Tuesday, May 27, 2014

15 Kindle books under $10 that will help you write a great children’s book… and 3 to skip at any price.

I read a lot of ebooks these days, because we’re about a bazillion miles from the nearest English-language bookstore.  And like always, I love reading… about writing.  But I don’t love spending a ton on writing books.  It makes writing feel like a self-indulgent hobby, an extravagance.  So I’m always on the lookout for cheap, high-quality writing books.
Happily, there are many good books out there for not much money.  But how can you sift through them all and decide which ones are worth even the little that they cost?  Here, I’ve sifted through the cheapest and best I could find to offer you fifteen good ones and three stinkers.

What do I look for in a writing book?

First, here’s what I don’t look for - a few pet peeves I try to avoid, including:
  • Generic cover with a typewriter or something writerly that screams, “I’m going to spend all my time turning out a series of a dozen books on writing books… instead of writing books myself.”  Shudder.
  • Puns that promise you “the write stuff” or any other pun-ishing approach to writing it “write.”  Groan.
  • Books that start by telling you that “some people” think kids’ books are super-easy to write.  We know, we know.  Don’t lead with this – it’s not news.  Blah.
  • Out-of-date books that are re-released for Kindle with no new content.  Ugh.


Different genres of writing books

Before you buy any book, make sure you know what you’re buying.  The book’s description should tell you clearly what type of book it is:
  • Is it a “basics” book that will give prompts and help you actually write the story?
  • Is it an “industry overview” book that explains the business of publishing?
  • Is it a “nuts and bolts” book that tells you how to get your book ready for a specific format, like Kindle?
  • Is it a “promotion” book that shows you how to market a book you’ve already written?

None of these is the WRONG answer, by the way.  You need different books at different points in your life and even different days of the week.  If you’re not sure from the description of the book, be very wary.  Read reviews to try to find out.  Click to see the preview.  If you’re still not clear on what you’re going to get out of the book… give up and try the next one on the list.

The books

So without further ado (dontcha hate when they say “without further adieu…”?), I now present… the books.  I know I promised cheap Kindle books in the headline.  But I’m going to do you an even bigger favour and divide these books up into three price ranges:  super-cheap (under $2), way cheap (under $7) and still pretty cheap (under $10).  Beyond that, the books here appear in no particular order.

Super-cheap (under $2)


#1… $1.99 How To Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison (Nov 28, 2013).  A terrific value even at a few bucks more, you cannot go wrong with this detailed book, that gets into the real nitty gritty of the writing and publishing business.  I OWN THIS BOOK.

#2… $0.01 The Business of Writing for Children: An Award-Winning Author's Tips on  Writing Children's Books and Publishing by Aaron Shepard (Mar 25, 2014).  As of this writing, it costs only one cent, way less than what I paid (I think $0.99 or $1.00?).  Buy it!!!  I OWN THIS BOOK.

#3… $0.91 Formatting of Children's Books and Comics for the Kindle, by Charles Spender (November 13, 2012).  The Amazon page for this book now directs you to this site (5th book down in the list) to download a free (& totally legit) copy.  What a nice surprise!  With 35 mostly-positive reviews, and a price tag like this, what are you waiting for?  I OWN THIS BOOK (now).

Way cheap (under $7)


#4… $2.83 The Easy Way to Write Picture Books That Sell by Robyn Opie Parnell (Oct 20, 2013).  Not my favourite, because I didn’t really click with her writing style and the book was a little basic for me.  She’s very enthusiastic, though – if slightly redundant in her advice.  This one is high on confidence but low on technical details.  A great suggestion if you’re just starting out.  I OWN THIS BOOK.

#5… $4.99 The Children's Writer's Guide by Simon Rose (Sep 22, 2013).  This one also falls into the category of good books for beginners, dealing with issues like naming your characters, turning ideas into stories, making time to write, dealing with rejection (important!) and more.  For under $5, it’s like a writing course in easy portable ebook form.

#6… $4.59 A Self-Publisher's Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish by Joel Friedlander (Mar 24, 2011).  The only non-kids’-book specific book you’ll find on this list (and similarly, the only non-kids’-book-related blog on my blogroll, for the same reason).  If you ever hope to self-publish, Friedlander won’t steer you wrong.  You’ll get an overview of the publishing industry and what has changed with the advent of ebooks, as well as crucial lists of what self-publishers do wrong and how to fix them.  True, a lot of the pieces are available free on his blog, but come on - $5?  And most have been expertly revised to suit the book form and flow from chapter to chapter.  I OWN THIS BOOK.

#7… $2.87 Picture Books: The Write Way by Laura Salas and Lisa Bullard (November 13, 2013).  Recommended despite the “write” pun in the title.  This book deals with ten BIG problems that writers encounter when their stories meet up with editors for the first time.  It assumes you have a story that is already written and goes through this list of ten biggies step by step.  I love a book this focused and on-task, and as a result, this book is now ON MY WISH LIST.

#8… $6.28 Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly by Gail Carson Levine (August 27, 2013).  You don’t get much more cred than Levine, creator of such books as Ella Enchanted.  Mainly geared towards teaching middle-schoolers how to write, this book has clearly struck a chord with adult writers as well, judging from its positive reviews.  If you consider yourself an expert or advanced writer, this may not be the book for you given its young adult focus.

#9… $3.67 The Busy Writer's Tips on Writing for Children by Marg McAlister (November 22, 2012).  Another one I’d never heard of.  Amazon says the writer, Marg McAlister, has written more than 60 books for children – which may be, but not a single one is listed on Amazon; all they have is her books on writing for writers.  But she’s in Australia, which may explain this, and her own website, writing course, etc., look legit.

Still pretty cheap (under $10)


#10… $7.62 How to Write a Children's Picture Book and Get it Published by Andrea Shavick (July 29, 2011).  I admit, I hadn’t heard of Shavick or her book, but it looks well written enough, and her personal website is professionally done, which tells me that some effort has probably gone into the book as well.  If that sounds like it’s setting the bar pretty low, you should see some of the so-called writing books out there.

#11… $9.38 Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers by Mary Kole (Nov 6, 2012).  I love it when bloggers write books!  You can check out their writing and the quality of their advice for free ahead of time.  Mary Kole is a pro in both areas, and this book is ON MY WISHLIST.

#12… $9.17 You Can Write Children's Books by Tracey E. Dils (Sep 10, 2009).  Another one that was new to me, but what an encouraging title.  Lots of great reviews, too, showing that this is a beginner’s guide that may be worth the (under $10) investment just to have on the (virtual) bookshelf.  While I haven’t read this book specifically, the Kindle edition is an update of an earlier book published by Writer’s Digest, so I expect that it is well-produced, slick and upbeat, like most of their other books… a format that was very, very encouraging to me when I was just starting out.

#13… $9.18 The Everything Guide To Writing Children's Books by Lesley Bolton (Dec 1, 2002).  Looks like a solid overview from this company, that publishes “For Dummies” style intro books, and offers a glimpse of the process of creating kids’ books.  Most of the focus is on traditional publishing, with only a brief, discouraging (and perhaps slightly outdated) nod towards self-publishing.

#14… $9.17 The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books by Linda Ashman (September 25, 2013).  With a ton of published kids’ books under her belt, Linda Ashman feels like a writer you can trust.  Plus, blogger Julie Hedlund says it’s full of “juicy goodness”… how can we resist?

#15… Okay, at $10.15, How to Promote Your Children's Book: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets to Create a Bestseller, by Katie Davis (March 22, 2014), is slightly over the promised price point (but then I gave you one free, so go easy on me).  This is one I haven’t read, but it’s on my wish list now for sure.  With 151 positive reviews (in just over a month?!), this book about a much-overlooked area is what I’d call an Important Read.  How about this positive review from Laura Purdie Salas, co-author of Picture Books: The Write Way (see above):  “I blog, Facebook, and do a lot of promotional stuff, including an online book launch, online teacher extension materials, etc. But Katie's book still offered me tons more ideas for things I want to check out”?  Come on… it’s only $0.15 over!  ON MY WISH LIST.

…And 3 to skip unless they’re free

(and even then, probably skip them)

Why avoid these books?  Even a cheap book isn’t free if you think about the time you have to put in reading it.  Why throw your money away on a book that offers you cheap information that you can find either on the writer’s blog or, worse, on someone else’s – because they’ve just ripped it off and/or spun it to create their book.

#1… $4.71 Publish Children's Books - How to Self Publish and Market Your Kids Books by Caterina Christakos (Sep 1, 2013).  See that image of money bags on the cover???  Yeah, that’s you, raking in the dough over your little rhyming nursery story – NOT.  What a weird cover.  At only 18 pages, this is way too short to call a book.  A pamphlet, maybe?  Just from the preview, I can tell that the writer has no clue how to use a comma, and she uses every opportunity to hype her own book, How to Write a Children’s Book in 30 Days or Less! – which, by the way, has many bad reviews and is apparently full of typos.  Her only children’s book visible on Amazon begins with the sentence, “In every baby’s life, their comes the time when they get to meet their very own guardian Angel.”  Groan…

#2…$1.00 Writing Guide: RIGHT FOR KIDS: 333 One Sentence Tips and Tricks on the Art and Business of Writing Picture Books for Children by Tom Skinner (June 29, 2012).  This book is chock full of three hundred and thirty-three one-liners like, “The industry is very competitive and full of talented professionals,” “You can do it!  (With a few tips + bit of study + practice),” and “A picture book is simple.  And simply irresistible.”  Guess whose book I’m resisting very easily right now?  Pretty easy to avoid given that he has a chapter called “COZ HE WOZ.”

#3… $2.88 Writing Books for Children and Youth (Boot Camp for Christian Writers) by Carolyn Tomlin (Dec 19, 2013).  It’s not the religious aspect of this book that turned me off.  It’s the near-illiteracy of its sweeping generalizations (“There are some writers who look at trends – including what topics are being discussed in the media?” “Writers for children’s books would be wise to know the breakdown of the publisher you wish to submit your work”), and the lack of writing cred of the author.  Despite this lack, she offers copious examples – including a full-text excerpt – from her own single children’s book (“Matthew smiled when he thought about all of his different friends.  They all looked different from him.  Some had dark skin, others light.” Can you tell yet that the book is about multiculturalism??  In case you missed it, how about, “On the next block lived Matthew’s African American friend, Lakesia.”?).  And in case you’re looking for a Christian perspective, I couldn’t find any in this book except in the aforementioned excerpt.

*All prices are as of this writing.  Amazon pricing can fluctuate randomly from day to day and even from minute to minute.

Did I forget to include your favourite book?  Let me know in the comments!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Self-publishing? Why you MUST proof a hard copy of your book!

children's books by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Such a rush to hold your book in your hands.  It’s ready!  Or is it???  These books all look great – right?  Maybe from the outside.  On the inside, there’s serious work to be done.  And you can’t, can’t, can’t do it all on your screen or online.

On-screen proofing is not the answer

That’s a shame, because at least it you’re self-publishing with CreateSpace, Lulu, the two most popular self-publishing sites, they make it super-easy to upload your book’s interior and check everything online.

Createspace even offers a “Digital Proofer”… doesn’t that sound like a cool alternative to paying for a proof copy plus delivery, and then waiting the weeks and weeks (and weeks!) for delivery???  (We live in Israel; your shipping time may be less if you live closer to what Createspace considers the real world.)

Just say NO!  To online proofing.  Well, you don’t have to say no… it can be a valuable tool to find simple problems.  But don’t use it as a substitute for actual proofing, with a hard copy.

Self-publishing? Why you MUST proof a hard copy of your book!

Having learned from experience, I now order a hard-copy proof every single time.  These three new books all arrived yesterday:  Penguin Rosh Hashana, Yossi and the Monkeys, and Baby!  Life before birth.

Why would you need a hard copy if you check it all very carefully on the screen?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Ezra’s Aliyah, a book review


Very pleased with this positive review of my kids’ book about moving to Israel, Ezra’s Aliyah, which appeared today on the me-ander blog.  Very widely read and covering all aspects of life in Israel, the blog is written by a fellow “olah” who’s been here for 40 years already.

image Interestingly, the blogger, Batya, insisted that I send her a hard copy of the book, while every other reviewer and prospective reviewer has been happy to accept a PDF or other e-copy of the book.  Definitely cheaper to send that way, but this way, she was able to include a picture of her granddaughter actually holding the book, which is kind of sweet.  (She has a policy of not including face shots of people on her blog.)

Calling it a “fantastic children’s book,” Batya wrote, “I loved it. It's just the right length for young kids and brings up the subjects parents must speak to their children about.  Ezra's Aliyah is short enough so that young children won't get bored…”

Plus, she actually tested the book out on her grandchildren – always the best way to tell if a book really WORKS or if it’s just there to impress the parents.  Read her full review here.

You can buy Ezra’s Aliyah on Amazon.com or save the shipping cost and buy it directly from me if you're in Israel for only $9 (including mailing).  I have copies of all my books available here for anyone in Israel who’s interested.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rhyme it right with Andrea Beaty: mini-interview with the Queen of Kids’ Rhyme


There’s nothing worse than a bad rhyming kids’ book… and one evening as I was writing a post about lousy kids’ rhyme, I desperately needed good rhymes for contrast (and to stop my heart from breaking).

Which led me to Andrea Beaty, the Queen of them All when it comes to contemporary children’s verse… and the wonderful idea of interviewing her for my blog.

Perfection in rhyme

imageAs an aspiring rhymer, I was super, super honoured that she agreed. It has been far too long since I ran an interview. Believe it or not, it’s one of the less easy things I do here, because I put a lot of work into researching the writer or illustrator I’m profiling. Work like reading through books for great examples… like this one:

Six clever sheep in the new art museum
Some pose like a statue so no one will see ‘em.
Hooves click on marble
They dance and they play
With Salvador Dali, van Gogh and Monet.

(from Hide and Sheep)

I’m sure the big question on your mind when it comes to Andrea Beaty is probably how to pronounce her name.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

New life for old stories: 3 that have been done to death – and why you should write them anyway.


Searching for new ideas?  Give it up.  There are no new stories… as it says in the book of Ecclesiastes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” 

But don’t let that worry you.  Here are three books that have been written over and over and over… but which will always be fresh and interesting, with just a little spin.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Having trouble choosing a children’s-book writing course? I don’t blame you!


When I decided to take an online children’s picture book writing course, I had no idea where to start (I’ll tell you where I ended up later on, and offer a few more good suggestions as well.).

Googling “children’s picture-book writing course” turns up a dizzying range of courses, from universities (expensive!) to individual authors’ homemade courses (sketchy?).  Some claim to have been around for 30-some-odd years, while many others have popped up overnight.

All these courses claim to be the BEST.  How can you tell them apart? 

The good news is that you can find decent courses at a few different price levels.  As for which ones will actually help you get ahead… I’m convinced that has more to do with your attitude than with the teacher (as long as he/she is reasonably competent).

I’ve taken a bunch of creative writing classes, both online and in person.  Some were good, a couple were great… one (in-person at a major university) was pretty bad:  we spent much of the time looking at the professor’s own (mediocre) writing.

Here are three questions to help you narrow down what you’re looking for:

1.  What is my goal for the course?

Do you want to get your story down on paper?  Are you struggling with stilted language?  Or are you at the stage of figuring out how to get it in front of as many publishers as possible? 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Apples to apples: checking out the competition.


I wrote last week about the one thing you must do before hitting Publish – pick up a kids’ book and flip through it to make sure YOUR book looks and feels the way a children’s book should. The truth is, I was letting you off easy.

By the time you publish, whether on your own or through a traditional publisher, you should have held in your hands – oh, DOZENS of children’s books… and picked at least three to be your “comps” – your prime competition.  Here’s how I did this step recently with an upcoming book of my own.

What are your comps?

Probably the best place to start looking is Amazon.com. I’m finishing a story right now which centres around the Jewish festival of Shavuot. Because this important holiday doesn’t get as much coverage as some of the others, I want to position it as a “Shavuot book,” which I hope will get the attention of Jewish children’s-book publishers.

Amazon offers an Advanced Search feature – not easily visible on the home page, so

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Who do we write for? Ezra’s Aliyah feedback.


Sometimes, we write to touch many lives, and sometimes, it’s enough just to connect with a few.  When we were going through the process of moving to  Israel, I couldn’t find any books out there to help my kids with the process.  So I wrote Ezra’s Aliyah, about a boy whose family is going through the process that we ourselves were going through at the time.

imageimageSure, we found books about kids going to Israel, like the board book, Ella’s Trip to Israel, and, for older kids, the somewhat chaotic Welcome to Israel!, but nothing that says, “You’re going to live here now” and describes the process a little bit, in a non-threatening way.

So that’s what I set out to do, and I think I did an okay job… maybe more than okay (I secretly hope so!).  I wrote most of it before we left Toronto, but waited until we were here to actually publish it.  I’m glad we did; I changed a few things, though the core of the story stayed the same.

I have to tell you, I don’t cry easily, but if I did, I would when I hear from people who are now going through the journey, who tell me how the book has helped them and their kids. 

Here’s a random message that popped up on facebook the other day.  I’ll leave out personal details, and just share the main part of the message:

I saw a blog post from someone about your book, Ezra's Aliyah, and I knew I had to buy it. …my older daughter hasn't really been happy about the prospect of moving.

I read her your book last night for the first time and she really connected with it. We paused a lot so she could relate her own experiences to Ezra, and when we were done she was really excited to move.

I think she still needs to wrap her head around some things but Ezra is really helping her out and she's excited to meet him when we get over there. (I hope I can find someone named Ezra who's her age).

Sometimes, we write our books hoping to reach lots and lots of kids… but sometimes, just one feels like enough.

Of course, it’s NOT enough, and that’s where marketing comes in, on related message boards, facebook groups, and anywhere else I can think of. 

Every summer, hundreds of people move from North America to Israel (summer is the “aliyah season,” for some reason, perhaps because it’s a natural break in the calendar), and I really hope the book can help lots more families before that happens.

Ezra’s Aliyah is available now with another of my books, Zoom!  A Trip to the Moon for a special price of $9 plus shipping.  Click here for details.  It’s also available as a Kindle e-book.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Best of the writing blogs this week: May 8

image In which I read the blogs so you don’t have to.  But seriously, you SHOULD.  There is a ton of wisdom out there, floating around for free. 

Yes, you should still buy and read books on writing – there’s something to be said for information presented systematically in a consistent voice – but the right blog “nudge” at the right time can give you a push, an inspiration, and get you headed in the right direction.

Here are four nuggets I discovered this week that I think can help us all become better writers (and, in one case, self-publishers).

On paring down your writing to its essence:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Are your characters going nowhere?


It’s a pitfall even in adult books, but in kids’ books, where action is everything, going nowhere can be deadly.

But I don’t just mean walking around for no reason!  Your main character needs motivation; a great reason to get up out of his armchair (or bed, or couch, or floor), and leave the safety of “home “ (wherever that may be) for distant, more exotic, more challenging surroundings.

I’m sure you already know that the main character must solve his own problem.  But it’s not usually enough to have him “think” of a solution… far better if he can arrive there, on his own two feet (or wheelchair, or tank, or tenspeed).  A character who moves is more likely to be a character whose journey moves us (your readers). 

Here are 3 ways to make sure your characters really MOVE. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Free Microsoft Word children’s book templates - now in TWO popular sizes, 8.5"x8.5" and 6"x9"!


You now have a choice of two sizes for your free template.  Download one or both - enjoy!  Find all the juicy details on the 6" x 9" size (and why I'm now offering both) over here.

Special gift for mailing list subscribers!
Like a good blueprint, a standard template can get you started on the road to creating a self-published book that doesn’t look and “feel” self-published.
This template produces a standard 8.5” x 8.5” book, including as many pages of text as you like, as well as front and back matter, the stuff that goes before and after your story. The page size is actually a little bigger, by 0.13” all around. This is the “bleed” recommended by CreateSpace and other on-demand publishers.
This template contains full instructions…
Page numbers and many helpful built-in styles are already set up for you…
There’s even an “About the Author” page at the end for you to fill in your personal details.
This template will make formatting your children’s book for print-on-demand super-easy… all in a beguiling purple colour (don’t worry, you can change it).
To instantly receive this 8.5” x 8.5” FREE children’s book template, sign up for the mailing list in the box at the top-right corner of this page!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The one thing you MUST do before hitting Publish.

reading Have you looked at a kids’ book lately?  Before you hit Publish, take a minute to haul a few kids’ books off the shelves.  If you don’t have any, go to the library and bring some home.  Let’s look at them together. 

What are we looking for?  Bear with me, because we, my friend, are looking for secrets that will rescue your book from the morass of terrible self-published children’s literature out there.  Okay, I call it literature here to be nice.  It isn’t always; sometimes, frankly, it’s just books.

There are 5 main things you’ll want to look in that stack of REAL, professionally published children’s books that will save you a ton of heartbreak if you’re self-publishing and getting your own book ready to print. 

This will take a little time up front, but you’ll thank me, really you will, when your book comes out looking nice and professional in the end.

So just grab one of the books off that pile, open it up, and take a look…

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Why “write what you know” produces terrible books: putting a spin on reality.

clouds wtihin cloudsSome of the lamest writing advice is “write what you know.”  It’s lame because it doesn’t go far enough.  It doesn’t show you how to take what you know and make it exotic, exciting, delicious and fun.

These advice-givers fear that, like Shakespeare, we will set our stories in some exotic locale like Denmark or Venice (where Shakespeare himself never actually visited). That used to be acceptable, back when travel was rare and you might never meet an English-speaking person who had visited “darkest Africa.”  These days, when you can hop on a plane and be anywhere, and back in a week to tell the tale, you can’t just make it up.

Fair enough. I think we all have this urge to make our writing exotic and interesting. Indeed, we may even confuse ourselves into believing they are one and the same.


Because most of us lead lives that FEEL as boring as paste.

We get up, go to work, take our children to soccer practice or dance class… and when we get home and sit down to write, we think, “why would anybody want to read about all of this?”

So we spice it up a bit, in an unnatural way: set our story in a more interesting city or make the characters wildly different from ourselves. Before we know it, we have written a terrible story about people we don’t know or understand.