Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Four signs you’re not cut out for self-publishing… and one reason you might be after all.

success-259710_1920 Self-publishing used to be for losers.  It wasn’t even called self-publishing – it was called “vanity publishing.”  Even the name meant you were a loser:  “You’re so vain… you prob’ly think this book is about you!” 

In between staring at the mirror and primping your nails, you wrote a book; how cute!

Who’s a loser now?

That “loser” reputation was well-earned in some cases.  Companies out to “help” writers publish their books would sell exorbitantly-priced packages of legitimate-sounding “services,” from editing and illustration to layout and promotion.  But mainly what they’d “serve” you with, often for thousands of dollars, was a useless box of poor-quality books that would sit in your living room for years, doing nothing to sell themselves.

(A few of these companies have “successfully” transitioned to the Internet.  Visit the Writer Beware blog for a guide to some of the more heinous among them.)

That is NOT today’s self-publishing environment.  Today, self-published books are of great quality.  They look and feel super-professional, and they’re cheaper than ever.  For under $10, including delivery, you could be holding your finished children’s book in your hands next week.

Why self-publishing may not work for you

So there’s no shame in self-publishing anymore.  But that still doesn’t mean it’s for everybody.  Here are four signs that self-publishing, even in today’s easy-entry market, might not work out for you.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Photo picture books: good, bad, UGLY.

sharkiesmallI’ve taken some heat over the last couple days for this post, which suggests that writers can choose free photos from Wikimedia and other websites and use them in their books as an alternative to hiring an illustrator. 

(Photo credit:  Albert Kok, Wikimedia)

Yet photo-based picture books are a long tradition, going almost back to the beginning of both.  And we cannot all dive to the bottom of the seas to take our own pictures of sharks… nor is there any need to, with good-quality stock photos and (high-quality!  read my post!) internet photos.

So I decided to search through Amazon to find out exactly what’s out there these days:  the good, bad, and ugly in kids’ picture books that are based around photos.  But not in that order!

Books illustrated with photos tend to come from the non-fiction end of the spectrum… but not entirely, as we’ll see in a couple of the examples below.  They can be found both in slick professionally-published versions and some good, bad and loathsome self-pubbed editions.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Three pitfalls of using online photos in your self-published kids’ book.

image You may have noticed that there are lots and lots and LOTS of photos out there on the Internet… lots of which are free for the taking.  One source for beautiful free photos is Wikimedia Commons, so let’s start there, looking at how to find pictures and legally reuse them in your own project.

(top photo credit:  Nicolás García, Wikimedia)

Whatever you’re looking for, you can find it on Wikimedia.  Here’s a sample search I did, looking for pictures of fruit that I could use for this post (click to see all the great results!):

Click to take a look and see the vast wealth that’s out there – all of it totally, absolutely free.  (And click here for Part 2, in which I round up the Good, the Bad and the UGLY of the types of kids’ books you can create using photos…)

But there’s a catch!  Well, 3, at least. 

You might see the wealth of free photos out there and start thinking, “hey, online photos are a promising way to avoid paying an illustrator.”  But “free” often has a price, so hold your horses for a minute. 

Let’s look at 3 of the most common pitfalls of using Wikimedia art… and then I’ll show you how you can avoid them, to take your book to the next level!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Twenty years PLUS: Mini-interview with Barbara Reid

Read Me a Book, by Barbara Reid

About a million years ago, or eight, as part of an early-years literacy program, our family got a free copy of a wonderful book called, Read Me a Book (how meta is that?!).

The writer’s name was a source of endless hilarity to my daughter as she grew up – Barbara Reid. Perhaps because of that, the name stuck with us, and we started seeing her books everywhere.

Perhaps that’s just because she’s written and illustrated so many other books, all in her trademark Plasticine style. (I guess there’s something about this kind of medium; one of my favourite interviews so far for this blog has been with Jo Litchfield, who works in a rather similar style using Fimo models.)


All my kids and I have been fascinated over the years, through many of Barbara’s books, by the way her illustrations are rich with detail, often odd little details you only notice on the third (or thirtieth) reading.


(from Picture a Tree, 2013)

The Interview

I was honoured to have had a chance to chat with Barbara recently

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

‘Tis the season – write holiday books that don’t spell HUMBUG (Part 2 of 2)

happy holidays!What the heck is a holiday-books post doing here in April? And not just any post – this is Part 2 of a 2-part series! (Click here to read Part 1 first.)

Well, for one thing, not all of us celebrate our main holiday in December. Plus, if you’re thinking of writing or wrapping a book aimed at the December holiday season, April is actually a great time to be planning it.

In Part 1, we looked at four big Do’s and Don’ts to help get you on the right track.  Now, we’re going to look at one final question you need to ask yourself before you sit down to write – who are you writing for???

buy Rashad's Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, by Lisa Bullard

Finding your audience

Is your book aimed at kids and families who celebrate the holiday, or those who don’t?

As a religious Jew, I can’t tell you how many Chanukah books I decided were ultimately inappropriate for my family because they explain too much.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Writing to change the world.

imageWhile I’m off enjoying Passover with my family, here’s another guest post, this one by an anonymous mom with strong feelings about the future direction of children’s books. :-)

In the past several years especially, the realm of children’s literature has made leaps and bounds in terms of diversity and promoting coexistence amongst our differences. But there are still topics that could certainly see a little more circulation in terms of popular children and adolescent publications, particularly when it comes to truly teaching youngsters about the dissimilarities of society.

Which of these do you think you could write about – and make a difference in kids’ lives?  (not to mention the world!)


Although picture books are not limited in portraying characters that need to use a wheelchair or crutches, few venture further into the territories of physical, emotional, or intellectual disabilities.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Coming soon… interviews with Andrea Beaty, Barbara Reid.

imageI don’t usually give you a heads-up about what’s coming down the pike, but I just can’t help it.  These two are just TOO great not to mention!

Who’s coming?


  • imageBarbara Reid, writer and illustrator of Picture a Tree, The Subway Mouse, Fox Walked Alone, and many, many more.  As a Canadian, I take full credit for Barbara Reid and consider her illustrations (and stories) a national treasure we have given to the world.  I hope that doesn’t sound condescending; I read tons of other kidlit, but there will always be a special place in my heart for Canadians.

I’ve already finished the (mini-)interviews with both of these writers, but I’m too wrapped up in the holiday of Passover at the moment to possibly do them justice.  So in the meantime, click through, buy the books, get reading, and you’ll be all geared up for their interviews – very very soon.

image(Within the next couple of weeks.) 

We also have a new(ish) writer coming up, Stacy Nyikos, whose new book, Toby, will be released in June.  I’ll be reviewing the book and possibly interviewing Stacy as part of the book’s “blog tour.”

Planning little goodies like this is definitely the fun part of blogging.  Now to make it all happen… somehow!  :-) Writers’ Workshop: Judo Juan

image  Every once in a while, people email asking if I’ll take a look at their story.  I thought it might be fun to run this as an occasional blog feature, so I asked one writer’s permission to have his story and my suggestions appear here on this site.

Rick was gracious enough to allow me to share his work, and I’d be thrilled if any of you would like to offer your comments as well in the Comments section below.

It’s an interesting concept, of a boy who starts taking martial arts, but the true potential of this story doesn’t shine through.

Martial arts is a creative, fun way to channel aggressive impulses.  Lots of parents, teachers and principals know that.  It would be a fun idea to create a kids’ book that would share this idea with children on their own level and perhaps make them eager to try martial arts for themselves.

I identified four factors that could really help this story succeed.

  • Punching up the language – careful line editing
  • The dojo as a whole new world – making the main character’s entrance into the new world of martial arts more dramatic
  • Adding a longer middle – the story needs to be longer, with more action
  • Finding the story / character arc – more emphasis on the takeaway

Punching up the language

Unfortunately, in his first draft, the writer does a lot of telling, not showing, and the language not only

Monday, April 14, 2014

Three ways to add real science to a picture book without putting kids to sleep


Guest post by an anonymous mom who just happens to be a neuroscientist.

Kids have a short attention span, and when it comes to factual stuff like science, it can sometimes be a challenge to truly engage their busy brains without inducing boredom. In order to keep a child’s attention, authors of children’s books must incorporate interesting and colorful content, and it always helps if humor is involved. Presenting the facts does not limit a writer’s creativity, nor should it ever prevent them from being silly – oftentimes a key characteristic for attracting and fascinating children.

Here’s How #1:  Color

Applying color does not necessarily need to be interpreted literally,

Saturday, April 12, 2014

‘Tis the season – write holiday books that don’t spell HUMBUG (Part 1 of 2)

happy holidays! What the heck is a holiday-books post doing here in April? And not just any post – this is Part 1 of a 2-part series. (Click here to read Part 2.)

Well, for one thing, not all of us celebrate our main holiday in December. Plus, if you’re thinking of writing or wrapping up a book aimed at the December holiday season, April is actually a great time to be planning it.

Certainly, when you’re in the thick of holiday excitement is NOT the time to think you can take time out to write your best work.

Since I myself have a major holiday coming up in 2 days, I have been procrastinating – big time. And you, my friends, are the big, big winners.

Here, in Part 1 of this 2-part series on “Writing Kids’ Holiday Books,” are some quick Do’s and Don’ts to help you get those holiday kids’-book juices flowing.

buy Sammy Spider's First Passover

DO get fired up with holiday excitement

Figure out what you love the most about the holiday you’re writing about… and then capture that excitement on paper. (Well, monitor – but you know what I mean.)

Frankly, I’ve seen a lot of bad kids’ holiday books out there, many of them self-published (hint:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Three timeless lessons from “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.”

image Some books never get tired.  I’m reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing with my kids right now as one of our chapter books, and it’s incredible how modern it is, considering it was first published in 1972.  Imagine – a book for kids in which:

  • there are no internet, cellphones, or mobile devices of any kind
  • the dad in the book isn’t used to looking after children, and hands off the kids to his secretary
  • the main character has an elevator man
  • the shoe store carries two styles in its children’s section – loafers or saddle shoes

Yet my kids are fascinated, and ask eagerly for this book every single night.  They’ve also been “sneaking” reads on their own during the more suspenseful bits.  Wow.

Here are three lessons we could all learn from Judy Blume, one of the masters.

Most children’s book writers fail… here’s why you don’t have to.

It’s easy to see why so many authors fail:  the market is flooded like no time before in history.  What will keep you afloat above the deluge? 

It’s not enough to just write something that’s never been written before… you have to make your book extraordinary.  But even that’s not enough. 

The secret?  Quit showing your book to family and friends.

Ditch the cheering squad and your odds of success will shoot through the roof.

That’s it. 

That is the difference between you and 90% of the failed kids’-book writers out there.

Are you fooling yourself into failure? 

You are if you’re…

Monday, April 7, 2014

FREE printable “On Pesach” Passover mini-book

My gift to Jewish followers this Passover season… a free PDF of this very simple print-cut-staple easy reader for Pesach, featuring some cute and timely “borrowed” Internet graphics.


I created this for my kids and their friends last year, but I'd love to see more families using and enjoying it!

You can preview the book and download it here.

Okay, sorry to be coy, but I was forced to put in a jump because the PDF was messing up my home page. Click through to download!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Deconstructing the story: Mini-Interview with Writer/Illustrator Rinat Hoffer


Rinat Hoffer is probably the most popular and perhaps prolific children’s-book author in Israel today. But for me and my kids, she’s something more – a friendly, fun bridge to Israeli culture and life in this strange, busy, modern country.

We first “met” her books back in Canada at our local public library. I can’t tell you how long it would take me to pick books from their Hebrew books shelf.

Before continuing, I just want to show you what MOST of the Hebrew kids’ books that I found looked like inside:


Yes, they really were this bad.  And this is one of the good ones.  I mean, the bunny and girl are kind of cute.  It’s just dated, with little sense of design and overly dense text.

The language inside (and these are kids’ books, not War and Peace!) was almost as incomprehensible to me as it is to you (unless you’re fluent, in which case, skip to the end – there’s a video). And the art… well, growing up with many of the classics of modern kidlit, something was definitely lacking.

Even back in Canada, Rinat helped change my mind completely.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Writing so your illustrator won’t hate you (with tips from a pro!).

zap!  manuscripts that will inspire your illustrator If you’re reading this post, you’re probably a writer, and not an illustrator (unless you are an illustrator and are wondering how not to hate yourself?). 

So it’s not your job to draw the pictures for your story.

Sounds basic, but too many authors forget and overstep what they’re supposed to be doing.  On the other hand, there are writers who go too far the other way, and don’t give the illustrator anything to work with.

Let’s look at both these types and figure out how to turn you into the kind of writer your illustrator will love!

The two kinds of boo-boos

writer / illustrator Christine TrippSince I’m not a visual person (as in, when I draw stuff you can’t really tell what it is that I’ve drawn!), I’ve asked illustrator Christine Tripp, a writer and illustrator of over 50 kids’ books, to help me out in giving advice from her own experience of working with a number of authors.