Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

how to write a picture book in twelve easy steps

Want to write a picture book, but don't know where to start? You're in luck! Follow these twelve easy steps* and you'll have a picture book at the end.

1. Read a ton of newly published picture books (published in the last 12-18 months). 

Books that were published before that may not reflect what publishers are looking for now, and books that just came out were probably purchased 1-3 years ago, or even before that. Picture books have a looooooooong lead time.

2. Think about whether the story you're telling fits within the age group, subject matter, language, format, and word count (usually 500 or fewer words) of current picture books.
Many picture books these days are shorter and aimed at a younger audience than picture books in the past. That said, since they are meant to be read to a child, they don't have to use simple words for a child trying to read on their own for the first time.

3. When you go back to your story, remember that the art will tell half (or more) of the story. 

One of the great things about picture books is that the child can read the story in the illustrations, even if they can't yet read the text. When writing a picture book, remember to leave room for the illustrator to tell the child their version of the story.

4. Don't forget that picture book text describes the action of the story, but not the visual details (leave those to the illustrator).

5. Start with a blank page after steps 1-4 (even if you already have a draft written), and write the book as an outline, or just the bones of your story.
When you write your first draft, don't be afraid to take as many words as you need to get your story down on the page. Picture books may end up short and concise, but they rarely, if ever, start there. Revision is where the story usually starts to shine.

6. Take each action in the outline and write that as a line in your book (don't add any more at this point).

7. Put it away for a day/week/however long you can stand not writing it.
Write something else while you're waiting, and complete step 8 too.

8. Read more current picture books, with special attention to how the words and pictures work together in the book. What words are left out to leave room for the art? What story does the art tell and how does it enhance or expand the story in the text?
Think about your story compared to the ones you just read. Have you left room for the art? Does your story fit into a picture book (subject, word count, language, format, age group)? If not, maybe you're writing a different type of story (easy reader, chapter book, etc.).

9. Pull your ms out and re-read, then revise while thinking about the text and how it will work with potential art. Read your story out loud. It will help you to hear where the words don't flow and help you weed out unnecessary or added words.


10. Repeat steps 1-9 as needed.


11. When you are ready, think about getting a critique! 

If you don't already have a critique group/partner, here are some options: the SCBWI has critique exchange on their discussion board, you could take a picture book writing class, or attend a conference that offers critiques.

Notes on critiques: Critiques are great when they are helpful, but you don't have to make every change suggested. Revise the story when the comments reflect your vision (as opposed to the story the other person would write). When multiple people comment on the same thing, it's an issue you should consider changing, but you don't have to change it the way they suggested (or at all). It's your story! Maybe you have a more creative solution to change the problem and make the story better. One last thing: sometimes there are spots in a story that critiquers say aren't working, but the problem is in another part of the manuscript. If several people comment on an element that you think needs to stay in your story, look to see if you can make that moment necessary by laying the groundwork for it earlier. Or repeat step 7 and put it away for a while. When you come back to it, maybe you'll realize it needs to be cut, or your subconscious will have come up with a new solution that makes sense for your story and makes it better.

12. Revise and repeat as needed.
**

Good luck writing your picture book!

* The steps are easy, but the execution of them is not. There is no magic bullet that will allow you to write a publishable picture book quickly***. It may take a many years of repeating these steps before you have a picture book manuscript that is polished and ready to send to publishers. In that time, you'll learn and grow as a picture book writer, and the market will also grow and change, which is why it's important to keep repeating these steps, especially #1 and #8 (read current picture books).

** As with any advice, use it if it works for you, if not, don't. Everyone has their own process. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary)

*** There's always news of someone quickly dashing off a book that ends up getting a publishing deal. This person is probably one of 3 types: A. a celebrity, B. lucky as all get out, or C. a writer who has been writing for a long time, and what sounds like an overnight success, was really hard work followed by being in the right place at the right time. Most will fall into category C, whether you know it, or not.

**** Note: I've updated to add a couple of things I forgot. Just like a picture book text, this post is better after multiple revisions!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

wobbly egg for Illustration Friday

The prompt for Illustration Friday this week is egg. I did some egg sketches and ended up choosing an egg with a chicken that's about to hatch.



If the chick doesn't regain her footing, gravity will help her out of her shell!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March First Books: POISON by Bridget Zinn

Every Wednesday this month, I’ve been blogging about first books to help celebrate the release of Bridget Zinn’s novel, POISON, which released March 12. On this final Wednesday, I'll be talking about Bridget's book:

The giveaway has ended. The winner is Diana Evans!



Update after reading POISON: One sign of a good book is that you can't stop thinking about it after you've finished reading it. I've been thinking about Bridget's book since I finished it last week. There's a lot to love about this book: a headstrong main character, adventure, danger, funny bits, a cute boy (who doesn't take away from the heroine's awesomeness), a best friend (who the main character is trying to kill, even though she doesn't want to), a cute pig with special talents, and twists and turns you don't see coming! I'm sad that I won't get to read another book by Bridget, but I'm happy that she wrote this book and left it behind for us to read. I'll be thinking about this one for a while!

About POISON (from the author's site):
Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she's the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom's future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend. But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart…misses. Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king's army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she's not alone. She's armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can't stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her? Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she's certainly no damsel-in-distress—she's the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.
About Bridget Zinn: Bridget grew up in Wisconsin. She went to the county fair where she met the love of her life, Barrett Dowell. They got married right before she went in for exploratory surgery which revealed she had colon cancer. They christened that summer the "summer of love" and the two celebrated with several more weddings. Bridget continued to read and write until the day she died. Her last tweet was "Sunshine and a brand new book. Perfect."

Bridget wanted to make people laugh and hoped readers would enjoy spending time with the characters she created. As a librarian/writer she loved books with strong young women with aspirations. She also felt teens needed more humorous reads. She really wanted to write a book with pockets of warmth and happiness and hoped that her readers' copies would show the watermarks of many bath time reads. Learn more about the author on her website.

Publisher's Weekly has a wonderful article about Bridget and POISON here.


Bridget wrote about her diagnosis and treatment on her blog. I'm not sure how many people she touched with her words, but I know that she touched my family. My mom was diagnosed with colon cancer shortly after Bridget was. I had been reading Bridget's blog. After my mom's diagnosis, I sent a link to her, so she could read it too. The posts about her treatments made the road ahead less scary, and the posts about how much she enjoyed life, even with cancer, made it easier to notice the little things in life that brought us joy. My mom and I have both been looking forward to reading POISON! I loved this book, and I'm giving it to my mom for her upcoming birthday (it's on her gift list)! :D

Want to read POISON? Pick up a copy at your favorite bookstore or library, or fill out the form below to win a copy! (Note: US entries only.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Speaking of giveaways, the winner of ALTERED by Jenn Rush, is: Casey Harris-Parks! And the winner of BOT WARS by J.V. Kade, is: Lil Berry!

Why am I posting about first books this month? If you're an author or illustrator of books, you know the anticipation of seeing your book in print. You prepare for the day it releases and want to shout about it to the world because you’re so excited! Unfortunately, Bridget Zinn isn’t here to celebrate the release of her first novel, so authors and illustrators are celebrating for her. Learn more about Bridget and her novel POISON on her website. Bridget's book is now out in stores! Find POISON at your favorite bookstore or library. For Bridget's blog tour schedule, click here.


Legal Stuff about the giveaway: Void where prohibited. The book, POISON, was purchased by me for the giveaway.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

a lizard wearing glasses, an old newspaper joke, and illustration Friday

The prompt for Illustration Friday this week is eye glasses. I did several sketches before coming up with this drawing of a lizard and his friends all wearing glasses:


I drew the girl on the left first, not knowing what she was so surprised about. When I started to draw the boy, I knew there would be something or someone on his shoulder, but had no idea it was going to be a lizard! I decided that a lizard wearing glasses was funnier than a squirrel, so that's what I went with. The girl on the right was just an excuse to draw a profile with someone wearing glasses, but I think she fits in quite well with the other two. She's amused because she's the one that gave the lizard the glasses!

This is a different style for me. It looks similar to my regular style, but the line is a lot thinner. Here's a crop with just the black line so you can see what I mean:



I also made a version with a dark red background. Originally it was to make sure that everything was colored in without the background showing through, but then I really liked the way it looked. What do you think of the red background?


Couldn't help thinking of that old joke my dad used to tell: "What's black and white, and read all over? --- A Newspaper!" I didn't say it was a funny joke. When I was really little, I thought it was the color red, not read. I still think of that when I think of that joke, even though I know it's really read, not red ... probably because I'm an artist.

And here's the crop I put on the Illustration Friday site:


 I like it because it reminds me of a movie poster. It also shows how different an image can look and feel just by how you crop it. Now I want to go see a movie! I'll have to check the newspaper to see what's playing ... I'll probably check it online, since we only get the Sunday paper these days. If our newspaper had comics, we'd probably still get it every day.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March First Books: ALTERED by Jenn Rush and BOT WARS by J.V. Kade

 Every Wednesday in March, I’ll be blogging about first books to help celebrate the release of Bridget Zinn’s novel, POISON, which released March 12. Since my book isn’t out yet, I’ll be talking about first books by other authors. I’ll also be giving away books! Tune in each Wednesday to learn about a great book and possibly win your own copy. 

The giveaway has ended. The winner of ALTERED by Jenn Rush is Casey Harris-Parks! The winner of BOT WARS by J.V. Kade is Lil Berry!

This week I'm talking about two first books by the author Jenn Rush. Her first YA novel, ALTERED, came out in January, and her first MG (middle grade) novel BOT WARS (writing as J.V. Kade) comes out tomorrow!


ALTERED: Anna leads a sheltered and secret life, with her father, and the four genetically altered boys who live in the lab beneath their house. When the secret agency her father works for decides it's time to take the boys, they break out and flee, taking Anna with them. There are lots of twists and turns and hot boys in this book! I can't say any more without giving away spoilers, but if you like thrillers, conspiracies, and crush worthy guys, you'll like this book!


BOT WARS: I haven't read it yet (comes out tomorrow) but it sounds really good! Here's the description from the author's site:
Twelve-year-old Trout St. Kroix has been searching for his missing father for the last two years, after his dad disappeared while fighting in the Bot Wars. The Bot Wars began after robots became so advanced that they revolted and demanded more workers' rights, causing the government to declare all robots terrorists and ban them from the Districts. Trout never questioned anything the government told him--even when his own nanny bot was banished--until a vid he posts about his missing dad goes viral and new information pops up. At first Trout is wrenched his dad might be alive, but when his brother disappears, Trout learns nothing is what it seems . . . not even his own father.
Percy Jackson meets Transformers in this heart-stopping, futuristic adventure that will make you question everything you know--and look at robots in a whole new light.
Sounds excellent and I can't wait to read it!

ALTERED is Jenn Rush's first YA book. BOT WARS is her first MG book (written under the name J.V. Kade) Both books are also the first in a series, so if you like the first ones, there's more to look forward to! Jenn's birthday happens to be next week, and the best gift you can get an author for their birthday is to read their books! Pick up copies of her books at your favorite bookstore or library.  Learn more about the author on her website.

Want to win a copy of one of this week’s books, ALTERED by Jenn Rush, or BOT WARS by J.V. Kade + bookmarks? (Note: US entries only. There will be two winners, one for each book. Jenn is sending bookmarks and I'll post pictures when I get them.) Fill out the form below to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Speaking of giveaways, the winner of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES by Mike Jung, is: Jennifer!

Why am I posting about first books this month? If you're an author or illustrator of books, you know the anticipation of seeing your book in print. You prepare for the day it releases and want to shout about it to the world because you’re so excited! Unfortunately, Bridget Zinn isn’t here to celebrate the release of her first novel, so authors and illustrators are celebrating for her. Learn more about Bridget and her novel POISON on her website. On March 27th, I’ll talk about Bridget’s book and give a copy away to a lucky reader! For Bridget's blog tour schedule, click here. Bridget's book is now out in stores! Find POISON at your favorite bookstore or library. 

Legal Stuff about the giveaway: Void where prohibited. The book, ALTERED, was given to me as an ARC by the author, but the giveaway copy was bought by me. The book, BOT WARS, was also purchased by me for the giveaway.

Friday, March 15, 2013

a toothy smile for a boy and a moo

I have to go to the dentist today. It's just for a cleaning, but going to the dentist is not my favorite thing. Then I thought of my drawing of a boy and his cow friend and their toothy grins, and it made me smile. I'll have a toothy grin after going to the dentist, so it's worth suffering through the cleaning :D


You might be able to see the date in the bottom right corner. It says 1-15-04. I can't believe I drew this image nine years ago! At the time, I was a little over half way through my project of drawing a cow a day for a year. I needed to draw something silly, and to use crayons (I love crayons)! BTW, the background is crayon too. It's watercolor crayon, which is even better, because I get to draw with crayons, and then play with a paintbrush!

The image was part of a series with the boy and cow. Here are some of my other favorites of them, starting with: Upside-down Moose Ears! This is the first image I drew of them, and my favorite from the series.


The second image was the two playing leap frog. Bet you've never seen a cow play leap frog before!


Another fun one is when the cow watched the movie Jaws before going to the beach. The boy better watch out for cow sharks!


My final favorite to share is of them on the swings. I drew a new version of this image a few years later for my portfolio:


A boy and his moo friend, the perfect distraction from thinking about having to go to the dentist!

What distractions do you use when you have to do something you don't want to do?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

March First Books: Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung

Every Wednesday in March, I’ll be blogging about first books to help celebrate the release of Bridget Zinn’s novel, POISON, which released March 12. Since my book isn’t out yet, I’ll be talking about first books by other authors. I’ll also be giving away books! Tune in each Wednesday to learn about a great book and possibly win your own copy. 

The giveaway has ended. The winner is Jennifer!

This week I'm talking about the middle grade novel, GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES by Mike Jung.


GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES stars Vincent Wu, the number one fan of Captain Stupendous. In Vincent's world, superheroes actually exist, and Vincent isn't a superhero, he's just a fan. Well not JUST a fan. He's the number one fan! He and his two friends know everything about Captain Stupendous ... except his identity. Vincent is more than just a superhero fan. He's a regular kid with two good friends who has a crush on Polly Winnicott-Lee. Unfortunately, Polly doesn't know Vincent or his friends exist, or at least that's what Vincent thinks. When Captain Stupendous needs help fighting the new super villain, Vincent, his friends, and Polly, have to team up to help him. Will they prevail? Will Professor Mayhem defeat Captain Stupendous and take over the town? Will Vincent and Polly become friends? Will Vincent get up the nerve to ask Polly on a date? Find the answers to these questions and more when you read the book!

This book was hands down my favorite read last year. It's not often that I want to go live in the world of a book, I mean ACTUALLY go live there. I wanted to live in this world, and I totally wanted to be Polly Winnicott-Lee. (Polly is so cool!) If you haven't read this book, what are you waiting for? A superhero, a super villain, three cool geek boys and one awesome girl = a recipe for a great book!

GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES is Mike Jung's first book. He's also in two anthologies, DEAR TEEN ME which came out in 2012, and BREAK THESE RULES, which comes out this year. Pick up his novel or the anthologies at your favorite bookstore or library. Mike is currently writing a new book, and I can't wait to read it! Learn more about the author on his website.


Want to win a copy of this week’s book, GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES by Mike Jung? Fill out the form below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: This is the first time I'm using Rafflecopter for a giveaway. Not sure if this will work better or worse than drawing names out of a hat. If I do it again next week, it works better, if not, then not.

Speaking of giveaways, the winner of WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN by Jodi Moore is: Rena!


Why am I posting about first books this month? If you're an author or illustrator of books, you know the anticipation of seeing your book in print. You prepare for the day it releases and want to shout about it to the world because you’re so excited! Unfortunately, Bridget Zinn isn’t here to celebrate the release of her first novel, so authors and illustrators are celebrating for her. Learn more about Bridget and her novel POISON on her website. On March 27th, I’ll talk about Bridget’s book and give a copy away to a lucky reader! For Bridget's blog tour schedule, click here. Bridget's book is now out in stores! Find POISON at your favorite bookstore or library. 

Legal Stuff about the giveaway: Void where prohibited. The book, GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES, was bought by me for the giveaway.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Night Owl is not amused by daylight saving time.

Saturday Night: Night Owl would like to know whose idea it was to turn the clocks forward an hour. It doesn't seem like bedtime yet and she's wide awake. Night Owl is not amused by daylight saving time!


Sunday Morning: Eventually, Night Owl falls asleep. Her alarm goes off a few minutes later. She's not ready to wake up, she's very, very tired. Night Owl is still not amused by daylight saving time!


Monday Morning: Happy daylight saving time from Night Owl! To celebrate, she suggests an afternoon nap every day for the next week or so.

Friday, March 8, 2013

You are the background in other people's pictures.

The prompt for Illustration Friday this week is yesterday ... as in, "Yesterday the world was full of color. Today, *looks out window* there's snow, snow, and more snow, and everything is white!" So, my picture for IF shows a world full of color and no snow, and there's also a story, not from yesterday, but from yesteryear! Though I did draw it yesterday.

Several years ago, I was walking down the street with a guy I knew, when we saw someone taking a picture. He told me that we were the background in that person's picture. I was thinking about this yesterday and sketched a bunny who inadvertently got caught in the background of a picture when he stopped to look at the butterfly landing on another bunny's head:


The two bunnies in the front are frozen in place with their hands at their sides so the butterfly doesn't move while their picture is being taken. Or at least that's how it would have gone when I was a kid. "Don't move! I'm trying to take your picture with the butterfly!"

If you've seen my other art, you have probably noticed that I usually use black outlines. This time I tried not to use them. It works, but I miss the outlines. I also used a different brush that has more texture. Here's a close up, where hopefully you can see some of the texture:


This is just a color sketch for fun. I don't think I'll be changing my style just yet. Also, the colors on the textured art aren't as bright when I save for the web, compared to the colors of my regular style ... or at least that's how it seems!

Here's the original sketch. It makes me want to do the image again in my usual style with black outlines and see which one I like better, but I'm not going to (at least not now).


The idea of being the background in other people's pictures has always stuck with me. I think about it whenever I'm in someone's shot (I have been known to make bunny ears - thus the bunnies in the picture, or smile really big, or even turn away). I think about it when I'm creating the background for a picture book spread too. Who is in my character's neighborhood? Do they live there? Are they friends or family? Or are they visitors from out of town? And I think about it once in a while when I'm creating characters. Everyone is the star of their own pictures, and we're all the background for someone else. I wonder if my character is in the background more often, or is the subject of the photos. Then I try to figure out who is taking the picture.

Have you ever thought about being the background in other people's pictures?

Want to win a signed copy of the picture book When A Dragon Moves In written by Jodi Moore and Illustrated by Howard McWilliam? Click here to enter!