Friday, December 19, 2014

Best & worst of the Indie Children’s Covers 2014: 19 hits, 10 misses.

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Covers are hard.  If you’re like most people, I hope you don’t even try to do them yourself.  But even if you hire a pro, it’s easy to wander off the path of good judgment into the jungle of horrific, embarrassing covers.

That’s why we need objective feedback. 

Which is where Joel Friedlander, the Book Designer, comes in.  Every month, he hosts a cover contest.  It’s free to enter, and if you have a cover you love, you really should.  It won’t boost book sales directly, but it’s worth it, I promise.

Remember:  every single buyer is judging your book by its cover.  You can’t escape from that simple fact.

Every month, Joel shows off every cover he gets.  Sometimes he adds praise – but sometimes, his comments can sting.  One author proudly submitted his cover with the words “Fully designed by the author himself.”  To which Joel replied, “That’s apparent.”  About another cover, he wrote, “Impossible to tell what was intended here, but clearly this is a disaster.”  (My personal favourite:  “Pretty much announces: “I’m self-published!” And not in a good way.”)

I have to laugh – even when his criticisms are aimed at me, which they have been a couple of times.  Don’t submit anything unless you’re prepared for him to tear it apart.

Most of the covers he gets are for adult books.  Why not more kidlit?  Maybe because most of us aren’t putting enough money/effort into our covers, and aren’t proud enough of the results. 

That’s REALLY got to change.  I hope this list inspires you to create excellent covers that will hog all the top spots for 2015.

Here (in no particular order) is my personal Top Nineteen of all the kids’ covers that he’s featured in 2014.  NOTE:  I haven’t read the books.  I’m literally just judging them by their covers.

Down below, you’ll find 10 “misses” and “near-misses” that failed on one count or another to make it to that empty #20 spot in my “top” list.  Plus two grownup books with really, REALLY bad covers that make me wonder why anyone would submit them to a contest.  And one I loved that inspired me to buy the book.

#1

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The Boy Who Loved Fire by Julie Musil.  There were many great YA covers this year; I think authors in this category are a lot more serious about their covers than if they’re just writing “kiddie books.”  (Again, that’s really got to change.)  Joel didn’t say anything when it was listed in January, but in March when he listed it again, he said, “Although a bit overwrought, it is nicely creepy.”

#2

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The Little Girl and the Hill by Brett Henley.  In January, Joel didn’t like the smallness of the text and I agree – you can’t read the author’s name, even with this fairly large thumbnail.  He said the art was lovely but that the cover overall is “a dark and easily skipped muddle.”  Still, something about this concept really appeals to me.  Like finding a good black t-shirt for a baby, it’s rare to see an all-black cover on a kids’ book.  (Caveat:  the interior looks similarly all-black, and I’m not 100% sure how good that would look on an ereader.)  I do wish they’d re-do the fonts, however.

#3

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Drat, foiled again (or the spineless truth about CreateSpace).

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I told you a couple of weeks ago all triumphantly how I created a kissable cover and got around Amazon / Createspace’s arbitrary minimum-page requirements for having a proper spine on your book.  I succeeded that time with my 100-page chapter book No Santa!  image

But guess what???  When I tried the same magic again yesterday with an 88-page nonfiction book, Createspace stopped me in my tracks with their silly arbitrariness.

I worked long and hard to create a BEAUTIFUL (if I say so myself) cover, and submitted it along with my interior.  Here’s what the full design looks like:

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(Spineless Wonders is the first in what I plan as a series of Jewish, Bible-based science books that’s already available for Kindle here.)

Believe me, everything fit perfectly within the little template they give you. 

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But when I submitted all the files, Createspace’s gnomes went to work destroying all that is good.  They must have detected that I was trying to get away with something.  When my files were approved for proofing, I went in to take a peek… only to discover this message:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holidays overwhelming you? Here are 3 easy ways to jingle readers’ bells.

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How can you even think about writing with a holiday coming up?

Writing may be the last thing on your mind at this time of year.  So let’s get right to the point with three quick MUSTS you’ve just got to have in your children’s holiday book.  Don’t worry, they’re simple, too.

It doesn’t matter what holiday, either.  Easter, Chanukah, Shavuot, Eid, they’re all totally different… but the best books have so much in common that you’re going to succeed no matter what you’re writing about.

1) STORY. 

Do you love a great story?  So do kids.  Unless you’re writing nonfiction (and maybe even then), you’ll want to make sure your book has a good, solid story.  That almost always means tension.  Your character shouldn’t just wake up, prepare for the holiday, celebrate the holiday, and go to bed happy.  That’s not a story; it’s a diary entry, and not a very interesting one.

Save your story by giving your character a real problem.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

12 nights of Chanukah fun: a mega Jewish holiday picture book roundup

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Before you read any further, you should know:  these aren’t exactly reviews.  They’re BETTER.

(That’s also why I want you to read this even if you don’t celebrate Chanukah.)

What could be better than reviews?

As writers, we’re at work even when we read for fun (even when we read to our kids), and that’s a serious job.  We have to examine each book not simply for whether or not we enjoyed it (like ordinary readers do), but analyzing it to figure out IF it works and HOW it works.

That’s the only way we can make our own writing better.

Working while we read (for pleasure)

When I took a children’s picture-book writing course earlier this year, I had to research “comps” – comparable books on a similar topic.  Since I was working on one of my Chanukah books, I decided to research what else was out there in the world of Chanukah books.  I chose these books almost at random, but I think it’s a good assortment of what’s out there.

Have fun reading through them, and hopefully discovering a few new favourites. 

  • How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague
  • Mrs. Greenberg's Messy Hanukkah, by Linda Glasser, illustrated by Nancy Cote
  • Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster, by Jane Sutton, illustrated by Andy Rowland
  • Chanukah Lights, by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Robert Sabuda
  • Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat: A Chanukah Story, written and illustrated by Naomi Howland
  • The Story of Hanukkah, by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jill Weber
  • Sammy Spider's First Hanukkah, by Sylvia A. Rouss, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn
  • Biscuit's Hanukkah, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Pat Schories
  • Elmo’s Little Dreidel, by Naomi Kleinberg, illustrated by Christopher Moroney
  • Light The Lights! A Story About Celebrating Hanukkah And Christmas, by Margaret Moorman
  • Engineer Ari and the Hanukkah Mishap, by Deborah Bodin Cohen, illustrated by Shahar Kober
  • Battle for Torah: The Message of Hanukkah, by Kay Kindall, illustrated by Neil Kindall

While you’re reading through these short blurbs, take a look at some of the different ways we – as writers –should be analyzing “comps.”

What to look for

Sunday, December 7, 2014

15 gifts writers will scream for: the essential 2015 Write Kids’ Books gift guide.

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You’re here because you’re a writer or know a writer, or both.  Either you’re looking for the perfect gift that will draw gasps of delight or screams of satisfaction (is that even a thing?), or you’re hoping to pamper yourself in the middle of this season of selflessness.

Either way, here are 15 great ways to give yourself permission to go for it.

1) Paperback room fragrance / cologne by Demeter

image If you haven’t tried Demeter perfumes, colognes and fragrances, you should.  They’re mindblowingly “real” scents in varieties you’ve never imagined:  Tomato, say, or Dirt, or Thunderstorm.  They all smell great.  Years and years ago, I got a bottle of their gin and tonic scent, and I loved it almost to death.  I still have the bottle, which I refuse to use up.  I sniff it from time to time when I need a pick-me-up.  But what could be a better pick-me-up for a writer in need of inspiration?  Available as a home atmosphere spray – to get you in the writing mood! – or as a cologne.  (The bottles look similar; make sure you choose the one you want.)

2)  Flying wish paper

image Write your heart out, then set it on fire.  Send your dreams upwards.  Hopefully you’ll wish for inspiration, and be rewarded with tons of great ideas and incredible words (that you won’t want to burn).

3) SimplyRain

imageBetter than background music when you’re trying to write. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The joy of unboxing: start with creating kissable covers.

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Want your books to come out of the box looking gorgeous?

You can have that, and I promise you, it’s a great, great feeling.  I love books.  That’s why I do this… it’s all about the books.  Well, that and the kids.  (Which do I love more?  Don’t push me on this question…)

The secret to gorgeous books is… kissable covers.  Covers that you adore.

And when these books came in the mail today, the first hard copies of my chapter book, No Santa!  , that’s exactly what I wanted to do.  Kiss them, hug them, sleep with them tonight and forever.

I was actually worried that they wouldn’t be this good.  Why was I so anxious?  Because…

  • a) this is my first chapter book, and
  • b) I was worried about the covers, which I created completely on my own, from scratch. 

I was especially worried about the spine.  Createspace told me that because my book was so short (exactly 100 numbered pages of story), there was no room for words on the spine.  Maybe you’ve come up against this problem, too?

I’ve held enough kids’ books in my hands to know that this was total BS.  Even very tiny, thin paperback books have words on the spine.

But Createspace insisted that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Coping with the KDP Freebie Juggling Act: a simple 2-step system

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Are you giving it away for free?

If your books are exclusive through Amazon’s Kindle Select program through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), they make it oh-so-easy to give away books for free.  They make it sound like a privilege, even.  Like it’s going to do tons for your books’ sales and your author ranking.

Will it really?

One school of thought, let’s call them School A, says – “No, no, no!  Never give it away for free!  Offering freebies trains your “loyal” readers to pay nothing for your books.  That’s terrible.  Don’t do it!”

The other school of thought, School B, says (equally loudly) – “Yes, yes, yes!  Giving books away for free will help new readers find your books.  They will become loyal readers!  Free books ‘hook’ them in, like a sample at the supermarket.  If they like it, they’re sure to come back and buy more (for actual money).”

As a fairly new writer trying to get established, I’m somewhere in between.  I do think freebies help get attention I wouldn’t get otherwise.  So I’m still doing them.

I don’t like keeping secrets.  I’m going to share what I’m doing here, but I’ll be honest:  I don’t really know yet if it’s working.  I hope this will be the start of a conversation, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

If you have more than a couple of books enrolled in KDP select, you need a way to keep track of which ones are free at any given time.  That’s where this simple 2-step system comes in.  Follow these steps, and you’ll never get mixed up again.  You’ll also be able to reward your loyal followers with a chance at getting hold of these.

Here’s how I set up my KDP freebies:

Friday, November 28, 2014

GUEST POST: Moving Small Stones: Closing the Diversity Gap in Children’s Books

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Welcome to my stop on The Secret Life of Jenny Liu book tour!  (Want to check out all the stops?  Here’s a list.)

Today, you’ll discover a tasty new middle-grade chapter book, and hear from its writer about why diverse books matter. 

What am I saying?  You’ve probably heard the buzz about diverse books already. 

But are you convinced yet?

Jean Ramsden is.  These days, she’s connecting with her readers one-on-one.  And she’s hearing from them how much it means to kids to see characters “just like me” in the books they read, on the covers, on the pages of magazines and on TV.

Jean’s book, The Secret Life of Jenny Liu (Jam & Jabber Books, 2014) is about an 11-year-old Chinese-American girl who defiantly refuses to be a stereotype.  When the world tries to shove her into a box, she bursts free and discovers she has the strength to be unique. 

The book confronts all the stereotypes head-on – Jenny is Asian, but she’s no good at math and spelling, and she’s not the piano whiz her teacher and slightly-tiger mom hopes she’ll be.  I loved watching Jenny solve her own problems, finding balance in her own life and helping others along the way.

So why do diverse books matter?

Let’s let Jean speak for herself…

Moving Small Stones: Closing the Diversity Gap in Children’s Books

The Secret Life of Jenny Liu, by Jean Ramsden The fury of activity following my book reading had subsided—questions had been answered, books had been signed, kids and their parents and teachers had moved on to the next event—when a girl holding her copy of my middle-grade contemporary book, “The Secret Life of Jenny Liu,” approached.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How NOT to get reviews. Three top turn-offs reviewers HATE.

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You’re a writer, right?  So you’re only one letter away from being a WAITER, which isn’t a bad way to think of yourself when it comes to getting reviews.

Like a waiter, you have to serve up your book to reviewers in the most appealing possible way.  And if you forget the basics of customer service, it’ll bounce back to bite you in the form of a lousy tip – er, review.

Here are three ways you may be turning off reviewers – and what to do about them to make sure those reviews keep rolling in.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Caution, Rant: spammy spammers spamming stupid “Children’s Books” in their KDP listing title.

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Every once in a while, I’ve just got to rant.  Maybe you know the feeling?

Today’s rant is about that growing breed of Kindle kids’ ebooks that have almost more title than actual book.  I’m sure you know the ones:  the cover of the book has maybe a five-word title, but the title of the book as shown on its Amazon listing is a mile long, like this:

Children books : MARGARET AND THE DONUT: (Explore the Galaxy kids book exclusive collection) (Super-Duper eBook)Sleep & Playtime Books(Short Story) (Bedtime ... Books for Babby & Toddler Readers #15) [Kindle Edition]

You think I’m joking?

Fever Pitch: 1-step first aid for sick stories

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Is your story sick?  Something not quite right?

Your spelling and punctuation may be perfect, but if something just seems off… if it’s under the weather, but you’re not sure how to fix it…

… just pitch it.

No, I don’t mean throw it away.  I mean create a sales pitch and start selling your book.  Not (yet) on Amazon, or Kobo, or Smashwords, or anywhere else.  No, to make it great, you have to sell the story to your most important customer – yourself.

You’ll do that with a “pitch.”  Known by a few different names, it’s basically a 1-2 sentence “elevator speech” for the book.  This pitch has to be great.  It must hook the reader – and before it’s ready for readers, it has to hook YOU.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

CLOSING SOON! 3 free (LEGITIMATE) contests for indie kids’ writers.

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In the age of spammy contests, with scammy reviews and prizes being awarded left, right and centre (and preying on our eagerness to help our books stand out), it’s nice to know that there are still a few legitimate places you can send your books. 

These are folks you can trust to evaluate your book honestly against the best of what’s out there in children’s literature today.  It’s a tough game, but at least you know it’s not rigged.

Is your book a winner?

Consider submitting it to one of these three free contests.  (I already have, in 2 out of 3 cases.)

But hurry!  They’re all closing soon…

  1. If your planned publication date is January 2015 or onwards, check out this challenge to indie kids’ writers from Horn Book editor Roger Sutton.   Submit by December 15th.  For this one, you have to send a physical copy, and there are some other requirements as well.  I expect that his standards will be very high, but the prize – if someone wins it – is soooo worth it.
  2. Still a week left to submit to the Gittle List 2014!  Submit your picture books (for ages 10 and under) by November 30th.  Your book does not have to have been published in 2014 to enter.  You can submit electronically or send her a physical book (if it gets there in time).
  3. image Another one to submit to by December 15th is the SCBWI Spark Award.  This one is technically free to enter, but you’ll have to be a SCBWI member first (I am for the first time this year, yay!).  You’ll need to submit a physical copy of your book for this one, too.  Read the full guidelines here.

To get a sense of what each contest is looking for, it’s helpful to look at past winners.  It’s not foolproof, but it can help give you a sense of what each is looking for.  Here are last year’s SPARK award winners, and the Gittle List 2013 winners.

When thinking about any other contests or awards (or review “services”), always check out Writer Beware first before entering.  Most, unfortunately, are scams, and will charge you both to enter and to buy their rolls of prize stickers after (surprise, surprise) they announce that you’ve won.

Good luck… and may the best books win.  Wait, scratch that.  When we write great kids’ books, it’s the KIDS who ultimately win.  So submit your heart out, if you dare – and win it for the kids!