Friday, November 28, 2014

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


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.


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.


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


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.


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!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

DEALING WITH DIFFICULT TOPICS: 3 Good Christian Children's Books About Death


(Guest post by Sheila C. Skillman.)

There are several appealing children's books on the market either helping parents to explain death to young children, or targeted directly at children for their reading pleasure, which incorporate an explanation of death. But surprisingly few of these are specifically Christian books. However, I am able to recommend three such books which are very engaging.

B00D82131W1) Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney was published by The Pilgrim Press in 1982. This is a very small, slim book, containing a story which starts below the surface of a quiet pond among a little colony of water bugs. The story finishes with the transformation of a water bug into a dragonfly and illustrates beautifully the fact that the dragonfly cannot return below the surface of the water to tell the water bugs what has happened to it, and what life is like in its new body. A prayer follows, which the child reader may use as a guide when praying for the person whose loss he or she is mourning. The book then gives notes for parents advising them on what they can say to a child about death, and backing this up with quotations from Matthew and Mark showing the way Jesus approached little children. The book ends with a prayer for parents. I think this is an ideal resource for parents who might be unsure and insecure about how to handle the subject.


image 2) Will I Live Forever? by Carolyn Nystrom illustrated by Jo-Anne Shilliam was published by Lion Hudson in 2006. Told in the first person through the viewpoint of the young child, it directly addresses the reader with a question about sad, scary thoughts, and then relates those questions to the child's world. The story encapsulates the Christian understanding of why we die, starting with the story of the Creation, and of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It goes on to incorporate quotations from the Gospels. It is also very honest and straightforward about the physical processes of death - the corruption of the body, the reason why it must be cremated or buried, etc. It goes on to reflect upon heaven - once again answering the kind of direct, logical questions a young child will demand to be answered. This is an excellent book, one you will wish you'd had access to when you were a young child.

Image from Will I Live Forever? by Carolyn Nystrom, illustrated by Jo-Anne Shilliam

image 3) Grandma's Party by Meg Harper, illustrated by Paul Nicholls, was brought out by The Bible Reading Fellowship in 2003. This is a delightful book centred around the funeral of a grandmother, and it offers practical ways to help children be part of the grieving process when a loved one dies. It includes a story and also creative craft ideas for how a child may become involved in preparing for a tea following the funeral; recipes; instructions on calligraphy to make place cards; and how to make picture frames, books of memories, and paper water-lilies. The book has a solid Christian base, explaining the resurrection from the dead, and finishing with prayers which may be read by a child at the funeral. This is a lovely, practical book, helping parents to understand how to involve and include children at every stage, so they may live out the truth that death is a part of life, not something alien and taboo and frightening, to be hidden behind a wall of silence and mystifying rituals.


image S.C.Skillman is the author of mystery romance novel "Mystical Circles" in which Juliet, concerned that her younger sister has fallen for the charismatic Craig, leader of a dubious New Age spiritual group, sets off for the Cotswolds to see the situation for herself. She arrives at Craig's community hoping to rescue Zoe. But intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle and, despite her reservations, Juliet is drawn into the Wheel of Love... with completely unforeseen consequences.
Mystical Circles is now available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle. You can find out more by visiting the author's blog at
Article Source:

Monday, November 17, 2014

$5 to illustrate your book? Yes, please! (a fiverr artist speaks up)


My post How to get your children’s book illustrated for $5 on fiverr inspired a veritable poo poo storm of hostility, not just from non-fiverr illustrators, but from many others in the children’s book world. 

That made me sad enough that I wrote a follow up post , Why hiring a fiverr artist for your kids’ book WON’T destroy the universe which inspired a poo poo storm of its own.

So when fiverr artist Eka Saputra, from Indonesia, stopped by to share his views in the Comments section, I felt he deserved a post of his own to hopefully bring some sanity to this stinky storm.

Here’s what Eka has to say:

After reading this post and the previous one, as one of freelance illustrator in fiverr, I can't stand not to post a comment to show you my perspective.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

GUEST POST: Writing Children's Books: Using Proper Fonts


(Guest post by Irene Watson.)

Writing a children's book is hard, but so is illustrating and designing it. Yet everyone seems to think he or she can create a children's book. Plenty has been written about why children's book authors need feedback from children on the story before they publish a children's book. But just as important is getting feedback on illustrations and from the adults who might actually be the ones who read the book to children. No matter how good the story might be, more than with any other type of book, how a children's book looks is going to determine whether kids or adults want to read or buy it.

In other words, hire a professional illustrator and a professional layout and design person. In this age of computers and all kinds of graphic design programs, everyone thinks she can design her own children's book. The result is usually a disaster made by someone who doesn't understand that less is more. Many things need to be avoided when designing a children's book. Based on years of experience reviewing children's books and seeing what my children and grandchildren have and haven't liked, here are a few tips on what not to do:

Unprofessional Artwork

With a children's book, a picture is worth a thousand words, and trust me, little kids know the difference between good and bad art. You may not be able to tell what they are depicting in their own drawings, but they know when something "sucks."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to be a Super Blogger in 2015 (or why you should give up now).


You may have noticed that I don’t just write children’s books. 

And I don’t just write adult books.

A lot of what I write is here before you on this site.  For better or worse, I’m a blogger.  I’ve been at it for almost a decade.

When I started, I was a mom with a newborn, and that newborn turns 10 this winter.  She’s not the same, and neither am I.  And neither is the state of the blog world.

Here’s my “state of the blogger” analysis of what’s going on in the blog world.

Good news, bad news

The bad news

Blogging is very 2005.  When people hear that you have a blog, they run and hide.  It’s not a cool thing at all.  Hardly anybody under 30 has a blog, it seems.  They don’t have time to read anything more than about 175 characters.  Go over 500 words and you’re downright long-winded.  (Hope I didn’t lose anybody mid-paragraph.)

The good news

Some blogs today are very, very good.  Excellent, even.

The bad news

The good blogs are usually selling something.

Enter to win: “Chanukah Monsters” Holiday Disaster giveaway!


Chanukah’s coming… What could go wrong???

Well, Murphy’s Law of Holidays says anything that CAN go wrong WILL go wrong when it comes to holiday seasons.  But there’s no reason we can’t laugh about it now.

Tell me all about your biggest, baddest, funniest, craziest or most MONSTROUS Chanukah (or any other holiday) disaster and you could win my book Chanukah Monsters (softcover, 8.5” x 8.5”, full-colour paperback, retail value $8.99 on, including mailing anywhere in the United States or Canada (sorry, other people; I love you, but you’re too expensive!).

  1. One happy winner will receive one copy of Chanukah Monsters, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod (hey, that’s me!).
  2. Second and third runners-up will receive a free e-copy of any of my books available in digital form (winner’s choice).

    Come on… think up your worst disaster.  Get it off your chest and help the rest of us smile when we’re thinking about what could go wrong (or right) this year.  It doesn’t have to involve fire, or latke poisoning, but it could…

    To win: 

    1. Share your story in the Comments section below.  Nothing fancy; just a couple of sentences.
    2. But wait!  You ALSO have to enter via the Giveaway Tools contest box below (entering a comment alone isn’t enough).  The Giveaway Tools gadget offers you a few other cool ways to win.  These are all optional.
    3. Winners will be drawn on Nov 22/23 via Giveaway Tools, and results will be posted on this page.

    I can’t wait to see your stories!

Monday, November 10, 2014

DIY chapter books in Microsoft Word – a five-step cheat sheet.


Written five books for kids with nothing to show for it but a page of Kindle ebooks? 

It’s time to break into print, if only to have something to show your mom, and your friends, and your kids, and their friends, and… well, print books are just awesome in every way.  If you haven’t released one  yet, you should.

Even if your ebooks are selling great, you may not feel like a “real” author if everything you’ve done is digital.  There are other great reasons to print your stuff as well, especially for kids, even if the profit margins may not be as high as for ebooks.  (They’re not; sorry.)

It may sound like an exercise in masochism, but with a little patience, you can format your own book for print using nothing more than Microsoft Word.

The most popular thing on my site are my free children’s picture book templates, and it’s true:  I could have just made another template to help you do chapter books.  But take my word for it:  you don’t need a template for this.  I want to help you make the book you dream of, quickly and easily, using tools you already have.

That’s what this post is all about.

I originally wrote my new chapter book, No Santa!, in Scrivener, but I knew all along that print was in its future.  Scrivener can output to Microsoft Word format (.doc or .docx), but only provides minimal formatting.  Your book is definitely not ready to print yet.


But don’t panic.  It won’t take much to whip it into shape.  You will need a slightly more-than-basic familiarity with Word, but you don’t have to be a guru.  If you’re comfortable with stuff like Styles and Margins, plus Headers and Footers, you’ll be okay.

Here’s your five-step cheat sheet to take your naked manuscript, Times New Roman and all, and turn it into a professional-looking print-ready PDF:

1) Use global Styles rather than formatting

Don’t format your text!  What I mean by this is don’t just highlight individual sections of your text and set them up to look the way you want.  Instead, assign each section of your text to a particular Style – either one of the many built-in styles or styles you create yourself.  You can change the way that style looks once you’ve done that, and then every instance of that Style will be changed at the same time.  You will save yourself a TON of work in the long run.


I assigned all my chapter titles to the Heading 1 style.  Heading styles are important because they will show up in your Table of Contents later on, if you create one.  Of course, all of your text should be in the same Style.  I usually use the built in Normal style and then tweak the Style for the size and font I need.

2) Choose fonts carefully

Friday, November 7, 2014

How’s that pigeonhole working out for you? The pros and cons of genre-hopping.


How does your pigeonhole feel?  Nice and cozy?  Warm and safe?

Yeah, okay, I’ll admit it.  I don’t like being in pigeonholes.  Maybe you don’t either.

I like to stretch my wings, kick my legs, and fly free, as the mood strikes.  Isn’t that what makes what we do art instead of just churning out ad copy (though there’s definitely an art to that as well).

There are two schools of thought when it comes to “genre-hopping.”  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ebook non-fiction: 3 rules to hook readers (and keep them coming back).


Ever felt like you couldn’t compete?

Want to know how your books can rise to the top?

Head over to Amazon and you’ll find a virtual deluge of nonfiction kids’ ebooks, and they’re not going away anytime soon.  Most are awful, a relic of the Kindle “gold rush.”  They repurpose free information, slap on free pictures, and charge anywhere between $.99 and $3.99 to call it a “book.”

I’ve recently converted a couple of the projects I created as a homeschooler into nonfiction ebooks, and discovered along the way that I really love writing kids’ nonfiction.  It’s even a little addictive once you get started.  I love creating books that teach kids about the world – in a fun way, so that ideally, they won’t realize they’re learning a thing.

So how do you do that in a way that doesn’t turn them off?  Or even do it in a way that keeps them coming back for more?  Don’t worry, it’s not as tough as it sounds (unlike getting them to line up for a second helping of green beans).

Staying afloat

Sure, it’s tough to stay above the tide.  It’s easy to despair when you see the numbers:  There is just so much out there, and more every day.

But I do believe that quality will rise to the top… or at least, some elusive mix of quality plus quantity.  If you publish a single Kindle ebook, it may not succeed, no matter how great it is.  But if you publish a whole series of them, and you acquire a loyal audience who enjoys reading them… then, I believe you will.

So how do you pick up that loyal following?