giveaway!!!)

Today I am thrilled to be hosting Natasha Yim on the 4th leg of her blog tour for Sacajawea Of The Shoshone.  Let’s jump right into the interview, shall we?  It’s a little long (I apologize – but there are extra cinnamon sugary cider donuts to help sustain you :))  I think you’ll find it very interesting, and I didn’t want to break it in two because it would have required an extra post on a non-posting day.  Your reward?  (Aside from the extra donuts…)  If you read to the end you can have some fun and there’s a chance you could win a signed copy of Natasha’s brand new book!

…which, BREAKING NEWS!!! was just nominated for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project (Feminist Books For Youth List)!!! (which I happen to know about because Punxsutawney Phyllis was on that list, so Sacajawea is in good company :))  Congratulations, Natasha! 🙂

Natasha Yim

       SLH: Welcome, Natasha!  Thank you so much for joining us today!  Can you tell us a little about your writing beginnings?
NY: My love of writing began when a 7th grade English teacher gave us an assignment where we had to create our own island and make up names of lakes, mountains, forests, villages etc. and weave a story around it. It was so much fun, I was immediately hooked and I’ve been making up stories ever since. I kept several journals and wrote in them daily. I also kept notebooks where I wrote poems and short stories. My Mom knew of my interest in writing and she was very supportive. She encouraged my creative expression, sometimes reading my stories and offering comments, but mostly just letting me write.
       SLH: What was your first published children’s book?  Tell us about the moment when you got your first offer!
NYOtto’s Rainy Day(Charlesbridge Publishing, 2000). For some reason, Charlesbridge was the only publisher I sent this manuscript to (maybe it was because they wanted exclusive submissions at that time? I can’t remember), but I sent it out and went on to work on other things. The guidelines said they would respond in 3 months. 3 months went by and nothing happened. At the 6 month mark, I received my SASE back. I could feel my heart dropping thinking this was a rejection letter. It wasn’t. The letter said they were really backlogged and hadn’t gotten to my manuscript yet, and to be patient because they will read it—eventually. I remember thinking how nice that was. Usually, you just don’t hear from publishers unless they reject or accept your work. At the 9 month mark, I received a phone call from the editor. I was soooo excited, thinking this was it. This was THE call. It wasn’t. The editor had called to say they were still really backlogged and were catching up on reading manuscripts and that she promised I’d hear from them soon. After my initial disappointment, I thought “Now, that was really nice of them”. Usually, publishers don’t bother to call unless they want your work. Finally, one year after I submitted the manuscript, I got a call from the editor who told me that they wanted to publish my book! My heart leapt into my throat, I was so excited but I had to limit my exuberance because they had called me at work. I did tell my co-workers and allowed myself a few “woo-hoos”. And I did tell my husband who was my boyfriend at the time. My family lived overseas (my parents in Hong Kong and my sister in Australia) so I had to wait until I got home to tell them.
SLH: How did you go about doing the research for Sacajawea Of The Shoshone? Was there anything different or interesting about getting the art for a historical type book?
NY: There weren’t a whole lot of adult books on Sacajawea. Mostly, she gets a mention in books about Lewis and Clark. However, there were quite a few books about her in the juvenile section of the library, so I read about six books on her and browsed about a dozen websites. I found a really good Shoshone website that gave a very comprehensive overview of Sacajawea’s life plus interesting information like the meaning and spelling of her name.  The internet is great for immediate access but you have to be careful about the information on there as there are a lot of misleading information out there, so I did a lot of cross-referencing with books. The publisher and art director are the ones who are responsible for the visual layout of the book including the illustrations.  It’s one of the unique features of the Goosebottom Books books that they use a combination of real-life photographs and illustrations. For photographs, you have to get permission from the appropriate people and get permission to use the pictures, and all that was handled by the publisher. There is also one illustrator for each series so that the books in that series has a uniform look. The Real Princesses series is illustrated by Albert Nguyen, so when Sacajawea was added, he naturally became the illustrator for this book.

SLH: What surprised you the most when you were writing Sacajawea of the Shoshone?

NY: Though Sacajawea has often been mistakenly labeled as the expedition’s “guide” and her name only comes up about 8 times in the Lewis and Clark journals, her presence on the trip was nonetheless invaluable and without her, the expedition could have failed at several points. Not only was she instrumental in providing food for the Corps of Discovery; she gathered edible plants and roots to supplement the game they hunted or in place of game if it was scarce, she patched up and made new moccasins for the men as they were continuously being ripped up by the rough terrain, she saved most of Lewis and Clark’s important instruments and documents when the boat in which she was riding almost capsized, she prevented other native tribes from attacking them because the presence of a woman and a baby indicated that the Corps was not a war party, and as the only Shoshone language speaker, she successfully negotiated for horses that helped the expedition cross the Rocky Mountains. Sacajawea’s contributions have left an indelible stamp on the history of the American West. Today, there are three mountains, two lakes, and twenty-three monuments named after her, yet her tribe, the Shoshone, are still fighting for Federal recognition. That, to me, is not only incredible, it’s outrageous!

SLH: What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author/illustrator?
NY: Everything about writing is hard. It’s hard work to make your story as perfect as possible before you send it out. It’s really hard getting the attention of someone who likes your story. If you’re lucky enough to be offered a contract and get your book published, getting it the attention it deserves and the marketing and promotion of it is challenging. But I think for me, the most challenging part was getting over my fear of public speaking and realizing this was something authors had to do. Only this year did I start to agree to assembly-type school visits but having done a few of those, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be, although all the ones I’ve done, I’ve done with another author. It might be a whole other level of anxiety if I have to do assemblies alone.

 SLH: Do you do school visits?  Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?

NY: I do do school visits. The kind of program and presentation depends on the age groups, the needs of the teacher, and the book I’m promoting. For example, sometimes the teachers have been working very closely with their students on practicing writing and editing their work so they’ll want me to talk about my writing process. I’ll show them my edited manuscripts with all the mark ups so they can see good writing takes work and practice. If I have it, I’ll show them the original manuscript and then the final accepted one, and read passages as a before and after comparison. For larger audiences like assemblies, I like to use power point presentations because kids tend to be more engaged with visuals. I do a little intro of myself and show pictures of me as a kid, my kids, my pèts, my workspace etc. I can also show slides of the page excerpts I’m reading and the illustrations which are easier to see on a large screen. For individual classrooms, I’ll sometimes conduct writing exercises. For the biographies, I’ll have the kids pair up and “interview” each other then write a biography of their partners from their interview notes. For younger kids, I have coloring pages and sometimes the teacher or librarian and I will come up with related activities. For a recent library event, I presented Cixi, The Dragon Empress and we had a Chinese fan making activity. Every age group can be fun but I love the 4th to 6th graders. Not only are they the age group for the Cixi and Sacajawea books but they’re the most engaged and the most engaging. They always ask such great questions. You can access and download my school visit program at: http://www.natashayim.com/file_download/13/School+visit+program.pdf
       SLH: What advice do you have for authors/illustrators just starting out?
NY: Keep writing and keep trying. Editors and agents have such different tastes. Just because you get rejected by one doesn’ t mean the next one won’t love your work. My upcoming book Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014) was rejected by several publishers. Author Richard Bach once said, “a professional writer is an amateur who didn’ t quit.”
Natasha’s work space (which, incidentally is a LOT neater than mine :))
       SLH: Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?
NY: I have a couple of middle grade/YA projects in the works and a picture book manuscript.
       SLH: Do you attend writer’s conferences?  Enter contests?
NY: Yes. I’ m a conference junkie. I  LOVE writing conferences because I always learn so much and I get to network with other writers. I rarely enter contests though just because I don’t really have the time.
SLH: Any marketing tips?  What have you done that has worked well?
NY: This is in line with a recent question I received on my blog from Amanda J. Harrington who asked, “What is your best marketing strategy for building up a following on line?” I promised to provide a link to whoever posted a question on one of my blog tours. So, here it is: www.thewishatree.com. Please hop over and check out Amanda’s site.
My marketing tip is that every writer has to do some of it. How much or how little will depend on your comfort level and how much time you can afford. I have a blog, Facebook , twitter, Pinterest. I do school visits, book festivals, public speaking engagements. But it’s really difficult to gauge how effective each aspect of marketing is because there is no measurable yard stick that tells you if you do a, b & c, you will sell x amount of books. However, what I do know is that people can’t buy your book if they don’t know it exists. To answer Amanda’s question, in terms of building up a following on line, here’s what I’ve learned:
1)   When I first started my blog, I posted things about my writing life, my home life, how I juggled that with writing, any meagre successes I encountered. But here’s the thing: nobody wants to hear or read about you talking about yourself all of the time. My blog began to feel…well…a little self-absorbed. So, I started incorporating things that I think might be of interest or useful to other people, especially writers, such as interesting writing conferences or retreats, writing tips I’ve gleaned from other sites or articles I’ve read. And now I’ve included a Friday Features segment on my blog that is purely devoted to interviews with other authors. It’s been great fun and I’ve learned so much from the authors I’ve interviewed. Come check out interviews with Deborah Halverson, Linda Joy Singleton, and coming up soon, Gennifer Choldenko (www.writerslife2.blogspot.com).
2)   I see this on Facebook groups all the time: “Come read my new blog post.” or “Check out my new blog.” and my question always is “Why?” Generic announcements like this don’t entice me out of my busy schedule to go look at somebody else’s blog or blog post. I have to give credit where credit’s due. Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, the lovely hostess of the fabulous blog, Banana Peelin’: Ups and Downs of Becoming a Children’s Writer (http://bananapeelin.blogspot.com) which features different writers talking about their slips and embarrassing moments on their way to publication, would post upcoming blog posts with teasers such as, “This week we have Cori Doerrfeld, the author/illustrator of one of my family’s favorite reads, LITTLE BUNNY FOO FOO! She reveals her experience managing deadlines after the birth of her first child.” So, if I was a writer with young kids at home and struggling with time management, I might be really interested in what Cori had to say about this.” I think this is a very effective way to attract readers to your blog and I do this now. I’ll find something in a blog post that others might find interesting or useful  and mention it in my announcement. For example, for my interview with author and editor Deborah Halverson, I mentioned that she would share tips on the YA market trends and how she started her popular DearEditor.com blog. I’ve had quite a few visitors over to read her interview. The Banana Peelin’ blog will be blog stop #7 for the Sacajawea of the Shoshone blog tour on Oct. 23. Stop on by for my top secret blog post. Shhh…
3)   Comment on other people’s blogs or Facebook postings etc. Don’t make it all about you. Congratulate others on their successes, ‘like’ the posts you enjoyed, exchange information. The key word in social networking is “social”.
4)   I have a Facebook fan page for Cixi, The Dragon Empress and Sacajawea of the Shoshone. In addition to posting events and book information, I’ll post interesting tidbits about the characters—Cixi’s six inch long fingernails, for example, or a video of the Shoshone Love song on Sacajawea’s page. It makes the pages more fun and interesting.
I don’t know how much of a “following” I have, but my blog has seen an increase of about 4,000 page views since January when I focused on making it more interactive and informative.
        SLH: Where can we find you?
        NY: You can connect with me on my:
       Website: www.natashayim.com
       Twitter: www.twitter.com/natashayim

       You can find my books at:
       Your local bookstore
       or purchase it at Amazon
       Signed copies can be purchased from Goosebottom Books
Just for fun quick questions:
Left or right handed? Right
Agented or not? Agented: Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary
Traditionally or self-published? Traditional
Hard copy or digital? Hard copy
Apps or not? Not
Plotter or pantser? A converted Plotter. I used to be a pantser, but now I like having some sort of road map to go by.
Laptop or desktop? Laptop
Mac or PC? Oh definitely Mac
Day or night worker? Day, 5 am. to be exact
Coffee or tea? Coffee in the morning and early afternoon, tea in late afternoon and evening
Snack or not? Throughout the day, unfortunately
Salty or sweet? Mostly salty unless you offer me Lindt’s Dark Chocolate
Quiet or music? Quiet but I’m trying nature sounds to tune me into writing my book rather than doing other things like social media, email or marketing stuff
Cat or dog? I’m a dog person but right now we have two cats
Currently reading? LA Meyer’s Bloody Jack Series, my friend Jody Gehrman’s “Babe in Boyland”
If you’d like to read previous stops on Natasha’s tour, please visit:

Oct. 3 — Frolicking Through Cyberspace Blog,www.http://frolickingthroughcyberspace.blogspot.com, guest post on public speaking
Oct. 8 — The Writer’s Block on Raychelle Writes, http://raychelle-writes.blogspot.com, guest post, “The Journey of a Lifetime”
Natasha, thank you so much for joining us and being so helpful with all your answers!
And now!  The moment you’ve all been waiting for – the chance to win a signed copy of Natasha’s gorgeous and informative book (I have it, so I can attest to how interesting it is and how beautiful the art is!)
You know me.  I like to make things fun 🙂  So here’s what you have to do to earn a chance to win Sacajawea Of The Shoshone:
In the comments, please answer the question “If you were Sacajawea, what would you have written an article/advice column about?”
Here are a few examples to get your minds in gear…  🙂
“Dress Up Your Teepee: Creative Decorating With Buffalo Hide”
“365 Recipes For Corn!”
“5 Subtle Ways To Let Your Traveling Companions Know It’s Time For A Bath!”
You get an entry for every article/advice column suggestion 🙂  (And OK, if you want to be boring serious you can :))
But if you’re not feeling creative at this hour on Monday morning I don’t want to penalize you.  If you can’t think up an entertaining article, you can just say why you’d like to win the book 🙂
I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!  Comments must be entered by Tuesday October 16 at 11:59 PM EDT.  Winner will be drawn at some point on Wednesday or Thursday when I have 5 seconds free by random.org and announced on Friday along with Perfect Picture Books, which, I’m warning you in advance, will be Sacajawea Of The Shoshone, so don’t anyone else plan on doing it 🙂

Would You Read It Wednesday – The 55th Pitch

Guess what I’ve been doing?

You’ll never guess.

It’s so out of character.

I’ve been cleaning my office.

You know that feeling, when you squeeeeeeeeeeeeze your way into your office, look around at the mountains of note-covered manuscripts, the cascading piles of scraps of multi-colored paper, ATM receipts and napkins densely covered with scribbled ideas you thought up while you were away from your computer, stacks of books – both for reading pleasure and for writing craft – that simply will not fit into your overflowing bookshelf, Phyllis and friends tumbling off their seat of honor onto the desktop, and you just think to yourself, “Crikey, Sus!  You need a maid!”?

I just felt – and I may have been leaping to farfetched conclusions – that I wasn’t getting the maximum benefit out of my workspace since I couldn’t actually get into it… and even if I did, there wasn’t a clear surface on which to set my trusty computer.

“Susanna,” I said to myself, very sternly, “you will clean that office or I will have to administer harsh punishment!”

I was pretty scary!

So I cleaned for HOURS!

Result?  I’m exhausted.  And my office is clear…er…ish… but not done, so there is more cleaning in my future.  Sigh.

So this morning I am recovering my unquenchable good humor by hanging out with you guys and sharing today’s Would You Read It pitch 🙂  Hmm… let me just rummage in my pantry and see what kind of Something Chocolate I have today… Oooh!  Look!  I still have a few of those special Kiwi milk chocolates left that the wonderful Diane sent me all the way from far off New Zealand!  How is possible I didn’t eat these yet?  Well, don’t question good fortune, just help yourselves if you care to 🙂

Now then, today’s pitch comes to us from the lovely Rachel.  Rachel says, I’m married with four kids, aged seven years down to ten months. I coach high school speech and theater. I show Arabian horses, which I’m now able to do with my oldest daughter. I mainly write picture books and middle grade books.”  When you have a sec, please take a moment to visit her BLOG.

Here is her pitch:

Working Title:  Princess Azalea’s Two Left Feet
Age/Genre:  Picture Book (ages 3-8)
The Pitch:  Princess Azalea has two problems. One: She can’t dance. And if she can’t dance, she can’t meet a prince at a royal ball, which, as everyone knows, is where princesses meet their prince charmings. Two: She really doesn’t care. But her mother, the Queen, is determined to get her dancing no matter what! Will Azalea learn to twirl and spin without falling on her royal bottom? Or will she find her happily ever after her own way?

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Rachel improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)
Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in Octoberber, which is not very far away!

Rachel is looking forward to your thoughts!  And I am NOT looking forward to going back into my office!  But, as they say, once more into the breech!  Wish me luck.  If I don’t show up on Friday, you’ll know I’m trapped 🙂

Oh, and P.S.!  For anyone who didn’t see the contest announcement on Monday, go HERE and read all about it!  The contest opens Friday and it will be tons of fun! 🙂

Would You Read It Wednesday – The 54th Pitch, And Straight From The Editor #11

Buenos Miercoles mi amigos!

I hope you are all deeply impressed with my ability to render Spanish unrecognizable 🙂  It’s a gift 🙂

Surprise, surprise, guess where I am?  If you guessed en el coche (in the car for our English speaking audience) you are correct!  I may have to be surgically removed from Princess Blue Kitty come September… we are starting to have a very hard time telling where one of us ends and the other begins 🙂

Anyhoo, I know you are all champing at the bit to get to today’s pitch, plus we have Straight From The Editor.  Has there ever been anything better that Would You Read It Wednesday?  But yes!  The Something Chocolate that goes along with it!  Of course you may grab whatever chocolate suits your fancy, but today I am serving chocolate chip pancakes because Wendy suggested them and they sounded like a perfect choice!

In case you were wondering, I DO realize that this is not a picture of chocolate chip pancakes.  It is my step-daughter’s wedding cake.  But it is the only picture of food I have, and people have been poking fun at my ability to draw food using only the options on the keyboard, so just pretend since I can’t borrow from google anymore.  Chocolate chip pancakes anyone? 🙂

So, first up, Straight From The Editor starring Erin Molta, and Dana’s pitch.

Here is Dana’s pitch:

Working Title:  CJ’s Tiger
Age/Genre:  Picture Book (ages 4-8)
CJ has always dreamed of having a tiger for a pet, so he is thrilled when he awakens one day to find that his cat “Tiger” has transformed into a real tiger. However he soon learns that having a pet tiger is a lot harder than he imagined when the day turns into one big catastrophe!

And here are Erin’s comments:

This is cute! But since most people realize that a pet tiger might be more difficult to care for than a cat, I think you might want to add at least one example of how catastrophic it can be. So, the first sentence is fine but then I would say, “However, when “Tiger” mauls her favorite scratching post to smithereens and swallows the steaks mom had out for dinner –whole, he realizes that having a pet tiger is a lot harder than he imagined.” Of course, using the scenes you were envisioning that would make the day a catastrophe 🙂.

I think that is very helpful, don’t you?

Now, it’s time for today’s pitch which comes to us from Kimberley who has worked as a literacy coach, elementary teacher, grant writer, public policy lobbyist, and Executive Director of Literacy Volunteers. She is a master in the art of moving and changing. She is concentrating on staying in one place, raising her children in Maine, teaching, reading, and writing.

Here is her pitch:

Working Title:  Saturdays With Fish
Age/Genre: Picture Book (ages 4-7)
The Pitch:  When Libby goes fishing with her stepdad he calls her “Fish”. The loud loud loud of the city is left behind as they head to the quiet quiet quiet of the pond. It is there that Libby and her Stepdad find joy as simple and warm as the sun, well, except when Libby accidentally hooks a bullfrog!

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Kimberley improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)
Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in Octoberber, which is not very far away, so we could really use some new pitches!!

Kimberley is looking forward to your thoughts!  And I am looking forward to getting out of the car… if I am still able to stand up… and no, those are certainly NOT donut crumbs! 🙂  See you all Friday for the last Summer Short & Sweet which is going to be tons of fun!!!!!

Summer Short And Sweets – Week 7 – And The Give Away Winner!

I can’t believe it!  We’re up to week 7 of Short & Sweets already!  That means there’s only one more week to go (and boy is next week going to be awesome!!!) but it also means that summer is drawing to an end.  It has flown by so fast!  And I still haven’t updated the backlog of Perfect Picture Books that I was sure to get done with so much time…. Better get cracking! 🙂

But I’ve been hard at work on some other things…. which maybe I’ll tell you about one of these days… 🙂

badge by Loni Edwards 

For today’s Short & Sweet, we’re taking a field trip!  It can be anywhere you want – and anything that fits into what you’re already doing – no special outings necessary.  Going out with your kids to the beach, the zoo, a museum, the playground, the library?    Going shopping at the grocery store?  Washing the car?  You don’t even need to leave the house – the kitchen or the back porch will be just fine!

Your challenge today is to describe a setting – any setting that tickles your fancy.  In 50-100 words (more or less if you like, that’s just a ball park) make us feel like we’re there.  Take a careful look at your surroundings – whatever they are.  What does it look like? sound like? smell like? feel like? taste like?
BUT – here’s the trick 🙂 – you can’t use the actual word of the place!  So if you’re describing the kitchen, you can’t use the word kitchen.  We have to be able to guess!
For an extra challenge, describe it from a kid’s perspective – try to look at it through the eyes of the average 5 year old – the typical picture book age target.  Places can look a lot different to a five year old than they do to an adult.  Different features stand out, and kids’ react to things differently.
Although we don’t devote a lot of words to setting in picture books because that part of the job is done by the illustrator, it is helpful to you as a writer to envision your setting clearly.  Certain select details will be necessary, depending on your story, and this is good practice in focusing on the details that really matter.  If you write for older readers, setting description is very important to make your reader feel like they’re there – but you can’t ramble on indefinitely.  MG and even YA readers are not going to have a lot of patience for long-winded descriptions.  So this is a chance to practice picking out the part you really need to say!
Here’s my example (which, as per Short & Sweet instructions I am writing in 5 minutes off the top of my head because this day is WAY too packed for me to have any more time than that!)

Weathered wood.  Dutch doors.
It smells like summer, warm and sweet, but with a hint of molasses and clean leather.  Dust motes hang in the haze of late afternoon sunshine slanting through the barred windows.  The brass nameplates on the leather halters wink in the golden light – Jasmine, Pennywhistle, Thumbelina.
Clip-clop-clip-clop.  Snowflake’s unshod hooves thud lightly on the aisle as Ginny leads her in from the pasture.  She lowers her muzzle to her bucket and takes long swallows, then lifts her head, dark eyes soft, drops of water bejeweling her whiskers.
A few feet away, Blackjack sneezes into his hay.
Ginny runs a hand over Snowflake’s satin shoulder.  She reaches up and straightens the silver forelock between her ears, smoothing it down.  Snowflake rubs her cheek against Ginny’s arm, almost knocking her down.
“Silly girl!”  Ginny laughs, then steps back into the aisle and rolls the heavy door shut.
It is quiet but for the occasional rustle of a hoof drawn through straw, the rhythmic munching of horses nose deep in alfalfa and timothy.
This is Ginny’s favorite place to be.
(Okay.  So mine is 181 words.  I never claimed to be succinct 🙂  And I hope you didn’t have too much trouble figuring out where Ginny is :))

So, are you ready to give it a try?  I can’t wait to read all your setting descriptions and see if I can guess where you are!  And I have no doubt that many of these descriptions will serve as story sparkers for readers, who feel themselves transported to that time and place and are suddenly inspired by a character who pops into their head and onto the scene! 🙂
OH!  And I almost forgot!  The winner of the giveaway from Monday – a hardcover copy of Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsy Lewin, courtesy of Lee & Low Books – is PAMELA!!!!  Pamela, please email me and let me know your address so I can mail it out 🙂

Have a fantastic weekend everyone!  There will be a birthday party going on at my house – YUM!  MORE CAKE! 🙂

Oh Susanna – Is It Okay To Use Sentence Fragments In Picture Book Manuscripts?

On the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again….

Oh, sorry!  I guess it is a little early Monday morning to be subjecting you to my singing 🙂

But, like the song says, I am on the road again.  This time it’s JFK or bust.  Talk about scary traffic loops!  I’m really and truly hoping I find the right terminal.  If anyone wants to send good vibes my way, I won’t say no!

Of course I’ve been to JFK lots of times before… but always in a cab with a taxi driver who knows where he’s going!  But there’s nothing like adding a little excitement to your life, right? 🙂

Speaking of which, where is my EZ Pass?  Seriously, the whole point of an EZ Pass is EASE!  Back when I had the Dogmobile, it was easy.  It stuck right to the windshield by the rearview mirror.  When I switched to Princess Blue Kitty, the EZ Pass came with me, but the stick-on thingies went with the Dogmobile, so now my EZ Pass is supposed to be in the glove compartment, but I have to remember to take it out and hold it up to the windshield.  And sometimes it falls down in the cracks somewhere… and searching for it makes for perilous driving… talk about excitement…  It must be here somewhere… And you must be able to get replacement stick-on thingies…

Anyway, whilst I’m driving through confounding traffic patterns and searching for my EZ Pass, you all can read the answer to today’s Oh Susanna question, another one from Darshana – she should probably get double billing on Oh Susanna since she’s always so full of helpful questions 🙂  Which reminds me, if anyone has any questions, please send them along – I’m nearly out!

Today Darshana is wondering whether it’s okay to use sentence fragments in picture books (and I happen to know Robyn was wondering this too, so I’m assuming maybe a lot of people are in the same state of wonderment :))  Here is her exact question:

Recently I was typing out Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer so I could study the text.
In a few places there were sentence fragments posing as sentences.
“And pet kittens. And bake.”
I understand why this was done in the finished book. However, when submitting a MS should a pb author use correct grammar all the time, or can the author take artistic license to make the story more alive?

This is a very good question.  Because as Darshana so cleverly pointed out with an example, there are LOTS of instances where sentence fragments are used in picture books.

The answer is fairly straightforward.  In general, you should be as correct as possible.  Your grammar should be correct.  Your spelling should be correct.  Your word usage should be correct.  Your manuscripts should be presented in as professionally written a way as you are capable of.

HOWEVER, judiciously used, for a specific purpose, sentence fragments can be acceptable, as can sentences beginning with “and” or “but” (normally big no-nos).  It must be for the sake of effect, rhythm, or voice, though.  It has to feel right.  And it can’t be every single sentence.  It may also be best not to use one right up front to start your story, lest the editor reading it think you don’t know how to construct a sentence.

The best advice I can give you is to read lots of picture books (always a good practice anyway) and see when and how sentence fragments are used in traditionally published books.  This will give you a feel for what’s acceptable.

This question also brings to mind a related one – about proper language.  If you are familiar with Junie B. Jones, you will know that Junie speaks in a way that is supposed to sound childlike and five-year-oldish.  Personally, I have never heard a five year old speak that way – none of mine did – but I get the point.  My kids enjoyed the stories, but when I read them aloud, I always corrected the grammar.  I just couldn’t read them aloud as they were printed.  Clearly, this is something that doesn’t bother lots and lots of people, and clearly didn’t bother the editor who bought the book, so my point is, to some degree, it’s a matter of voice and personal taste.  It is also one of the things that separates one writer’s style from another’s.  Barbara Park is comfortable writing that way and has enjoyed a great deal of success with Junie (and for the record, I think her stories are appealing, as is Junie, and kids really like them – I just personally stumble over that language issue a bit).  But I think what makes it work for her is the fact that she’s telling good stories.  I can’t think of an instance where incorrect language is used in picture books, though, except perhaps occasionally in an illustrated note that is supposed to look as though a child wrote it.

Darshana, I do hope that answers your question.  If not, please feel free to ask for further clarification in the comments.  And as always, I would be glad to have anyone with knowledge and expertise in this area add their two cents – this is a collaborative effort to help all of us be better educated and prepared to do a better job with our writing – so comment away!

Now, I guess I’d better find that flingin’-flangin’ EZ Pass.  There’s a toll booth coming up!

Have a great day, everyone 🙂

On the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again….

Oh Susanna – What’s The Difference Between A Query Letter And A Cover Letter And When To Use Which?

Good Morning Everyone!

There were many posts last week about how much trouble you can get in posting pictures on your blog.  I will probably have to go through all my posts and delete tons, but meanwhile, I’m a bit afeared, so for today’s eye candy I will include something which has nothing to do with anything but whichI know I’m allowed to use, a lovely portrait of me reading to a first grade class, drawn by an artistic member of the young audience:

You will note my face, apparently covered by blond hair – I should have shaved:)
Phyllis talking from my unusually constructed arm from which I am also reading
and the enraptured audience of 4 behind me 🙂

Anyhoo, I hope you all had wonderful weekends!  I am so behind after being away all last week that this may end up being my shortest post ever!  Are you ready?  I might not even stop to draw breath 🙂

What with all the special events going on lately, we haven’t had an Oh Susanna day in a while, and poor Darshana has been patiently waiting for the answers to her questions so let’s dive right in, shall we?

Darshana asked:

Q1) What is the difference between a query letter and a cover letter for a picture book manuscript? 

Q2) Which do you use when submitting a PB manuscript to an editor?

Q3) Which do you use when submitting a PB manuscript to an agent?

Darshana’s 3 questions are so closely related that I included them all, and I’m betting she’s not the only one wondering about this topic, because it’s tricky and kind of splitting hairs.

The basic answer is very simple: a cover letter accompanies a manuscript, a query letter does not.

A cover letter is so named because it covers a manuscript.  It would include that a manuscript is enclosed.

Otherwise, both letters should include the following:

  • The basic facts about the manuscript: title, word length, genre, intended age range (e.g. Hillbilly Bob is a 400 word picture book for ages 3-7.)
  • What makes your manuscript stand out from previously published competitors and why it’s a great fit for this particular editor/house (e.g. there are few if any picture books about… or, this book about apples will fit beautifully into the kindergarten curriculum…)
  • Your publication history or relevant background and, if appropriate, anything that made you uniquely qualified to write this particular book.  (This would probably be more applicable in the case of non-fiction, e.g. if you wrote a book about space travel and you were an astronaut.)
  • A mention of other enclosures or attachments such as your resume, or a bibliography if your submission is non-fiction
  • Whether or not it’s a simultaneous submission
  • Your contact information
  • Anything else requested in that specific agent’s/editor’s/house’s submission guidelines.

(For works that aren’t picture books, a sample outline or a chapter synopsis might also accompany a cover letter, but that does not pertain to picture books as a general rule :))

A cover letter should supply the basics, but not much more.  You don’t want an agent or editor getting so bogged down in the cover that they never get to the actual manuscript!

A query letter is essentially the same thing, it just invites the editor or agent to request the manuscript from you if it sounds like something they might be interested in reading.

As to when you would use one or the other, most agents and editors are clear about what they want.  Their guidelines will say, send full manuscript for picture books (that means you’ll need a cover letter) or accepts queries or queries only (that means a query letter.)

Some houses that are closed to unagented/unsolicited submissions are still open to queries, so that is your chance to sell your idea and get the editor to request it.

No matter what, query or cover is a place where you can use that pitch you’ve worked on in Would You Read It Wednesdays to hook either editor or agent.  It’s no different from your manuscript in that respect – grab their attention and don’t let go!

I hope that answers your question, Darshana.  If not, please feel free to ask for clarification on anything in the comments.  And if any of you highly experience readers out there have anything to add, I’d be grateful for any extra information or clarification you can add!

Have a great day, everyone!  Hopefully I’ll see you all around the blogosphere as I play catch-up to all your wonderful posts etc! 🙂

Meet Steven Petruccio, Author/Illustrator – And A Giveaway!

I am so excited to be able to kick off this hot summer week in July by introducing you to Steven Petruccio! He is a very talented author/illustrator (and a very nice person! :)) and I think you’ll really enjoy what he has to share.  Not only that, one lucky commenter will win a signed copy of Steven’s book Puffer’s Surprise!  More on that at the end…

Puffer’s Surprise is part of the
Smithsonian Oceanic Collection

So please join me now in welcoming Steven!

SLH:  Steven, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today!  Let’s jump right in, shall we?  When did you first become interested in writing and/or illustrating?

SJP:  I’ve done both for as long as I can remember…bet you never heard that before.  I always drew more than I wrote but ideas were always floating around in my mind for new stories.  I used to read comic books on my stoop in Brooklyn and then go to my room and copy the pictures.
Steven at age 4 – ready to take on anything 🙂
SLH:  Were you encouraged by family/teachers?
SJP:  My dad is really a wonderful artist.  He made his career in advertising as an art director and studio manager.  He used to bring work home with  him to retouch the old-fashioned way, with an airbrush. I remember spending time at his side while he painted away and I was amazed at the results.
A drawing Steven did at about age 5… a natural talent!
SLH:  You are both an author and an illustrator, so which comes first for you, the story or the art?
SJP:  I’m more of an illustrator, that’s the part I really love, so I always see a character first and imagine what he or she might do after that.  I know all about characters whether I create them or not, before I draw or paint them.  I imagine what they’re like outside of the story.  It makes it easier for me to imagine what they are doing or what they might do.
SLH:  Is there an author/illustrator who has been especially inspirational or instrumental in your own development as a writer/illustrator?
SJP:  Well. I learned art from my dad.  I had no art classes in grade school or high school but my dad would show me how to draw things and I’d observe him at work.  My parents made sure I had pencil, ink and paper and all the art books I wanted.   My dad arranged for me to meet Burne Hogarth who wound up writing a letter of recommendation for me to attend The school of Visual Arts in NYC.  I’m a throwback to a time when illustration was not far removed from fine art.  The technical quality of my work is really important to me, the basics, you know…  good composition, creative use of color and value and so on.  N.C. Wyeth is my biggest influence in illustration because of his own story and because of what he was able to do with the printed page.  I maintain a written dialogue with his grandson, Jamie Wyeth, who has mentioned how much he likes my work.  Recently he wrote to tell me that he was working on a huge painting of a shark jawbone and he has my original cover painting for “SHARKS!” hanging right next to it in his studio!
A drawing of Tarzan Steven did at age 14.
He had no art education, so he learned from comic books.
An ink drawing of Tarzan Steven did at age 16.
SLH:  What was your first published children’s book?  Tell us about the moment when you got your first offer!
SJP:  Understand that being an artist was not seen as a practical career choice and I was encouraged to seek advertising work because my older brother, who always drew and painted as well, followed that path.  My goal was to make a living drawing and painting everyday.  As an illustrator just staring out, you take whatever comes along.  I started getting magazine work even before I graduated from SVA and did mostly editorial work for three years.  I was then asked to illustrate some books that another illustrator had backed out on but I had to alter my style a bit to do so.  I needed the money so I took the job.  The first time I really got to use my own ideas was in a Little Golden Book titled “ Dr. Hilda Makes House Calls”.  It was a fun book to do, I got to create my own characters in my own environment and I totally enjoyed it.  Seeing it in print was very satisfying.
SLH:  Where/when/how do you get your ideas?
SJP:  Well, as the illustrator, the story generates the ideas for the characters  and settings.  I always try to put my own twist on things stylistically and compositionally.  As an author my ideas come from my own experience.  I may see a person and they remind me of something or generate a potential character or I may see a place and something there inspires a story…it just happens.  The coloring/activity books I’ve written and illustrated for Dover Publishing ( American Legends and Tall Tales,  History of the White House, History of the Civil Rights Movement in America and Roadside Attractions) were ideas my editors and I developed to make them as interesting and informative as possible.
SLH:  What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author/illustrator?
SJP:  If you’re familiar with my natural science illustrations you’ll notice how detailed my illustrations are.  That’s not by accident or pure imagination.  I research every detail for every blade of grass or seaweed that I paint.  For my book, “Exploring Underground Habitats” I had to wait two months for  a scientist  to return from a research trip so I could get accurate reference for a particular cave spider!  Researching is always a challenge but well worth the effort.
SLH:  What has been the most wonderful thing that has happened to you as an author/illustrator?
SJP:  Okay, so I wake up every morning and get to do what I’ve always wanted to do, what I love to do.   Now that’s wonderful!
SLH:  Do you do school visits?  Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?
SJP:  I’ve been doing school, library and museum visits for the past twenty years.  Now, understand that I was very shy as I was growing up.  I also sing and play guitar and when I was younger my parents would ask me to play for relatives ,so I would go into another room, close the door and then play and sing.  Needless to say, I overcame that shyness.  When you really know about what you do it’s easy to talk about it and teach others about it.  I went to see some authors and performers who visited my kids’ classes when they were in elementary school and was later asked by their teachers to come and talk to the class about what I do.  I actually liked it!  I saw what kids were interested in, what they wanted to see and hear and what the teachers expected from me.  I also make sure that my programs meet art-in-ed learning standards so it’s not just fun…it’s funducational!  I have a general program which I can alter depending on the age group and two workshops to give practical experience and develop an appreciation of the creative process.  I give teachers follow-up materials so they can continue learning about picture books and illustration.
SLH:  What advice do you have for authors/illustrators just starting out?
SJP:  I’m currently advising three young artists who want to become illustrators.  They approached me and that shows me their passion and desire to be creative.  I do teach at Marist College in the Studio Arts Department as an adjunct one night a week because I want to teach young artists the practical things they need to succeed.  I tell theses young illustrators and art students the ups and downs of the industry.  It’s hard work, long hours, shorter and shorter deadlines, constant marketing, negoiating and continuing to grow as an artist.  I tell them all to be persistent!  Any creative field is difficult, know that starting out, be prepared for rejection…and more rejection, believe in your work and keep producing new work.  Don’t give up!
SLH:  Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?
SJP:  Right now I’m working on a new book about American Heroes also, a big educational illustration project and sending out dummies of my own stories as well as developing new stories and dummies.
SLH:  Do you attend writer’s conferences?  Enter contests?
SJP:  I don’t know everything and I love learning new things and hearing the stories of other creative people.  I attend conferences when I’m asked to be on a panel or do a book signing only because I’m usually busy working on a project.  It always seems that conferences that I’d love to attend ,just to see and hear other people, are always around times of deadline crunches or painting projects.  ( I also paint for exhibition regionally and nationally.)  As for contests, most of the books I illustrate are not eligible for competitions because they are part of a series.  I’ve never been one for competitions anyway.  I do enter my fine art work in juried exhibits though, to gain exposure for that part of what I do.
SLH:  What has been your best selling book so far?
SJP:  Ah, sales figures…see, this is a business.  We do have to be mindful of how our “product” is received by the public and sales is the way to do that.  So far, my best selling book has been “ Dolphin’s First Day”, (Soundprints Publishing). It has been in print for years and released in many countries.  The Smithsonian series has really been good for me in terms of sales but I put so much into those books that it’s gratifying to have them appreciated by young readers, parents and critics alike.  Most of my titles for Soundprints are still available.
SLH:  Any marketing tips?  What have you done that has worked well?
SJP:  Well, I have an illustration  agent, Storybook Arts, Inc. and I’ve had an agent for a long time.  We market through our own website and a variety of other sites as well.  I maintain my own site and blog when I can as well as Face book , Twitter , ( although I’m terrible at updating) LinkedIn,  Behanace and SVA Alumni Portfolio.  I try to maintain personal contact with Art Directors and Editors I’ve worked with.  By the way, many people do not have agents, it’s a personal choice depending on how you want to conduct your business.  So don’t let the fact that you don’t have an agent deter you from pursuing your goals.
SLH:  Where can we find you?
SJP:  You can learn about me and see my work at:
…and to see some of my fine art:
SLH:  Reader question:  how important is it to have a story?  Can you just entertain and make people think, or do you have to have a story to make a picture book?
SJP:   Well, really the most important thing is the story.  Whether it’s told in words, pictures  or words and pictures.  If the story is terrible who will want to read the book.  I don’t want to read stories that are uninteresting or not entertaining in some way so I don’t expect my readers to settle for less.  I tend to illustrate stories  that I feel I can bring something to visually.  My own stories have to be interesting to me and not just something I think someone else will find interesting.  I think I’m my worst/best critic.  Stories can be JUST entertaining or JUST thought provoking or… C)  All of the above.
Just for fun quick questions:
Left or right handed?  Righty!
Agented or not?  Illustration agent.
Traditionally or self-published?  Good ol’ fashioned, traditional publishing.
Hard copy or digital?  My book “SHARKS!”  will be available digitally…otherwise I’m a hard copy guy.
Apps or not?  Let’s say…not yet.
Plotter or pantser?  Plot, plot, plot.
Laptop or desktop?  Both…as well as iPod and iPad.  Oh, and remember those things called ‘pen” and “paper“?  I still use them!
Mac or PC?  Both for writing/business.  Mac for art.
Day or night worker?  Whatever the client needs me to be in order to meet a deadline.  I’m an early riser anyway.
Coffee or tea?  Coffee…unless you can find the blueberry tea that Starbucks discontinued.
Snack or not?  Oh yea…you gotta snack!  Make sure you exercise each day though, get up from that desk or chair and move around.
Salty or sweet?  Uh,  is pizza an option?
Quiet or music?  Music…jazz, some classical,  indie rock or golden oldies.  I used to play and sing in a club to afford my art equipment so I covered many genres of music.
Cat or dog?  Used to have a cat…now a fish!
Currently reading?  Biography of Michelangelo ( Kindle ) and re-reading New Art City ( hardcover)
…and now for something completely different ( homage to Monty Python)…
Forging a living out of something you have a gift or talent for is a great thing.  It’s hard to do it alone and I have my wife, KathyAnn, to thank for her support from the very start.  In good times and in bad as they say, she has encouraged everything I do and has been my biggest fan.  Her own artistic background, having worked in NYC as a graphic designer for CBS Television and DC Comics, and sense of design and style have been invaluable to me.  My kids provide support as well while nurturing their own creative side.  My daughter is a wonderful dancer and singer and my son a budding young photographer/videographer and internet entrepreneur.  Surrounding yourself with people who support you, encourage you and inspire you is crucial to your success.  Tolerate those who say you can’t because they can’t and be encouraged by those you see doing what you want to do everyday.   People have been writing and illustrating for ever and ever…why not you?

(See?  Didn’t I tell you what a nice person he is? :))
Thank you so very much for going us today, Steven, it was a real treat!
And now!  Anyone who would like a chance to win the signed hardcover copy of Puffer’s Surprise, please leave a comment below.  Tell us what you most enjoyed about the interview, or if you have a question for Steven ask away!, or just tell us who you’d like the book for!
Have a wonderful day, everyone, and tune in Wednesday for Would You Read It with Vivian (who I’m pretty sure is pitching a picture book but I can’t seem to find that info at the moment, so it will be a surprise :))

Q&A With Editor Erin Molta, Plus Pitch Pick #9, Plus The Giveaway Winners!

Apparently I have too many things to post for the number of post days I have.  I have no idea how this happens.  I’m usually so reserved with my words 🙂  (I hear you laughing!  Don’t worry – I couldn’t say it with a straight face either :))

ANYWAY, today we have a bit of a smorgasbord.

First, we’re a little behind on the June Pitch Pick.  See what happens when we all go on vacation? 🙂

Here is a little refresher:

#1 Laura

Working Title:  Uncle Larry
Age/Genre:  PB
The Pitch:  A true story about Uncle Larry, a special child/adult who grew up on a farm, trained and loved animals, liked to play and work, got into mischief, and taught us how to love someone a little different by loving everyone himself.

#2 Rita

Working Title: Elephant And Dolphin
Age/Genre: Picture Book (ages 3-7)
The Pitch:  Elephant and Dolphin meet every morning by the sea. But Elephant lives on the land and Dolphin lives in the ocean.  Elephant eats grass while Dolphin eats fish. Elephant trumpets and Dolphin clicks.  How can these two play together with the differences they have between them?  Elephant and Dolphin find out how friendship overcomes everything.

#3 Lori

Working Title:  These Little Piggies
Age/Genre: Rhyming Picture Book (ages 4-8)
The Pitch:  In this Mother Goose mash-up, five little piggies are living happily in a shoe until a callous old woman forces her way in and turns their lives head over tails.  The piggies decide to set a trap for the old woman so, the first little piggy goes to market… the second little piggy stays home…  Will they succeed in giving the old coot the boot?

#4 Anna

Working Title:  Hug-A-Bug Travels To Egypt
Age/Genre:  Picture Book (ages 3-8)
The Pitch:  Fasten your seat belts and prepare for a high-flying trip with Hug-A-Bug to the famous Giza Pyramids. On his visit, he wows the reader with the exploration of hieroglyphics and Egyptian phrases. During his travels, he meets up with someone who needs a hug. Who will he meet this time? 

Please vote below for your favorite by Wednesday July 11 at 11:59PM EDT.

The winner’s pitch will go for a read by editor Erin Molta (who is here with us today! – so exciting!)

But hang on for one more second before we get to Erin because I have other exciting news, too – the winners of the giveaways from our generous self-publishing mini-series authors!

And the winners (as chosen by random.org) are…..

For the set of 3 hardcover Gator’s Gang picture books from Suzanne McGovern – Catherine J!!!

For a paperback copy of the fabulous Show Me How from Vivian Kirkfield – Beth S!!!

For an e-book of The Adventures Of Lucy Snigglefritz from Patrick Milne – Vivian K!!!

And for a paperback picture book of Meg The Egg from Rita Borg –  Erik (I don’t know you’re last initial :))!!!

Catherine, Beth, Vivian, and Erik, please email me so we can organize book signing and mailing!

And now, the post we’ve all been looking forward to for some time, our Q&A with the fabulous Erin Molta.  Erin is an experienced senior editor of picture book, early readers, chapter, middle grade, and YA books, as well as novelty and licensed titles. She has been in children’s publishing for more than twenty years and has a keen understanding of early reader through YA audiences. She has an excellent reputation with established authors, illustrators, and agents.  She is currently evaluating manuscripts for 
publishers as well as freelance editing for prospective authors before submission to publishing houses.

Questions from readers are below in blue, answers from Erin in green.

From Clar:  For Erin: I wonder if a ms with monsters and bedtime is has been written about too much and if she would just throw it in the trash without reading the whole pitch or does she think there’s a chance for it to go through. 
Though it has been done, it’s all in the matter of the telling — because it’s such a universal topic a fresh take on it is always welcome.
From Coleen:  I’m always curious to hear what kinds of manuscripts publishers are buying right now. 🙂
Ha! They wish they knew! Publishing usually goes in cycles. For a while it was Harry Potter and fantasy. Then there was Twilight and other paranormal-type books. Now it seems, in YA at least,that suspense is the up and coming genre. For middle grade books there doesn’t tend to be such a flocking to the genres and subgenres. Every publisher is looking for the next best thing—the next Harry Potter or Goosebumps, Percy Jackson . . .
From Julie H:  I guess I’d have to say my top curiosity right now is whether editors are still finding picture books to be a hard sell and, if so, whether she thinks that will change any time soon.
I think the picture book market is picking up a bit—mostly because it follows the baby booms. And there are more babies now.  Even with e-books and Apps, parents still want books to sit down and read to their kids.
From Darshana:  Any tips for PB authors (not PB author/illustrator) for writing unique/quirky PB under 300 words. I have noticed a lot of PBs I like are written by author/illustrators that are short on text, where the humor and quirkiness is carried in the pictures. I know I can come up with clever stories however since I am only a PB author, I get nervous about using too many illustrator notes, as that could turn-off an editor. 
Illustrator notes don’t necessarily turn off an editor, but they should only be used to point out what may not be obvious from the text—for instance if you are imagining that the characters are animals as opposed to people or if you are envisioning a twist that must be present in the art. No need to describe clothing or setting unless it directly impacts the story.
From Julie R-Z:  Questions for Erin:
Vocabulary: when and why does an editor like or dislike BIG words (son’s 1st gr. teacher called them million dollar words!) in a PB manuscript?
It’s all about appropriateness. If big words further the plot or are essential and are the best word choice for the story, then they are OK. You don’t want to have the story that as a parent etc. is reading they have to stop to explain every 5th word to a child. Then it becomes a vocab lesson and not an enjoyable read. The more important part of writing is not the words themselves but how they are used. If you say Jane is melancholy you are saying she is sad but if you show us why she is sad—“Usually when Jane came home from school, Gramma would be sitting at the table stirring milk into her coffee, reading the historical romances they liked to share. There would be an apple on a plate for Jane. Today there was no Gramma and no paperback book. Just an apple—on a napkin. Jane’s chest felt heavy and her eyes welled up.” You bring the scene alive and a reader will get the melancholy feeling by showing rather than telling.

Cliches: I understand that’s a no-no, but when used sparingly is it not appropriate if it can teach apre-schooler about the meaning behind a cliche?
Again, it’s all about the story. If you are writing a story about clichés or if they serve to bring the scene alive—then used sparingly, they are fine.

In general do editor’s agree on common mistakes or are the peeves more often personal? If so, give us the dirt Erin!
There are no general peeves—but words for the sake of the words as opposed to the story is a common mistake that most editors detest –and typos and spelling mistakes in a query are a nonofor us all.
From Jarm:  I also would like to know what place there is in the publishing world for picture books with more than 800 word counts. I was thinking of PBs for older children on non-fiction topics, that are woven into a story, such as “Amelia and Eleanor Go For A Ride” by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Any place—again it depends on the editor. Nonfiction normally does lend itself to longer text, but check publisher’s lists and see who tends to publish more nonfiction picture books. Clarion tends to, as does Charlesbridge and smaller presses like Eerdmans and Bearport Publishing.
From Kirsten:  I’m most interested in hearing what makes it out of the slushpile (for nonfiction) and why. What are editors looking for on the nonfiction side?
Editors tend to follow the school curriculum so check out a standard curriculum—say 4th graders do the American Revolution and 2nd graders learn about the night sky and maps. Seasonal topics, too—books about apples, pumpkins, and growing things, if done in a fresh unique way, are some popular topics. Animals are popular, too, but again, something new like unusual animal friendships or animals that have strange stories—like a penguin who shows up on a beach in Florida. Cute animals don’t hurt either.
From Penny:  a question that I have been wondering about…when I read online in submission guidelines that a publishing house/agent is closed to submissions except for folks they’ve met at a conference OR REFERRALS FROM OTHER PROFESSIONALS…I always wonder just who all is included in those OTHER professionals. Does it mean just other editors/agents? Can it mean another published author? Does it ever happen that a published someone that runs a critique service happens upon a manuscript they refer onto one of the publishing houses/agents who is closed to submissions except for the circumstances I mentioned. 
Yes J A referral from a published author will make it past the editorial assistant’s eagle eyes. It has happened that a published author has recommended someone and they have been published.
From Erik:  I would like to know the top three common mistakes writers make and what makes her want to read a MS.
Hmm . . . top three mistakes. #1 is when an author tells the story rather than showing—see above for how describing a scene and making a reader feel the character’s feelings works better than using big words or just saying, Jane was sad. #2 is sending manuscripts full of errors. That’s an immediate turn-off. #3 When an author tells you how their kindergarten class or their kids and kids friends love the manuscript. Of course they do. What kids are going to tell their teacher/parent/grandparent that they DON’T like their story?

I do hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did, and Erin’s answers will be helpful to you!

Come on over on Wednesday and help Rita with her MG pitch!  Have a great day!