Thursday, February 26, 2015

Does your children’s book have series potential? Use this 3-step checklist to find out!


So your book is doing great.  You wrote it, released it, it looks terrific.  You’ve got a few reviews under your belt.  And now… it’s time for your next book.

Should you make it a brand-new story?  Or should you write a “sequel” – spin off a series that somehow picks up where your last book left off?

Series books are proven winners in lots of ways:  26 of Amazon’s 100 Children’s Books to Read in a Lifetime (that’s over 1/4 of the best kids’ books of all time) are series books.  Kids love them, teachers love them, librarians love them.  And writers love them, too.  Why?

Once kids are hooked on a series, they’ll read them one after the other, devouring them like Cheetos.  If my kids are typical, and I think they are, they’ll often go back to the beginning once they’ve read them all.  Series books also look great lined up side by side on a bookshelf (or in a bookstore!).


(Once you have a basic cover idea, it’s easy to think up clever variations!)

Will your book make it as a series?  Here’s a three-step checklist to help you identify the most crucial elements that you’ll need to help turn it into a franchise instead of just a single standalone book.

1. Distinctive Character

image Think about your favourite children’s-book series.  Now… who was the main character or characters?  Arthur?  Madeline?  Frances?  The Baudelaires?  Greg Heffley?  Franklin?  Olivia?

The books that stand out – and the series that succeed – are usually the ones with a very strong lead character.  Strong as in unforgettable.

Olivia (fictional pig).pngThink about Olivia, from the books of the same name by Ian Falconer.  She’s a cute pig, but there are a million cute fictional pigs out there.  Actually, Olivia isn’t particularly cute, but the drawings are strong and distinctive, as is her personality.  I mean, she loves opera.  How cool is that?

Is your character unforgettable?  If so, read on…

2. Distinctive Setting

Your character’s world should be compelling enough to make you want to spin more than one story in it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why picking the right age category for your book is so important (and how not to mess it up). GUEST POST by Laurisa White Reyes


If you are as avid a reader as I am, you are probably familiar with the terms Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult fiction. Recently, a new category has popped up: New Adult.

laurisa2What exactly determines if a book fits into one category or another? This may not be important for people who just want to read good books, (Who cares if the protagonist is sixteen or thirty-six as long as it’s a great read!) but understanding the difference is vital when you are writing books and marketing them.

Middle Grade Books

Let’s start with Middle Grade. This category is for younger readers, generally between the ages of 8 to 12, or if the subject matter is a little more mature, ages 10 to 14.

The protagonist’s age should fall into one of these ranges, and the story should be told from a child’s point of view (1st or 3rd person doesn’t matter). Adults may be present in the story, but the kids are the stars of the show.

Some “no-no’s” for writing for this age group include books told from an adult perspective reminiscing about when they were young and stories told from a kid’s POV but where the subject matter could be considered mature.

Middle Grade = Young Adult?  (nope)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Does it take crude and rude to get a kids book published? GUEST POST by Nikki Aksamit


How is it that a children's book series about a flatulating dog is in every library, every bookstore in the U.S., imagebut one that explains difficult subjects such as death, cancer and bullying to young kids may never be read, or reach a bookstore shelf?

 image Why does a series about a boy and his garbage eating pet fly scream out in all its Technicolor glory from the shelf of the "my first reader section" at my local library, but books that give young kids clear answers to their tough questions sit unpublished on the author's hard drive?

Are we shielding our kids?

Do we think young kids should be shielded from "uncomfortable" topics? Do we think children under a certain age "can't handle" the subject matter? Do we think it's better to entertain than to educate until children reach school age? Or does crudeness sell more books?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Best of the Kids-Book Writing Online this week: Feb 13, 2015


An occasional roundup of Required Reading for kids’-book writers and illustrators:

1.  On books that do more harm than good

image You may not have heard about the book Melanie’s Marvelous Measles (I hadn’t), but you’ve probably heard that measles is on the rise in kids in a few places around the world.  Readers, parents, and now scientists are weighing in on the kind of science we’re teaching our kids from books, as science writer Dean Burnett says:

…it seems you don’t actually have to be accurate in order to get a book published. The recent measles outbreak in the US has led to more people seeking out Melanie’s Marvelous Measles. This is a book that informs children that measles is fine and actually helpful, so it’s nothing to worry about, and vaccines are bad.

Read more in Terrible books for ruining children’s health from The Guardian

I couldn’t help including that, because it’s such a juicy, timely topic… but the rest of these are written more from a children’s-writer’s perspective.

2. On Revision

On Kathy Temean’s site, writer Erika Wassall shares her ideas on the sometimes-painful process of revision.

We’re all attached to whatever we’ve written so far. We’re proud, as we should be, and it’s often hard to even imagine the piece any other way. The idea for a revision can sometimes feel like it’s a whole different manuscript.

But maybe that’s the manuscript that I was supposed to write.

Read more in Giving Your Revision Wings

3.  On Creativity

What's your story REALLY about? (Hint: forget the forest, just show us a tree.)


I’ve figured out how to get rich.  What’s the secret, you’re wondering?

I’m going to make folks hand over a nickel every time they say:

  • “I’ve written (or I’m writing) a story about bullying.“
  • “It’s a kids’ story all about grief.”
  • “This is my book about divorce and/or remarriage and/or gay families.”
  • “It’s an illustrated picture book about eating right.”
  • “I’m writing a story about consideration / politeness / good manners.”

You get the idea.  These are all great concepts, each and every one.  But they are also all lousy kids’ stories.

The truth is, they’re not stories at all. 

Because a story is not about the great big FOREST that is your concept.  A story is about the tiny, individual trees that live in the forest.

Finding the trees in the forest

Have you made this mistake?  I know I have. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What WON’T you do for a great review? 7 no-no’s that’ll land you in Amazon’s Naughty Book fast.


Want more reviews?  Great reviews?

We all do.  But there’s a limit to how we go about getting them.

The big seven Naughty Tactics

If you’re doing any of these, you could wind up (quickly) in Amazon’s Naughty Books (and yes, I have seen all of these):

    Monday, February 9, 2015

    Is your manuscript headed for the shredder? 15 formatting DO’s and DON’Ts to make editors fall in love.


    Will your story survive the slushpile… only to end up in an editor’s recycle bin, trash can, or shredder?

    A story manuscript that doesn’t look like a manuscript will get you exactly the WRONG kind of attention.  The kind that winds your story up in that virtual paper shredder before the editor gets to word one.

    True, you’re submitting a children’s book.  But the core of all these DON’Ts is one simple fact:  your story can’t LOOK like a children’s book when you submit it.

    What not to do.

    Be very, very careful.  Violating any one of these will get your story tossed (or shredded) in disgust:

      Thursday, February 5, 2015

      Eat, Pray, Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert – 2 profound quotes on writing with creativity and fear


      Want to know what stops all of us in our tracks sometimes when we sit down to write?

      Almost by accident, I just caught a great interview with writer Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love, among other things) on a podcast I listen to (not for kids, but you should listen – it’s hilarious; this was really the only serious part). 

      image She had some incredibly profound things to say about creativity and fear, and on writing without a safety net (“I just jumped off the cliff…” – it starts around 43 minutes into the podcast)

      “What you have to understand always about anything creative and inventive is that creativity and fear are conjoined twins.

      Building an author mailing list: PART 3, How to get started (the nitty-gritty).


      Ready to get started?

      Great.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and dig in.

      I hope I’ve convinced you that an author mailing list is a great way to chat directly with people who love your writing. 

      (If you’re not convinced yet, go back and read Part 1 of this 3-part series to find out why you need an author mailing list.  Then read Part 2 about how to convince readers to sign up (hint:  just ask them).)

      So now the question is, where do you start?

      Step 1:  Choose a provider

      There are a few email list providers.  Some let you get started for free.  The top two are Mailchimp and Aweber.  I use Mailchimp, mainly because it was free to start out, and slightly less expensive on an ongoing basis, but to be honest, I don’t love it.  Aweber looks like it starts at around $29 a month, but they let you try it for a month for $1.

      Wednesday, February 4, 2015

      55 juicy story starters to light up your story the campfire way


      Stuck for inspiration?  Try writing your story the campfire way.

      Have you ever built a campfire?

      Maybe you know the trick already:  you don’t start by taking huge logs and setting them ablaze.  That would never work. 

      You start with tinder, small fluffy things that are nothing like the fire you want to create.  From tinder, you work your way up to kindling - bigger things that also catch fire easily.  Once you’ve got some momentum going, THEN (and only then) can you start burning the real stuff:  twigs, and eventually, small branches, and only then… are you ready to set fire to some logs.

      That’s how stories work, too.  Even if you want to write a HUGE story, you have to start small.

      There are so many big ideas out there, waiting to be written down, that it can seem overwhelming.  So don’t set out to write about the BIG ideas.  Small ideas – whether from your own imagination or from story starters like these – are the tinder that will set your story ablaze. 

      That’s where these 55 story starters listed here come in.  These 55 small ideas can help you set fire to millions of stories… if you let them.

      Read through the lists.  If one or two don’t click, just move on.  If you get to the end of the list and you haven’t found one… I’ll give you a list of random generators for millions more ideas that just might inspire you instead.


      Let’s get sparking those stories!