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Today I once again Get All Grateful on Your A** on Katie DavisBrain Burps About Books podcast. It’s a special segment because it’s all about The Bologna Children’s Book Fair. I talk about specific people I met who inspired gratitude, but also about the overwhelming sense of honor I felt walking the halls and realizing that I am part of this amazing community and industry. The segment is about 10 minutes in, before the main interview, which is AWESOME! Author/Illustrator Maryann Cocca-Leffler talks about taking one of her books to the stage, and about how she sold more than a million copies of two of her books. Fascinating!

I haven’t written much about my experience in Bologna on the blog yet. I’m still writing my articles for SCBWI and CBI, and I don’t want to scoop my own self by publishing on the blog first. However, I would like to share some inspirational quotes with you from some interviews I caught in the Author’s Cafe.

Meeting Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson, Newbery Medal-winning author, Former U.S. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and Recipient of the 2006 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (+ many others):

  • “I love to write because I can live so many lives.”
  • “The world is full of people with talent, but perseverance is rare. To be a writer, you need talent and perseverance.”
  • She writes for children because, “I have the same questions that children have, and I haven’t been able to answer them.”
  • “I don’t publish anything I don’t love.”
  • It is very humbling to have someone say that your book inspired them to become a writer.”

Sonya Hartnett, Australian author and recipient of the 2008 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

  • “When you write for children, you have to call upon every single ability you have as a writer to write a difficult scene (like war). Never do I have to reach as deep into my abilities to write for adults as I do for children.”
  • “A writer lives many times, and yet doesn’t live at all. I put my entire experience into my writing. I’ve given my life to fiction.” She said in reference to sometimes feeling existential angst with regard to questions such as, ‘Who am I?’, ‘What am I?’

Ryoji Arai, Japanese Illustrator and recipient of the 2005 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

  • “The ending of my stories are also a beginning. I think about that beginning when I write my stories.”
  • “An artist has to find space between the words.”
  • “People ask me, ‘How do you invent stories?’ I answer, ‘Well, how do you play?”
  • “A child equals hope.”

Lin Oliver, U.S. Author and Executive Director of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)

  • She became a children’s author because she went into the L.A. Unemployment Office and saw a sign that said, “Children’s Book Writer Wanted.” She went on to say that she “hasn’t seen those words before or since.”
  • “If you write for children, you are going back to your own childhood.”
  • On writing for boys: “They like to laugh or be scared.”
  • If you want to get published, “Read everything in the field. Write and practice your craft until you are good enough to be published.”
  • On why we need to support libraries. “Librarians are people who teach you how to find information.” This is a critical skill for 21st century kids.
  • “It is important that we all come to regard children’s literature as a global enterprise.” That is why SCBWI is now playing an active role in advocating diversity in children’s literature.

Which of these quotes inspires you the most?

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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

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

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

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

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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One of the lovely porticoes

Another crazy fantastic week in Italy – this time Bologna. Learned so much about the children’s book biz, including much ado about apps (more to come soon).  Bologna won me over with its lovely porticoes and outstanding food.  It’s a completely different world in Bologna from Florence, even though it’s only a 35 minute train ride.  If you ever go, make sure you pack your black.  It seems the only two colors people wear there are black and dark wash jeans.  I felt like an Easter egg in my wardrobe.  As a friend said, “Bologna – where black is the new black.”

Quotes on Gratitude

“Joy is not in things, it is in us.” — Joan Borysenko

“There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it.” — Seneca

“Love is the true means by which the world is enjoyed: our love to others, and others’ love to us.” — Thomas Traherne

Gratitude list for the week ending March 24

  1. First, I am grateful for my in-laws, my stepmother and my mom for helping my husband hold down the fort while I took this epic trip to Italy.  Thank you!!
  2. Learning enough about apps and ebooks at the ToC Bologna conference to make my head spin.  Cheers to Kat Meyer and the entire O’Reilly team making it all happen.
  3. Meeting Katherine Paterson, author of one of my all-time favorite books – Bridge to Terabithia
  4. SCBWI Bologna dance party!
  5. The folks who put together the SCBWI booth program for the Bologna Book Fair – Kathleen Ahrens, Angela Cerrita, Kirsten Carlson, Bridget Strevens-Marzo, Tioka Tokedira, Chris Cheng, and anyone else I am forgetting.  These guys worked tirelessly to provide great programming, regional showcases, and opportunities for writers and illustrators attending the fair.  Grazie mille!

    The hard-working SCBWI team at the booth celebration

  6. Making wonderful new friends – including all of the above, plus Sarah Towle, Emily Smith Pearce, Danika Dinsmore, Susan Eaddy, Lucy CoatsBarbara McClintock, and Andi Ipaktchi.
  7. Hall after hall after hall of nothing but children’s books – enough said!
  8. Tagliatelle ragu and red wine with Danika and Susan – lovely dinner
  9. The city of Bologna itself, with its seductive porticoes, antiquarian bookshops, black-clad residents spilling into the streets from Enoteche at night, savory food shops and best of all, Gelateria Gianni!
  10. Receiving the best welcome home in history from my kids. The sign was fantastic, but the hugs and kisses even more precious.  How I missed them!

What are you grateful for this week?

The best part of the trip was coming home and knowing I was missed.

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Today I have the pleasure of introducing one of the other judges for the Tamson Weston pitch contest. Mira Reisberg is here to talk about what it takes to get published.  She is also generously giving away a one-hour Skype consultation to help one 12 x 12 participant polish his/her picture book draft.  To enter, read this post and then comment on this post on Mira’s blog telling her which “P” is the most challenging for you and why.  The deadline to enter is March 30th, and Mira will announce the winner on her blog on April 2nd. Welcome Mira!

I’ve been making, teaching, and mentoring others for over 20 years and realized recently that my own books had sold over 600,000 copies while my former students have sold well over a million copies of their books, including two New York Times best sellers. Needless to say, this made me very happy.

Over the years, I’ve developed what I call my 4 P’s. Until recently it was only 3 P’s, but after a wonderful conversation with master illustrator and author Ashley Wolff of the Miss Bindergarten, and Stella and Roy series fame, she pointed out that I was missing the word “Passion.” For me this is a given, but it needs to be included and spelled out loud and proud! So here are my four P’s and why they are so important for anyone who wants to get published.

Passion– You’ve got to really, really, truly, deeply care about making and loving picture books – if you don’t you’re never going to be able to do the other 3 P’s. If you’re not passionate about picture books, you’re not going to be haunting libraries and book stores getting excited about picture book discoveries or constantly reading and getting inspired and excited by picture   books and learning from them. If you’re not passionate about picture books, you’re also not going to have the willingness or joy or heart to do what it takes to create fantastic products.

Product – Your story and/or art has to be exceptional. Picture books are expensive and picture book publishing is a business. Often a business with tremendous heart (some publishers more than others) but the bottom line is that you have to both be and show that you are professional. That means revising, revising, revising. Reading, studying, taking courses, getting your work critiqued, using your passion, whatever it takes to have your work be the very best, most original, lyrical, funny, dramatic, heartfelt, adorable or whatever the major characteristics are. Your writing or illustrations have to sing, but it can sing in many different tunes. Send it out in a professional way with an appropriate cover or query letter, researching, researching, researching appropriate publishers and their submission policies (usually on their websites). Children’s book writing and/or illustrating is a craft; it takes practice and study to learn those skill to create a fantastic product that special publisher will love.

Patience – It takes a lot of patience to develop skills through practice and more practice. It also takes a lot of patience to redo something over and over until it’s as perfect as it gets. When I do school visits, I show and tell the students how in one of my books, Uncle Nacho’s Hat, I had some Brahmin cows common in Nicaragua (according to my research) in the background of the painting and because I was really tired, I didn’t redo them even though I should have. Now it’s 20 years later and I still have to live with what I call my “painting of sham,” (learn from me here).

The next two places requiring patience are in the rewriting or re-doing art – I’ve never heard of an editor or art director not wanting any revisions, but it is possible and I’ve never heard of it. Here’s where you really get to practice with your most gracious self – mostly agreeing to make this changes.

And the final pieces of patience necessary are waiting for the book to be illustrated and designed (if you’re not the artist or author/artist) and then for it to be printed and distributed. This is a whole subject in and of itself, but suffice to say it can take anywhere from six months to many years depending on many different factors. Waiting after submitting also requires A LOT of patience. It’s also a great time to research other editors or art directors or publishing houses to submit to and to start work on your next project.

Another place where patience is needed is if you get that magical call or email from an editor wanting to work with you. First, put your hand over the phone if they call you and then scream. Then listen to what they have to say and tell them that you are very interested but would like to see their contract first or if they offer you a number tell them you’d like to see the contract and think about it. Be patient, if they are contacting you, they’re interested and have probably already investing quite a bit of time and thought before contacting you. If you can afford it, join your area’s “Lawyers for the Arts” or see an intellectual property lawyer. Their contracts are set up to favor them, not you, no matter how nice they are. Sometimes, I think of patience as a form of surrender (not as in giving up) but as part of a spiritual practice of acceptance if that helps.

Persistence– Think J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss and just about every published author or illustrator out there. Persist in developing and honing your craft – join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org), which is an invaluable resource if you are serious. Attend their conferences and meet editors, agents, and art directors who you would not normally have access to as well as peers that you can network and connect with and learn from on this wondrous journey. Take classes and courses; keep working your craft and sending out to researched and specifically targeted editors. And most importantly, don’t give up!!! Fortunately, so many of the greats didn’t give up either : )

Mira Reisberg is the award-winning illustrator of 6 picture books and co-author of two award-winning anthologies of stories and art. Her books have sold over 600,000 copies world-wide. Mira received her MFA from Mills College in Painting and Digital Art. She received her PhD in Education and Cultural Studies from Washington State University writing a 370 page dissertation on children’s picture books and the healing power of art.

Mira is also an editor, art director, instructor/mentor and picture book consultant whose students’ award-winning  books have sold over a million copies. Mira’s passion for picture books spills out into her empowering online Hero’s Art Journey course, which features contributions from major picture book authors and illustrators  (www.herosartjourney.com) as well as in the courses that she is creating for the Picture Book Academy (www.picturebookacademy.com). The next Hero’s Art Journey course starts March 5th and will be amazing. Please feel free to contact her at miraguy@gmail.com with any questions.

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One of the things I love most about blogging is the social aspect – receiving comments on my posts and leaving comments on others’.  For the next three weeks, however, I will not be able to read and comment on blogs.  I am leaving on Friday for a two-week business trip to Italy.  This week, all the time I have that is not spent on preparing for the trip will be spent with my family.  Then I’ll be on the ground in Italy, and when I return, the kids will be on Spring Break, so I’ll be catching up with them, recovering from jet-lag, closing out the March 12 x 12 giveaway and launching April’s.  So please don’t be offended if I normally comment on your blogs and you don’t see me for a while.  All will return to normal in April.  I will be checking my blog, however, and will do my best to respond to comments left on my posts.

What am I doing in Italy, besides eating pasta and gelato?  First I’ll be in Florence, working on a yet-to-be-revealed project.  Then I’m off to Bologna for the O’Reilly Tools of Change in Publishing Conference and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.  Some regular features on the blog, such as Tuesday 12 x 12, will continue to run while I am gone, and I have a couple of guest posts in store too.  I might be able to blog here and there, but I can’t promise.  I will, however, post short updates, photos and snippets on my Facebook Author Page if you want to follow along there or follow me on Twitter.

I will be thinking of you while I am here...

And here...

And eating this...

And this!

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. The short film version of this app (which is also a storybook app) won an Oscar this year. I think that's proof of how big and important this market is going to be.

As some of you may know, I am committed to taking the story I entered in last year’s MeeGenius Children’s Author Challenge and developing it into an app.  I’ve been doing quite a bit of research, yet I feel I’ve only just begun my descent into the rabbit hole.  In reality this post should be titled, How to start THINKING about Creating a Storybook App.  There is a huge morass of information out there, much of it inconsistent.  It seems nobody has written Storybook Apps for Dummies yet.  I thought I’d take a crack at the very basics.

First, authors who are also illustrators have a distinct advantage in app development.  One reason it’s been so challenging to find information is because there are precious few resources geared toward “authors only” who have ideas for apps, beyond telling them to partner with an illustrator.  The best information I’ve found so far has been at e is for book, a blog written by a group of traditionally published, professional children’s book authors and illustrators who are working on various digital book projects, and Digital Kid’s Author, author Karen Robertson’s website.

Karen wrote and illustrated the app “Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island,” a treasure hunt adventure book.  Recently, Karen spoke on Publishing Insiders Blog Talk Radio series on Secrets to Creating Children’s Book Apps (the show is still available; you can listen for free).  On the show, Karen discussed 5 steps to app creation.  All of these steps assume the text is written, edited and ready to be developed into an app.

  1. Decide what kind of app you want to create: Think about how much interaction you want in the story. Think about what animation might enhance (vs. detract from) the story.  Do you want a “read to me” option, which requires narration?  Do you want touch-based animation?  Special sounds?
  2. Create a brief for your app: This is a document that details the text, illustration, sounds/narration and animation that goes on each page. Unlike a manuscript for a traditional picture book submission, here the author and/or illustrator does suggest page turns because they are critical to developing the interactive components of the app.
  3. Create art for your app: Again, this is where illustrators have an advantage because they can both write and illustrate the app.  If you are an author looking to partner with an illustrator, look for one that can work digitally.  Ideally, the art is created using digital layers to produce the best animation effects.
  4. Decide what narration, sounds and animation you want: Do you want music in your app?  Do you need to hire a narrator?  Do you have sound sprites planned (touch-based animation that triggers a sound, for example an animal noise or a drum beating)?
  5. Build the app: This is where the app developer comes in.  The developer creates the code that turns the static story and illustrations into an interactive app.  You can hire an independent developer or work with a company that specializes in app development.  An advantage of an independent developer is that they can usually create custom code for features specific to your app.  You might also be able to retain ownership of that code.  A disadvantage is being reliant on that person to maintain and update your app for its lifetime.  Development companies typically have expertise in app development, and will code your app based upon their platforms.  This might provide less flexibility for custom animation, but companies continue to become more sophisticated in their offerings.  Companies will almost always provide the maintenance and updates for your app on an ongoing basis.  Some companies even offer do-it-yourself drag and drop interfaces.

Our VERY favorite storybook app!

After listening to the radio show and skimming through Karen’s e-book, I am still left with the question of what authors are supposed to submit to app development companies in terms of proposals.  Is it just a manuscript?  A full brief?  Should it include a marketing plan?  I have Googled storybook app “template,” “proposal,” “submission,” “brief,” “specification,” six hundred ways to Sunday and still haven’t come up with a good answer.

In two weeks, I’ll be in Bologna, Italy attending the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, focused exclusively on the children’s market.  I’m writing articles for SCBWI and The Children’s Book Insider.  Many industry thought-leaders will be in attendance, so I am hoping to dig much deeper into these issues on behalf of authors and illustrators.  Stay tuned!  I probably won’t be able to blog in real-time while I am there, but I will be tweeting and posting snippets and updates on my Facebook Author page if you are interested.

I know some of you reading already have experience creating storybook apps.  Any advice to share?  Does anyone have questions they’d like me to get to the bottom of in Bologna?  Leave feedback in the comments!

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You guys have heard a lot about Katie Davis on this blog lately, however, it’s all been in the context of ME being featured in HER space.  Today I am so pleased to turn the tables and announce Katie as our featured 12 x 12 in 2012 author for March.  Katie has been very busy this month spreading the word about her new eBook, How to Promote Your Children’s Books: Tips, Tricks and Secrets to Creating a Bestseller (see a list of all the stops Katie’s made on her blog tour at the end of this post).  Readers, I have read this book, and I must tell you this is MANDATORY reading for anyone who is serious about publishing and promoting their books.  Every question you could possibly ask about marketing and promotion is covered in this book.  What’s even better is that it’s written in Katie’s trademark voice, which means it is actually fun to read. AND, Katie is giving one lucky 12 x 12 participant a free copy of this book.

If you are a regular blog reader, you know I am now a monthly contributor to Katie’s Brain Burps About Books Podcast.  I’ve also been a subscriber of the podcast for well over a year. I’m continually amazed by the amount of information imparted in the shows.  Every time I have a question about something related to kidlit, I ask myself if maybe Katie’s done a show on the topic.  Recent examples of questions I had were on author websites, school visits, eBooks, writing retreats.  Podcasts addressing those issues?  Check, check, check and check.  Katie provides this great service for FREE.  I am so passionate about the value of these podcasts, (and NOT just because I am in some of them – I swear) that I want more people to take advantage of them.

Yes, you can listen to the podcasts directly for free.  However, I find that it is much easier to have the Brain Burps iPhone app.  All of the episodes are there and searchable.  You can stop and go back and listen where you left off.  You can “favorite” certain episodes.  But the best feature is that you have them with you wherever you go.  Standing in a long line?  Just pop onto the app and listen while you wait.  In fact, I love the app so much, that in addition to Katie’s giveaway, this month I will draw two additional winners who will receive the app from me as a gift!

Now you’re probably wondering when the heck Katie is going to show up in this post, and that is right now.  Lest you think her book, podcasts, etc. aren’t applicable to you if you are pre-published, I asked Katie a few specific questions on how the advice and tips in her books are appropriate for ALL writers – not just published ones.  Take it away Katie!

Many of this blog’s followers are pre-published authors.  Which chapters or parts of your book do you think are most critical for them to read and why?

I think Chapters 1-30 would be best. Oh, wait. There are 30 chapters in the book…

I really can’t choose just some sections because it’s one of those more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts kind of thing. All the chapters together teach a way to approach this business. Picking out one thing would be like pulling out one domino; they’re all interconnected.

Why do you think it is important, even for pre-published authors, to develop an online presence?

 I’ve heard of publishers looking online to see what kind of presence prospective authors have. I can’t believe if someone isn’t online it would jeopardize getting a contract if the story is publish-worthy, but imagine if you have an odd subject or niche book. An editor sees you have a following and knows that you’ll be proactive in the marketing support of that book. These days we all need an online presence and if you already have one firmly established, you’re that much more ahead of the game. But nothing will help a badly written book, so the thing you need to concentrate on most is writing well, learning your craft and making sure that you’re creating your best possible work.

The 12x team has been debating on the Facebook page whether or not they should use their names in their blogs or whether they should set up websites if they don’t yet have a book to promote.  What’s your advice?

I vote for using your name in your blog site. Your blog should be contained within your site so visitors don’t have to go to two different places to find you. Your name is what people will search for and you want it to come up on the first page of the search, right? Also buy your title.com the minute you know it – or just buy it if you have a potential title.

I am so happy I bought katiedavis.com when I did back in the late 90’s because do you have any idea how many Katie Davises there are out there? And at least two are authors, and another Katie Davies is a children’s author and published by S&S like me! So go buy yourname.com NOW.

I’ll wait here.

Okay, now that you’ve done that, let’s continue this interview.

 Actually, I have to interject here and agree wholeheartedly with Katie. I bought juliehedlund.com three years ago and I am just now starting to build my author site from that domain.  How happy am I that I own it now that I am ready?  Seriously.  It costs, like, $12 a year for a domain.  Go Daddy (which Katie mentions in her book) is the registry I use for all my domains.

What are the biggest mistakes newbies make with promotion activities?

  1. Forgetting that the more you give, the more you get. Remember to do things for other people first, and it’ll all come back to you, as sappy as that sounds. The minute, and I do mean almost to the actual minute I started looking outward and promoting other people, I could tell my career shifted.
  2. Being scared that you’re not doing enough and/or that you’re doing the wrong thing and then freaking out because of that. Do what you’re comfortable with. If you don’t like blogging, don’t do it. Pick something you can handle and most of all, enjoy.
  3. 3.   Forgetting it’s about connecting with people, not marketing.

What is your own biggest marketing/promotion blooper?

Where to begin?! I got a bunch of ‘em! I spent money on stupid marketing efforts that didn’t work, or I’ve spent a ton of time on a complicated idea that fell flat. During this blog tour for How to Promote Your Children’s Book: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets to Create a Bestseller one of the stops was all about my mistakes, called Banana Peelin’. The more you try, the more you fail, but the more chance you’ll have at succeeding.

What is your biggest marketing/promotion success?

 Being generous.

 If you were in a reality T.V. show about the “real” life of a children’s book author, what part of it would viewers find the most surprising?

Very weird you’re asking me this, since last week I was asked to be part of a pilot for a new “Housewives” type show! (I said no.) However, since you put “real” in quotation marks, I will take that as not real so I suppose you’d be most surprised at all the butlers I employ. They carry me from my front door to my studio so all my shoes remain spotless. This is also the technique I use to wear high heels so my feet never hurt. Plus I have an app that writes all my books.

Children’s author/illustrator Katie Davis has published nine books and appears monthly on the ABC affiliate show, Good Morning Connecticut, recommending great books for kids. She produces Brain Burps About Books, a podcast about kidlit, a blog and monthly newsletter. Katie has volunteered in a maximum-security prison teaching Writing for Children and over the last dozen years has presented at schools and writing conferences. She’s a 2010 Cybils judge and has also judged the Golden Kite, smartwriters.com, and Frontiers in Writing awards. Recently Katie was selected to be on the Honorary Advisory Board for the Brooke Jackman Foundation, a literacy-based charity.

Participants – to enter to win Katie’s Book and the Brain Burps app, 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 March for one point.  On March 31st, l’ll put a check-in post on the blog.  If you completed a picture book draft in March, you can let us know in the comments of that post for another point.  I will draw a winner using Random.org and announce on April 2nd.

Check out the rest of Katie’s blog tour stops!

Feb 1 – E is for Book – www.eisforbook.com

Feb 2 – Banana Peel Thursday – http://bananapeelin.blogspot.com

Feb 3 – Creative Spaces – http://chrischengauthor.blogspot.com

Feb 6 – DearEditor.com – www.DearEditor.com

Feb 7 – Writing With a Broken Tusk – http://umakrishnaswami.blogspot.com

Feb 8 – Shutta Crum – http://shutta.com

Feb 9 – McBookWords – mcbookwords.blogspot.com

Feb 10 – Kerem Erkan- keremerkan.net

Feb 16 – Elizabeth O. Dulemba- http://www.dulemba.com/

Feb 17 – Fiction Notes – http://www.darcypattison.com/

March 1 – 12×12 in 2012 – http://writeupmylife.com

March 2 – Christine Fonseca, Author – ChristineFonseca.blogspot.com

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