Archive for the ‘PiBoIdMo’ Category

It’s no foolin’! April has arrived and with it, blooming flowers, singing birds, and the shining sun. Plus – Poetry Month!  AND for 12 x 12 in 2012 participants, it’s not just one but FOUR opportunities to win prizes to improve your writing craft.

That’s right.  April features four multi-published authors, all of whom are participating in the 12 x 12 challenge.  I asked each of them to answer four questions about writing and publishing picture books.  4 questions, 4 authors, 4th month.  (I’m sorry I can’t help myself!).

First allow me to introduce these generous and accomplished authors in alphabetical order by first name — Jennifer Ward, Linda Ravin Lodding, Sandy Asher and Susannah Leonard Hill.  Then keep reading for their valuable insights into the craft of picture book writing.


Jennifer Ward is the author of numerous acclaimed books for children, including, Way Out in the Desert, Somewhere in the Ocean, and There Was an Odd Princess Who Swallowed a PeaShe’s also written parenting books including, I Love Dirt! 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of NatureLet’s Go Outside: Outdoor Activities and Projects to Get You and Your Kids Closer to Nature, andIt’s a Jungle Out There: 52 Nature Adventures for City KidsForthcoming titles by Jennifer include What Will Hatch? (Bloomsbury/Walker Books), Mama Built a Little Nest, (Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books),  The Sunhat, (Rio Chico), and, There Was an Old Pirate Who Swallowed a Fish, (Marshall Cavendish). You can find Jennifer on her website and Facebook  Jennifer is offering one 12 x 12 participant a manuscript critique.


Linda Ravin Lodding is the author of The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister (Flashlight Press, 2011) and the upcoming Hold That Thought, Milton! (illustrated by Ross Collins) and Oskar’s Perfect Present (illustrated by Alison Jay) both from Gullane Children’s Books, London. Linda is originally from New York, but has spent the past 15 years in Sweden, Austria and now The Netherlands. Today she lives in a one-windmill with her wonderful husband and daughter (who is, at times, as busy as Ernestine) and their sometimes-dog Nino (who speaks Dutch, Swedish, Spanish and a smattering of English). She loves dreaming up stories, biking along the canals, taking photos, doing pottery, traipsing through quaint towns, playing the flute…and sometimes just playing. You can find Linda, on her websiteFacebook and Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and located (in person!) at 52°9’7″N , 4°23’05″W.  Linda is offering one 12 x 12 participant a manuscript critique.


Sandy Asher’s first book for young readers, SUMMER BEGINS, was published in 1980. Since then, she’s written 25 more. Her latest picture books are all about Froggie and Rabbit, Too Many Frogs!What a Party!, and Here Comes Gosling!. Sandy has also edited five anthologies, including, DUDE! Stories and Stuff for Boys, coedited with her friend David Harrison. Her latest anthology is WRITING IT RIGHT: How Successful Children’s Authors Perfect and Sell Their Stories. Sandy and her husband are the proud parents of two grown children, and have three small grandchildren.  They live in Lancaster, PA, with their cat Friday. You can find Sandy at the website she co-founded with David Harrison – America Writes for Kids, their blog and on FacebookSandy is offering one 12 x 12 participant a copy of her book, WRITING IT RIGHT! 


Susanna Leonard Hill began writing as soon as she could hold a pencil, but her first published book was The House That Mack Built, released by Little Simon in 2002. Since then, she has published eight more books, including: Punxsutawney Phyllis (Holiday House, 2005), No Sword Fighting In The House (Holiday House, 2007), Not Yet, Rose (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2009), Airplane Flight! (Little Simon, 2009)Can’t Sleep Without Sheep, (Walker Books, 2010) and April Fool, Phyllis! (Holiday House, 2011). In her spare time, Susanna is also a chauffeur, housekeeper, laundress, reader, rider-when-she-gets-the-chance, gardener-wanna-be, and former teacher. You can find Susanna on her website, blog (where she hosts the popular Perfect Picture Book Friday, and Would You Read It? series), Facebook and YouTubeSusanna is offering one 12 x 12 participant a manuscript critique.

1. What, in your opinion, is the most important element of an outstanding picture book?  Please name one picture book that executes this well.

Jennifer: The most important element found in an outstanding picture book is the ability to transcend the reader’s thoughts and emotions. The story isn’t simply read by the reader, but processed on a variety of levels.  This happens during the book’s creation, when many-many thoughtful, technical and artful elements are woven into the book’s design, seamlessly:  language, characters, concept, text placement, illustration, tone, composition…
The result is a book that not only resonates with each individual reader on some personal level, but also stands the test of time, becoming a classic.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, written and illustrated by William Steig, is an example of a book that executes this perfectly.

Linda: Only one element? There are so many important ones. Great character! Rich text! Read aloud rhythm! Strong narrative!  Sense of playfulness! (See how I worked in more than one?) But if I had to choose, I think I’d linger on the word “picture” in “picture book”.  Ultimately, an outstanding picture book is a “pas de deux” between words and pictures; each without the other isn’t complete.  So for me, (one of) the most important elements of a picture book is the way the text and illustrations dance together — each relying on the other to create something magical.

There are so many books that do this brilliantly but one that pops into my head is Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann.

Sandy: As Sue Alexander told me long ago, an outstanding picture book works on three levels:  Very young children understand and enjoy the events.  Older children understand and enjoy the connections between the events.  Adults understand and enjoy the universality of the connections between the events.  Example:  Very young children laugh at Max’s antics at home and with the Wild Things in Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.  Older children realize that Max’s misbehavior has gotten him sent to his room, where he’s angry and imagines the land of Wild Things until he’s ready to calm down and everything’s okay again.  Adults appreciate the depiction of a world in which a child can misbehave and get angry and wild but still be surrounded by his knowing parent’s love as symbolized in the waiting dinner.  Those levels are a lot to accomplish in only a few words, but that’s what makes a picture book truly outstanding.

Susannah: Someone (sorry, I forget who) said that picture books are big emotion for little people.  To me, the most important element of an outstanding picture book is the emotion, the connectedness, the “I know exactly what that feels like” rush of understanding you get when a character experiences something that you’ve experienced.  A picture book that does emotion well – whatever the emotion is – speaks to kids.  It brings comfort, or reassurance, or relief, or a laugh, or a feeling of common humanity to small people who have yet to learn that everyone sometimes misses their mom, or feels sad, or gets angry, or thinks a joke is funny, or is afraid of something.  Owl Moon by Jane Yolen shows the quiet happiness of a father and his daughter sharing something special together.  The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney help children feel the depth of parental love even when kids and parents have to be apart.  Z Is For Moose by Kelly Bingham is laugh-out-loud funny because every child understands impatience and not wanting to be left out.  Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak lets kids know that even when they’re bad, they’re loved.  To me, it is this depth of emotion that resonates with children and makes them ask for a book over and over and over.

2. What is your number one piece of advice for improving in the craft of picture book writing?

Jennifer:  Read, read, read.  Don’t ever stop reading in the genre you’re writing. I also believe it is important to give each manuscript time for subconscious processing – you know, that time you think about your work while doing the mundane, day-to-day stuff?  During this time, don’t ignore the “aha” elements that may surface:  a new twist, a different ending, another level or layer that adds to the reader’s enjoyment of the book. Often these thoughts surface as nothing more than a fleeting whisper in your mind and could easily be ignored.  But latch on to them and give them attention.   There might be a shy bud of thought that blossoms into a moment of genius.

Linda: It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again… Read!  On Linda Sue Park’s website she quotes an editor who once said, “Read a thousand books of the genre you’re interested in. THEN write yours.”

Sandy: Read, read, read.  We learn language by hearing it spoken.  We learn the elements of storytelling by listening to storytellers.  Read, read, read picture books until their rhythms become a natural part of your own storytelling voice.

Susannah: I guess my number one tip for improving in the craft of picture book writing is two-fold.  First, read a lot of picture books to get a feel for the length, the rhythm, and the language, to get a feel for what is in the story and what is in the pictures, and to learn what works and what doesn’t.  Second, write.  Every day.  Practice your craft.  The more you write, the more you will find your own rhythm and language – the kind of stories you can make work well, the voice that is yours and yours alone.

3. What is the one thing you know now that you wish you had known starting out?

Jennifer:   I’m going to spin your question around, because today finds me grateful for what I didn’t know back when I started out.  I suppose it is true on some levels:  ignorance is bliss!  In the beginning, I had no knowledge regarding the “business” aspect of being a writer.  I didn’t know about reviews or sales numbers or marketing.  I was green!

Back then, I wrote because I loved children’s books, words as a medium, and writing.  I sent off my first manuscript to one publisher, it was accepted, it was successful, and continues to sell very well today. Back then, the process of writing was pure bliss and joy. My focus was solely on craft.

Fourteen years and many books later, I am a full-time writer who makes a living as a writer.  Today I find it’s quite easy to get consumed with the business aspect of making books:  the marketing (a whole world in and of itself), traveling, speaking and promoting.  I will spin all of those plates on my fingers, and since there’s no finger left to spin the writing plate, I’ll try to spin that one on my toe.

So to answer your question, I am glad to know what my experience was like in the beginning, because it serves as a reminder that craft needs a place in my day-to-day realm of existence: to ensure success in this business, and to provide me with some balance.  The fact of the matter is – writing/creating – brings me the greatest joy.

Linda: To refer back to Q1, I wish I had known how to write with the illustrator in mind. Ten years later, and, by George,  I think I got it! It took me awhile to learn to let go of my manuscript and trust that a savvy editor, wonderful illustrator and a child’s imagination would “tell the rest of the story.”

Oh, and I also wish I knew that I’d have to be patient (but I’m still working on this).

Sandy: I wish I’d known how to study the market.  A story is art when you create it and art when readers receive it, but everything in between is business, and you can’t get your story to readers if you don’t understand how that business works.  Basic rule:  If a publication, publishing house, or contest offers specific guidelines, believe them!  Sure, people break the rules and get away with it.  But not often!

Susannah: The one thing I know now that I wish I had known starting out… hmmm… that is a tough question!  I’m not sure I have an answer.  I’m glad I didn’t know how long it would take to get published, or that I would have to do my own marketing, or that even once I was published I would have no guarantee of future publication.  I think those things would have made the process more intimidating than it already was.  I have certainly learned a lot along the way, but I can’t really think of something I wish I’d known.  I’m sure when the other authors post their answers I’ll think, “Oh, yes!  Of course!  I wish I’d known that too!” 🙂

4. Why, as a multi-published author, did you decide to participate in the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge?

Jennifer:  My reason relates to Q3.  The 12 x 12 served as a vehicle to allow Craft to jump back into my work days and elbow Business out of the way a bit.   As a bonus, being part of the 12×12 challenge has allowed me to meet many wonderful people who share a passion for children’s books and creating. So thank you, Julie, for providing such a rich place for picture book lovers to converge.  I have drafted four complete manuscripts so far, and I am “loving” the momentum!

Linda: For the past  two years I participated in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo and, while I ended up with a list of ideas, they stayed seeds buried under a pile of dirt (or laundry as the case usually is). The 12 x 12 challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity to tend to those seeds – give them a bit of water, a ray of sunlight, coo to them and see if they actually could grow.

But the number one reason for jumping on the 12×12 bandwagon with all you wonderful participants, was because I wanted to get back to writing.

In the run-up to the debut of my picture book The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, I threw myself head first into marketing and promoting the book — built my website, organized bi-continental book launches, signed at bookstores, posted on blogs, solicited reviews, prepared school visits – everything that writers do….except I wasn’t writing. In addition, I’d been working on edits for  two new picture books due out in 2013 (more like sitting on them and waiting for then to hatch but still…).

While this doesn’t diminish the thrill of all the things that happen post-book, it got me wondering if I had any books left in me.  I wanted to find that spark again, make writing a priority and feel the buzz of a new book project. Nearly four months into 12 x 12, I have four new picture book drafts!  Thank you, Julie!

Sandy: Quite frankly, after 40+ years in the business, I’d reached a place where I wasn’t sure I had anything more to say — and that was bothering me.  I’d completed WRITING IT RIGHT, an anthology of other authors’ work, I’ve been working on several plays that are centered on bringing other people’s stories to the stage, and I’m helping my husband with his blog America — The Owner’s Manual (http://americatheownersmanual.wordpress.com).  Obviously, I’m deeply committed to helping other people share their stories, but I never intended for that to be all my work for the rest of my life!  I read about the Picture Book Marathon in the SCBWI Bulletin and signed on, but weeks passed and I didn’t hear back from the organizers, so I figured it wasn’t going to happen.  Then I heard about 12 X 12 via a Facebook posting and decided that’d work just fine, so I signed on.  About the time I finished my January draft for 12 X 12, I heard that the PB Marathon was indeed on for February!  What the heck, I thought, I’ll do them both.  And sure enough, the more I’ve written picture book drafts — one in January, 26 in February, one in March so far — the more ideas I’ve discovered for writing picture books. Rather than an exhausting double dare, it’s all been wonderfully invigorating!  Have I thanked you recently, Julie?  THANK YOU!

Susanna: I have been lucky to be published, but I know I still have a lot to learn about writing.  For me there is always room for improvement.  I joined 12×12 partly to learn what I could learn, and partly for the motivation – to help me make sure that at the very least I would have 12 new MSS by the end of 2012.  But I also joined largely for the camaraderie.  I like being part of a community of picture book writers.  I love the guest posts on this blog.  I’ve enjoyed getting to meet so many wonderful people.  We all have things to teach each other, and it’s nice to have a place where everyone understands the ups and downs, the joys and frustrations, of being a writer.  I’m so glad you had this idea, Julie, and I’m really enjoying participating!

It is truly my honor to host these four inspiring authors on my blog this month.  PLEASE help me thank them by visiting their websites and social media networks and, especially, BY BUYING THEIR BOOKS! 

12 x 12 Participants – to enter to win one of the four prizes, you must be an official challenger and leave a comment on this post (INCLUDING YOUR FIRST AND LAST NAME) any time during the month of April for one point.  On April 30th, l’ll put a check-in post on the blog.  If you completed a picture book draft in April, you can let us know in the comments of that post for another point.  I will draw winners using Random.org and announce them on May 2nd.

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Please welcome Elizabeth Stevens Omlor to the Tuesday 12 x 12 series.  With her trademark wit and charm, she shares her own banana peelin’ moments on the way to calling herself a storyteller. 🙂

I’ve never thought of myself as a storyteller. Well, that is until I began to share my picture book manuscripts with other poor kind souls outside my family. Someone mentioned it casually, you see, my name in the same sentence along with the term storyteller. I thought, “Who, me?” It might seem obvious to some that they’re storytellers, but for me I really had to think about it for a couple of days or seven months. I had to roll the idea around in this little noggin of mine for a while, each roll slowly dusting off memories of my storytelling self, starting way back when, yep, back in the olden days. I believe it was 1988.

It was an eventful year, what with my parents’ divorce (don’t be sad, it’s been awesome), my introduction to Roald Dahl (and therefore the onset of my obsession with unwrapping chocolate bars), and my brief law breaking stint having to do with my friend Annie H., clean desk checks and a delicious/tempting Starburst reward (long story that basically ends with me living a law abiding existence for the rest of my days). The memories I really have had to struggle to recall though are the tall tales I began telling at this age. I had tall tales of me having ten siblings, of me speaking other languages, and of someone else carving my same exact initials into our staircase’s wooden banister (How could they!).  I say tall tales, because it sounds more literary than white lies. Mostly, however, to think of myself as a storyteller, I must believe that these tales were a sign of boundless imagination, not moral corruption.

With my tall tale days behind me, still trying to persuade myself that I, Elizabeth Stevens Omlor might somehow be a storyteller, I began my search for more evidence that would prove that I had in fact been bit by the storytelling bug. Ashamedly, I love being the center of attention. Family dinners were and still are, my family sitting in silence, nodding, smiling, gritting their teeth, as I recount events I deem humorous, complete with big arm gestures, a loud voice, and dramatic endings (think Gone with the Wind meets Carol Burnett). When I truly think about it, I guess I can see myself as a storyteller, and what better way to channel that love for telling stories than through writing?

Involvement in Julie’s 12 x 12 in 2012 has been an absolute gift. This challenge has inspired me to break out of my shell (well, online shell that is). Previously, writing was such an isolated practice for me. I sat on the sidelines during Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo 2011, just dipping my big, chubby toe in the water by writing new ideas every day. I still relied on my in-person peeps for feedback. My first peep, my husband, the poor, poor man, was previously forced, guilted and yes, sometimes bribed to read my manuscripts. He, along with my mom, my sister, and a couple of kind and gracious friends, even though they may not know you, they all thank you 12x12ers. And I thank you. I can now pretty much guarantee that the relationships with my peeps will last and stand the test of time since I have found others to suffer  read through my manuscripts and with whom I can talk shop.

In December of 2011, after downing several glasses of wine mustering up enough confidence, I felt it was time to unleash the beast, the blog beast that is. Well, it was more like a sleepy and shy blog beast who wandered lost into the cyber forest with her wicker basket filled with embarrassing moments from writing and mothering, complete with  seven followers: a sister, a few supportive friends, a cousin, Lynn Davidson from Canada (I’ll never forget you Lynn!) and some occasional hits from Russian spammers. My blog, Banana Peelin’, was the perfect avenue for me to share my own banana peel moments, moments where I had felt confident and on top of the world only to slip on a banana peel or have a huge piece of spinach dangling from between my teeth. I had come to the conclusion that some people were just born cool. But were they, really? Older and wiser, I now choose to believe that others, even the cool ones, have experienced humiliation of some kind. And thus, the Banana Peel Thursdays blog series was born. With published children’s authors giving accounts of their very own banana peel moments, we learn:

a)     what mistakes we should try to avoid along the road to publication

b)    that these authors are in fact human

Did you hear that Universe? THE COOL KIDS ARE HUMAN!

I am so grateful to have stumbled upon the online children’s literature community. The relationships that I have been lucky enough to make in this short amount of time have been life altering. My blog has become what I consider to be a part-time job. I choose to put time into it because I love doing it. It’s my baby. Personally never a big fan of the idea of giving birth alone, one might say that each author, artist, follower, reader, commenter, Russian spammer, who has contributed to the progress of the blog these last few months has basically helped me to give birth. There you have it. And for the record, ANY individual who has assisted either with the birth or nurturing of my “blog baby” basically has me on a short leash for the rest of my days!

Julie’s interview with Sandi Hershenson was poignant in that she mentioned the beauty in the authentic relationships she has created through the building of her online presence. In an attempt to create this online presence for myself, I had no idea how much I would learn, what sense of community I would feel, and with how much gratitude I would be filled through the kindness and generosity of others. I am sure fellow wanderers in the cyber forest feel the same. For me, storytelling is this amazing dream and nothing could be greater than to have the support of one’s peers in the pursuit of their dreams.

From the bottom of my caffeine-pumped heart, THANK YOU!

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One of Louise's favorite writing books

For today’s Tuesday 12 x 12, please welcome Louise Nottingham.  I love that one of Louise’s blogs focuses on poetry, as I am working on writing more poetry myself this year. I have no doubt you will one day be published and acclaimed! 🙂

The Adrenalin Of The Challenge!

Unpublished writer, unrecognized artist, wife, mother, grandmother, and woman of extreme silly imagination! I wonder if I can get that on the label of my urn? 😉  of course I will want to change ‘unpublished’ and ‘unrecognized’ to published and acclaimed! Fingers crossed everyone!

I have to say I don’t know how I stumbled onto the PiBoIdMo Challenge, but I think it must have been some chatter on my Facebook Wall.  I have over 300 ‘Facebook friends’ who are near and dear to me as well as being totally unknown and unmet! Most are writers and authors.  I do so love the book chatter that the authors share. When Tara Lazar started chatting about her past success with a Picture Book IDEA Month I was intrigued. Then when someone compared it to National Novel Writing Month, which I have started often but ‘won’ never (!), I thought “this is something I can do and win!”  I was right! I did it! Throughout the month I found that what I liked most was the accountability and encouragement of the other participants.

Years ago, a library coworker and I had poetry challenges every April (National Poetry Month) We did a poem a day challenge with each other via email each April.  After a couple of years, we expanded that challenge to a full year.  At the end of that year I was so pleased with myself and so grateful to her.  That’s how I feel today when I think of November. No longer is November the month of writing frustration, but the month of ‘idea’ success! I can hardly wait for next November.

Late into the November PiBoIdMo challenge, someone said that they challenged themselves, the year before, to complete one story a month to draft, I thought to myself, “I wish we had a similar support group for that!” THANKFULLY Julie Hedlund stepped up to be our facilitator and leader!

Because of the 12 x 12 in 2012 Challenge I have written daily.  I have been challenged with a marathon in February.  And in March I am going to flex my writing muscles to do a chapter a day (challenge) as well as writing at least one picture book!

Best of all I feel like I am making wonderful friends who have been so encouraging to me! I have been lucky enough to connect with someone in my area who invited me to her critique group, something I have missed after moving from my previous home in Florida.

Before I end I want to share what I have on my bookshelves. I own a large collection of picture books, and juvenile chapter books and a couple of young adult chapter books.  I also have many books on writing. I have books on writing plots. I have books on writing flash fiction. I have books on writing character. I have book on writing for children. I have books on illustrating the story. I have books on marketing your books. I have books on publishing and self-publishing books. And yes, all of these are plural: books!

If I have to pick three books specifically for children’s writing I would pick:

Children’s Writer’s Word Book.

Most of this book is just a children’s level thesaurus but in the first few pages it talks about how children read. It also suggests what words work best for what reading grade level.  I really like this feature. Although I used this more a few years ago than recently, it’s still one I would recommend be on all children’s writer shelves.

Writing With Pictures by Uri Shulevitz

This is on every illustrator’s shelf, but it should be on every picture book writer’s shelf. Especially if you are NOT an illustrator! On Facebook there is often dialog on what words to cut and how to ‘write for the illustrator’. Read this book and check out some of the books Uri uses as examples.  You will begin to get a feel for what is the writer’s job vs the illustrator’s job.

Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine

Ok, Gail wrote this book for young writers my granddaughter’s age, but I love how she is able to talk about gathering your ideas and writing about them.  Many books for children are total fantasy with fairies and elves and dragons and she taps into that magic fantasy.

In closing, I hope you have enjoyed your time with me as much as I have enjoyed the past unpublished author Tuesdays.  I want to thank each of you for your encouragement! I wish each of ‘us’ luck in our writing pursuits!

And I have a couple of blogs I invite you to visit:

http://poeticlouise.blogspot.com/ Remember when I said I used to write a poem a day? Now it’s a haiku a week!

http://louisesblogtoday.blogspot.com/ Did I mention I was a children’s librarian for 5 or 6 years? During that time I started reviewing books on our shelves, which I liked, for our patrons.  This year I started wanting to keep track of what I read this year.  I am already behind on that, but I do post a few now and then, so stop by every once and awhile to see what I am reading.

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My first FULL morning pages journal

Per my post last week, I’m combining Weeks 8 and 9 into one check-in. It is way later than usual because, well, the vagaries of life got in the way this week – grocery shopping, cooking dinner, transporting kids all over hell’s half-acre.  BUT, this one is a doozy so hold onto your seats! 🙂

  • Week 8 Theme: “Recovering a Sense of Strength.”  This chapter focuses on surviving artistic losses by turning them into gains.  It also works on freeing us from using time as an avoidance strategy and creative block.
  • Week 9 Theme: “Recovering a Sense of Compassion.”  This chapter deals with our biggest creative blocks – the internal ones.  We learn that creative blocks are born from fear and only fear, and that it is artist-abuse to call it anything else – laziness, untalented, unworthy, etc.
  • Morning Pages: I missed a couple of days over the past two weeks, even though I didn’t intend to.  Here’s what I’ve learned about morning pages.  If I say to myself, “I’ll do them later,” I won’t.  They have to get done first thing after I wake up or they just don’t get done.
  • Artist Date: I didn’t go anywhere, but I did indulge myself in a couple of different activities.  First, I have been participating in a free online business boot camp called Women on Purpose.  The calls are an hour a day a few days a week.  Normally I would not allow myself the luxury of a whole hour to do something that is seemingly not directly related to my work.  What I’ve found, however, is that the topics addressed on these calls ARE directly related to how I want to run my business.  They are fun, encouraging and inspiring to listen to.  Second, when I found myself feeling run down this week, I allowed myself a couple of long naps in the late morning.  Very restorative.

Any “Aha” Moments? 

  • Chapter 8: One of the tasks for the week was a “memory mining” exercise.  I discovered that I had done several things in my youth to sabotage my budding writer.  Out of nowhere, I remembered that in my freshman year, my creative writing professor wanted to submit a couple of my papers (which were really personal essays) for publication.  I said no.  He encouraged me to take more creative writing courses.  I didn’t.  I know exactly why I didn’t, which I’m not going to say here, but what’s amazing is that I had forgotten ALL about it.  From there, I was able to remember other things I did over the years to squash myself before anybody else could.  Must. Stop. Doing That.
  • Chapter 9: The big assignment this week was to read the morning pages so far.  Wow.  In a way, that was extremely painful, and in another way, both enlightening and encouraging.  All along I’ve been pleased with my progress.  Just making it to Week 10 is an achievement.  Yet, I hadn’t yet felt that I’d experienced any major transformation.  Well, I was wrong.  My early pages contain lots of name-calling (of myself), feelings of lack – of accomplishment, creativity, discipline, etc.  Somewhere in the middle of my journal (because I have now filled an entire book!), more often than not the name-calling and feelings of inadequacy gave way to insights, ideas and excitement.  After I finished reading, I started thinking about all I have done and everything that has happened since I began November 9, 2011.  A few examples:
Things I’ve done since I began The Artist’s Way
  • Was a PiBoIdMo Winner
  • Set up the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge.  This idea was just a twinkle in my eye at the beginning of November.  Now we are one full month into the challenge with 400+ members!
  • Completed revisions on my primary WIP from the second half of 2012 and sent it off for final comments
  • Continued work on a plan for a soon-to-be-announced side business, including networking and setting up meetings
  • Was a guest on Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast!
  • Got three assignments (so far) to write articles for the Tools of Change conference in Bologna and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.
  • Got a press pass for ToC Bologna
  • Established four-year goals for all aspects of my business, working backwards into each month for 2012
  • Outlined rough ideas for two potential e-books
  • Wrote a picture book draft in January of a story I’ve wanted to write for more than a year
  • Had my very first school visit and got invited for three more as a result
  • Set my networking and continuing education schedule for 2012 – conferences, seminars, etc.
Not too shabby, right?  And I still have three weeks left to go!  The best outcome so far, however, is all of the friends I’ve made along the way, especially from PiBoIdMo and 12 x 12!

A few favorite quotes from the Week 8 chapter:

“Creativity cannot be comfortably quantified in intellectual terms… (T)he entire thrust of intellectualism runs counter to the creative impulse. For an artist, to become overly cerebral is to become crippled.”

“Pain that is not used profitably quickly solidifies into a leaden heart, which makes any action difficult. When faced with a loss, immediately take one small action to support your artist.

“At the heart of the anorexia of artistic avoidance is the denial of process. We like to focus on having learned a skill or having made an artwork. This attention to final form ignores the fact that creativity lies not in the done but in the doing.”

A few favorite quotes from the Week 9 chapter:

“Fear is the true name for what ails the blocked artist. It may be fear of failure or fear of success. Most frequently, it is the fear of abandonment.”

“(B)eing an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline… Enthusiasm (from the Greek, “filled with God”) is an ongoing energy supply tapped into the flow of life itself. Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work.”

“Remember that art is process. The process is supposed to be fun.”

How have you overcome avoidance (fear) and/or internal blocks to your art?

Week 7 Check-In

Week 6 Check-In

Week 5 Check-In

Week 4 Check-In

Week 3 Check-In

Week 2 Check-In

Week 1 Check-In

The Artist’s Way

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Smile, You’re on Katie Davis!*

That’s the way I feel today as I have the extreme honor of being Katie Davis’ first Brain Burps About Books podcast guest of 2012.  I am so excited I’ll be throwing the link around all over the place – in this post, on Facebook, on Twitter, email.  Want to make sure everyone in the world who wants to hear it gets a chance. 🙂

Before I write another word, here’s the link to the podcast.  http://traffic.libsyn.com/brainburps/78_JulieHedlund.mp3.  You can listen to it on your computer just by clicking the link, or you can do the same by clicking the link from your smart phone or tablet and listen to it from there. Or you can listen from the link on Katie’s blog here: http://katiedavis.com/78/

On this podcast, in a fitting tribute to the new year (because Mayans or no Mayans, we’re going to do our best work!), Katie and I talk about anti-resolutions (based on this post) and the need to set goals from a positive place rather than beating ourselves up over (perceived) failures from the previous year. What struck me during our discussion was how we all face doubt and disappointment, regardless of how far along we are in our careers.  It’s easy to look at a successful, multi-published author and think, “Oh s/he’s made it.”  However, that author may very well be plagued by the same doubts and frustrations.  So Katie and I discuss how to overcome that, and how being an active part of the writing community helps.

We also discuss the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge and other opportunities for writers to get a head start in the new year.  I had so much fun recording this podcast with Katie, and I hope you enjoy listening to it just as much!  It’s a great “feel-good” way to hit the ground running in 2012, if I do say so myself.

If you have never listened to a Brain Burps About Books podcast, you can start with the one with ME in it!  Then, get thyself over to Katie’s website and download and listen to the rest.  I’ve been a subscriber for a year now, and I’ve learned so much.  Every show is great. It’s like having portable conference sessions that you can listen to at your convenience.  And they’re FREE!  Or you can do as I did and buy the app from the iTunes store for $1.99 and have all the episodes in one place.  People, it’s a bargain.  Katie is an exceptionally talented, multi-published author/illustrator, a whizz-bang marketing guru and a pioneer in using all forms of media in the children’s book arena.  She recently published an e-book entitled, How to Promote Your Children’s Book. Best of all, she has her bio written in both haiku and limerick form (among others).  Sounds like a lady you can learn a lot from, no?

What can you learn from these podcasts, you ask? Well, Brain Burps About Books is all about children’s literature and has held the #1 in the iTunes store in Children’s Publishing since it began almost two years ago.  It has been downloaded in 40% of the world’s countries. If it has to do with the children’s book business – whether it’s craft, creating a platform, developing eBooks and apps, or supporting a small business as a writer, it’s fair game. Interview subjects include authors, illustrators, librarians, editors, app creators… anyone in the field covering anything under the umbrella of children’s books. Regular features include a “Take 5 Marketing Tips” by Dianne de Las Casas and picture book and middle grade reviews by contributors Betsy Bird of SLJ’s Fuse #8 Production, “Mommy” blogger Julie Falatko, Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes, and YA reviews by Bookalicious Pam.

I happen to know that in this episode, you get a double-dose of Julie, as 12 x 12 challenger Julie Falatko provides a review at the end of the show.  That’s 2 Julies for the price of one! An offer you simply can’t refuse.

Thanks again to Katie for making the start of 2012 especially awesome by inviting me to come on the show.  In conclusion, I’ll leave you with this trailer of Katie’s book, Little Chicken’s Big Day.  Warning: it is off the cuteness meter!

*My weekly Wednesday Artist’s Way Check-in will be posted tomorrow.

Questions or comments about the podcast? Leave them here!

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This year, I’m signing up for the anti-resolution revolution.  It is so tempting to start listing all the things one wants to accomplish at the start of a New Year, but in my experience, the process (and thus the result) is flawed.

I believe the reason resolutions often don’t work is because they start from a place of lack, of negativity, of failure.  We think about all the things we weren’t happy with in the previous year and set out to “fix” them in the new one.  Lose weight = I weigh too much.  Save money = I spend too much.  Make more money = I don’t have enough money.  Spend more time with my kids = I’m not doing enough for my kids.  Write more often = I don’t write enough.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you know I am all about self-improvement, especially improvement that puts us on a path to self-actualization.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals, and achieving them is even better.  However, the goals need to be set on a strong foundation.  So I figured, why not start with what I did accomplish this year and set goals from there.  Let’s first celebrate success and then determine how to carry that forward into the New Year, rather than berating ourselves for what did not get done.  Being zen about it, probably everything got done that was supposed to.

Here is my list of what I consider to be my major professional accomplishments this year

  • Completed two picture books.  Both are now on submission.
  • Was accepted into, and completed, the Rocky Mountain SCBWI mentorship program.
  • Drafted a third picture book which is at least halfway to submission-ready
  • Completed PiBoIdMo and ended up with 30+ picture book ideas
  • Sent 20+ queries over the course of the year
  • From those queries, sold one poem and got contracts to write three articles (coming in 2012)
  • Entered a picture book in the MeeGenius Children’s Author Challenge and made it to #16 out of 400+ entries
  • Learned a TON about online marketing and promotion from the contest.
  • Completed four months of group coaching to launch a new project.  I am now about halfway through drafting the business plan for that project (more news on that in 2012)
  • Formed a LLC to support my writing business and other projects I launch
  • Took a two-month course on blogging to build an author platform.  I have now gone from a high of 2000 hits per month on my blog to a high of nearly 6000 per month.
  • Guest posted on several blogs
  • Set up an in-person picture book critique group in Boulder
  • Attended a digital publishing conference and the Rocky Mountain SCBWI regional conference
  • Last, but not least, launched the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge to write 12 picture books in 12 months.  This is, obviously, one of my major goals for the coming year.

In addition to work accomplishments, three other achievements deserve mention.  One is that I ran a personal best in the Bolder Boulder 10K this year and felt great.  The race also happened to take place right after I turned 40, which felt even better.

Second, I planned, from start to finish, and then took a six-week trip to Italy with my family for the summer.  This trip was the fulfillment of a major dream and life-changing in every possible way.  Although my kids are still young, I think it will turn out to be life-changing for them to have had such an experience.

One of the things the trip to Italy inspired me to do is the third achievement I want to mention.  I wrote a Bucket List.  I saw how rewarding it was to realize even one dream, so I thought I would capture as many more as I could in the hopes of realizing them all.  I am trying not be afraid of dreaming big.  So perhaps a motto for 2012 is Dream Big or Go Home.

For your further contemplation, here are a few other posts with an alternate take on New Year’s Resolutions

Lynnette Burrows doesn’t let Mrs. Darkside win.

Hayley Lavik is not going to change anything next year.

Prudence MacLeod is going to read books by live authors.

Emma Burcart is going to be kind – to herself.

Jennifer Lewis Oliver has never made a New Year’s Resolution.

Myndi Shafer does have a short list of resolutions, which she made in the Nick of Time.

What is your stance on New Year’s Resolutions?  Good thing, bad thing or in-between?

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That’s right!  I do solemnly swear that I have faithfully executed the PiBoIdMo 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge, and will, to the best of my ability, parlay my ideas into picture book manuscripts.

This was my second year as a PiBoIdMo participant, and it’s hard to believe, but the experience was even better than last year.  First, the amazing PiBo host, Tara Lazar, brought us an amazing array of picture book authors and experts on her blog.  They shared their wisdom, their methods for generating ideas, and their techniques for taking ideas to the next phase – a completed picture book.

Second, many participants gathered on Facebook where we were able to get to know each other better, support one another and share our experience.  So a huge THANK YOU to Tara for bringing us this hugely inspirational and FUN event!

Since one of my lessons learned from last year was to avoid censoring ideas as they came into my head, I wrote them down before I had too much time to overthink them.  This year, I also added a sentence or two, or even a few words about the idea under the title to trigger my memory later because last year, I only wrote titles or snippets.  In some cases, when I reviewed the list later, I couldn’t recall the crux of the idea.

Finally, as I said at the beginning of this year’s PiBoIdMo, my main challenge is taking the ideas and actually turning them into completed picture book drafts.  I find that once I have a draft, I can experiment with the story until I know whether or not it has potential and if it is worth doing the deep revisions and critique group rounds.  However, I have a poor track record of getting those first drafts down.

By now many of you know my solution to this problem: My new 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge.  If you haven’t heard of it yet, follow the link and check it out.  We already have 88 participants signed up, but there is still room for YOU!

Tara also deserves a huge share of thanks for the response to the 12 x 12 challenge.  If it weren’t for all the fantastic momentum we’ve built this past month, I don’t think there would be as much interest in continuing to work together as we draft those PBs!

Thanks again to Tara, and here’s to writing 12 picture book drafts in 2012!

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At the top of my list for this week’s Gratitude Sunday post is a story that’s too long for a bullet point.  When we were in Italy this summer, on our last night in Camogli, I took the kids to a notebook/paper shop and got them each a little journal.  Last night, when I told Jay it was time for bed he said, “Hang on a minute, I’m writing a book.”  The ‘book’ was his journal, which he had taken to bed with him. “Do you want to read my book?”  Of course I did.

“It’s a book about everything I love,” he said.

Chapter 1:





Chapter 2:

Family — He then clarified, “That’s the WHOLE family – like all THIRTY of them.”

Chapter 1000:

F A M I L Y !!!!

I told him, honestly, that it was the best book I ever read!

Quotes on Gratitude

“Let your hook always be cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be a fish.” — Ovid

“Desire, ask, believe, receive.” — Stella Terrill Mann

“A person however learned and qualified in his life’s work in whom gratitude is absent, is devoid of that beauty of character which makes personality fragrant.” — Hazrat Inayat Khan

Gratitude List for the week ending December 3

  1. I am so grateful for EVERYONE who has voted so far for my entry in the MeeGenius Children’s Author contest.  Your support means so much to me, regardless of the outcome.
  2. Finishing PiBoIdMo as a Winner – woo hoo!  Wrap-up post coming soon!
  3. The incredible response to the launch of the 12 x 12 in 2012 Picture Book Writing Challenge. As of this writing, we’re up to 82 participants!!
  4. My homemade lasagna, even though the kids didn’t like it
  5. The gorgeous field I get to walk Rocky in each day.  It’s beautiful in every season (see video above).
  6. Em had her second audition for a new play and thinks she did very well.
  7. Speaking with a long-distance friend on the phone
  8. Despite the hassle it brings, I’m grateful for the snow.  We want a White Christmas AND a great ski season!!
  9. I am trying to be grateful for the fact that I can’t read this week.  I am assuming that I will learn a great deal and the experience will be worthwhile.  I also appreciate the words of support and sympathy from friends. 🙂
  10. Flannel sheets

What are you grateful for this week?

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Badge by Linda Silvestri

(ETA: THE DEADLINE TO SIGN UP FOR THE 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge is now passed.  If, after you read this post, you have more questions, please visit the Frequently Asked Questions post)

Twelve complete picture book drafts. Twelve months.  2012.  Are you with me?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write one picture book per month for each of the twelve months of 2012.  This means a first draft: beginning, middle, end.  NOT a submission-ready piece.  Sounds easy right?  It sounds easy to me, too.  But when I looked back on my writing output from 2011, I discovered that I only completed one draft from all 30 of the PiBoIdMo ideas I came up with in 2010.  I did draft, edit and revise other pieces I had in the works, but I am not content with my overall 2011 results. So I decided to challenge myself to write many more in 2012, and I figured, why not invite others to join me so we can support and encourage each other along the way?

I have been floored by the community that came together for PiBoIdMo this year – cheers to Tara Lazar!!  I only hope we can take your good work and keep the home fires burning at least until next November.

Just as with other challenges, like PiBoIdMo and NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week), so long as you are willing to do your best, you are welcome to join us.  In the end, it doesn’t matter if you have 12, 4 or even 1 PB drafted if you’ve gotten more accomplished by being in the group than by going it alone.  There will be a winner badge, of course, for those who make it to 12 or more, but the idea is that we support, encourage, and help each other throughout the year as we try to put flesh on the bones of those PB ideas.  My own personal goal is to draft 18 PBs between this challenge and NaPiBoWriWee, but I know it’s a tall task.  I also know it will be easier with others with me.

As an added incentive to join the challenge, I will be running guest posts on the blog from experts in the field along with a special giveaway each month.  My general plan is to run guest posts on the first of each month, and draw a winner of each month’s giveaway on the last day of the month.  However, I want to leave myself wiggle room in case I need to change some of the parameters.  Bear with me, as this is the first challenge of this type that I’ve run on my blog, so there’s a learning curve for sure.

I want to give a huge round of thanks to Linda Silvestri, the immensely talented illustrator who donated her talents to create our participant badge.

Now, what do you have to do to join, you ask?  First, you must sign your name in blood and send it to me at…  Just kidding! No, there are two mandatory steps and three optional, listed below:


1. Follow this blog. (Mandatory) If you are a new follower, please specify how you follow in the comments (RSS, email, etc.)

2. Complete the following form indicating you are taking the 12 x 12 challenge (Mandatory)  SIGN-UP FOR THE 12 x 12 in 2012 IS NOW CLOSED.

3. Please paste the 12 x 12 badge (courtesy of Linda Silvestri) on your blog (if you have one) with a link back to this post.  (Optional) I would also love it if you would consider blogging about the challenge and again providing a link back to this post.

4. Join the 12 x 12 in 2012 Facebook Group (Optional) Please note you must be an official 12 x 12 in 2012 participant in order to be admitted into the Facebook group. (Optional)

5. Participate in Twitter discussions throughout the year using the hashtag #12x (Optional)

That’s all folks! I hope to see lots of you here! Can’t wait to get started!! If you have other questions or comments, please leave them in the comments below.

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Today I am so pleased to introduce Susanna Leonard Hill to the How I Got My Agent series.  Susanna is the author of seven picture books, the most recent being April Fool, Phyllis – the second story featuring the lovable groundhog Punxsutawney Phyllis.  (I adore Phyllis! Talk about a great character-driven story).  Other titles include the funny and clever Can’t Sleep Without Sheep and the sweet Not Yet, Rose.  Susanna has also recently launched Just Right Books on her blog, where people can review and recommend beloved picture books for the list.  It’s a great way to find perfect picture books to give this holiday season.  And now, on to Susanna!
You have an unusual story of how you got your agent.  Can you share it with us?
It’s true.  I did not get my agent the usual way.  In my case it was fate.  Or maybe destiny 🙂  Really.  Here’s what happened:  when my oldest daughter was about to start kindergarten, we moved out of the city to a house without much of a neighborhood.  All my daughter’s preschool friends were left behind.  I hated to think of her marching bravely, but alone, into her kindergarten classroom not knowing a soul.  So I called the school and asked for the names of a couple of her classmates who lived nearby so that we could get together and play once or twice and she’d have a couple of friendly, familiar faces on the first day of school.  One of the women I called was happy to bring her son over to play with my daughter, and as the two of them chased each other around the yard we talked about this and that.  “Do you work outside the home?” I asked.  “Yes,” she replied.  “I’m a children’s literary agent.”  “Really?” said I.  “I write children’s books…”  She said she’d love to see what I’d written.  But nothing is simple.  I had never shown my work to anyone.  “What if she hates it?” I asked my mom.  “Then every time there’s a kindergarten get-together – Halloween, the holiday concert, etc – I’ll have to see her, and she’ll be all lord help me there’s that woman who thought she could write, and I’ll be all I wish I was invisible!”  Awkward!!!  It took me 6 months to get up the courage.  Seriously.  Finally my husband told me I had to do it.  “If you don’t,” he said, “you’ll never know.”  So I did.  And she liked my stories.  And the rest, as they say, is history 🙂
What an amazing story!  It shows us how important it is to get over our fears and get out of our own way!
How has having an agent changed your writing process?  Your writing career?
My agent has not changed my writing process.  I write.  I make my stories as good as I can.  And then I send them to her.  Sometimes she likes them and out they go on submission.  Other times she doesn’t think they’ll work as picture books.  Every now and then she thinks they’re close but not quite right, and in that case she might have a vague suggestion of what I might do to improve the story to make it sale-able, but she’s not an editorial agent – the kind that will really work in-depth with you to tweak your story.  As for how she’s changed my career, I think I owe her my career 🙂  I didn’t have one before I met her, so I’m deeply grateful to her for taking me on and for all that she’s done.
The picture book market continues to be tough right now.  What suggestions do you have for PB writers looking for an agent?
I wish I had a really good answer for this – something concrete that writers could say, “Oh, OK!  I can do that!”  But all I can really say is the same thing you’ve probably heard many times before:  write the best stories you can write, the ones that make your heart sing, because your passion will come through, and those will be the stories that really shine.  Submit those.  Good stories will always find homes – with agents, with editors, with publishing houses.
Those are very encouraging words, actually.  I like the notion that the best way forward is following the guidance of our hearts.  All else will follow.
Your second Punxsutawney Phyllis book, April Fool, Phyllis! came out this year.  Congratulations!  What’s on the horizon now?  Will we see any more stories with the lovable Phyllis?
You know, I am very fond of Phyllis 🙂  She’s cheeky and brave and believes in herself in a way that I wish I could.  I would love to do at least one more Phyllis story (I have actually written one :)) but it’s going to depend heavily on how April Fool, Phyllis! sells.  If sales aren’t strong enough, Holiday House is not likely to take the risk on another Phyllis manuscript.  I have a few other stories out on submission right now, but as we all keep coming back to, the market is very tough right now.  Having publishing credits doesn’t necessarily help you in selling a new manuscript.  In fact, if your sales haven’t been that strong, it can actually hurt you.
Another good message for the unagented among us: there is no panacea.  Even post-publication, writing is a labor of love and not necessarily one that brings instant fame and fortune.

In light of the tough market and the need to put up good sales numbers, what have you been doing to market your books?  Have any of the strategies worked better than others?

Marketing, for me, is one of the toughest parts of the job.  I have no training in marketing.  In real life (as opposed to online :)) I’m on the shy side – definitely not an outgoing saleswoman type.  I don’t feel comfortable tooting my own horn – I’d much rather toot someone else’s!  But these days there’s no money to market mid-list books, and publishers expect you to do it yourself.  They assume you have a website, a Facebook page, a blog, and a twitter account and that you’ll be active in social media.  I do not have a twitter account, but I have slowly added everything else over time, learning as I go.  I have painstakingly constructed a mailing list of schools and libraries within a radius I feel comfortable driving for visits, a VERY time-consuming job, and one that constantly needs updating.  Whenever I have a new book out I make a postcard on Vistaprint or gotprint and mail to my list.  I also mail a flyer or postcard at the beginning of the school year to let people know I do school and library visits, book fairs, festivals, anything where books are sold, and I do all my own scheduling for these.  I search out opportunities to be interviewed on blogs, local and online magazines, radio etc.  I do giveaways on GoodReads and on my own blog and other people’s blogs to increase awareness of my books, and I donate signed books to charitable organizations and causes – Reach Out And Read, Light Up The Library, fight against Parkinsons, and many others.  I have bookmarks with my characters on them that detail my contact info and pencils with the names of my books on them which I give away at book fairs and school visits.  With help from my daughter, I have made book trailers for 5 of my books and posted them on YouTube. I attend as many conferences for teachers and librarians as I can.  And I spend what time I can reading up on how to do all of these things better and looking for new ways I can get the word out.  I don’t really know if any of these ways have worked better than others – it’s very hard to measure the effect of any of them 🙂  The tough part, aside from the fact that I’m figuring it out as I go along, is that all these things take a lot of time – time away from writing which is what we all really want to be doing.

For the record, I think you are doing a fabulous job!  I’ve only “met” you through your blog, but because I’ve come to know and love you through that venue, I’ve bought two of your books.  Marketing can be a morass, but it’s good to know what published authors are doing, so thanks for sharing and being so honest about what it’s really like.

Lastly, I know you’re participating in PiBoIdMo. Do you have any favorite ideas that have come up that we might see on the shelves someday?  🙂
I actually have a non-fiction idea I’d like to follow up on, and two different holiday-related story ideas I’m keen to pursue.  Thanks so much for having me, Julie, and if anyone has any questions, I’ll be sure to check in so I can answer them!
Ooh, can’t wait to hear more!  Thanks so much for being here, Susanna, and I look forward to being the proud owner of many more of your books as the years go by!

If you are a picture book writer with an agent or an agent with picture book writer clients and would like to be featured in this series, please email me at jhedlund33 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

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