Thursday, September 3, 2015

5 (plus 1) free contests exposed: for FEARLESS children's illustrators only


Do you want people to notice your book?

Not just because you'll sell more - though that would be nice - but also because you've put a ton of work into it.  You want to get it into kids' hands so they can enjoy it. 

And more than work, you've put a ton of love into it.
Maybe your illustrator has, too?

Doesn't his or her work deserve recognition, too? (Or your own if you're the illustrator.)

Are you fearless enough to toot your own book’s horn?  I hope so.

But most book awards are for the text of the book only.  What about those visuals??? 
In a children's picture book, they're supposed to carry half the weight of telling the story, yet they get so much less than half the recognition.

Most children's book contests miss this important point.  Here are four contests you'll love because they reward great art and illustration... along with one I hope you have.  (Plus, keep scrolling for a bonus contest.)


This one's not specifically for kids’ illustrators, but it is open to anyone with a great sense of what you can do with ink on a page.  There's no cash prize, but this is a legit opportunity to get featured in a terrific calendar full of illustrations by talented artists all over the world.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Beat the blahs with these zesty local story setting ideas


Think about a story you've written.  Where is it set?

Now think about where you live.  In the city, the countryside, a small town, a suburban hub?  A farm, a trailer, an apartment, a cottage, a motor home?  In North America, or Asia, or Chile?

Some of us naturally write stories set where we live.  In the vegetable patch in back of our farmhouse, or in the driveway of our one-storey suburban house, or the elevator to our twenty-fifth storey penthouse.

imageOther writers pick a location that's as exotic as possible.  If they live in Canada, they'll set their story in Thailand or Bengal or Nigeria.  (Or, if they're from Nigeria and live in Wales, like Atinuke, author of the lovely Anna Hibiscus series, they'll write a story set - in part - in Canada!)

While writing about a place you DO know well may sound dull, the truth is that some of the most-loved children's books take place in settings that are very similar to places the authors live or lived.  Places they know well, almost like the back of their own hand.

And the good news is that wherever you live, it's bound to be exotic to somebody. 

Right now, I'm visiting Toronto with my family, after nearly two years living in Israel.  This is my home town; I grew up here. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Should you self-publish your children’s book? These 5 questions will help you decide.


You have a wonderful story, and it’s written at last.  What should you do with it now?  You want to get it off your hard drive and out into the world… but how?

Maybe you're thinking you should self-publish... but then, you've heard that it's hard work.  Or maybe you're considering sending it out to a publishing company - but have heard there’s so much frustration if you go that route.

Should you self-publish?  Or traditionally publish?  This may be the hardest question we face as writers today.

Self-publishing has grown tremendously and is starting to find its sea legs in today's stormy publishing world.  31% of Amazon's Kindle sales come from indie books, self-published by their authors or tiny (sometimes single-author) publishing companies.  40% of ebook payouts are going to indie authors.  “Kindle millions” might be a myth, but maybe you should try to cash in on some of those megabucks? [stats from Publishers Weekly]

These five questions will help you make the choice, based on my experience navigating the joys and frustrations of self-publishing nearly 20 books for kids and adults, and helping others get their books out into the world. 

There’s no right or wrong answer to these questions.  But if you find yourself answering NO to most of them, a traditional publisher will probably offer a more comfortable route to a final book.

1.  Do you have a clear idea of where your book’s illustrations will come from?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing the illustrations yourself or hiring an illustrator.  The important thing is knowing that if you self-publish, you’ll have to either lay out the book yourself or pay someone with these skills to do it for you.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Forever young: 20 famous children’s authors still working hard after 65


Years ago, the age of 60 marked a threshold in a person’s life.  Not anymore.  Today, 60 is just the beginning.  For many authors, including independent, self-publishing authors, it’s the start of the most productive years of their career.


Easy:  we’re busy doing other things.  If you start having a family in your 30s, then you’ll be in your late 50s before they’re all up and out (if you’re lucky).  Plus, until age 60ish, you’re probably working like crazy and perhaps caring for elderly relatives as well.

It’s a tough time to sit down and write a book (though you can still find time to write if that’s where you are in life!).

An ancient Jewish teaching says that “at fifty, one can give counsel; at sixty, one attains old age, and at seventy, fullness of years.”  This is because King David died at 70, which the Book of Chronicles (29:28) says, “And David died at a full old age.”

Forget about that.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Beyond Comic Sans: 11 free fonts handpicked for children's book interiors


Have you fallen into the Comic Sans trap?

Comic Sans was considered a great font when it was first released in 1994.  But over the years, it’s gotten tired.  These days, many indie authors use and recommend it as a good font for kids’ books, because it’s clear and easy to read.  But it will brand you as an amateur more quickly than almost anything else.

I’m sure you recognize this – right?


Here are some great choices of alternative fonts you can use – and they’re all free, so there’s no excuse.

Monday, July 6, 2015

3 ridiculously easy ways to get more words down on paper (a guest post)


We’re heading overseas for our big family vacation in Canada, so I’m turning over the rudder to the experienced hands of Australian writer Ruth Barringham, who’s here to talk about…

3 Ridiculously Easy Steps to Writing More

imageWe all have the same amount of hours in a day and it's usually not possible to complete everything on our daily to do list.

This is especially true when it comes to writing because not only is it something that we put off doing to last every day, but find it hard to concentrate because of the nagging feeling that we should be doing something else.

But what if you could sit down and write every day with 100% focus on your work and write more in the same time?

Is that something that you like to do?

Friday, July 3, 2015

5 ways breaking rules makes your writing more powerful (a guest post)


We’re getting ready for our big family vacation in Canada, so I’m turning over the steering wheel to the capable hands of author and speaker Dawn Goldberg Shuler, who’s here to talk about…

5 Reasons to Break Writing Rules

imageAs a lifelong writer, former English teacher, and writing coach and communication consultant for the last ten years, most people think that I write perfectly, no mistakes in grammar, structure, punctuation... it's all perfect.

Nope! I don't write perfectly at all. Actually, I don't know that I ever write anything that an English teacher wouldn't get her red pen out for (case in point).

I do it on purpose. I start sentences with "And" or "But." I use ellipses as if I have a huge box of them, and they must be used! I use slang; heck, I use my own made-up words like "baddies." I end sentences with prepositions. I use numbers instead of writing them out. Sometimes my sentences are not complete sentences.

With my writing background, why in the world would I break writing rules? Here's the thing... I know exactly what the rules are, and, more importantly, I know WHY I'm breaking them. I have a reason.

Those reasons usually fall into one of five areas:

1. Makes the writing more conversational.

Makes the writing more conversational, so that it sounds as if I'm actually talking to you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The top-secret way to write more when you have young kids


School’s out!

Summer’s here, and if you have young kids, you know what that means: kids in your hair. 

All day long, and by evening, you’re sapped by family activities and running around.  Running, running, running.  They’re running you into an early grave… and you’re running on empty.

Where can you find time to write?

Some days (is this just me?), the thought of sitting down at the computer after a busy family-filled day is utterly, completely depressing.  I know there are disciplined writers out there who put in their 1000 words a day come hell or high water.  But I’ll admit it right now: I’m not always one of them.

Do you ever have a day when you feel like you’ve given them everything you’ve got?

I do.  Sometimes, I’ve given my kids everything in me and there is nothing – well, almost nothing – left.  But it’s that almost nothing that you have to take and squeeze out. 

Those very last drops of inspiration are sometimes the very sweetest.  

Giving more than 100%

Have you ever cut and squeezed a lemon? 

Monday, June 29, 2015

How strong is your story's opening? Turbocharge it with this 5-point checklist


Did you ever watch a space shuttle launch? 

It was an awesome thing: the thundering noise, the heat, the deep bass rumble.  Why do they have to put so much energy into launching ships into space?  They have to start out with a ton of power so the ship has enough velocity to make it all the way into space.

And that's what your story has to do, too.

Adding rocket fuel to your book

Pour a ton of thrust into the story's opening to carry readers all the way through to the end.  Here's a quick 5-point checklist to make sure your opening covers all the bases.

If you're writing a chapter book, you should include all these elements in the first chapter, preferably in the first half of the first chapter.   In a picture book, you'll want all of this on the first one or two pages.  That seems tight, but remember that your illustrations are going to be doing at least half the work.

Ready?  Get out your red pencil... here's the checklist:

Does your story's opening...

image1) …Introduce the main character?

We should get a clear idea of who this character is and what they're going to want in the story.  Show, don't tell. Let the illustrations do part of the work here, and whatever you do, don't start with the character's name and age.

Friday, June 26, 2015

How to have fun collaborating on a kids' book–with a kid


Hand in hand in hand in hand.  Collaborating on a meaningful book project together – why not?

The image is so beautiful.  Jodi Picoult writes with her daughter.  So maybe you’re wondering:  why can’t you write a children’s book with your son, niece, granddaughter, cousin, or any other kid you happen to have nearby?


(Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha Van Leer, who have written two books together.)

The answer is a resounding yes.  YES!  Absolutely, you can.  You can write a book together, and have tons fun doing it.  Sure, you’ll both learn a lot, too, but shh… keep that part under wraps.  You don’t want it to seem too educational.

Kids adore making books.  More than just another boring creative writing project, they sense that by creating a book, they’re onto something important.  They’re bringing something wonderful into the world.  And you know what?  They’re right.

Follow these DO’s and DON’Ts to make sure you’re not disappointed, and that you both have fun from start to finish.

DO pick realistic goals ahead of time.

What’s your definition of success?  Be honest.  Pick a definition you can both agree on. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What do you need to know about the magic of threes?


Close your eyes and think of a number between one and ten.  Umm, now open your eyes so you can read the rest of this post.

Did you pick seven?  If not, you probably picked three or eight.

According to this mathematician, seven was the favourite number from among 44,000 people worldwide.  But the second favourite – maybe not the winner, but the first runner-up – was three.  And I think you will be, too, when you see how much three (3!) has to offer us as writers.

Why are threes so powerful? 

Physically, three is the lowest stable number that stands up on its own.  IF you’re building a step-stool, you can’t use just one or two legs.  You’ve got to have at least three.  (Okay, there is such a thing as a one-legged stool, but it’s more for propping your body up than actually sitting and relaxing on!)

Take a look – this is just such a basic, iconic design because of the central human assumption:  three = stable.


[source:  Nerijp via Wikimedia]

Even if you don’t think about it actively, your brain knows this, and so does your reader’s.  We trust threes in a way we do with few other numbers (even seven!).

Count your way through these 3 crucial principles of threes that will help you write better, stronger kids’ books.

1) The Three-Act Structure of your story

The three-act structure is a model used in screenwriting, writing and storytelling.  All it means is that your fictional story has three parts.  In fancier circles, these parts are sometimes the “Setup,” the “Confrontation” and the “Resolution.”  But I usually just call them Beginning, Middle and End. Winking smile

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The stinky fish guide to choosing and using big words in your children’s story.


What’s your favourite condiment?  What do you love to squirt onto your burgers, your dogs, your sandwiches?

(I’ll tell you what America’s current favourite is in a minute – and why it’s important to you as a writer.)

Know what condiment the ancient Romans loved best?  It’s called garum, a putrid blend made of stinky rotten fish.  The Roman writer Seneca called it an “expensive bloody mass of decayed fish [which] consumes the stomach with its salted putrefaction.”

Yum, right?  (OMG, no.)

Know why the Romans loved the stuff?  Because their food was so, so stinky that they needed a condiment strong enough to cover it up.  Ew.

The perfect condiment for stinky writing

Some people’s writing is like this, too.  Stinky stuff.  Their writing isn’t clear, their ideas are shallow – but they use big, fancy words, splashing them around like garum to cover up the stench.  They hope you won’t notice.