The Storyboard: The Best Way to Outline Your Picture Book

cave-below-outlineFor about two weeks now, I’ve been researching a new picture book tentatively titled “Cave Below.”  No, I didn’t do all of the research in two weeks.  This one has been rattling around in my head for a couple of years.  I just finally got serious and decided to get it done so I’ve been reading about the history of a cave, the geology and the chemistry involved.

With pages of notes, it was time to outline.  One of the best ways to outline a picture book manuscript is the storyboard.  For those of you who have never worked up a storyboard, it is a worksheet, or board, that allows you to mock-up a picture book so that you can see the entire thing on one page.  I don’t like working on something as small as a sheet of printer paper.  My storyboard is a piece of cardboard that was used to cover a mirror in shipment.

Why bother with a storyboard?  The great thing about using a story board is that I can see right away if I have enough scenes for a whole picture book.

But before I can lay things out, I need to transfer some of my notes onto post-it notes.  I fill out a post-it note/or part of a note, for each scene.  Then I take my storyboard and put everything in place.

Some people prefer to do this on a worksheet.  I like this post-it note approach because I can re-arrange things as needed.  When you’re writing a nonfiction book about a process, the order of the scenes is determined by the process itself.  The problem is that no single source talked about the entire process depicted in my book.

Because of this, I’m having to mesh what one source gives me with another.  In this case, it meant shifting what was initially scene 2, or the second speadk down the board so that it becomes spread 5.

Now that I have the storyboard, I’m ready to write.


#MSWL: One Tool to Help You Find an Agent

Do you wish you had a crystal ball that would tell you what potential agents really want to see?  If yotwitter-848528_1920-croppedu have a Twitter account, you do.  All you have to do is search #MSWL.  If that doesn’t look familiar, it should.  It stands for Manuscript Wish List.  Agents and editor use this tag to help writers find the clues that will lead them to the right agent.

Sometimes what they ask for is pretty general.  “Still looking for middle g
rade and young adult novels.”  Other times it is much more specific. Janine O’Malley recently asked for books that foster empathy and compassion.  Another tweet asked for commercial fiction that handles family secrets with compassion in the vein of Tell the Wolves I’m Home.  

If you have a market to place, be sure to sign into your twitter account and check out the postings on February 8, 2017.  That’s the next Manuscript Wish List Day.  Throughout that day editors and agents will tweet about their dream manuscripts.

Maybe just maybe it will be something that you’ve got in your files.  You won’t know until you do that search — #MSWL.




Ten Minutes a Day: When You Don’t Have Time to Write, Part 2

ten-minutesAbout two weeks ago, I blogged about not being able to find time to work on two new projects — a novel called Iron Mountain and a nonfiction picture book about a cave.  Since then, I’ve worked on these projects 10 minutes per day, Monday through Friday.  Has that little amount of time been worth my while?

For the cave book, I’ve read 7 or 8 sources and have 8 pages of notes.  I have two or three more sources on hand and a friend just told me about an applicable NPR broadcast.  I don’t have quite enough material to start writing but I am very close.  The manuscript is starting to take shape in my mind and has already changed a bit from what I had originally imagined.

What about the novel?  This post went up on Friday, but I wrote it on Wednesday.  At that point I had 1700 words of text.  Yes, it is rough but that’s 1700 words more than I had just fiddling around and complaining about not working.  I’ve roughed out almost a complete first chapter.

No it isn’t following my outline but it is definitely taking on a life of its own.  As soon as I finish roughing chapter 1, I’m going to make an outline of the pivotal points in the story.  What do I consider pivotal points?  My character’s call to action, the climax, the darkest moment and various points where the antagonists actions change things up.  I’m 98% certain that these points are still solid and I want to review them before I get much farther into the story.  I also need to do another Character sketch since this character now makes an appearance in Chapter 1.  He is definitely going to have a much bigger part than I originally conceived.

Ten minutes a day.  It doesn’t sound like much but I have two new projects steadily gaining ground in just two weeks.  Kind of makes you wonder where I’ll be in another two weeks, doesn’t it?


Manuscript Tracking: How Fancy Do You Get?

keeping-trackWay back in the olden’ days, translation: the early 2000s, I had some spiffy manuscript tracking software.  It was written by someone in my critique group and had fields for manuscript title, editor/agent, and publisher/agency.  It also pinged mercilessly to remind you when you needed to follow up on something.  Unfortunately, my friend decided that it was a huge hastle to update the software every time Windows updated.

What was I to do?  I looked at various programs and services but I’m notoriously frugal.  Okay, some people might say that I’m cheap.  But I wasn’t going to throw good money when I already had Excel.  That’s still what I use today.

Whenever I send something out, I make an entry in the Excel file that is oh-so creatively named Tracking.  I know!  Isn’t that an awesome file name?  And I still get reminders because I mark my calendar with when I should hear something.

If making up your own spread sheet doesn’t sound appealing, Writer’s Digest currently has six different spread sheets available to help you keep track of what is where.  They are:

•    Freelance Pitch Tracker
•    Literary Journal Submission Tracker
•    Freelance Payment Tracker
•    Agent Query Tracker
•    Direct-to-Publisher Query Tracker
•    Agent Submissions to Publishers Tracker

To link through and get them, visit the Writer’s Digest announcement here.  Keeping track of what is where doesn’t have to be fancy but it really is something you need to do.  If one editor or agent makes an offer, you want to know who else currently has your work.  Otherwise you might find yourself in an embarrassing situation!


Agents: The Great Agent Search, Who Wants What and How to Pitch

Agent HuntI currently have queries out to two agents.   They’ve had my work for almost a week and my patience is waning.  Yep, I’m a total three  year-old that way.  I’m pitching Puke-ology (chapter book nonfiction) and am eager to get a pitch out to another agent who represents picture books.

But wait!   I just read advice for an agent who says that you should not pitch two different projects at the same time.  The worry is that one agent will want one manuscript, but not the other, and another agent will want the other manuscript but not the first.  Ideally you want to find an agent who will like both manuscripts.

poutAnd, I get that.  I reeeee-eeeeee-eeeeally do.  But have we covered how like a three year-old I am?  This agent is only taking work through the month of January.  Pbbbt.  In reality I should look and see if she’s a good fit for Puke-ology. I know she reps picture books but if she only reps picture books, she really wouldn’t be a good fit for me. See how nicely I’ve argued myself into agreeing with the agent.  Yep.  I knew she was right all along but my inner three year-old had to get a word or two into the discussion.

Here is an agent who is currently looking for work:

Christa Heschke is an agent with McIntosh and Otis.  She represents picture books, middle grade novels (coming of age) and young adult (unreliable narrators).  Unfortunately for me, her nonfiction focus is on picture book biographies.  You can check out a detailed list of what she wants here.

Patiently waiting while prepping a few more letters to go out pitching Puke-ology.


ALA Announces 2017 Winners

Monday, January 22, 2017, the American Library Association (ALA) announced the latest winners of their much coveted awards.  Without further ado, here is the list of winners and honors books with a few comments.

the-girl-who-drank-the-moonJohn Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:
Medal winner: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers)
Honors: Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan by Ashley Bryan (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly (Dutton Children’s Books)
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (Dutton Children’s Books).  In all honesty, it is hard to imagine that The Girl who Drank the Moon is better than Wolf Hollow which I am currently reading.  But I’m putting in my request today.  

radiant-childRandolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:
Medal Winner: Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (Little, Brown and Company)
Honors: Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol (Roaring Brook Press)
Freedom in Congo Square illlustrated by R. Gregory Christie, by Carole Boston Weatherford (Little Bee Books)
Du Iz Tak?  by Carson Ellis (Candlewick Press)
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle Books LLC)

Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award, recognizing an African-American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:
march-book-three-cover-100dpiMedal Winner: March: Book Three by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions). Can I have a big YAHOO!  I’m was especially happy to see this one since our President singled Lewis out for criticism. 
Honor: As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds (Caitlyn Dlouhy Book)
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan” by Ashley Bryan (Caitlyn Dlouhy Book).  When a book takes honors in two categories, sit up and take notice.  Also checking this one out.

Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award:
Medal Winner:  Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (Little, Brown and Company).  This one took two medals.  Yet another book to request. 
Honor: Freedom in Congo Square illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, by Carole Boston Weatherford (Little Bee Books).  Two honors!   My list is growing.
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan” by Ashley Bryan (Caitlyn Dlouhy Book). This one is now up to three categories!
In Plain Sight, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, written by Richard Jackson (Neal Porter Book)

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award:
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte Press)

Michael L. Printz Award:
Medal: March: Book Three by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions).  And now this one is up to two medals!  
Honors: Asking for It by Louise O’Neill (Quercus)
The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry (Viking Books for Young Readers)
Scythe by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte Press).  One medal, one honor.  One library request in!

Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience.  Winners named in three age categories:
Medal: Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (Alfred A. Knopf)
Medal: as brave as you by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
Medal:When We Collided by Emery Lord (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences:
The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst (Harper Voyager)
The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales (Riverhead)
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford (Henry Holt and Co.)
Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart (Dey Street)
Arena by Holly Jennings (Ace Books)
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Tor Book)
Romeo and/or Juliet: A Choosable-Path Adventure by Ryan North (Riverhead Books).   This one intrigues me because . . . really?
Die Young with Me: A Memoir by Rob Rufus (Touchstone)
The Wasp that Brainwashed the Caterpillar by Matt Simon Penguin Books)
The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach (St. Martin’s Press)

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award: 
Medal: March: Book Three by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions).  And now this one is up three medals!  
Honors: Giant Squid by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann (Neal Porter Book).  Already read this one and LOVED it.
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson (Carolrhoda Books)
Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II by Albert Marrin (Alfred A. Knopf)
We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman (Clarion Books). Just read about this group in another book. 

I didn’t include every award.  That was pages and pages long.  If you want to see the full list, visit the ALA site here.



Say Bye Bye to Clutter

electronic-clutterOne of my favorite home and how-to bloggers is Karen.  She will tackle just about anything in her blog, The Art of Doing Stuff.  She’s laid a patio, put in a pond, built a chicken coop and installed shelving with hidden storage.  One of the things that she does every year, and challenges her readers to tackle too is to throw away 50 things.

As Karen puts it, you can “donate, ditch or destroy.”  Just make it be gone.

When I saw her challenge last week, I was in the midst of a shingles outbreak.  It was delightful said no one ever.  I wanted to use this challenge to get my office in shape but, to put it mildly, I was not in the appropriate condition to clean out the closet, get rid of another pile or three on my desk or clean off a book-case.  In fact, I wasn’t doing too much more than sitting on my fanny and napping.

What could I do while sitting around?  As I considered this, I clicked on my e-mail and inadvertently moused over my inbox.  I had 80 unread pieces of e-mail but something like 276 message in the box.  100 seemed like a lot and I had nearly three times that much.  No wonder I was having troubles getting some things done.

So that night, I finished going through my new messages and then re-sorted the old ones by sender. Nine messages from a single yarn vendor.  I quickly disposed of all but 1.  Another 10 back issues of a newsletter that I had saved to remind me to resubscribe.  Once I done it, the messages languished. Click and gone.  Soon I had deleted 25 old messages.

Each day, I read and the new messages.  Then I deleted at least 25 of the old.  My goal is to have fewer than 25 remaining by the end of this week.

The funny thing is that as old messages go, my productivity picks up.  I’m not having to sort through a huge list of messages to find the one piece of information I need for that newsletter article.  And I’m willingly dealing with things instead of sitting on them.

Is electronic clutter slowing you down?  Clean out your in-box.  Unsubscribe from vendors and lists if you regularly delete their messages unread.  Electronic clutter can be just as bad as paper clutter.  And once you get that under control you can tackle some of the things you’ve printed out.  Get rid of 50 pieces of clutter a month and you’ll be surprised by the progress that you’ve made.



Writing Short: Should You Bother If You also Write Long?

long-and-shortPerhaps because I’ve been judging a series of flash fiction contests, I’ve been noodling over ideas for short stories and articles.  In the last four years, my writing career has taken off and I’ve been writing a lot of books.  I turned in my 11th right before Christmas.  But before that I did a lot of shorter work and the reality is that I miss writing short.

Still, is it worthwhile to take time away from my book work to write short?  As I was wondering this, I ran across tbe Writer’s Edit piece “5 Reasons Novelists Should Write Short Stories.”  Reading it helped my own thoughts on the topic gel.

Diversity if a good thing.  Just as diversity is a good thing when you are talking about people, diversity is a good thing in your writing as well.  A book can take months to research and months more to write.  There are times you are going to get stuck on something — the fact you can’t find, the scene that hasn’t come together, etc.  You are going to need something else to do.  Why not write something short?  It will help give you that . . .

Can do feeling.  Short things generally take a lot less time to finish.  One problem that writers often have is a lack of validation.  We sit and work on something for months without that sense of a job well done.  Working on something short can give you that boost in much less time and sometimes we really need that boost to keep going.

Experience.  That’s another reason to write short.  The more you write, the more polished your writing becomes.  While you’re researching a book, you can be writing short pieces and developing greater polish.

Exposure.  And the more you get your work out there, the more exposure you will have. That’s important because editors google names.  This blog has helped me get work.  My short pieces on education web sites have helped me get work.  In short, having my name out there has helped me get work.

Yes, the time spent writing short is time not spent writing long.  But time spent writing yields experience, polish and exposure.  The three have generally served me well and, because of that, I’m going to continue writing both short and long.



Hidden Human Computers vs Hidden Figures

Hidden Human computersIt is so surreal to have a book out about the same thing as a major motion picture.  I just had someone e-mail me a question about one of the women in the movie.

She asked:

Just saw Hidden Figures which I LOVED.  Wondering what Mary Jackson could do that the white men in the same office couldn’t do?  Was she a genius at looking outside the box with math?  She must have had something special for her to be invited into those top circles already filled by talented men that they couldn’t do. What was that?

Hmm.  Give birth?

Okay, that’s the smarty pants answer.  And truly it was the one I was most comfortable giving for two reasons.

  1.  This is largely a matter of opinion.  I’m a whole lot more comfortable with fact.
  2. I haven’t seen the movie.

But after thinking about it a while I was able to cook up an answer for her.  Here is my response:

“I haven’t managed to see the movie yet so I’m not sure how they handled this.

But the men didn’t do the math.  They were engineers.  They came up with problems.  They tested the problems and generated results.  And the female computers crunched the numbers.  

“Many of the women who climbed the ranks did so with male advocates.  I know that Jackson’s mentor was her boss and I think, I’d have to pull out my notes, that he was male.  A bit part of moving up was know what classes to take and what to do to make your qualifications more appealing.  Jackson was especially good at telling what might be holding someone back and went on to mentor her coworkers and act as the affirmative action program manager.  She was a serious go-getter.”
Phew.  That was a tough one.  And now I’m wondering if any other authors get letters like this?

Lee and Low: Changes in Leadership

cheryl-klein-headshot-1-e1484342544751Seriously, my plan is not to report on only markets this week but when I see an announcement about a press or editor I love?  Yep.  You’re going to hear about it.

If you aren’t on Twitter you may not know that yesterday Lee & Low books announced a change in leadership.  In March Cheryl Klein will join the company as the new editorial director, replacing Louise May who has done so much for the publisher.

On March 1, 2017, Louise May will become editor-at-large.  In this position she will continue to work with her list of authors and illustrators to add more titles to the list.  May has clearly played a key role in making Lee & Low what it is today.  Her backlist includes many award-winning titles such as Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore’s Parrots Over Puerto Rico (Robert F. Sibert Medal winner), Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor), The Pot that Juan Built by Nancy Andrews-Goebel (Pura Belpré Award Honor),  and Etched in Clay by Andrea Ching (Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award).

Cheryl Klein’s commitment to diversity has been evident in the books she published at the Arthur A. Levine Books imprint of Scholastic.  Such titles include, Shadowshaper, If I Ever Get Out of Here, Marcelo in the Real World, and The Princess and the Pony.  In addition, she was a founding member of the Children’s Book Council’s Diversity Committee.

I for one am excited to see the books that come out of this pairing.  Klein is definitely a powerhouse with a mission and Lee and Low and its readers are sure to benefit from her talents.