Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Want to teach values in a kids' book? Put them in the background!

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Got a message you’re dying to share?

I’ve been there.

But those of us who do have a real problem.

I’m sure you’ve heard before – and I’ve certainly said it before – that kids’ books shouldn’t be used to preach at kids.  If you put that message first and fill your book chock-full with good healthy values, you’ll end up with a terrible book that kids simply won’t enjoy.

Think of zucchini.  Nobody in my family likes zucchini very much.  If you adore zucchini, think about another vegetable.  Eggplant, maybe.

Now, you know you should eat zucchini.  It’s super-good for you, right?

But if I were to cook up a big batch of zucchini for my family, they’d all sit and stare at it – myself included – and not know what to do with it.  That zucchini would sit uneaten on the plate.

Now here’s the cool part:  we actually eat a LOT of zucchini.  We eat it sliced into chicken soup every Friday night; we eat it grated into latkes and any number of savoury dishes; we eat it pureed into potato soup.  I’ve even baked zucchini bread, though yes, I understand, it’s not entirely super-good for you if it’s surrounded by flour and sugar!

The trick to zucchini, or whatever veg you don’t like very much, is to put it in the background, and the same is true for morals, values, or any other type of lesson you’d like to embed in your book.

In my new book, Yossi and the Monkeys (2017, Kar Ben Publishing), there are a ton of what the publisher probably calls Jewish values, but which I consider pretty universal.  Here’s the first page:

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What values are here – in the background?  There are things Yossi really wants, but they are not selfish wishes; they are things he wants for his family. 

(So I don’t have to come out and say something annoying like, “Don’t be selfish!”  Kids know that already anyway, so they’ll just tune you out if you try.)

The holiday itself is another value right here on this front page:  I love writing stories with Jewish holidays in them but which aren’t about the holiday.  There are too many “what is Chanukah?” books out there for me to want to contribute to the genre, plus those kinds of books have always bored my children, who have known since infancy what all the holidays are about.

(Notice I haven’t said: “Shavuot is a wonderful festival in which Jews…”  This book isn’t about Jews in general, so forget about them.  This is Yossi’s story.  Just in case the reader isn’t familiar with the festival, the publisher has included a short paragraph about it on the copyright page.)

Here are two more pages from later in the story:

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The most depressing thing that will ever happen to you as a writer (and how to deal)...

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Are you feeling discouraged?
Is your writing career just not taking off the way you'd dreamed it would?

Yup, it happens to the best of us.

And get ready for the most depressing thing that will ever happen to you as a writer.
It can happen to you no matter where you are in your career.
Even if you've been published before.
Even if you've sold a ton of books.
Even if you adore them; heck, even if readers adore them.

Here it is, the very worst, most devastating thing that can happen to you:

Feedback.

Good, honest, reader feedback.  Critiques from true friends and writing companions.  It can be devastating.  It can hurt, not just a little, but a lot.

When I read feedback on my stories, I can’t help it, I’m flooded with feelings of inadequacy, a devastating inner monologue that goes a little like this…

I suck.  My story sucks.  Nobody liked it (even if they explicitly SAY they liked it!  That just means they're lying.).  Nobody likes me.  My writing is lousy; the story is stupid; it will never succeed.  I should cling with all my strength to my day job.  I am just not cut out to be a writer.  Even if I have succeeded before, I have cut off more than I can chew with this particular piece of crap.  I’d better just throw it away, forget about it, never look at it again.  Never write a word again.

How does it feel when you submit a story for critiquing?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Critiquing a Manuscript? Do it in a sandwich!

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Are you writing on a desert island?

It probably feels like you’re all alone sometimes.

There’s only one way to change that.  Meeting other writings.  Working with them.  Critiquing each other’s stories.

If you’re like me, you’re the only children’s writer in your circle of “real life” friends.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t surround ourselves with other writers – if not in real life, then online.

Why bother reaching out?

There are so many reasons to network with other kids’ writers!  Being around other writers makes me more creative – and I don’t mean stealing their ideas, which I’d never do.  It gets my own creativity going and lets me bounce ideas off other real human beings. 

But here’s the most important reason…

We all need feedback to make our writing better. 

Hands down, the best way to get feedback is to SHARE feedback with others.  If your feedback is helpful, your own writing circles will expand and you’ll have an even bigger group you can exchange ideas with. 

And the VERY best way to share feedback is in a sandwich.

The feedback most writers are hoping for is known as a critique.  Sometimes, people get together in loosely or formally structured critique groups.  However you find one another (a topic for another post!), you must know how to craft a critique that can help other writers without discouraging them.

That’s where the sandwich comes in.

You simply cannot have a sandwich without bread.  And bread, in this metaphor, is… PRAISE.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Bare Naked Manuscript: how to format your story for submission

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Is your manuscript naked?

If it is – give yourself a hand.

If it isn’t, or if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read on… I’m going to give you in a few simple steps explaining how to get naked – and why you MUST, if you want to give it a chance of success with agents and editors.

Before you send out that manuscript, hold on a second… take a minute to make sure it’s naked.  By which I mean absolutely clean and clutter-free, ready for an agent or editor to take one look and say… YES!

Who wouldn’t want that?  Yet many writers I’ve known spoil their manuscript by adding things, covering up its nakedness.  Trust the agent; trust the editor.  They’ve handled more books than you’ll ever write, and they’ll be able to see your story’s potential even without the fancy touches.

Even bare naked.

Here’s a quick and easy checklist to make sure your book is as naked as possible before you send it out:

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The 5 biggest mistakes when you’re choosing your book title

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Are you killing your chances before anyone even starts reading your book?

I hinted in my post last week that you can’t really go wrong when you’re choosing book titles.  Except you can.  It’s not easy, but it is definitely possible to choose a lousy title for your kids’ book.

It’s all about cracking the “cover” of your book, real or virtual.  Whether you’re self-publishing or sending your book around to agents or publishers, you need a title that’ll get readers onto page one, where hopefully, your story will do the work of hooking them in for good. 

True, publishers may change the “working title” of a book once they decide to publish it, but you’re still going to need a name for your book that hooks them into reading the thing in the first place.  So try to avoid these FIVE big mistakes.

Friday, September 2, 2016

What should you name your children’s book?

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Hi, there.  What’s your name???

It’s the first question we ask most people, and when we’re looking for a book, we ask it (in our minds), before we even crack open the cover.

But what if you can’t think of a good name?

What is a good name, anyway?

A lot of writers worry that they might choose the WRONG name and that it’s going to hold their book back.  So before we get started, I have some great news for you:

Your book’s title doesn't have to be awesome… or even poetic. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Duckies, dragons, dinos: how old is your reader?

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Can you tell the difference between a three-year-old and a ten-year-old?

I’m guessing you answered yes to that question.  But do you ask yourself this question when you sit down to write a picture book?  When you’re writing the thing, of course, it’s most important to follow your inspiration and get the words down on the page (screen!). 

But once you’re ready to think about submitting it or publishing it yourself, it’s a different story.  THEN you have to start thinking about audience.

Somebody got in touch the other day to chat about a kids’ book project and he happened to mention that the book was aimed at “kids ages three to eleven.”

Three to eleven???

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Get your FREE self-publishing checklist!

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Complete Self-Publishing Checklist – - FREE

It’s easier than you ever imagined!

In only 2 concise pages, this PDF offers you everything you need to get started OR get inspired.  Turn your fabulous story into an even more fabulous ready-to-print-and-Kindle children's book.  This checklist distills my own experience - about five years' worth - into one quick and easy reference.

To get the checklist INSTANTLY, please fill out the form to be added to our mailing list.
Remember to scroll all the way down and click SUBMIT to be redirected to the download page:

Friday, April 8, 2016

What’s the best children’s book?

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Do you have a favourite children’s book?  Sure, you do.  One you love opening up, time and again, and it makes you smile every single time.

But is it the best children’s book?

What IS the best children’s book, anyway?

Asking this is very much like asking, "What is the best food?"

The answer, of course, is pizza.

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Who doesn't love pizza???

Seriously, though, most of us recognize that there is no answer to this question. It really depends on so much. Like what your tastes are, along with your nutritional needs and your mood.

Posted on Friday, April 8, 2016 | Categories:

Thursday, September 3, 2015

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

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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.)

1.  INKed 2016 CALENDAR COMPETITION


https://www.facebook.com/pages/INKed/1583992151875285

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

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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.

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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.