Wednesday, July 30, 2014

THIS... this is why I self-publish. And why you should, too.

Proof copies:  Shabbat Monsters and One Chanukah Night.
Let's talk about me.

If all I wrote about was me and my own books and how great I am, I know you probably wouldn't read my posts.  But this blog is totally all about helping YOU write and publish great books.

And sometimes, one of the ways I do that is by sharing my own experiences.  So you'll know that I'm out here, too, struggling with rejection, trying my darndest to write great books and get them out into kids' hands... just like you are.

So I wrote a story, a few months back.  My 6-year-old son was feeling very sad and very excluded in his kindergarten.  He didn't speak the language and the other kids, all growing up in the same neighbourhood, were very cliquey and exclusive.

He came home one day, shortly after the kindergarten's "100th day" celebration and said it would be a hundred years before any of the kids would want to be his friend.

A story for my son.

So I ached for him, and wanted to write a story.

A story... about monsters.  Because he loves monsters.  Who doesn't?

And then, for some reason, the first verse popped into my head, fully-formed:

Monday, July 28, 2014

The truth about celebrities… and their kids’ books.

Ball-playing, book-writing brothers Ronde and Tiki Barber.

Should celebrities write children’s books?

Whether we believe they should or not… that doesn’t seem to be stopping them.

Does the fact that they are rich and famous give them greater insight to children’s literature than the rest of us?


The celebrities… and their books

Peeking inside a few recent children’s books by celebrities, you can see that celebrity status doesn’t necessarily make for a talented or insightful writer… but it also doesn’t mean they’re not.

By My Brother's Side, by Ronde and Tiki Barber By My Brother’s Side by Ronde and Tiki Barber, illustrated by Barry Root 

This one gets a resounding “Like!”

This middle grade book, along with several others by the football-playing, kids’-book-writing brothers, is a great example of an encouraging children’s story by a celebrity, or in this case two celebrities.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

10 success tips your writing teacher never told you (but Jeff Gunhus will).


Quick:  what’s the opposite of success?

You guess it – f… f… f….

Oh, shoot.  I can’t bring myself to say it.

And neither should you.  We may be lying in the gutter, as they say, but we can still lie back and stare up at the stars.

If you want to get inspired, and actually create books that find readers, your best bet is to listen to people who are already successful.  Especially if they’re Jeff Gunhus, who’s made his own success in self-publishing.

(Here’s my interview with Jeff Gunhus from a little while ago.)

Jeff had the best motivation of all to create his Jack Templar series of kids’ books.  But the truth is, he was already a successfully conventionally-published writer before he set out to publish his own kids’ books.

That makes him twice as much of an authority, as far as I’m concerned.

image These Ten Tips from Jeff, he says, “come from many books and seminars, but a great influence has been Stephen King's On Writing, just the best little book about craft and the writer's life out there.”

1) Write a lot. Every day. Without fail. Even for ten minutes. It's easier to push a car that's already moving instead of one at a full stop. 

2) Read a lot. "I don't have time to read," means you don't care enough to be a good writer. Create a book list for yourself and set goals. 

3) Create fertilizer. The first draft is the pile of manure out of which great things will come. Allow yourself to make a pile of dung. It's going to be fine, just keep going. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

How are your books selling? A $5 book that can turn sales around.


Do you have a head for business?

You should. 

If you’re a writer, of any kind, your business – like it or not – is writing.

It doesn’t matter if your books are full of butterflies, fairies, nymphs, talking animals and whimsy.  Once you’re done writing them, if you expect them to do anything other than just

image And the best guide I’ve seen so far to building a writing business is a hefty tome (479 pages) with the hefty title Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success).

With a thousand-dollar title like that, you’d expect to pay maybe $17 for this gem, but I just checked and the current Kindle price is $5.58.

Sometimes, as self-publishing children’s writers, we figure we’re somehow exempt from all the messy business-type stuff that applies to other self-pubbed writers today.

We’re not exempt.

As a self-publishing (or, as they say, indie) writer, you have to keep your head on your shoulders and focus on the 80% of activities that pull in the vast majority of profits.  Don’t worry; writing is one of them.  Stuff like piddling around with facebook and blogs (oops) might not be.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Time off to (not) write.


Everyone knows writers write.  Right?

But since I became an Orthodox Jew a looooong time ago, writing hasn't been an option at least one day out of every week. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and on holidays, I don’t write, either with a pen or computer.

Please don’t underestimate how hard this is.  It’s CRAZY hard.  And it’s never gotten easier, the longer I’ve done it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Need inspiration? 15 wild quotes about children and reading, from Maya Angelou and more.


Some of these may make you smile, some of these may make you laugh, or stop and think.  I hope they will all inspire you to keep doing what you’re doing.

(Click the image above for a full-sized version you can save and share.)

  1. “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”  — Maya Angelou

  2. "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." — Emilie Buchwald

  3. "Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!" — Betty Smith in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1943

  4. "Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift." — Kate DiCamillo

  5. "When I say to a parent, ‘read to a child,’ I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate." — Mem Fox

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Basics, Part 3: Are you choosing words that zoom, screech, soar, sing?


You’re a writer, right?

And writing is all about words? 

(Come on, let me hear you nodding.)

So picking the words to go into your kids’ book should be simple… but it’s not.

In the first post in this series, Basics, Part 1: What is a children’s book? I laid out the most simple definition of a children’s book: 

  1. Pages between covers
  2. Aimed at young readers
  3. Usually illustrated
  4. All about story

In Basics, Part 2: Does your book measure up?, we looked at the first part of that definition:  pages between covers.  How many pages, exactly?  How many words?  Well, that depends on who you’re writing for.

And so does the language you choose to fill your book.

You want to choose words that zoom; words that soar; words that transport your readers and sing to them – or screech at them.

In Part 2, I actually gave you a chart, and I’m going to do the same thing here. 

Let me be honest:  a lot of people HATED the chart in my last Basics post.  These folks are artists, and I respect that.  And they refuse to be hemmed in by conventions.  Fair enough.

Life as an artist

But if you were an artist artist, I mean the kind that paints pictures, and somebody hired you to paint a family portrait to hang on the wall above their fireplace… would you measure the wall above their fireplace first?

I suspect you would.

And then you’d choose a canvas to fit the space, right?

(Just keep nodding.)

Here’s what you wouldn’t do:  go home, picking up any old size of bedsheet along the way; and proceed to paint the picture on a canvas that was huge… or too tiny to be seen.  If you do, I would hope you’d have the good grace not to get made at your client if he refused to pay for your work.

As most painters through the ages have discovered, working within size (and other) constraints probably won’t kill your artistic spirit.

So please don’t hate me for suggesting them.

Big, beautiful words

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Christian without the Cringe: 5 ways to craft stories with spirit


Are you Christian? 

If so, you’re right up there with 76% of Americans who believe in some form of Christianity

But I’m not.

Our family is Jewish, and I’ve written about writing Jewish children’s books a few times before.  I thought it would be both fun and fair to my non-Jewish readers to offer a bit of breadth and invite a friend to talk about her approach to writing Christian children’s literature.

Polls show that more than 90% of Americans believe in God. 

They may not all be deeply devout, but many are, and that means hundreds of thousands of parents looking for books that reflect their own family’s values.

This is a major market.

I’m not deeply sad that I don’t get a slice of this pie, but I’m happy to be able to share her tips to help you reach these families, if that’s part of your writing goal.  With these 5 tips, I hoped to help you turn out books that are Christian without the “cringe” factor. 

You know what I’m talking about, right?

But then I read her post, and realized it wasn’t just for Christian writers. The rest of us need to read this, too.

Monday, July 7, 2014

5 People You Need on Your Team When You’re Self-publishing a Kids’ Book. (guest post)


Greetings from a harmless ghost,
And please don’t miss today’s great post
It isn't here, but
over there,
A guest-post I just had to share.

It's all about the team it takes
To make your book amazing shakes.
So click right through and check it out,
And leave your comments thereabout.

I’ve loved Joel Friedlander’s Book Designer blog and have wanted to guest-post there for a while… so I did, with this post, 5 People You Need on Your Team When You’re Self-publishing a Kids’ Book.

Hope you’ll stop by over there to check it out.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Idea theft: how safe is your story?


“That’s MINE!”

You can hear the cry in probably every kindergarten in the world… and perhaps every gathering of writers, as well.

Oh, we don’t shout it out loud.  But we THINK it, huddling protectively over our story ideas as though someone was going to steal them if we let them out of our sight for a second.

Well, I hate to break it to you:  you can’t copyright an idea.  You also can’t copyright your book’s title.  The only thing that’s protected by copyright is the story you write – the whole exact story.  (Here’s more on copyright and book titles, if you’re interested.)

But the happy flipside of that is that theft is really rare in the world of children’s writers.  So you can comfortably chat about your story ideas, your titles, or anything else.  Your ideas won’t be stolen, for instance, if you …

  • workshop them in a class or course
  • submit them to a mainstream publishing company
  • talk about them at a party
  • work on them on a laptop over a public network, like a coffee shop

Most writers actually have one of two main concerns when it comes to story theft: 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Busting out of your niche: mini-interview with writer Eric A. Kimmel



Sorry, but that’s what comes to my mind when I think of Eric Kimmel. 

Creepy, as in the very best kind of creepy Jewish books:  ghosts, ghouls, goblins and all things paranormal. 

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins kind of creepy.

Gershon’s Monster kind of creepy. 

Jack and the Giant Barbecue kind of creepy.

Huh?  Jack and the… giant… barbecue?

Check it out:


Sure, Eric is the undisputed champion of creepy Jewish kidlit, but if that sounds like he’s stuck in a niche, think again.  He’s not just about creepy… or just about Jewish books, as you’ll see.