A 2014 SUCCESS STORY

It began with a program: Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. There was a Bronze Level, Silver Level, and Golden Book Level. Not yet published as a children’s book author, and not yet written anything that was ready to publish, I chose the Silver Level, so I wouldn’t have the opportunity to submit to the programs featured agents. I had a lot to learn. That was my plan.

Then, I met writers like me, online. One illustrator was from my city. Some were authors already. It took a few weeks to get used to the forum technology, but I let folks read my first 250 words of a story and I read their words. I gave and received feedback. These were nice folks with a great attitude. They had written and/or published the best children’s books.

With new confidence, I had no problem volunteering to read my grandson’s favorite Rosemary Wells book as a guest of his kindergarten class. I’d like to make more visits.

I wanted to connect. I joined some of the writers in a private Facebook group. I met others in a Google launch and in Webinars. I joined Pinterest. I upgraded my Website and began to blog about my writing journey. (Thank you followers. Posting more often, a 2015 goal.)

I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) because it was recommended as a continuing resource. The 12 x 12 member from my city is also a member of my local SCBWI group.

I attended the SCBWI day-long conference in Chicago. DID I MENTION IT WAS ON A YACHT? The food was fabulous. The speakers were, too. And author Liz Garton Scanlon (wrote Caldecott award winner, ALL THE WORLD) presented a short workshop on revising a manuscript. I bought her books, one to serve as my example of a concept book. I learned how to edit my work for brevity and cut the “darlings” that did nothing to move my story forward.

AND, now I could give a critique that might be valuable to the writer. Three ladies in 12 x 12 and I formed a Critique Group. We live in different states and countries, but we’re on a schedule and submit work weekly. They don’t always tell me what I’d like to hear, but they tell me what I need to know. I learned to trust their expertise and trust myself, when I have reason. I learned to revise, revise, and revise again, until a manuscript shines.

Before I attended a summer SCBWI weekend conference, I made business cards. I worked hard to take in all the wisdom of an agent, an editor, and author who were speakers. I participated in another critique group for the weekend.

The next month, on a short family excursion, my brain produced a story faster than I could write. Another came out in rhyme in the car.

In 12 x 12, an author from Australia gave me a free critique – a prize bomb. That meant I could submit my entire manuscript to her. I couldn’t believe someone would take their valuable time to pour over my story and add her brilliant thoughts.

I also enrolled in other programs. Each program had an area in which I needed to improve, if an editor or agent were to take me seriously; such as, How to Make Money as a Writer and The Ultimate Guide to Picture Book Submissions.

Could I complete a November program, PiBoIdMo? It’s presented every year by Tara Lazar, picture book author. I DID IT! I got 30 ideas in 30 days! Two manuscripts are already written.

One amazing program that I desperately needed was Video Idiot Boot Camp, a Katie Davis product. It proved to be too much to finish just yet. However, I succeeded in updating my technology at home. I made a Welcome video and posted it on YouTube and on http://pammmiller.com . I can improve lots in this area, but I have made a place for an author’s work to be seen and grow. Most importantly, I have an account that is just for my business, because a writer is an entrepreneur.

While some of my journey was fun as well as pedagogical, I’ve developed a writing habit. I wrote 12 and one half manuscripts during 2014, posting 10 of them in 12 x 12. In 2015 I’ll return for another year of inspiration and support and try to give more than I have received.

Children’s books? At every opportunity, I’m looking at the latest, the funniest with telling illustration, the Best of 2014, the concepts and characters, because I am an entrepreneur and because I have young grandchildren who are learning to read. I’ve read over 100 picture books. My immediate goal, after posting this blog, is to update my list of 100. It will include my latest favorite, THE PICTURE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak. Although it seemed a gimmick, the author was brilliant because he simply wrote for kids to make them laugh and to want to read.

Please check out the video of B.J. Novak reading his book by searching for it on Amazon. It’s full of silly words that make children say, “Read it again.”

As a writer, I attended a Christmas party with my local group. Gosh, it was fun. Earlier, an agent had presented an amazing program for us. We were invited to submit a manuscript for critique. Mine has come back marked for revision. But we will talk again. And those professional comments make me very hopeful for my writing journey.

That’s my new plan: write, revise, talk with agents/editors. I’ve taken the first step.

Don’t forget to check out my Welcome Video and my 100 Best Children’s Picture Books List.

Manuscript in the Making

Picture books are stories with an author’s succinct words; that is, verbs that show action, words that rhyme, and lyrical writing. But that’s half of the book. The wonderful illustrations tell the part of the story that the words don’t.

Before that happens, the story is a draft manuscript. (Maybe you have written one lately.) In the first revision, I’m looking for a great opening sentence – it’s usually about three paragraphs down.

Often, I begin with back story. That’s the information about the setting or the main character’s (MC) description and traits. That’s okay, because I need to know all of this to define the MC, but I don’t need to write it all on the first page. (This is a good way to ease into your writing.)

A picture book is short. While editors used to suggest 1000 words, many advise cutting to 500-600 words before submitting for publication. The reader, an adult reading to a child of 4-8, wants to keep the child’s attention, so a good opening sentence begins in the middle of the action. Then the page must be turned to find out what happens.

I’ve cut lots of words by beginning with the third paragraph. I’ll save that draft. I might need to review my thoughts later. For example, when the MC rushes in the back door and tosses his/her book bag on the kitchen floor, I’m setting the time of day—after school time. If the MC gulps down part of a soon to follow meal, that part of the story won’t be illustrated with orange juice and muffins.

More revisions follow and cut more words. Descriptive words are deleted. It’s the job of the illustrator to decide hair color, princess dress or jeans, and whether the MC is a girl, a bunny, or a dragon, unless the title indicates or a “purple plastic purse” is a character trait and crucial to the story. My verbs should not be passive. Instead of “he was running,” I write “he ran.” I also delete modifiers: quickly, very, sweetly.

If I’ve rambled a bit (much like my blog today), I may have created a funny or cute situation, described a darling little girl’s playhouse. But, if those “darlings” don’t advance my plot, don’t show the result and consequences of the MC’s first attempt (of three) to solve his/her problem, out they must go.

Why don’t I just write into a grid the first time? Would I still need to revise? Yes. Revising improves and polishes my manuscript. It puts things in an expected order and, hopefully, goes a step beyond.

Writing, of course, isn’t just an organization of words. The words that flow from my pen (and yours) create a unique voice. It’s from my heart into the character. It’s creative fiction, but the story rings true. It breathes, and the magic begins.

For fun and inspiration read to a child this week, or the child in yourself. I’m beginning a list of my favorite Picture Books. Watch for the tab, soon.