Thursday, September 3, 2015

5 (plus 1) free contests exposed: for FEARLESS children's illustrators only


Do you want people to notice your book?

Not just because you'll sell more - though that would be nice - but also because you've put a ton of work into it.  You want to get it into kids' hands so they can enjoy it. 

And more than work, you've put a ton of love into it.
Maybe your illustrator has, too?

Doesn't his or her work deserve recognition, too? (Or your own if you're the illustrator.)

Are you fearless enough to toot your own book’s horn?  I hope so.

But most book awards are for the text of the book only.  What about those visuals??? 
In a children's picture book, they're supposed to carry half the weight of telling the story, yet they get so much less than half the recognition.

Most children's book contests miss this important point.  Here are four contests you'll love because they reward great art and illustration... along with one I hope you have.  (Plus, keep scrolling for a bonus contest.)


This one's not specifically for kids’ illustrators, but it is open to anyone with a great sense of what you can do with ink on a page.  There's no cash prize, but this is a legit opportunity to get featured in a terrific calendar full of illustrations by talented artists all over the world.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Beat the blahs with these zesty local story setting ideas


Think about a story you've written.  Where is it set?

Now think about where you live.  In the city, the countryside, a small town, a suburban hub?  A farm, a trailer, an apartment, a cottage, a motor home?  In North America, or Asia, or Chile?

Some of us naturally write stories set where we live.  In the vegetable patch in back of our farmhouse, or in the driveway of our one-storey suburban house, or the elevator to our twenty-fifth storey penthouse.

imageOther writers pick a location that's as exotic as possible.  If they live in Canada, they'll set their story in Thailand or Bengal or Nigeria.  (Or, if they're from Nigeria and live in Wales, like Atinuke, author of the lovely Anna Hibiscus series, they'll write a story set - in part - in Canada!)

While writing about a place you DO know well may sound dull, the truth is that some of the most-loved children's books take place in settings that are very similar to places the authors live or lived.  Places they know well, almost like the back of their own hand.

And the good news is that wherever you live, it's bound to be exotic to somebody. 

Right now, I'm visiting Toronto with my family, after nearly two years living in Israel.  This is my home town; I grew up here. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Should you self-publish your children’s book? These 5 questions will help you decide.


You have a wonderful story, and it’s written at last.  What should you do with it now?  You want to get it off your hard drive and out into the world… but how?

Maybe you're thinking you should self-publish... but then, you've heard that it's hard work.  Or maybe you're considering sending it out to a publishing company - but have heard there’s so much frustration if you go that route.

Should you self-publish?  Or traditionally publish?  This may be the hardest question we face as writers today.

Self-publishing has grown tremendously and is starting to find its sea legs in today's stormy publishing world.  31% of Amazon's Kindle sales come from indie books, self-published by their authors or tiny (sometimes single-author) publishing companies.  40% of ebook payouts are going to indie authors.  “Kindle millions” might be a myth, but maybe you should try to cash in on some of those megabucks? [stats from Publishers Weekly]

These five questions will help you make the choice, based on my experience navigating the joys and frustrations of self-publishing nearly 20 books for kids and adults, and helping others get their books out into the world. 

There’s no right or wrong answer to these questions.  But if you find yourself answering NO to most of them, a traditional publisher will probably offer a more comfortable route to a final book.

1.  Do you have a clear idea of where your book’s illustrations will come from?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing the illustrations yourself or hiring an illustrator.  The important thing is knowing that if you self-publish, you’ll have to either lay out the book yourself or pay someone with these skills to do it for you.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Forever young: 20 famous children’s authors still working hard after 65


Years ago, the age of 60 marked a threshold in a person’s life.  Not anymore.  Today, 60 is just the beginning.  For many authors, including independent, self-publishing authors, it’s the start of the most productive years of their career.


Easy:  we’re busy doing other things.  If you start having a family in your 30s, then you’ll be in your late 50s before they’re all up and out (if you’re lucky).  Plus, until age 60ish, you’re probably working like crazy and perhaps caring for elderly relatives as well.

It’s a tough time to sit down and write a book (though you can still find time to write if that’s where you are in life!).

An ancient Jewish teaching says that “at fifty, one can give counsel; at sixty, one attains old age, and at seventy, fullness of years.”  This is because King David died at 70, which the Book of Chronicles (29:28) says, “And David died at a full old age.”

Forget about that.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Beyond Comic Sans: 11 free fonts handpicked for children's book interiors


Have you fallen into the Comic Sans trap?

Comic Sans was considered a great font when it was first released in 1994.  But over the years, it’s gotten tired.  These days, many indie authors use and recommend it as a good font for kids’ books, because it’s clear and easy to read.  But it will brand you as an amateur more quickly than almost anything else.

I’m sure you recognize this – right?


Here are some great choices of alternative fonts you can use – and they’re all free, so there’s no excuse.

Monday, July 6, 2015

3 ridiculously easy ways to get more words down on paper (a guest post)


We’re heading overseas for our big family vacation in Canada, so I’m turning over the rudder to the experienced hands of Australian writer Ruth Barringham, who’s here to talk about…

3 Ridiculously Easy Steps to Writing More

imageWe all have the same amount of hours in a day and it's usually not possible to complete everything on our daily to do list.

This is especially true when it comes to writing because not only is it something that we put off doing to last every day, but find it hard to concentrate because of the nagging feeling that we should be doing something else.

But what if you could sit down and write every day with 100% focus on your work and write more in the same time?

Is that something that you like to do?

Friday, July 3, 2015

5 ways breaking rules makes your writing more powerful (a guest post)


We’re getting ready for our big family vacation in Canada, so I’m turning over the steering wheel to the capable hands of author and speaker Dawn Goldberg Shuler, who’s here to talk about…

5 Reasons to Break Writing Rules

imageAs a lifelong writer, former English teacher, and writing coach and communication consultant for the last ten years, most people think that I write perfectly, no mistakes in grammar, structure, punctuation... it's all perfect.

Nope! I don't write perfectly at all. Actually, I don't know that I ever write anything that an English teacher wouldn't get her red pen out for (case in point).

I do it on purpose. I start sentences with "And" or "But." I use ellipses as if I have a huge box of them, and they must be used! I use slang; heck, I use my own made-up words like "baddies." I end sentences with prepositions. I use numbers instead of writing them out. Sometimes my sentences are not complete sentences.

With my writing background, why in the world would I break writing rules? Here's the thing... I know exactly what the rules are, and, more importantly, I know WHY I'm breaking them. I have a reason.

Those reasons usually fall into one of five areas:

1. Makes the writing more conversational.

Makes the writing more conversational, so that it sounds as if I'm actually talking to you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The top-secret way to write more when you have young kids


School’s out!

Summer’s here, and if you have young kids, you know what that means: kids in your hair. 

All day long, and by evening, you’re sapped by family activities and running around.  Running, running, running.  They’re running you into an early grave… and you’re running on empty.

Where can you find time to write?

Some days (is this just me?), the thought of sitting down at the computer after a busy family-filled day is utterly, completely depressing.  I know there are disciplined writers out there who put in their 1000 words a day come hell or high water.  But I’ll admit it right now: I’m not always one of them.

Do you ever have a day when you feel like you’ve given them everything you’ve got?

I do.  Sometimes, I’ve given my kids everything in me and there is nothing – well, almost nothing – left.  But it’s that almost nothing that you have to take and squeeze out. 

Those very last drops of inspiration are sometimes the very sweetest.  

Giving more than 100%

Have you ever cut and squeezed a lemon? 

Monday, June 29, 2015

How strong is your story's opening? Turbocharge it with this 5-point checklist


Did you ever watch a space shuttle launch? 

It was an awesome thing: the thundering noise, the heat, the deep bass rumble.  Why do they have to put so much energy into launching ships into space?  They have to start out with a ton of power so the ship has enough velocity to make it all the way into space.

And that's what your story has to do, too.

Adding rocket fuel to your book

Pour a ton of thrust into the story's opening to carry readers all the way through to the end.  Here's a quick 5-point checklist to make sure your opening covers all the bases.

If you're writing a chapter book, you should include all these elements in the first chapter, preferably in the first half of the first chapter.   In a picture book, you'll want all of this on the first one or two pages.  That seems tight, but remember that your illustrations are going to be doing at least half the work.

Ready?  Get out your red pencil... here's the checklist:

Does your story's opening...

image1) …Introduce the main character?

We should get a clear idea of who this character is and what they're going to want in the story.  Show, don't tell. Let the illustrations do part of the work here, and whatever you do, don't start with the character's name and age.

Friday, June 26, 2015

How to have fun collaborating on a kids' book–with a kid


Hand in hand in hand in hand.  Collaborating on a meaningful book project together – why not?

The image is so beautiful.  Jodi Picoult writes with her daughter.  So maybe you’re wondering:  why can’t you write a children’s book with your son, niece, granddaughter, cousin, or any other kid you happen to have nearby?


(Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha Van Leer, who have written two books together.)

The answer is a resounding yes.  YES!  Absolutely, you can.  You can write a book together, and have tons fun doing it.  Sure, you’ll both learn a lot, too, but shh… keep that part under wraps.  You don’t want it to seem too educational.

Kids adore making books.  More than just another boring creative writing project, they sense that by creating a book, they’re onto something important.  They’re bringing something wonderful into the world.  And you know what?  They’re right.

Follow these DO’s and DON’Ts to make sure you’re not disappointed, and that you both have fun from start to finish.

DO pick realistic goals ahead of time.

What’s your definition of success?  Be honest.  Pick a definition you can both agree on. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What do you need to know about the magic of threes?


Close your eyes and think of a number between one and ten.  Umm, now open your eyes so you can read the rest of this post.

Did you pick seven?  If not, you probably picked three or eight.

According to this mathematician, seven was the favourite number from among 44,000 people worldwide.  But the second favourite – maybe not the winner, but the first runner-up – was three.  And I think you will be, too, when you see how much three (3!) has to offer us as writers.

Why are threes so powerful? 

Physically, three is the lowest stable number that stands up on its own.  IF you’re building a step-stool, you can’t use just one or two legs.  You’ve got to have at least three.  (Okay, there is such a thing as a one-legged stool, but it’s more for propping your body up than actually sitting and relaxing on!)

Take a look – this is just such a basic, iconic design because of the central human assumption:  three = stable.


[source:  Nerijp via Wikimedia]

Even if you don’t think about it actively, your brain knows this, and so does your reader’s.  We trust threes in a way we do with few other numbers (even seven!).

Count your way through these 3 crucial principles of threes that will help you write better, stronger kids’ books.

1) The Three-Act Structure of your story

The three-act structure is a model used in screenwriting, writing and storytelling.  All it means is that your fictional story has three parts.  In fancier circles, these parts are sometimes the “Setup,” the “Confrontation” and the “Resolution.”  But I usually just call them Beginning, Middle and End. Winking smile

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The stinky fish guide to choosing and using big words in your children’s story.


What’s your favourite condiment?  What do you love to squirt onto your burgers, your dogs, your sandwiches?

(I’ll tell you what America’s current favourite is in a minute – and why it’s important to you as a writer.)

Know what condiment the ancient Romans loved best?  It’s called garum, a putrid blend made of stinky rotten fish.  The Roman writer Seneca called it an “expensive bloody mass of decayed fish [which] consumes the stomach with its salted putrefaction.”

Yum, right?  (OMG, no.)

Know why the Romans loved the stuff?  Because their food was so, so stinky that they needed a condiment strong enough to cover it up.  Ew.

The perfect condiment for stinky writing

Some people’s writing is like this, too.  Stinky stuff.  Their writing isn’t clear, their ideas are shallow – but they use big, fancy words, splashing them around like garum to cover up the stench.  They hope you won’t notice.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

5 survival tips for the long, uphill journey to a finished book.


You’re standing at the foot of a mountain.  Don’t look up, or you’re done for – there’s just so far to climb when you’re just starting out.

I started a new nonfiction book this week.  I love writing them, gathering photos, putting the information together.  But it’s soooo much work.

Short picture books come easily, but longer stories, like chapter books, are an uphill slog.  Some chapters in a longer book are fun to write – others, not so much.  And when I’m right at the beginning… well, some days I feel like I don’t have the strength.

Does that happen to you, too?

Here are some ideas that get me up that mountain.  I’d love to hear yours, just leave them in the comments at the end of this post.

1.  Sit down and write

“Writing is a struggle against silence.”
― Carlos Fuentes

Writer Cory Doctorow says, “Write every day. Anything you do every day gets easier. If you’re insanely busy, make the amount that you write every day small (100 words? 250 words?) but do it every day.” (read more here)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

So you want to write a children’s book…? The ultimate Quick-Start tutorial.


When I started out writing children’s books, I was full of ideas, but I had no idea what to actually DO. 

Should I write the story?  Find an artist?  How was it all supposed to come together into an actual book?  Like I said, I had no idea.

You might be right where I was a few years ago, wondering how to get started.

I’ve put this quick-start guide together to help YOU skip over the mistakes I made.  I hope it’ll help give you a smoother launch into this incredible world of writing for children.

1. How can you write (or finish) your book?

You can’t do much until you have a finished book saved on your hard drive (or, if you’re the old-fashioned type, written down on paper).  Here are the basics, the least you need to know to sit down and get writing.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The seriously YOLO guide for children’s book writers and other grown-ups.


If you were around the Internet a couple of years ago, you probably came across the sleazy wad of letters that is “YOLO.”

It stands for “You Only Live Once,” and it’s basically an updated take on “carpe diem.”  Kids essentially used it to justify doing crazy and impulsive things in the name of enjoying their one and only go-round on this earth. 

But maybe you’re wondering how it can help us, as writers, and grownups, who are not so impulsive.

Even now, a few years after its heyday, the #YOLO hashtag is still alive and well on Twitter:

and and


Basically, if you see the YOLO hashtag, you’ll know the person’s doing something you probably wouldn’t do.

But why should teenagers have all the fun, and keep what’s actually kind of a great meme all to themselves?  Let’s take YOLO back and claim it for children’s authors everywhere. 

How can YOU channel the “spirit of YOLO” to help yourself succeed as a writer? 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Write like a journalist: use the 5 W’s to write captivating children’s books.


How are you on the 5 W’s? 

You know:  “who, what, when, where, why”?  Those 5 W’s.  The ones your high school English teacher badgered you about. 

Maybe you’ve pushed them aside and not thought about them since high school.  But it’s time to dust them off and see how they can help you create a tighter, more fascinating story.

Every journalist knows that if they haven’t answered these 5 W questions in the very beginning.  So should every story writer. 

Open up any newspaper in the world and you’ll see how those 5 W’s have been worked into the first paragraph – known as the “lede.”  Here’s a short news item from Reuters today:

An explosion at a gas filling station in Ghana's capital killed at least 78 people, many of whom had sought shelter there due to torrential rain, a spokesman for the national fire brigade told JOYFM radio on Thursday.

Let’s take a look at those 5 W’s.

  • Who’s it about?  78 people who were killed, and one fire brigade spokesman.
  • What happened?  An explosion.
  • When?  Today, Thursday June 4 (or maybe it happened yesterday).
  • Where?  Accra, the capital of Ghana.
  • Why?  The people were in the gas station to seek shelter from the rain.  The article doesn't given a reason for the explosion itself, but the next paragraph says it may be connected to the rain as well.

Oh, and by the way, I know nothing about Ghana.  That’s another thing journalists realize:  if they’re doing their job right, they can make you feel entranced, utterly fascinated, by anything.  They can make you care.

Now let’s look at the beginning of a children’s book.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Trimming your tribe. 7 reasons a smaller mailing list is better for you as an author.

It may not sound like big potatoes compared to Stephen King, but as my mailing list grows towards 1000 readers, I'm trimming the tribe.  And you might want to consider it as well.

Here are 7 good reasons why a smaller list is better for "business" when you're a writer:

1) Smaller lists are cheaper. 

Most services charge more as your lists grow.  Trimming them regularly to get rid of those who don't read your emails will keep these charges down.

2) Smaller lists are targeted. 

You'll have a better idea who's reading and what their needs are.  Remember, you can't please all of the people all of the time - so quit trying.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The lemonade-stand marketing lesson every indie author needs to read.

One sizzling summer day, my daughter decided to run a lemonade stand.  Maybe your kids did this too, once or twice?

She set up shop in front of our house.  She had a sign, a table, fresh cold lemonade (mmm, I’m making myself thirsty – it’s super-hot here as I write this!), and opened up for business.

And then… nobody came.

What did she do wrong?  She was certainly cute enough.  And the lemonade was sweetly tart, frozen and refreshing.

But we lived on a one-way street that didn’t get a lot of traffic.  People were driving past quickly and weren’t in a mood to buy lemonade.  She sold a couple to our neighbours, but really didn’t attract a lot of interest beyond the immediate area.

So the next time we thought about doing a lemonade stand, we did it at my mother’s place, a block away.  Not such a big difference, right?  But there were a few major factors that changed the game:
  • It was a two-way street, with a major road nearby
  • There were lots of bikes and joggers going past
  • It was close enough that our own neighbours could come there, too
  • It was down the street from a police station, so everyone was driving slowly and paid attention to the little girl with the lemonade stand.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Are your books too babyish? The grown-up way to write kids’ books, with 3 easy fixes.


Writing for kids keeps us young at heart.  How great is that?


But maybe you’ve made the mistake of thinking that “young at heart” means writing in a childish way.  Are you underestimating your readers’ intelligence?  Is your children's book TOO childlike? 

Sure, we’re writing for kids.  Sure, I feel like a kid when I write.  But we shouldn’t make the mistake of creating books that sound like they’re written by kids – or worse, babies. 

Here are three common problems, and quick fixes to make sure you don’t fall into these traps.

1.  Baby talk

Language development experts say parents should try to speak normally to even the youngest kids.  Some “goo goo” is fine if we’re playing around, but when you’re talking to a baby, you should make an effort to use real words.

Same thing if you’re writing for kids, even babies.  Use real words.  A grown-up is going to be reading the story, so you don’t have to worry that your words are too hard for kids to read.

And whatever you do, don’t make spelling or grammar mistakes – especially on purpose.  Don’t spell fruit as “froot” just because you think it will appeal to kids, or emphasize how hard something was by spelling it “harrrrrrd.” 

Would writers REALLY do this?  I assure you, they would.  I’ve seen some horrors out there.  But you’re the one I care about: don’t you do it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Carnival of Jewish Books – May 2015 / Iyyar 5775


If this is the 15th of the month (which it is), then this must be... the Jewish book carnival!  Don't be scared, even if you're not Jewish, you can step inside and find some great books and writers about books from all over the internet.

What goes on in a Jewish book carnival?

Glad you asked! 

imageHere, you’ll find…

  • Reviews of Jewish books
  • Interviews with authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, librarians, etc. about Jewish literature
  • Reporting on Jewish literary events (or the Jewish angle at non-Jewish events)
  • Reflective essays related to Jewish literature, which may include reflections on the process of creating a specific title (this is the one instance in which authors/publshers might discuss one of their own books, in a meaningful and non-commercial way that serves a larger goal)

The Jewish Book Carnival also has a GoodReads page, for discussions and more. Whether or not you’re participating, we hope you’ll stop by, join and take part!

If you want to host a future Jewish book carnival on your blog (and who wouldn’t?!?), contact Heidi at

And now… for the good stuff: 

The posts!

Heidi at the Book of Life blog hosts a podcast interview with Suri Rosen about her debut novel for teens, a hip and funny Orthodox story called Playing with Matches

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Character names that fly - or flop: 5 rules to live (or die) by when you’re writing children’s books


What should you name your characters?  As much as we writers might like to think that story is all about plot, usually it comes down to character instead.  This is especially true in a children's book, when you sometimes have less than 500 words to impress your reader. 

Olivia, by Ian Falconer Have you met Ian Falconer's spunky pig Olivia

Would she have been just as quirky and charismatic with a name like Patty Pig?

You'll want to avoid these 5 critical mistakes to make sure you're creating a character kids can get into.  Without a character we love, the greatest plot in the world is worthless.

1.  Avoid alliteration

Patty Pig, Danny Dog, Ronald Robot, Big Bad Bertha, Eddie the Engine... with very few exceptions, alliterative names are terrible names, and editors tend to cringe when they see them.  If there's one thing that's the mark of an amateur, this is it.

2.  Don’t fear strange, ethnic or regional names

image Remember the story of Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo?  Certainly, if you have read it, you'll never forget his name!
That said, check to make sure the name you're using is authentic.  Tikki Tikki Tembo author Arlene Mosel neglected to do this, whether intentionally or not.  There is no such Chinese name, and apparently, many other "Chinese" details in the story are actually Japanese.  The tale itself may come from a Japanese folktale.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reader Feedback – why you need it, and how it helps


Have you heard the expression, "a camel is a horse designed by a committee?"  It's because they're lumpy and bumpy and funny-looking and inefficient, and, well, you get the picture.

One thing that's NOT meant to be "designed by committee" is a children's picture book. 

But I sort of went and did it anyway.  I created a page using Google Forms to help me collect feedback from pre-readers about a Jewish children's picture book I wrote.


And you know what?  It really helped. 

Here’s the biggest thing I learned:

Even the greatest book in the world is still written only from your perspective.  Other people’s views can make it much broader.

Your book reflects you and YOUR world and YOUR point of view.  By opening it up to feedback, though, you let other people behind the scenes, into your creative process… and sometimes, their ideas and their perspective, are exactly what you need to broaden your book and make it more universally appealing.

Sure, some of the feedback I got wasn't helpful at all, like one person, who suggested I rewrite the whole thing in verse because she likes rhymes. But some really was, and it helped me figure out what the first draft of the book had been missing.

When you're asking for feedback, be specific.  Don’t say “did you like the book?”  Use questions that are specifically targeted to things that are within your power to change about the book.

For example, one of my questions was

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How to be a bolder, more confident writer (hint: don’t baby your book!)


Once upon a time (don’t worry; this is a true story), when my older kids were little, my dad took them out to the park.  I came along after a while and saw he was pushing my son alarmingly high on the swing. 

“Daddy,” I said, completely on edge, “that’s WAY too high.”

“That’s okay,” he said.  “You can always make more.”

In that moment, a) I knew he was going to ruin my son’s life by pushing him too high, and b) my father knew it was perfectly safe and I was being a silly first-time mom (albeit one with two kids, but it was still early days).

(The fact that I did indeed go on to make two more kids is irrelevant.  My father knew nothing bad would happen.)

That’s how it is with your first book, too.

Getting over the apprehension

You need to get over it.  Just as I did with my new-mom apprehension.

When I put out my first children’s book, I really cared about every aspect of it.  I laid it out as well as I knew how at the time.  I threw myself entirely into editing and the cover.  (Those things are as it should be.  I hope you do them as well.)


Thursday, April 23, 2015

How to write an author bio that will sell children’s books


Have you ever READ an author bio?

Probably you have.  That’s because you’re a writer, so you’re interested in other writers.  At least, I know I am.

Here’s the thing:  you’re not a kid.  Let’s be honest:  it’s not kids who will be reading your author bio.

Most kids couldn’t care less about who wrote the book, unless they’ve finished one and are looking for more of the same.  So it’s probably parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians who will be reading the author bio. 

There are two kinds of people who are reading your author bio:

  1. People who aren’t sure whether they should buy your book
  2. People who have read your book and want to know more about you

In both cases, a little honesty can go a long way.  In both cases, you want to make a connection that is friendly and personal (not commercial!).  You want them to trust you and – maybe, just maybe – to like you.

Let’s look at ways we can make the bio as appealing as possible without being crass.  What you don’t want is for your bio to sound like marketing copy.

Here’s the trick:  you want your bio to be relatable, which means not too weird.  But you also don’t want it to be so tedious that you are ultimately forgettable.

What should you call yourself?

For some writers, the hardest part of creating an author bio is describing themselves in the third person.  As tempting as it may be to say “I’m a mom of 4, a SCUBA diver and a cat lover,” resist. 

Suck it up, and keep yourself in the third person.  It just looks and sounds better.

The best advice I can give you is to read 5-10 bios of well-known children’s authors before you sit down to write your own.  I think it’ll inspire you, offering hints as to voice and how to streamline your message effectively.

Go long or stay short?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


DIY Classic Kids' Book Covers FREE with Write Kids' Books Cover Template

Around here, the weather is finally losing its chill (yeah, it gets chilly here in the land of sun, surf and palm trees!) and I just felt like celebrating.  We’re in that blessed period between “too cold” and “too hot,” and I feel great. 

Hope you do, too.

You probably know already that a great bookcover has the ability to move me.  You, too, right? 

That’s how we choose books, though sometimes we don’t like to admit it.  That’s also why I’ve put together the Indie Children’s-Book Cover Contest for independently-published books.  (Don’t forget to submit if you’ve published anything since November!)

So what does that have to do with celebrating???

It’s new – and it’s FREE

To help you really get into a party mood, I’ve created another FREE TEMPLATE – this time, to help you create compelling book covers.  You can use this template for any standard 32-page, 8.5" x 8.5" children's book.  And just to help smooth the process along, I’ve thrown in a 10-page help guide to creating dynamic, compelling covers.

Here's an idea of the kind of book covers you can create with this FREE template:

Sample children's book cover created FREE with Write Kids' Books Cover Template

Sample children's book cover created FREE with Write Kids' Books Cover Template

Monday, March 30, 2015

Illustrating your kids’ book on a shoestring budget: YES, you can! (here’s how)


Your book is perfect… now, do you know where are the pictures are coming from?

The other day at my SCBWI meeting (have you joined yet?), I mentioned my easy technique for creating a Kindle book from Microsoft Word, and I said, “you just take the words and pictures and pull them together in Microsoft Word.”  To which someone asked, “yeah, but where do the pictures come from???”

Everybody’s ears perked up.  Where DO the pictures come from?

You see, most of us are writers, not illustrators.  Some of us couldn’t even draw stick figures, even if our lives depended on it.

If you write AND draw, you’re lucky.  For most of us, writing is easy… and drawing our own pictures is an impossible dream.

But don’t worry – that doesn’t mean you’re stuck!  Here are three affordable ways (from cheapest to most expensive) that I’ve managed to get great pictures for my own books at prices that didn’t bankrupt me (yet):

1) Super-cheap:  Stock illustrations & photos

I told you a couple of weeks ago about how I get stock photos and illustrations for only $1 apiece… and sometimes, even less.  I really recommend you check it out.

Not every book is the right fit for stock photos, but sometimes, they can add a lot of fun to a story.  I’ve written a series of Jewish holiday children’s books illustrated with stock photos of animals.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Best of the (Kids-Book) Writing Online this week: March 27, 2015


An occasional roundup of blogs and other writings for kids’-book writers and illustrators… stuff that’s inspiring me, so I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.

1. Are we turning teens into readers… or turning them off reading?

Over at Writers Rumpus, Marti Johnson asks, ”why is it that our high school age students abandon – no change that to – are driven from reading?”  Does required reading instill great habits, or just make teens resent books? 

I had spent two months of the summer prodding, pleading, arguing, punishing and bullying this 16-year-old into reading a classic that he will now abhor for the remainder of his life. I decided to read it. Well, I hated it too. As a matter of fact, I didn’t finish reading it. IMHO, it was AWFUL.

Read more from Writers Rumpus in How to Build Better Readers: IMHO

2.  Want to write a book with “Happy Birthday” in it?

Or any other song, for that matter?  Chances are, you will write a book someday that has lyrics in it.  Do you know how to do it without getting yourself sued?  Helen Sedwick explains that it’s not as tough as you might think.  She also lays out some great alternatives if you don’t want to pay.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Beyond ABC and 123: 5 easy themes you can use to write picture books.


Do you love the light in the tiniest kids' eyes when they listen to a picture book?

"Theme" books, like ABC's and 123's are time-tested favourites for a reason.  The very youngest readers (and listeners) love seeing familiar patterns and concepts - numbers, letters, colours, shapes, sizes.  What would be deathly dull for us, as adults, is absolutely the hottest thing with little kids.

Lots of writers make the mistake of trying to mix things up for very young readers.  You have to keep them entertained, right?

Wrong.  Instead, make your life easier and try one of these five familiar themes.

Of course, if you want to sell parents on your idea, you'll still have to make it original to some degree.  But remember that it doesn't have to be all that original to charm buyers and knock little kids' socks off. 

A lesson about kids – from Malcolm Gladwell

image Malcolm Gladwell showed in his fantastic book, The Tipping Point, that when little kids had a choice, they would watch the EXACT SAME episode of the TV show Blue’s Clues every day for an entire week. 

Even the show’s creators were shocked. 

Not only were kids NOT bored, they were more excited and engaged every single time they saw the episode.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Are you racist – and you don’t even know it? 3 easy ways to fix it.


You know you’re not racist.  But do your readers know it?

Check your writing for signs of these 3 mistakes.  They’re probably there unintentionally, but rest assured that readers will find them – and take it personally, even if you didn’t mean any harm.

Be prepared to root out these problems wherever you find them.  Let’s try to create books that accurately reflect children’s reality, regardless of their skin colour or socioeconomic status.

Only one, or Tokenism

I’m sure you’ve seen this one before:  all the characters in a story are white… except one.  You can see the one black, or Asian, or East Indian, character hanging out in all the illustrations.  Maybe it’s one character in a wheelchair, or a girl in a hijab.  Or one character with some other type of difference, whatever it may be.

Yes, diversity is important.  But that doesn’t mean throwing in a single character of a particular “type,” simply to serve the goal of diversity.


Monday, March 9, 2015

How to illustrate a children’s book for $1 a picture or less.


The best price tag of all is free.  I’ve written before about finding and using free photos to create gorgeous children’s picture books.  (Don’t believe the haters; it really is possible.)

But what if you can’t find what you’re looking for at the free sites?

Stock photo sites can charge hundreds of dollars for a membership.  What a hassle, am I right?  That’s no problem if I’m The Huffington Post or some other big corporate website. 

But for little guys like us, it’s more than we’re likely to make back from all but the most successful kids’ books.  I really hope you will be that successful, but wouldn’t it be nice to keep that money in your pocket instead?

A stock image resource for the little guys

That’s why I want to tell you about a site I’ve been using for a while now that I absolutely love.  I think you’ll love it too.  Once you hear the name, you’ll understand what it’s about, start to finish. 

Ready…?  Okay.

It’s called Dollar Photo Club.

Why is it called that?  Um, because all the photos and images there are $1 each.  Totally simple, right?

It works with a monthly membership, so you get a certain number of “credits” each month; they roll over if I don’t use them.

Even though it’s called Dollar Photo Club, they have way more than just photos.

What can you find there?

There are lots of hand-drawn illustrations, ranging from cartoons to sketches and more.  You can even click on the name of an artist to find more in the same style. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Stuck for starters? Viral story starters from 3 kids’ best-sellers.


How should you start your story?  Every children’s book editor and agent will tell you:  the action needs to begin on Page One.

But hey, isn’t that a little unfair?  What if you have a great idea, but you need to take a few pages to get to it?  Shouldn’t the reader be patient and bear with you? 

The cold hard truth is that today’s readers won’t, and neither will today’s book-buying parents and grandparents.  Your story has to hook us on Page One if you want anyone to invest their time and read any further.

What does that mean for today’s writer (that means you)?  It means starting your story in the middle of the action.  (In Latin, if you want to get fancy, that’s called in media res.)

Let’s see how some of today’s hottest-selling kids’ books do it.  Take a peek at what’s flying off the virtual shelves at Amazon:

Viral Bestseller #1:  The Day the Crayons Quit

The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt Take a look at the current bestseller The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.  How does it start?

“One day in class, Duncan went to take out his crayons and found a stack of letters with his name on them.”

Monday, March 2, 2015

Is your kids’ book blah or blechhhh? These 10 FREE font pairings add a professional touch.


Picture a mom, surfing Amazon one morning.  Maybe she’ll buy your picture book?  It’s perfect for her kids.  The cover sure looks promising, she thinks.  She clicks on it to Look Inside.  She skips through a couple of pages, and suddenly, she’s shaking her head. 

Something’s clued her in.  She’s figured out that your book is self-published and she suddenly has no desire to read any further.

What went wrong???

Readers don’t usually know exactly what’s turned them off about a self-published book.  But a lot of the time, badly-chosen fonts are the culprit.  Maybe your fonts are amateurish?  Maybe you’re using cruddy novelty fonts that make your book hard to read or dizzying on the page?

Today, there are so many great great FREE font choices out there.  Your book doesn’t have to be the one she clicks shut.  It could be the one she clicks Buy for instead and eagerly waits for it to show up in her mailbox so she can share it with her kids.

You may not be a professional graphic designer, but you should have some understanding of the basics of what makes a good font combination.  The fonts of your book should be:

  • clear
  • readable (for adults and kids)
  • normal, ie not attract TOO much attention

I’m sure you’ve seen children’s stories that look like this.  The text is muddled and hard to read:


So how can you rescue your book from falling into the same trap?

Ten free font combos to the rescue!

These 10 winning font combos are superheroes of the modern design world.  They’ll help you perk up any kids’ book and create just the right mood for your story.  These 20 fonts are all free, so there's no excuse to stick with Calibri, Times New Roman, Papyrus or (gasp!) Comic Sans anymore.