Category Archives: Picture Books

Writing Picture Books – 4 Ways to Get Inspired

As I mentioned in my last post, this year I’m taking part in the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge. Some of the participants are using ideas they came up with during PiBoIdMo in November, which gives them a great starting point. I didn’t do PiBoIdMo since I was busy entrenched in NaNoWriMo at the time. This means I’m going into 12 x 12 without a stockpile of ideas to pick and choose from. I was lucky enough this past week to have been inspired by a particularly hot day (actually it was about three hot days in a row). Sometimes inspiration can just strike like that, other times it doesn’t. I’ve still got eleven months of ideas to find (not to mention an extra six during NaPiBoWriWee if I do that too).

So how does one go about finding picture book inspiration?

These are some of my favourite ways to get inspired:

– Observing children at play. I’m lucky enough to have two little muses running around my house and they provide fantastic inspiration. It’s hard not to find story ideas when watching children play as they have such vivid imaginations themselves. You find yourself immersed in their world and you’re brought down to their level. If you don’t have children of your own and you’re not a teacher or childcare worker, seek out places where you can watch children play: a local park; the McDonald’s playground; friends/family with children. Don’t forget to take a notepad!

– Sitting outside. I’ve always found sitting outside and just absorbing the world around me to be a great way to get inspired. Take a notepad or laptop and find a nice spot in the garden/at the park/at the beach/by the river to sit and let your senses take over. What can you see, hear, smell, taste and feel? Try to see the world from a child’s point-of-view. Is that a fairy hiding in the roses? Is that a pirate ship out at sea? It doesn’t all have to be fantasy, of course. A game of soccer could be the starting point for a story about being left out/trying your best/trying something new. If the weather is bad, try sitting and staring out the window.

– Draw on your world (aka Write what you know). I live on a farm and I draw on those farm experiences to find inspiration. A mouse in the hayshed? What if he was trying to find a new home for his family? Think about where you live and how you can draw on it. Perhaps you live in the city or by the beach or in a small neighbourhood; what unique experiences can you use in a story? Look at your world from a child’s perspective; what would they see? What about an animal?

– Go places. Go to the zoo and watch the lions/meercats/penguins. Go to the museum and imagine stories behind the exhibits (Who flew that plane and where did they fly it? Was that dinosaur shy or boisterous?) Go to the beach and observe the people/families/animals. What are their stories?

As you become inspired, just keep one important point in mind: Picture books are written for children, so when crafting your character (whether human, animal, monster or alien) make sure your character has a child’s perspective. Children should be able to relate to the character and the character’s situation.

How do you get inspired? I’d love to hear where you find inspiration when writing picture books.

Picture: omar franc via stock.xchng

12 x 12 in 2012

Over on Julie Hedlund’s blog she has set a challenge: write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months–a picture book a month for every month of 2012. I thought this sounded like a great challenge as I love writing picture books and am often inspired with picture book ideas, so I joined up.

Julie has done a fabulous job of organising this challenge. There are monthly prizes for participants, guest posts from those in the picture book industry (the first guest post from picture book author and founder of Picture Book Idea Month, Tara Lazaar, went up yesterday) and a great community of fellow participants in the Facebook group Julie has set up for the challenge. You can also follow the #12x12in2012 hashtag on Twitter. (Edited to update: the new Twitter hashtag is #12x)

For anyone who is interested in writing picture books this challenge is a great opportunity to learn, grow and connect, so I would encourage you to join up. You can join at any time throughout the year, but to be eligible for prizes you need to have signed up by the 29th January 2012 (you still have nearly a month to sign up). You can find details on signing up here (it’s super easy and completely free).

With a baby due in a month, I hope I can stick to the challenge. Like Julie, I also intend to do NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) again this year. Am I up to the challenge? I guess we shall see.

The Flower Show Fiasco

I’m very excited today to have my rhyming children’s story ‘The Flower Show Fiasco’ published in the online magazine Australian Women Online.

When I decided to try submitting to Australian Women Online’s ‘Bedtime Stories’ section and saw the theme was flowers this month my initial thought was to write something about fairies in the garden, but then I got this idea for a disastrous flower show (which I think in part was inspired by a Hairy Maclarey book my children have about a disastrous pet show).

I love writing for children and for me many of my children’s stories naturally flow onto the page as rhyming stories. Which isn’t to say rhyme isn’t difficult to write as it needs to be perfect not only in rhyme, but in meter and rhythm as well. When you write in rhyme you gain a whole new respect for authors who do it so well, like Mem Fox, Graeme Base and Lynley Dodd. It takes a lot of work to make it flow naturally off the tongue.

It was a lot of fun to write, especially thinking up all the different flowers I could include in the story. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It is completely free to read on the Australian Women Online website (under Bedtime Stories) and is also printable if you would like to print it up for your child to keep.

Photo: Tania McCartney

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts October 2011

As it’s October, there will be a special NaNoWriMo section of links for those who will be participating in NaNoWriMo in a few days time. But first, a round up of the other helpful sites and blog posts from the last month:

Writing

Five Fun and Easy Ways to Lengthen Word Count

While some writers write long novels that ultimately need to be trimmed, if you’re anything like me and tend to write spare, sometimes you may find you fall short in the word count department. I have this problem with my current WIP and I found this post to be quite helpful. It suggests ways to lengthen your word count without adding unnecessary fluff or padding.

Your Formula for a Kick-A** Young Adult Heroine

These tips are drawn from a panel of authors who all have kick-butt heroines in their novels.

Revising

Editing Your MS in 30 Days or Less

Some tips from author Elana Johnson on how to edit your novel in a month. While the tips in the post are probably easier to achieve for those of us who don’t have children, they are invaluable tips none-the-less and can still help with editing your novel in a shorter amount of time.

The Twelve Steps I Followed to Format “My Cheeky Angel” for Kindle Direct Publishing

Although this post is primarily directed towards self-publishing authors, there are some valuable formatting tips for all writers to follow before submitting to agents/publishers to make your novel stand out as polished and professional.

10 Proofreading Tips to Ensure Your Self-Published Works are Flawless

This is another post that, although it’s written for self-publishers, can just as easily be used by all writers. A great checklist to keep in mind when revising.

Picture Books

Only One Published Book? Aaack!

What picture book writers can do on library/school visits if they only have one published book.

Do You Want to Write Books for Children?

This post covers some common misconceptions and mistakes made by picture book writers and how you can fix/avoid them.

Marketing

Tips on Marketing Your Novel

Literary agent Natalie Fischer shares her best tips on marketing your novel, from the pre-sale phase (before you even sign a publisher) right through to the book release. Perfect for any writer at any stage of the process.

Eleven Deadly Sins of Online Promotion for Writers

Another one for writers in any stage of the process, including those who are seeking to attract an agent. 11 things you should never do when you’re promoting your writing online.

NaNoWriMo!

9 Ways to Prepare for the National Novel Writing Month

This would have to be the BEST post I’ve ever come across on preparing for NaNoWriMo. It doesn’t talk about outlines, but rather how to prepare yourself mentally and organise yourself and your life in preparation. It outlines 9 areas you may not have considered in the lead up to NaNoWriMo and provides questions to ask yourself to help get yourself prepared. It was written by 5-time NaNoWriMo-er and awesome writer/editor/publisher, Jodi Cleghorn.

5 tips for NaNoWriMo Success

Five quick tips for helping you achieve your NaNoWriMo goal.

NaNoWriMo Starts Right Here right Now

Some advice from a past NaNowriMo winners on how to get past the NaNoWriMo finish line.

My NaNoWriMo 2011 Tips

Some tips for succeeding at NaNoWriMo from a two-time NaNoWriMo winner. (I personally think the 1st tip is an especially important one to remember.)

For those who are participating in NaNoWriMo this year, good luck!

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Post August/September 2011

As I didn’t post a Helpful Writing Sites post last month I’m combining my compilation of helpful links from both August and September into one post.

Writing

Identifying Your Fantasy Novel’s Subgenre

When querying your fantasy novel it’s best to be specific about your novel’s subgenre. This post gives a brief outline of each of the fantasy subgenres.

The Big Ol’ Genre Glossary

Taking it a step further than the above post, this post outlines all the various genres and their subgenres. A handy list to have when wanting to check which genre/subgenre your novel falls under.

En Dash vs. Em Dash

Not sure what the difference between them is? This posts helps clear it up.

There is a Learning Curve to Creating Ebooks

For those interested in self-publishing and creating your own ebooks, this post recommends two free programs you can use to convert your MS into ebook format.

Five Telltale Signs of an Amateur Writer

An acquiring editor tells how she can reject an MS in 8 seconds and lists the five telltale signs of an amateur writer.

10 Words Editors Hate

Be careful about using these ten words in your MS, as they may very well send your work to the ‘Do Not Publish’ pile. Some may surprise you.

Eight Reasons I Hate Your Book

There seem to be a few negative posts around lately, but helpful, none-the-less. In fact, I found this one to be VERY helpful. Freelance editor and agent intern, Cassandra Marshall, shares eight of the most annoying (and totally fixable) things she comes across in manuscripts. It helped me realise one of the biggest downfalls of my current WIP, it might help you with yours too.

10 Tips for Writing a Short Story

Short story writer, Amanda Lohrey, shares her tips for writing a first-rate short story.

Getting Your Children’s Book Published

A checklist of things you need to do when preparing to send your MS to publishers, specifically for children’s writers.

Besides Using Google, How Can I do Research For My Book?

Sometimes it can be hard to navigate Google to find the information you’re looking for. How can you be sure the information is accurate? This post has some great (and easy) tips on how to find accurate sources of information for your research.

14 Dos and Don’ts for Introducing Your Protagonist

Author Anne R. Allen gives a list of fourteen great points to take into consideration when introducing your story’s protagonist.

Querying/Submitting

Wherein I Answer an Awkward Question

A few months ago I wrote a post called Writers Beware. This post gives the same warning and similar advice to my post, but takes it a step further with some great information about vanity presses pretending to be traditional publishers.

The Biggest Submission Mistakes

Writers Relief interviewed a range of editors to find out what they considered to be the biggest submission mistakes.

Proper Manuscript Format

I’ve bookmarked this page. The post itself is presented as the manuscript would be formatted giving a visual example to go along with the explanation of how a manuscript should be properly formatted. This is especially helpful if a publisher/editor/agent does not have specific submission guidelines for manuscript format or requests standard manuscript format.

Motivation

You’re Kind of a Big Deal

Advice from an author who recently sold her book, and the long journey it took her to get there. She gives hope to those of us who are still hoping to get there some day.

Social Media

The Facebook Author Page: 10 Status Updates to Embrace, 10 to Avoid

Author and Novel Publicity president, Emlyn Chand, outlines the difference between Facebook page status updates that will engage and win you fans (and thus lead to book sales) and status updates that will annoy and drive away fans. In her words, “When it comes to self-promotion, less is more. If you promote yourself graciously, book sales will follow.”

5 Points to Ponder on Pottermore (for Writers)

A look at how writers can use J.K. Rowlings new Pottermore site as an example for creating an engaging website (even if you don’t have Ms. Rowlings budget).

Five Ways Authors Can Promote Books on Facebook

Tips for using your Facebook profile/page to promote your book (in a subtle way).

Book Promotion

Creating Effective Presentations for Schools

Some great tips from picture book author Tania McCartney on doing schools visits to promote your book, including how to keep your audience’s attention, taking age into account and what sort of content to include.

Just for Fun

A Day in the Life of a Writing Mum

If you’re a writing mum like me, I’m sure you will relate!

And one last link, because I just have to share…

You may have noticed a shiny new book cover on the sidebar of my blog for a soon-to-released anthology titled Eighty Nine (which includes my story ‘Eighteen for Life’). It’s a speculative fiction anthology embracing the year that was nineteen eighty nine. One of my fellow authors, Devin Watson, has created this little teaser trailer: Eighty Nine Book teaser trailer.

2nd Blogiversary: The Highs and Lows of the Past Year

Wow, what a year!

This time last year I was celebrating the very first blogiversary of this blog, I can’t believe another year has past. So much has happened in this past year; these are some of the biggest ups and downs:

I took part in NaNoWriMo for the second year in a row. After finding it hard to get into the story I’d planned, I ended up writing a fanfic and reaching my goal of writing 50,000 words in a month. (The previous year I’d only managed half that.)

– The worst day of my life was the day I found out I had a miscarriage and lost my baby. I didn’t cope at all with the loss and sunk into depression. I found it hard to write for a while. I’m still struggling with the loss, but I’m writing.

After entering my completed YA fantasy MS into a couple of novel competitions and having no luck, I decided to put it aside for the time being, rather than following my original plan of querying it. I decided to focus on my YA thriller WIP instead.

– After the devastating floods in Queensland at the start of the year, I was compelled to submit a story to the anthology 100 Stories to Queensland. I was thrilled to first make the longlist and then the shortlist and have my story ‘A Penny for a Wish’ included in the anthology. The anthology has gone on to raise much needed funds for disaster relief in Queensland.

– I was surprised and thrilled to find out my story ‘Angel Blood’ was to be included in the Australian Literature anthology (and I also totally bawled my eyes out as it was to be my first story I would be getting paid for). It was released at the same time as 100 Stories for Queensland. I couldn’t believe my debut as a published author involved two separate stories being published at the same time.

– I jumped at the opportunity to get on board an anthology called Literary Mix Tapes: Eighty-Nine where I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with other authors and an editor (the fabulous Jodi Cleghorn). Working on my short story ‘Eighteen for Life’ has been a great learning experience for me as a writer. Eighty-Nine is due for release next month.

– I’ve had the honour of being invited to write short stories for several other upcoming anthologies (which I will tell you more about as the release dates come closer).

I found out I was pregnant again, but kept the pregnancy secret despite the fact I was suffering the worst morning sickness of all my pregnancies so far. Thankfully the morning sickness has now subsided. I’m nearly at the halfway point!

My family and I were all plagued by illness over the winter months, and in fact it got so bad my son ended up in hospital for a week (with me staying there with him) and my daughter ended up in hospital overnight. Even once we were home it was a long road to recovery (compounded by the fact I was also suffering horrendous morning sickness at the time). Needless to say my writing suffered during this time, as did my poor blog.

I worked up the courage to send a couple picture book (and one chapter book) manuscripts to publishers. So far no luck, but…

– Only last week I received the exciting news my picture book ‘Monster Sister’ was shortlisted for the CYA competition’s preschool category. (CYA = Children and Young Adult Writer conference, which is held annually in Brisbane, Australia.) I just found out the winner as I was about to hit ‘publish’ on this post. Unfortunately ‘Monster Sister’ did not win, but I feel so privileged to have even been shortlisted and to have had the opportunity for my story to be seen by a publisher.

Edit: Just had to make an edit, because I just found out that although ‘Monster Sister’ did not win the CYA preschool category, it did place second!

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts June 2011

It’s time for my monthly round up of helpful writing sites and blog posts. All links will be added to the masterlist (link at top of blog).

Writing

Tips for Writing Picture Books

5 great tips for writers of picture books.

3 Signs You’re Writing a Condemned Novel

How to recognise problems in your manuscript and how to decide whether they are fixable or whether the novel needs to be put aside.

Have You Ever Heard the One About “Was”?

I’ll admit to being wary of using the word ‘was’ in my writing, though I’ve now come to be a little more accepting of it. Author Emma Darwin makes some good points about why ‘was’ isn’t as bad as a lot of writers are led to believe. She tells how often it isn’t the word ‘was’ that’s the problem and goes on to outline the underlying problems that are often blamed on ‘was’.

The Courage Not to Publish

While it takes courage for a writer to put his/her work out there to get published, this article talks about having the courage to realise your work may not be publishable and to hold back from publishing. It specifically targets writers who either think their writing doesn’t need fixing because they think an editor will sort it out, or those who want to self-publish after being rejected by traditional publishers.

Commonly Confused Words

You know those tricky words, like ‘lie’ and ‘lay’? This post clears up some of the confusion with commonly misused words.

The Truth About Passive Protagonists

This post outlines when it’s ok to have a passive protagonist and when it’s not.

The Single Most Powerful Writing Tool You’ll Ever See That Fits on One Page

A listing of everything you need to know about your story before you can successfully finish it. Written in the form of questions, the list covers the four parts of the story structure.

Social Media

5 Simple Ways to Make Your Blog More Visually Appealing to Readers

Tips for creating a blog with an appealing look and feel and how to avoid a poorly designed blog.

THE Facebook Cheat Sheet: 21 Sneaky Tactics to Generate a Buzz on Facebook

21 Tactics for getting people to ‘like’ your Facebook page.

The 6 P’s of YA Social Media

6 points YA writers should keep in mind to use Social Media effectively.

Just for Fun

The Seven Stages of Receiving Critique on a Manuscript

A funny (and true) evaluation of the stages a writer goes through after receiving a manuscript critique.

The Periodic Table of Storytelling

Based on the periodic table of elements, this table covers different aspects of storytelling, such as character archetypes and plot devices. A couple of my favourites: NEO (The Chosen One) and LOL (Evil laugh).

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts May 2011

It’s time for my monthly round up of helpful writing sites and blog posts. All links will be added to the masterlist (link at top of blog).

Writing

50 Books That Will Make You a Better Writer

A list of 50 of the best writing books, from Stephen King’s On Writing to Stunk and White’s The Element of Style.

Need Some Bling for Your Title? Try PRISM

Five elements to keep in mind when brainstorming an effective title for your novel.

How to Write the Ending of Your Novel

Author Joanna Penn gives tips on writing the ending of your novel so the reader will finish the book wanting to buy your next novel.

How to Write (a Book). A Wee Rant

12 points on how to write. No, this isn’t about the technicalities of writing, or plot, it’s about sitting your butt down and actually putting words on a page. One of my favourite lines, “No wonder we all have writer’s block. We’re not even writing. Plumbers don’t have plumber’s block, do they? NO, THEY GET ON THE FLOOR AND CLEAR OUT THE WINDEX AND EVIDENCE OF MOUSE POOP UNDER THE SINK AND GET TO PLUMBING.”

The Only 12 1/2 Writing Rules You’ll Ever Need

A great motivational poster for writers with some great tips.

Ponder, Polish, Perfect: How to Successfully Revise

Literary Agent Natalie Fischer goes over some ideas to help you ‘re-envision’ your work.

Wordcount Dracula

Literary agent Jennifer Laughran (aka literaticat) has put together a very comprhensive post on word counts in kidlit (PBs through YA) including examples of published books.

Picture Book Construction: Know Your Layout

A must read post for picture book writers on picture book layout and having an awareness of page breaks.

16 Manuscript Format Guidelines

Getting ready to send of your manuscript to a publisher and all the guidelines say are, ‘Standard Manuscript Format’ and you’re not sure what that means? This helpful post outlines what standard manuscript formatting entails. A couple of the points are a little outdated, so I would also suggest scrolling down through the comments that correct them. And in particular have a look at the comment by NEB which is quite informative.

Pitching

Hook ‘Em In (in three seconds or less)

Literary agent Natalie Fischer gives some helpful hook tips.

Marketing

The Seven Book Marketing Mistakes That Authors Make

Want your book to sell? Make sure you’re not making these marketing mistakes. A couple of these are more applicable to self-published authors, but some of them are applicable to all authors.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself After Hearing: We Can’t Sell Enough to Justify Publishing It

Some tips on what to do next. I’ve put this under the heading of marketing because in most part the tips relate to making your book more marketable or building your author platform.

Blogging

Formatting Posts and Pages

Geared towards WordPress users, but helpful to other blogging platform users too, this post outlines the golden rule for formatting your blog posts to make them easier for your readers to read (hence keeping their attention).

Blog Law – Is Your Giveaway Legal?

Many writers I know do giveaways/ have competitions on their blogs. But are those giveaways/competitions legal? An attorney and blogger provides information on running blog giveaways in simple/easy to understand terms.

Seven Picture Books in Seven Days

Writing seven picture books in seven days is a lot harder than it seems. I’ve just finished NaPiBoWriWee where that’s exactly what I had to do.

Finding Ideas

On some days the ideas came easily. One morning I woke up with an idea already formed in my mind. Other days inspiration didn’t come quite so easily. In fact, it got to seven o’clock one night and I was fretting that I wouldn’t find an idea at all. Some of my ideas were sparked by the world around me (a picture book set on a farm) or a memory (the theme song to Postman Pat reminded me of a funny line my siblings and I used to sing when we were younger and it formed into a picture book idea). Some of my ideas came out of thin air (such as the one I wrote about a pirate) or from staring out the window blankly (what if there were fairies in the garden?) Asking my son for ideas didn’t work out very well as all he wanted to do was count (hence one of my picture books ended up being a counting book), though he came up with some good character names for one of my picture books.

Time

For the most part I waited for my children to go to bed before I sat down to work on my picture book for the day. On a couple of days my son was my sounding board while my daughter napped. The fact we went on holidays with two days of NaPiBoWriWee to go left me worried I wouldn’t get those last two picture books for the week written. As it turns out our very long car trip gave me a lot of time to think and work out a story in my head (which I typed up on my laptop the first chance I got) and my final idea was inspired by the trip itself.

The Writing of a Picture Book is a Complex Exercise.

Although picture books appear simple on the surface, it is their simplicity that makes them complex to write. Writing picture books is a lesson in using concise language. Word choice is especially difficult as it mustn’t be too flowery or difficult for a child to comprehend, yet an odd word every now and then that encourages the child to explore language beyond their own vocabulary enriches the text. Picture books tend to have a rhythm and flow, whether a rhyming text or straight prose. It must sound right when read aloud.

Far From Finished.

The picture books I wrote for NaPiBoWriWee are no where near finished, they are simply rough drafts. Two of the picture books I wrote will probably never be explored further as I just don’t feel I like them enough or that they have enough potential. Some of my other ideas I really love and I will definitely be revising and reworking them until they’re polished. (My picture book critique group can expect to see some of them in the near future!)

Did you do NaPiBoWriWee this year? How did you go? Was it easier or harder than you anticipated? If you didn’t do it, is it something you would consider doing in the future?

NaPiBoWriWee 2011

May 1st to May 7th is National Picture Book Writing Week. The idea is to write 7 picture books in 7 days. I had a lot of fun doing it last year and came up with some great ideas. Like NaNoWriMo, it’s a great way to get yourself writing. And though the idea of writing a picture book a day seems easy on the surface, it’s not! It’s a great challenge. I’m still polishing some of my ideas from last year. If you’re a picture book writer, consider having a go. It’s a rewarding experience.

If you want to find out more just visit here.