Critter Lit interview with author/illustrator Corinna Luyken!
Today is my absolute favorite holiday, I love Thanksgiving! The pies, the turkey, the stuffing, the sweet potatoes, the football, and of course being thankful that I get to share it all with friends and family. We cook Thanksgiving dinner here at the Tupta house (I’ll be running off to make a pie after this post), and spending a few days preparing food for the ones I love is one of my favorite things. I wish all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving this year!
What’s up on deck? Join me next Thursday for an interview with the wonderfully talented Tricia Springstubb!
Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s post is all about handling reviews: the good, the bad, and the ugly. After almost ten years in this business, I’ve received them all. Glowing reviews, a starred review, bad reviews, and reviews that ripped my heart out. And I’ve learned something from all of them. Even the really bad ones.
Obviously, the glowing ones are fantastic. They give you confidence to keep creating and putting your work out there. Readers are connecting! It’s a wonderful feeling. But the bad ones…well those can leave you feeling angry, misunderstood, defensive, and make you want to crawl into a hole. I say that having felt that way myself. But here’s the thing— not everyone will love your work. And that’s okay. Truly. I took me a long time to understand this, and it’s something I wish I had known earlier in my career. If you created something that everyone loved, I’m not sure if it would really speak to the quality of the work, right? I mean, the point of storytelling is to spark a connection with your reader. That may not be every reader. And again, that’s okay.
So here are my tips for handling reviews, whether you’ve been doing this for a while or your first book is about to come out:
Be proud of the creativity you put forth.
Be proud of what you’ve done. You’ve published a book! That’s a tremendous accomplishment. Before I send in anything, whether it’s a manuscript draft, dummy, or finished art, I always ask myself if I’m proud of what I’ve done. If the answer is yes, I send it. If I’m hesitant, then I still have things to work out. Know that once your book has come out, you were at one point incredibly proud of what you’ve done. Hold onto that as reviews begin to come in.
Decide if you are going to read your reviews. Then commit to that decision.
I have friends who refuse to read their reviews. They have no interest in reading about someone else dissecting the work they’ve created. They know what they did, they don’t need to read about it. That’s one way to handle reviews. But if you are anything like me, then you can’t help but read them. You want to know. Do you people love it? Do they hate it? Either way, commit to how you want to handle reviews. Read them or not. But once you make that decision, stick to it. Don’t second guess yourself. If you choose to read them, see my next tip. (Also, please note, I don’t mean read every single one…that’s not a good idea. Online consumer reviews, for example, can be especially frustrating. Specifically when someone gives you a one star review because they can’t figure out how to read the e-book version on their tablet…seriously.)
Take every review with a grain of salt.
When reading reviews of your work, take them with a grain of salt. Constructive criticism can be great, it can push you to develop your craft further. Find what you connect with and leave the rest. At the end of the day, it’s your work and you have to be confident in what you’re doing. I can honestly say I’ve learned something from all the reviews I’ve ever read about my work. The great ones gave me a boost of confidence to try new things. And in a weird way, so did the bad ones. Those are the ones that taught me to get back to work and keep creating. Being kicked off the horse every once in the while is not a bad thing. It forces you to grow and really consider your work. Which leads to my next tip…
How can these comments, good or bad, help you grow? I look at each book as another chance to push myself. To try something new. To stretch myself in a new direction.
This is the most important thing. Don’t stop creating. Certainly not because of a bad review. Keep writing. Keep drawing. Keep putting yourself out there. You are capable of wonderfully creative endeavors.
Until next time,
Interview with debut author + illustrator Jessica Love!
Critter Lit’s Book Picks for November 2018: POLAR BEAR ISLAND written by Lindsay Bonilla, illustrated by Cinta Villalobos and THE WALL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BOOK by Jon Agee
Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s craft post is all about fighting the writing.
Being Type-A, I work around a pretty structured schedule, it’s the only way I can get anything done—and I stay pretty busy between all of the plates I’m spinning on any given day. That being said, there are days, more than I would like to admit, where getting words on the page is like pulling teeth. I sit, staring at the computer screen, waiting for something brilliant to come to me, which to be honest, never does when I try to force it. The cursor blinks at me, laughing. Or so it feels…
So how do you pull yourself out of that? How do you sit down and write when it’s the last thing you want to do? The answer is pretty simple, but you’re not going to like it: YOU JUST HAVE TO WRITE THROUGH IT. Write through the fog and the self-doubt and the fear. I’m a firm believer that you have to write a bunch of crap to get to the good stuff. I wish there was a more eloquent way to say that, but I’m sorry, there’s just not. The muse is fleeting and unpredictable, but when she shows up everything suddenly clicks into place and the magic starts to happen. Getting there…well, sometimes it’s hell.
I make the mistake of self-editing while I write. I want it to be perfect the first time I do it, which as anyone who writes knows, is just ridiculous! Writing is revision and inspection and constant consideration. We write because we have too. You wouldn’t put yourself through the agony of it all if you didn’t absolutely have to do it. If it wasn’t apart of who you are, right? Otherwise, you would be miserable constantly.
For me the trick is consistency. Make a commitment to your craft. Do it every day, in some form or another. Now, I say that because I’m not someone who physically writes every day. I tend to be very cerebral with how I work. I used to beat myself up over that, feeling as though I wasn’t writing enough. Conceptually, most of the framework for my books happens in thought, not with actual pen and paper. But I make time for contemplating my work every day, usually on walks with our dog. And when I say contemplating, I don’t mean procrastinating. I mean actual problem-solving. I generally only sit down to write and/or sketch when I feel ready (unless I’m trying to force it, as previously mentioned, which is never a good idea). Sometimes that’s days…months…or years (WHEN BLUE MET EGG is a perfect example of years).
Creatively, everyone works differently. Each manuscript is its own challenge and will require flexibility in variation from you. So don’t do that thing where you go on Twitter and you read about fabulous book deals while your blank document glares at you with its oppressively, blinding light. That certainly won’t help you get to the good stuff. Nor will it inspire you. As much as I love how connective and supportive social media can be, it can also be incredibly distracting and isolating. You have to learn to tune out the white noise. Which I realize is a lot easier said than done. Whether that white noise is you, your peers, or the internet, find a way to unplug and focus on the work.
So now that I’ve told you to make a commitment to your craft, I’m also going to tell you to take a break from it. Often. Creative work, and life for that matter, is all about balance. But it’s really easy to throw yourself off balance and continue stumbling around without even realizing it’s happening. So make time to get away. Experience the world. See new things. Spend time with loved ones. Read a book! Whether it’s for a ten-minute walk or month-long vacation, just step away. I can’t stress the importance of getting out of your own head and re-charging enough.
I’m a list person. They give me a sense of control and accomplishment in my busy life. Which, I know, sounds silly, but it’s oh so true. So I’m going to suggest this: write down your commitments. Your commitment to your craft and to taking a break. How much time will you allow yourself for both? Make a note of that. Then try to stick with it. I find that writing it down makes it more important and real. Preferably in a place where you can see it, first thing, every day.
I know how easy it is for life to get in the way. Day jobs, relationships, kids— they all require precious amounts of your time. But if you are really serious about writing (and/or illustrating) you have to make time for it amidst everything else. Because you have to. It’s what you are passionate about, right?
So go out there and write some good stuff!
Until next time…
What’s up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator and art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Lucy Ruth Cummins!
Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m very excited to share with you the work of debut picture book author and illustrator Aidan Cassie! I received an F&G of Aidan’s debut book, STERLING, BEST DOG EVER, this past summer and immediately fell in love with little Sterling.
Sterling the dog has always wanted a home. But no home has ever wanted him. So when Sterling sees a sign on the side of the Butlery Cutlery Company advertising free "shipping to homes around the world," he is determined to become the most terrific fork ever! For what home doesn't need flatware?
Sterling is delivered on time and undamaged to the Gilbert family's front door. He is not, however, what they ordered. . . . But he may be exactly what they need. A humorous, heart-tugging picture book about finding a family, who wants you just as you are.
Sterling is quite lovable. Just look at the adorable cover below. Our family dog, Sally, was a rescue, so I immediately connected with Sterling’s hope of finding the perfect family and home. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is charming. I hope you enjoy Aidan’s new book as much as I do.
So without further ado, please welcome Aidan Cassie!
Where do you live?
I live on a west coast island, on the side of a small mountain, in Canada’s Salish Sea, just north of Seattle. It’s a quirky, rural pocket of co-op farmers, naturalists and artsy-folk, but most people here are urban-transplants, like myself. I love island life - our daughter takes a ferry to school while my husband and I work from our home studios (to the great delight of our big red dog, Sooka).
When did you know you wanted to make picture books?
While I was working on my degree in animation I started telling stories visually and fell in love with the process. After creating my wordless animated film, I thought I’d naturally write wordless picture books. Instead I discovered my voice, and the wonderful space between the text and illustrations. I’m fascinated by the way readers/listeners/viewers construct what is happening with what is on the page, as well by the unsaid words and implied images.
Can you share a bit about your process?
Assuming I’ve settled on a promising story idea nugget, I start by sketching characters to help me visualize the story. Then there’s the “walking and talking in the woods phase” as I envision it playing out like a little movie that I tell myself aloud… rewind, revise, and tell again. Sooka just chases sticks and is very non-judgmental.
At the point my tale feels relatively solid I often enjoy a burst of drawing and writing. I pare things down to the important visual “shots” and make a series of thumbnail drawings, the same way I’d storyboard for animation. Later I might redraw with a bit more detail onto recipe cards, so I can reorder, add to, and edit the elements. I constantly flip between modifying drawings and editing words. Often the words are last to come.
When I’m happy with the final flow I scan my sketches and create a digital dummy that has all the text in place for my crit group to read and edit. Later, many revisions later, if my agent likes it, I’ll make some final art samples for prospective publishers. I go back to the tiny 1’ drawings again, this time digitally. I experiment with the color narrative, palette and tonal balance for the whole book laid out on one page. I do each tiny spread’s colour very roughly so as to have a guide when doing final art. I use a Cintiq to create final art, usually with digital water color layers and textures that sit beneath my drawings.
What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?
Of course ideas must be caught and gathered as they show up. Sometimes they come from mining strong childhood feelings of my own, but most often they come from the outside; like overheard conversations, observing something strange, a great line in a song, bizarre news stories or by mashing together unlikely things, like dachshunds and forks. And sometimes I just need to put myself somewhere new; we just came back from taking a year to live in Provence; every day in France was brimming with “new”!
Art supplies you can't live without?
It’s a short list; my 2B pencils, and a good eraser.
Maybe some run-of-the-mill photocopy paper too. All my creations are born of a pencil line on cheap photocopy paper. It allows me feel free to let loose and make oodles of useless doodles. And useless is important. For me, being too precious or careful cramps my creativity and exploration. I like the erasable nature of pencils, so when it comes to watercolor painting (not a forgiving medium), I find I take more risks when I work digitally, because I know there is an “undo”.
Oh, yes, I love sharing my art crushes!! Birgitta Sif, Isabelle Arsenault, Emily Gravett, Kady MacDonald Denton and, and, and… Chris Riddell, Carter Goodrich, Pierre Pratt and Shaun Tan!
Dream project or book to work on?
I’m feeling pretty lucky that I’m working on a bunch of my own books right now, so things are pretty dreamy as it is. One day I’d love to work collaboratively with a funny author (like Emily Jenkins or Aaron Reynolds), preferably on a ridiculous story jam-cram-packed with dogs - you know, if we’re talking DREAM project.
Tell us about your debut book.
My debut book was inspired by a childhood dog I had, an odd little dachshund. Sterling, Best Dog Ever is about a dog who’s had a hard time finding a home, so he lives in a damp box. When he discovers a fork factory that ships to good homes he thinks he’s found his ticket to happiness. When it occurs to him that the new family, surprised by the little stow-away, may not need a fork, Sterling decides he could be anything if they would just keep him. He’s an expert at adapting, but it takes him a while to understand what this loving family really wants.
What’s up next for you?
I’ve just finished up the final cover art for my second book, Little Juniper Makes It Big, about a wee raccoon who feels too small for everything, and that will come out in 2019. While waiting for edits and feedback on that book I’ve been working on my third book (still at the untitled dummy-book stage) that will come out the following year, both with FSG Macmillan.
And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?
Wow, “80s movie” feels like a genre in itself – like I need an answer that features the Neutron Dance. But I have to go with animation! As a 9 year old I was completely spell bound by the The Secret of Nimh in 1982.
Aidan Cassie studied animation and earned a media arts degree at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design as well as Edinburgh College of Art. Sterling, Best Dog Ever is her first picture book.
FOR MORE INFORMATION about Aidan and her book, visit her website at www.aidancassie.com.
TO ORDER a copy of STERLING, BEST DOG EVER, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.
Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of STERLING, BEST DOG EVER?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 18th! US and Canadian addresses only please.
What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Craft Post.
Hello Critters! This week’s craft post is all about pagination, something that I think can make or break a picture book. All great picture books demonstrate a strong grasp of pacing, which is ultimately determined through the final pagination of the text and development of the manuscript itself.
Take, for example, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Maurice Sendak has some seriously long, run-on sentences in that book that would even give Nathaniel Hawthorne a run for his money. But it doesn’t matter, because Sendak is a genius. He understood that it wasn’t the structure of the sentence that mattered so much as how he broke it up amongst the pages. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is the greatest picture book of all time for many reasons, but pagination is a big part of that. Sendak breaks sentences in the middle, straddling them across the pages throughout the book, not necessarily in conjunction with the punctuation. In 1963, that was pretty revolutionary for a picture book. Even today, I rarely see authors do that without an ellipsis.
I remember the first time I re-read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE as adult. On the final page, the text reads “and it was still hot.” The line is in reference to Max’s dinner, which we know Max’s mother sends him to bed without in the beginning of the story. The pagination of this line is brilliant. It’s the perfect ending. It leaves the reader wondering how much time has actually passed? Did Max really leave? So many questions arise from this simple collection of words. It’s satisfying, and yet leaves us wanting to know more. It allows the reader to understand that even at our worst, there is still love. Max misbehaves and lets his inner monster out, but it doesn’t change his mother’s unconditional love for him.
Sometimes I wonder what Ursula Nordstrom, Sendak’s editor, thought of his manuscript the first time she saw it. I imagine it would have looked a bit like a short paragraph. The entire book is only made up of 10 sentences, totaling about 338 words. But it’s how Sendak broke those 10 sentences that created such dynamic pacing and anticipation for the reader.
For me, pagination is a feeling. I sit down with my manuscript and read it aloud to myself over and over and over again. I like to test raw manuscripts out on my three-year-old too. I’m always surprised by the lines or details he connects with instantly. As I read, I make a mental note of all the places I naturally pause in my speech to formulate or process the next set of words. Those pauses become part of my timing. I also note any hiccups I come across. Places where I stumble over my own words, or find myself self-editing as I read them aloud. Those are sections that still need revision work, which I finesse until I no longer struggle with them. The placement of one word can make all the difference.
I can’t stress enough the importance of reading your work aloud, whether it’s to yourself or a group. It’s the easiest, fastest way to hear issues in your manuscript. You have to understand how your words sound together when read aloud. It’s absolutely impearative as a picture book author.
Once I feel like the text is in great shape, I consider the reveal. I think of the page turn as a curtain on a stage. Every time the reader turns the page, I’m pulling back the curtains. Showing them what’s coming next. It’s my job to get them excited about turning that page. This is where pagination really helps. As an illustrator, I have the advantage of visualizing the illustrations as I do this, which is incredibly helpful. However, if you are an author-only, practicing and understanding how to paginate your own text will help your writing tremendously. It forces you to really look at your pacing and how it works in relation to your story.
Here’s a great exercise to try for this:
Print out three copies of your manuscript. Paginate each manuscript differently. Cut up the text and paste/tape them down inside of a dummy mock-up. You can use copy paper stapled together for this. Read each version aloud and see how the pagination has changed the pacing of your story. Is there a version you gravitate towards? A version that surprised you? A version that clarified a problem area for you? Usually one pagination will just feel right when you read it aloud.
Generally, if you are an author-only, you most likely won’t need to paginate your own text, the editor or illustrator will do that. BUT, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn to do it and get so darn good at it that it becomes second nature. It will only help you improve as a writer and storyteller.
Until next time, happy paginating!
What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with picture book author Anika Denise!
Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m thrilled to share an interview with Jen Betton, the debut author and illustrator of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG. I met Jen while we were both in school at Syracuse. I was working towards my BFA in Illustration when I took an intro class on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, taught by Jen, who was an MFA Illustration student at the time. Adobe Illustrator is actually the only program that I use when I work digitally…which I have Jen to thank for. I’m not sure I would have learned it otherwise. Thanks Jen!
I'm so excited to share Jen’s work with you all today, and I’m sure you’ll see why. Her watercolors are GORGEOUS! And she has this tremendous ability capturing light….I’m a huge fan of her work and I hope you will all go out and read HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG!
So without further ado…please welcome Jen Betton!
Where do you live?
I recently moved to the Dallas area, so I’m still getting connected with the Kid Lit community here.
When did you know you wanted to make picture books?
I always loved picture books; I never really grew out of them. It just took a while to give myself permission to pursue it because I thought I needed to do something more practical! I loved painting and I loved stories, so creating picture books was a natural combination of those loves.
Tell us about your debut book as an author and illustrator?
HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG is the first book I’ve written as well as illustrated! It is about a Hedgehog who feels down in the snout and droopy in the prickles and so goes looking for a hug, but other creatures don’t want to get close to his spines! Fortunately, he finds someone else who is feeling the same way.
I came up with this story while I was brainstorming story ideas that involved animals who have a physical characteristic that is at odds with what they want. I love stories where the character has a goal that inherently creates conflict!
One thing that helped me figure out my story structure was understanding the heart of the story. This is the essential, core theme of the story, beneath the surface-level action. I was brainstorming the ending and I had to decide how Hedgehog would finally get his hug. Hedgehog could have hugged another hedgehog (someone just like him) or a turtle (someone who would not be hurt) but I had an “aha” moment where I understood that empathy was important to the story, and I quickly realized that Hedgehog needed to give Skunk a hug.
Can you share a bit about your process?
If I’m writing the story, then I start with an outline. I really have to get the structure of the story right, and the first draft is almost in bullet points. After that I might start weaving small thumbnail sketches into a storyboard while concurrently revising my manuscript. After I have the basic story arc hammered out, I keep writing, tweaking, polishing. At the same time I’m working on the storyboard with rough sketches, trying to get the composition, the page turns, the expressions right. I try to not to get too far into the drawings until the manuscript is fairly firm, because it’s like working a Rubik’s Cube – every change affects every other part of the puzzle.
Next, I start working on finished drawings. For this stage I usually gather a lot of reference materials, sometimes getting friends to pose for photos or taking a trip to the zoo. Then I’ll do some color studies. After all those steps are approved by the art director, I’ll start on the finished paintings. I transfer the drawings to my illustration board, and then I jump in with watercolor. After I’ve taken the painting as far as I can, I’ll often add a bit of colored pencil or pastel for details. Once it is scanned, I’ll touch it up a little bit in Photoshop.
What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?
Inspiration, community, and perspiration! I get inspired by both books and people. Reading the beautiful books that others have created and seeing how they solved problems teaches me a lot. I find conferences to be energizing - rubbing shoulders with creative pals. My imagination also responds well to discipline, so participating in Storystorm or checking in with critique buddies for some accountability really helps me. And sometimes it’s really helpful to just do something for fun without expectations of how it will turn out.
Any art supplies you can't live without?
Strathmore 500 Illustration board. Totally different way to watercolor, and I love it!
Soooo many!! John Singer Sargent’s watercolors are stunning. I love Trina Schart Hyman, Min Ji Kim, Lizbeth Zwerger, Christian Birmingham, Scott Gustafson, Greg Manchess. A couple newer illustrators I love are Jessica Lanan and Corinna Luyken.
Dream project or book to work on?
Something with a sense of wonder or otherworldliness, like Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers or The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe.
What's up next for you?
I’ve been working on a new story, called ANITA’S FLOWERS, which is about perseverance, failure, friendship, and finding your gift. Hopefully it will be ready to submit soon!
I’ve also been working on some goodies for HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG: coloring pages, an activity kit, bookplates, etc. There is also a teacher’s guide by Marcie Colleen. You can download them here.
And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?
Princess Bride and Adventures in Babysitting
Jen Betton loves to draw and make up stories with her pictures. In Kindergarten she got into trouble for drawing presents on a picture of Santa, and she has been illustrating ever since. She wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, published with Penguin-Putnam, and she illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion.
She has a BA in English, and a BFA and MFA in Illustration. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two children.
For more information about Jen Betton and her books, visit her online at www.jenbetton.com or follow her on Twitter: @JenBetton.
TO ORDER a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG ring up your local bookstore, or click here.
Want a chance to win a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 20th! US addresses only please.
What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Craft Post.
I'm very excited for today's interview because it's with the lovely and incredibly talented Betsy Snyder, who also happens to be one of my critique partners and a very good friend. I actually knew Betsy's books before I knew her. As a bookseller, I fell in love with HAIKU BABY, Betsy's debut book, the first time I saw it. The art is charming, bright, and fresh. Anyone who walked in to the bookstore looking for a baby gift walked out with a copy of HAIKU BABY.
Skip ahead a few years later. I had just moved from Boston to Cleveland with my future husband and started making connections with other writers and illustrators in the area. And who did I meet? Betsy Snyder. Sometimes it's really amazing how small the world can be. We had lunch and I clicked with her instantly. Eventually Betsy and I, along with three other lovely and talented women, created a critique group together, which we've been doing for almost seven years now.
I have learned so much from Betsy, watching her come up with creative new ways for kids to interact with books, and I'm thrilled to share her work with you today!
So without further ado, please welcome Betsy Snyder!
Where do you live?
How many years have you been in publishing?
12 (What? Twelve?!)
How many books have you published?
Do you write and illustrate full-time?
Yes (mostly). My life is a mix of mothering my books and my small children and that balance changes as it needs to. But I write/illustrate as full-time as I can.
What inspires you to create picture books?
I love the way kids learn and explore the world and I seek to make books that support that process and inspire a similar sense of wonder. I was lucky to have a childhood filled with good books and I can remember poring over the pages, studying the details of the pictures and getting lost in the magical worlds books create.
What surprised you the most working as an author/illustrator?
I didn’t anticipate that along with becoming published would come requests for author programs and needing to get comfortable with public speaking. Being in the spotlight can feel intimidating for somewhat introverted creative-types like me that are most cozy in their quiet studios—YIKES! But now, I can genuinely say I LOVE getting out and sharing what I do with schools, libraries, museums and the author/illustrator community. More experience, consulting with educators to hone my programs, and seeing those eager little (and big) faces in the audience have really helped grow my confidence and minimize the jitters.
What is your favorite thing about being an author/illustrator?
Every project is a new adventure! I like the feeling of immersing myself in whatever I’m working on—I learn a little (or a lot) more with each new book I make. It’s so rewarding to be able to help a vision evolve from start to finish and then to finally see a book in print and be able to share it with others.
What do you find difficult working as an author/illustrator?
Starting a new book is exciting, but with that, there is also a murky place where I have way TOO many ideas and no direction or anchor. That’s when I feel lost and stuck and unsure—and sometimes it’s hard to see a way out of that. Each book is a new challenge, so I don’t think this process gets easier—but I am getting better at trusting that my good ideas will eventually take shape and get there with practice and persistence. As Dory would say, “Just keep swimming!”
What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?
I find inspiration in my kids, browsing at the library or a bookstore, creative chats (like with my critique group), nature walks, and travel.
I especially look at what’s out there and what’s not—my best ideas are often born around opportunities.
Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?
Making lists (and losing them—ha!). But seriously, I love making lists and when I broke the index finger of my writing hand earlier this year, I almost went crazy. I have actually found that for me, this brainstorm process is less about holding on to the ideas, and ironically, more about letting them go to clear up more creative space in my head.
Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit Community?
Having work from Tons of Trucks (written by Sue Fliess) accepted into the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show and attending the opening in NYC was definitely a kid lit highlight for me. Mingling with that much talent and passion in one space was pretty dreamy.
What is your favorite picture book?
Do you really think I can pick just one?
As a kid: Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, and The Funny Thing by Wanda Gag
Now: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee, and When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
It’s still hard to beat my first-ever submission becoming a 3-book (and later 5-book) contract with Random House. I’ll never forget my agent’s email with the subject line “Get out the champagne!!!” I’m so grateful my editor Heidi Kilgras saw something in me and helped me get my start with writing my own books.
What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing and illustrating?
It’s supposed to feel hard—but that struggle doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough.
Tell us about your newest book?
I Can Dream and I Can Explore (May 2018) are the two newest books in the interactive series published by Chronicle Books. In terms of a theme, I Can Dream is centered around aspirational occupations, like a firefighter, astronaut, marine biologist, artist and more. I Can Explore is about being on-the-go—traveling by land, water, air and even snow.
The entire series shares the same format solution, text direction, and empowering message celebrating both independence and teamwork. Touch-and-feel covers and interactive holes on every page invite the reader to animate the characters by wiggling their fingers. Every book ends with a surprise gatefold finish, bringing all the characters together for an inclusive grand finale.
I had so much fun developing this format and rolling it out over four books (and I still have more ideas!). Working with my Chronicle team was a dream (special shout-out to Ariel Richardson, Tara Creehan and Amelia Mack)—our visions were on the same page from the beginning, so our partnership felt easy and effortless.
What’s up next for you?
I’m working on a picture book with Susanna Leonard Hill. And thinking up new book ideas!
Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?
There is no one secret path (and certainly no shortcut) to getting published. It’s a journey and experience unique to each person, because we each come from different places and bring along our own influences and talents.
Networking with other authors and illustrators (via SCBWI, critique groups, workshops, etc.) is a great way to learn from the paths of others—and begin to forge your own. Plus, it can be a long road, so wouldn’t you rather have some travel buddies on your journey?
And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?
The Princess Bride and Dirty Dancing
Thank you so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Betsy!
Author and illustrator Betsy Snyder has twenty years of experience creating for the children's market. Her smile-inspiring art can be found on everything from social expressions products, board games, plush, decor, fabric, wallpaper, and of course—children’s books! Since making her publishing debut in 2007, Betsy has teamed with a diverse mix of publishers, earning recognition from groups including the Society of Illustrators, The New York Times, Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine, Indie Next List, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and Please Touch Museum. Her newest titles, I Can Dream and I Can Explore (May 2018), join the earlier I Can Dance and I Can Play in an innovative board book series with Chronicle Books.
Betsy lives in Independence, Ohio, where she enjoys cozying up to doodle with her art-loving family of four and venturing out to schools and libraries to encourage kids (and even grown-ups) to share their stories and chase their dreams.
TO PURCHASE A COPY of I CAN DREAM or I CAN EXPLORE visit your local bookstore, or click here.
Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of I CAN DREAM or I CAN EXPLORE by Betsy Snyder?! Comment on this post below or share it on Twitter. Two lucky winners will be announced Thursday, August 30th! US addresses only please.
What's up on deck? Tune in next Thursday for an interview with picture book author Josh Funk!
Sometimes I think one of the hardest parts of my job as a children’s book author is to keep my own voice in check when I’m writing. I’m constantly asking myself, would a kid say that? I think this is one of the reasons that creating a strong voice is incredibly difficult. We, as children’s book authors and illustrators, have this wonderful task to create meaningful literary experiences for children. We get to introduce them to new places, experiences, and voices. But in doing so create a new challenge for ourselves. How do we keep our own feelings, opinions, and reactions out of the voices in our books? How do you write a character that can make their own decisions, without your bias?
Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t write your own experiences into a character. Obviously writers do that all the time. I myself do it. But what I’m talking about are the characters we write that aren’t us, who have an entirely different experience than we had, intentionally. It’s our job to offer up a fully developed voice in the context of the world we’ve created for them. And that’s no easy feat!
Many times, I have read manuscripts where I see authors infiltrate the text. A character starts saying or doing something that seems odd or inconsistent with what we know about them. It’s really easy to let yourself slip in under the radar without realizing it. I've done this many times. For me, it’s not until I read the words aloud that I can catch myself and make the correction. To avoid this, I try to get to know my characters as best I can so they become fully independent from me.
I start by determining who they are. What are their likes? Dislikes? Hobbies? What is their environment? Who surrounds them? What do they care most about? Least about? How do they fit within the story I'm trying to tell? The list goes on and on. I make an entire character chart with this information. Keep in mind I write picture books. I don’t write novels. But I try to approach my characters as if I do.
I can tell you that Dexter T. Rexter’s favorite ice cream is Mint Chip, with rainbow sprinkles. I’ve never used this detail about him in any of the Dexter books, but I’ve spent enough time getting to know him, writing and rewriting him, that I know without a doubt, he's Mint Chip all the way. This may sound silly. But there is a method to the madness. The more you know your characters the better you will be able to write them and, in my case, draw them, independent of yourself.
When I sit down to write Dexter’s voice, I don’t even feel like I’m writing anymore. It’s as if he’s sitting beside the computer, telling me what to type, and I'm simply listening. He's very indecisive, neurotic, and slightly bossy because that’s just who he is. It isn’t so much that I can hear his voice when I'm writing, but I can hear the pacing, syntax, and structure of how he would speak. I know immediately if he would or wouldn't say something and if he would, how he would deliver it. Which takes time to develop with a character. I’m three books in with Dexter and I’m still learning things about him.
Age is equally important in developing voice too. Especially when you write for kids. You need to understand the age group you are writing for. How old are they? Where are they cognitively and behaviorally? What is challenging for them? How can they connect with your story? If you’ve written a character, who's supposed to be four years old, but acts and talks like an adult, then you aren’t paying attention to age and you won’t connect with your readers.
Before I had kids, I wrote about my experiences as a kid. I am an only child, so my voice seeped into my work. When Blue Met Egg is my love letter to New York City, after living there one summer during college. I was inspired to write Please Bring Balloons because my parents met painting carousels at an amusement park. This worked for me then because that was the point. I was trying to speak to the type of kid that I was. My early books are all about adventure and escapism because that's what I loved to read about as a child.
But now, it’s become more about being a witness, than first hand experience. I’m watching my kids see the world for the first time. And in doing so, I’m seeing things in ways I haven't since I was a child. As an adult it's really easy to forget how small moments can be so impactful when you're young. I find myself writing about their experiences as I witness them unfold. My books have become more and more voice driven, because those are the type of books that make my kids laugh and connect.
Recently, I was reading Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri, (the same creators of Dragons Love Tacos) with my oldest son, who’s three. He loves that book. The first time I read it to him, I thought, I don’t get this. Why does he think this is so funny? And then it dawned on me. Duh! It’s silly. There isn’t anything to get. That’s the point. It’s a ridiculous book about a raccoon who loves pizza but rarely gets to have any because he’s always being chased off by the pizza man wielding a menacing broom. Thus the Raccoon Sniffing Broom Bots. I could continue the synopsis…but you should probably just read Secret Pizza Party because it is silly, ridiculous, and your kids will love it. The narrator's voice is written in a way that not only makes my son laugh, but it makes me laugh too because phrases like 'sweet sassy molassy' are hilarious. If that doesn't make you laugh when you read it, then I don't know what will. When driving to get pizza recently, my son shouted "GET THAT RACCOON OFF THE TABLE!" I couldn’t stop laughing. It was random and completely out of the blue. Just like Secret Pizza Party. And I knew exactly what he was talking about when he said it.
My son also sings the Dexter song constantly (so much so there are days I regret writing it in the first place.) He doesn't understand that I wrote Don't Forget Dexter, or even the song for that matter. He doesn’t care. He’s three. But he’s my barometer now. He's in my target age group. If he likes it, then I must be doing something right. Right?
I mean isn’t that the ultimate test? Not how much you love your work? That's easy. But a kid. A real, live kid, who doesn’t get caught up in the bias. They just like it because they like it. It makes them laugh. Or think. Or feel connected. They are seeing your book for the first time, fresh and new, absorbing everything you have to offer them. And that's the best part about this job. Writing a book that a kid wants to read over and over again and becoming apart of their reading experience with their family.
I have read Secret Pizza Party more times that I can count. It's got 'pizza' and 'party' in the title. This book was always going to go over well with my son (who loves pizza). But the narrator's voice is what really sells it. It's the way the narrator tells Raccoon's story, empathizing with Raccoon's plight in life (lack of pizza), while pointing out the humor of it all. Kids connect with Raccoon. They get him. They are him. Because voice matters. Always.
So go out there and write some amazing voices.
Until next time, happy writing!
These days, I'm surrounded by trucks. Literally. If it's not the toy trucks I'm constantly picking up around my house, it's the real ones driving up and down my street. We live in a national park, so there are always front loaders, dump trucks, and skid steers readily on display, working on the trails, dealing with fallen trees, or some other park-related need. And this week, my neighbor is having his driveway paved, so bonus, we have a cement mixer on full display. My two-year-old is in heaven. He could sit and watch these trucks all day long. Seriously. Needless to say, he loves trucks. Here's a sampling of our current bedtime rotation:
Notice a pattern? All trucks, all the time in this house! I had always heard that kids go through phases. The truck phase. The dinosaur phase. The princess phase. And so forth and so forth. But it's not until you're in the midst of it that you realize how all-consuming it is. Obviously, my household is currently living through the truck phase.
This is the first time I've experienced being a parent of the same age group I'm writing books for. It's a rather strange thing. Every night we read three books, and my son always requests at least one book he specifically wants to read. The rest are up to me, which allows for some variation. Thankfully, most of the books he loves, I love too. But then again, I do this for a living so I'm picky about what I add to our home library.
Over time I started to notice a pattern amongst all the books he loves. And no, it's not trucks. We do actually read books without trucks in it...sometimes. Trucks or not, all the books we end up reading together over and over again offer additional details in the pictures for my son to spot. He pours over each page, trying to find Goldbug (Cars and Trucks and Things That Go) or Zombie Truck (Monster Trucks) or identifying all the different types of trucks (Truck Truck Goose). More importantly, though, he can connect to the characters. He's at an age where he understands wanting to help (Little Blue Truck), being sad or protective (The Digger and the Flower), getting confused (The Mixed-up Truck), or being impatient (Sheep in a Jeep). All of these books have total kid appeal. Does it get cuter than Betsy Snyder's elephant driving the fire truck on the cover of Tons of Trucks? No, it doesn't. Could you get a better hook than Anika Denise's Monster Trucks? Nope. Because kids LOVE monsters and trucks! It's brilliant. We literally read that book on repeat.
The 2-3 age is amazing. Kids are sponges, soaking up everything you give them. His memory astounds me and he is learning words at such a rapid rate. One night we were reading Truck Truck Goose, which if you haven't read it, only contains a few words. My son didn't know the word "piano" before reading that book. But he kept seeing Goose pulling around a big, red piano on each spread. Which is a hilarious thing to drag to a picnic in the first place. But that's what makes this book so great. Because kids drag around ridiculous things all the time. Like when my son goes to the potty and has to bring his monster truck with him. He's not going to play with it in there. He just wants to know it's close by. Like Goose and his piano. My son kept asking me what the piano was until he'd committed it to memory. Now we read that book and he points out the piano every time. The word piano isn't even in the book. But the story and illustrations provided him with a new vocabulary word and an interactive way to learn it. Now that's pretty cool.
So what does this all mean? It means don't underestimate kids. Ever. THEY ARE REALLY SMART. Seriously, they pick up on everything. Recently, I had a conversation about using the word "digger" vs. "excavator" in one of my books. The concern was that kids might not know the word "excavator," which is a fair point, some may not. But in all the time I've heard my son talk about trucks, he's never once said "digger," unless he's referring to a name like Digger in The Digger in the Flower. Because he knows it's an "excavator." It's like those kids who can't spell their own name, but they can rattle off the most ridiculously long dinosaur names, unpronounceable to most adults. Unless of course, your household is going through the dinosaur phase...in which case, kudos to you!
So if you don't have a kid on hand to watch like a science experiment for your next book idea like I do, then you need to do your research. Read everything you can get your hands on in the age group you are writing for. Which books are doing really well in that group? Which books aren't? Find the pattern, then find the hole and figure out how you can fill it. I don't think I would be creating a wheel-based board book series with HarperCollins next summer if it weren't for my two-year-old and his obsession with wheels and all things trucks. It's a strange thing to be raising my market, but I'm having a blast.
Until next time, happy writing!
(Want more info on the books I mentioned? Click on the cover images above.)
What's up on deck? Check back next Thursday for an interview and giveaway with GO FISH and KNOCK KNOCK author Tammi Sauer!
This past spring, I had a wonderful experience participating in Writing with the Stars, a contest for aspiring authors and illustrators to win a free three-month mentorship with a published author or author/illustrator. The contest is run by Tara Leubbe and Becky Cattie, two sisters, who not only write together, but take the time to run this contest, offering wonderful opportunities to unpublished authors and illustrators. Which as you know, is what we are all about here at Critter Lit.
Make sure to check out Tara and Becky's website if you haven't already done so: www.beckytarabooks.com. The contest will start up again this December.
Contest applicants get to submit their work (either a manuscript or dummy) to a mentor of their choice. I was stunned with all the amazing work I was sent as a mentor. It was such a difficult decision to pick one mentee to work with, but ultimately Sandra Salsbury's work stood out to me immediately. The first thing I noticed was how well she handled her medium, watercolor. But the second, and what really struck me, especially with regards to picture books, is how great she is at composing different perspectives of storytelling.
I've had the opportunity to get to know Sandra and her work these past few months while mentoring her on her book dummy, MR. FLUFF IS MISSING. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do!
So without further ado, I'm thrilled to introduce Sandra Salsbury!
Where do you live?
I live in Berkeley, CA, just below hills full of hiking trails and down the street from one of the best bakeries.
When did you know you wanted to make picture books?
I originally enrolled in art school because I loved to draw, but I spent most of my time floundering around with my art, not really knowing what I would do with it after graduation. It had never even occurred to me that there were people out there making picture books. In my last semester I ended up, on whim, enrolling in a children's illustration class with a local illustrator, LeUyen Pham. This was back in 2006, so there was no way for me, nor any of my classmates, to know what a gift it was to be taught by someone like LeUyen. It felt like there was suddenly a place where my art made sense and it was almost absurd that it hadn't occurred to me before. I ended up enrolling in an MFA program after to focus my portfolio on children's illustration and creating picture books has been my goal since then.
Can you share a bit about your process?
My process sort of looks like thinking, then writing, then drawing, then rewriting, then redrawing, and then more thinking and drawing and writing. My stories go through many iterations, first in my head, then in a word document, then on sheets of paper with squares printed out. I usually work in three different sizes of sketches. The smallest is to figure out the overall flow of the story and the pages are small enough that they all fit on one sheet of paper (I will do 3-6 of these, typically). The next size is to figure out the composition of each page. I try to draw 4-8 versions of the page to find the best one. Sometimes the first one is the one that works, but sometimes it's the 8th. The largest size is the most refined version and it's the pages I use for my dummy. Some pages will only have one version, but some will have to be drawing again and again, as I made small changes in the story. And even at the end, you don't know how well a story works until you have put it together into a little book with pages that turn, so I end up with 5-8 final dummies. While working on the dummies I will also do character sketches and art samples to figure out my style and by the time I get to the final paintings, all the hard work is done so I put on an audiobook and get some "reading" done while I paint.
What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?
I am lucky to live right next to a number of beautiful trails and it seems like my brain does its best thinking while my legs are moving. If I am stuck on a project or I can't think of an idea, the solution is always to take a long walk. Sometimes I have to take a lot of walks, but eventually when I let my mind drift away from the problem at hand or I stop trying to come up with a good idea, something will pop into my head. The best answers are the ones that feel obvious because then you know they are simple enough to work.
Art supplies you can't live without?
Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper. I have tried switching papers, but I am so familiar with the way the paper absorbs paint and water, that using anything else feels like learning how to paint all over again. People always ask about paint brands and brushes, but paper is the true hero of watercolor paintings.
What an impossible question! I love Holly Hobbie's watercolors, Judy Schachner's expressions, Dan Santat's design, Jon Klassen's simplicity, LeUyen Pham's body language, Lorena Alvarez's colors, Chris Appelhan's characters...
Dream project or book to work on?
My dream project is just to write and illustrate (and get published!) my own story. I want to take something from an idea in my mind to a book on a shelf.
And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?
The Princess Bride. Any other choice would be inconceivable.
Want to know more about Sandra or her work? Visit her online at www.sandrasalsbury.com or you can follow her on Twitter @SandraSalsbury
Recently, I was asked a question about the placement and use of art notes in a picture book manuscript. I get this question a lot. Especially from picture book authors-only. Most illustrators understand when they do and don't need to art note, especially since they have the advantage of knowing what will or will not be illustrated along with the text. So if you're an author only, you have to get creative, and consider the illustrations as you write your text.
So, when should you art note your manuscript? Here is my simplest explanation:
ONLY INCLUDE AN ART NOTE WHEN IT IS IMPERATIVE TO UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT.
Here's an example: say your story is about a monster that only exists in the art. You never mention the monster in the text. The story isn't about the monster. It's about the boy the monster follows around. But in order to know that the monster exists when reading the manuscript, you need to include an art note. Make sense?
Let's say your story has an action sequence, with a lot of sounds and fun read-aloud bits. But it's not necessarily clear what is actually happening in the action. Art note it. This means the illustrator will understand your intention, but be able to amplify the sounds you've provided to marry the art and text together fluidly.
Now that you know when to art note, what should an art note look like?
I prefer to italicize and change the text color of my art notes. So if the manuscript text is in black (which all of yours should be, this isn't fourth grade, and pink isn't an acceptable font color for submission!), then I like to pick a light to medium gray for my art notes. And yes, even as an illustrator I use art notes. I probably use more art notes that an author-only does. I know what I want spreads to look like, so sometimes I will be very specific in my art notes, especially during the submission process. Editors are not always visual people, and the art director won't be reading your manuscript first, an editor most likely will. So make it easy for them to understand. Don't give them a reason, like lack of clarity, for them to pass on your manuscript.
This is what an art note in one of my manuscripts typically looks like:
[Art Note: ... ]
For me, using italics and changing the text color to gray, helps the art notes stand out from the body text. Not only do I think this helps anyone who is reading my manuscript for the first time, but it also helps me during the revision process.
Where should you place an art note within the manuscript? Before or after the scene to which you are referring?
Usually, I place my art notes after the scene I'm referring to in the art note. But you can also list them first. It just depends on what the scene requires and why you are using the art note in the first place. For example, if you need the art note to set a scene, that either has no text or very minimal text, I would suggest listing it before. I've done this from time to time when I'm planning to use an art note as a way to clarify what I will be showing in the art, that won't be explicitly said in the text.
So what should you keep in mind when including art notes? Here is a few tips that can go a long way:
TIPS FOR USING ART NOTES
- Always read your manuscript aloud. To yourself and to others. You should be doing this regardless, but it will definitely help you understand if you need an art note or not.
- If you are an author-only, consider how your text will allow an illustrator to add their mark to the story. Have you left enough room for them? A truly successful picture book is one that effortlessly marries the art and text together, even if it's done by two different people.
- Don't be descriptive. Again, only art note if it's imperative to understanding the text. Don't add in art notes with descriptions of the characters, what they are wearing, the setting, etc. If the reader will need any of these things to understand your story, then you need to art note it. But otherwise, you are trying to micromanage the illustrations and you need to stop. As an illustrator, I can tell you, it's very annoying.
So go out there and art note correctly, or not. Either way, now you know, and hopefully this post will help you when deciding whether or not to include an art note in your manuscript.
If you have a question you'd like to see answered here on Critter Lit, please email me at email@example.com.
Until next time, happy writing!
They'll always be a reason not to do the work. Not to write. Not to draw. Not to read. Trust me, I get it. With two boys under the age of 3, my stack of books to be read is epic. I feel like there is never enough time in the day and I find myself wishing I could do more of a lot of things. But the trick is to make it count, right?
I happen to work some unusual hours seeing as my husband and I both work from home and we've decided to stay at home with our boys, splitting work shifts while the other watches the kids. It's a bit crazy, and every day is different, but it works for us. My first two hours of work happen first thing, from 5-7am. And I have to make them count. If there's one thing having kids taught me it's that procrastination is simply NOT an option. I literally don't have time to waste time because at the end of those first two hours, my eight-month-old will want to eat, and he doesn't really care that I need five more minutes to finish up. Or that I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to because I spent the first hour wasting time online.
So how do we make time to get the work done? Create books? Write? Draw? Read? If you're just starting out, unpublished, and trying to get your foot in the door, you probably have a day job. So there goes a vast amount of time you could be dedicating to your writing or drawing. The good news is, that day job can actually help you tremendously. I haven't had a day job for a long time now, but I did when I first started out. Before I was published, I worked at a children's book store in Brookline, Massachusetts. (Shout out to Terri and The Children's Book Shop!) It was a great experience and I learned a ton about the picture book market. I had the chance to read the latest books and see what contemporary authors and illustrators were doing in the business. It also got me out of my own head sometimes, which as a creative, can be imperative.
I worked five days a week, then I'd go home, eat dinner, and sit down in my make-shift studio space, and work again. But this time on writing or illustrations for my portfolio. I spent three years sending out postcard mailers, every three months, to any art director whose address I could find. Years went by and I never heard anything. It was a tough time, filled with a lot of self-doubt and a bad case of the hypotheticals.
It's really easy to get caught up in playing out all the scenarios that can happen. I'm super type A, which means I generally overthink things to death. As I sat at my drawing table night after night, I would obsess over getting published, breaking through, or meeting the right art director who'd finally give me a shot. Here's the thing though-- I had to give myself a shot first. If I didn't believe I was talented enough to publish a book, then how could I expect anyone else to?
Unfortunately, the kidlit industry, is a one in a million. Literally. Not everyone gets to do this. So many things have to line up. It's like fate. Or a romantic comedy (although at times it feels like a tragedy). But at the end of the day, you either do the work or you don't. All the stars could align and you finally get your shot, but if you don't have the work done and haven't put in the time, it won't matter, and the opportunity will pass you by. It's easy to say you'll get around to it someday. But let's be honest, you won't. You have to make time for your craft. Ideally everyday, and if not everyday, regularly in a schedule that works for you. Even if it's just an hour a week you carve out for yourself to write or draw, take it! It's a start, and hopefully that one hour will become important enough to you, that you'll make time for another hour, and another hour, until you find you've created enough time for yourself to follow your dream and really make a go of it.
I tend to get caught up in the hypotheticals particularly when I'm in the midst of a submission. After all this time, I still do it, even though I know better. I worry over if anyone will like my work or the dummy I've spent months fine tuning. Will it sell? Will it ever see the light of day? Or will it just end up in a drawer? If it does sell, who will buy it? Will I be working with a new publisher? Which then brings on a whole new list of worries: Will we work well together? Will our visions for the book align? The list goes on and on. Thus, a bad case of the hypotheticals.
But none of that really matters at the end of the day. Because it's about the work. Once it's out there, you've done your job. And whatever the result, you have to be okay with that. Trust what you've put out there. And if it's not that one that makes it, try again. And again. And again. This industry is a numbers game. Be your biggest advocate. Pick yourself up and keep going.
Even now, I'm still not used to rejections. I think it's safe to say that none of us are. But with each one, you can get a bit tougher, a bit stronger. Be open minded. Listen to constructive criticism about your work, and then discard the stuff that doesn't resonate with you. I find that the criticism that I get the most upset over, or react the strongest to, is usually the one thing I need to address. At the end of the day it's your work, and you have to do what feels right for you and your book.
Ideally, when I go out on a submission, I always want to sell the book, obviously. I try not to worry about how I will feel if it doesn't sell. Which is tough, because I've put months of work into something that may never make it on a book shelf. I recently went out on submission with a new project, that I knew was a long shot, considering the concept. But it made me laugh every time I worked on it, so I wanted to try it out in the marketplace. Unfortunately, although I had a lot of editors think it was funny too, it ultimately wasn't the right fit for anyone. And that's okay. I can't control what other people think about my work. Nor can you. But you have to keep trying.
So I still get up every morning and do the work. I write about what I think is funny. Or what my hilarious (I know, I'm biased) two-year-old said the other day. And I keep going. Because I love this job. It truly is the best job in the world.
So keep going. Keep writing. Keep drawing. And keep those hypotheticals at bay. Get up each day, and put in the time. Because dreams need nourishment and only you can provide that for yourself.
Welcome to Critter Lit's Curated Content! Every Thursday, make sure to drop by for news and updates on all things kidlit! Here's what you can expect to come each month:
- book reviews of newly published books
- spotlight on debut authors/illustrators and up + coming authors/illustrators
- craft post: tips on the trade and creation of picture books in the kidlit publishing industry
- Q+A: I'll answer YOUR questions!
Interested in breaking into the world of children's publishing? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Each month, I'll answer YOUR questions and feature them here on Critter Lit's Curated Content.
To say that last summer was crazy would be an understatement. Within a matter of three months I finished Brobarians and we sold our house. By the end of the summer, we were in tow with a baby and dog and no place to live (our house sold much faster than we anticipated). Thankfully our parents were willing to take us in until we could close on a new house (we bid and lost out on FOUR houses until we found our current house, which was totally worth the wait, but still it was crazy!) Here’s a look at some of the photos I took while making Brobarians last summer:
Until next time,
Making the cover for any book is stressful. So many things factor into the design and overall look. And of course there is the ultimate question bouncing around in the back of your mind...Will this cover sell this book? For most books I work on, I go through many revisions before I settle on the right look for the cover. So far my record is 40 cover sketches (When Blue Met Egg). Thankfully Brobarians didn't require quite that many. Here's a look at the sketches that lead up to the final cover I chose for Brobarians with the wonderful team I worked with at Two Lions:
I think I was a little gung-ho on this one. We ultimately didn't go with this option because we didn't want to give away the fantasy scenes included in the interior of the book. This is where the reader sees how the brothers actually see themselves in their imagination.
Although this really conveyed the action and energy of the story through the movement of the brothers running, we wanted readers to connect with the characters, which is tough through a profile image.
Now we were getting somewhere. We could see the brother's environment, we had a head on perspective to connect with them. But, by closing Iggy's eyes, the reader loses the connection with him. So this cover option didn't make it either.
I tried a variation on Cover Sketch 3 by doing more of a close-up on the brothers. Obviously Iggy's eyes closed was still an issue, but I wanted to see if a close-up would make a difference. Ultimately, we felt that we understood the context better if we could see more of the background and the objects they were holding on to.
Again, super gung-ho. I loved the idea of this cover, but it would have given away too much. And this spread in the book is one of my favorites. Having gone this way for the cover would have taken away from the climax of their battle scene.
While I was sketching all of the cover options, this was one of my favorites. But after some back and forth over it with the team at Two Lions, we decided the attitude the boys had was a little too much and didn't really reflect the feel of the book.
Finally, we had a winner! I say finally like seven sketches is a lot, it's really not. But I was thrilled with this sketch and so happy that the team at Two Lions loved it too. It showed the environment, the brother's personalities, and the feeling of the book. It was the whole package! You'll also notice we dropped the hyphen in the title. We thought this would be much easier for readers when looking for the book in a search engine. Next, we had to make the jacket...
Here's the final sketch.
Then I created the rest of the art for the jacket. Now I needed to add color...
This is how the art looks when I send it to my editor and art director for approval. Everything is taped down so that I can still make changes. I had run out of drafting tape at this point and all I had left was floral wasabi tape, thus the patterned tape everywhere. I don't glue anything down until the very end.
Then the book designer goes in and lays out all the copy on the flaps and spine of the book. We went through a few changes with this until we settled on the perfect one. I'm thrilled with how it all came together. I worked with an amazing team of people at Two Lions.
Ta-da! Here's the final cover! I'd come along way since the cover I submitted with my book dummy during the submission process:
So all that for one cover - no big deal right? I hope you enjoy Brobarians as much as I do. For more information about the book or to pre-order Brobarians, click here.
Until next time, Happy Reading!
At the end of this month, my newest picture book BROBARIANS with Two Lions, an imprint of Amazon Publishing, will pub on March 28th. I'm so excited to share this book with all of you for many reasons, but mostly because I never thought this book would be published. I honestly didn't think anyone would get it. It's weird and quirky and has nods to the writing of John Milius, who isn't exactly the poster boy for childhood. Yet here we are, a month out from publication thanks to all the fabulous people at Two Lions who believed in it too.
Let me start from the beginning. My husband has this list of must-see movies. He's very particular about them and feels that they are necessary to be a well-rounded viewer/human being. In other words, if you haven't seen them, he won't think much of your movie taste. What can I say, he's particular about his movies. One of the movies on his list is Conan the Barbarian, written and directed by John Milius, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I know what you're thinking. Really, that's on the list? Yes. And like all of you, I thought could this movie really be worth two hours of my life? But my husband insisted. Apparently my life would be stunted without it this viewing experience. So we watched it. And to be honest, I hated the first half hour of it. It was campy, cheesy, and completely ridiculous. But then something strange happened, I started to enjoy the campy, cheesy, and completely ridiculous dialogue. It was so over the top. This movie represented everything I would typically pass on, but for some reason it all worked. By the end of the two hours I loved it. And better yet...and book idea was forming.
I realized that the voice of Conan the Barbarian is what really sets it apart. I don't mean Arnold's voice, but rather the words of John Milius, the writer. This is the same guy who wrote Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry, etc. An over the top, larger than life writer and director in the movie business. In fact, if any of you have seen The Big Lebowski (another movie on my husband's list) the character played by John Goodman is based on Milius. I imagine you have to be pretty bold to create his resume. Days after watching Conan, the voice stayed with me.
And then I remembered a story my husband told me about he and his brother when they were little. My husband is two years older than his younger brother. By the time his younger brother was walking around with a bottle, my husband had already been weened off of them. But that didn't change the fact that he still wanted one all the time. So on occasion my husband was known to steal his younger brother's bottle and go hide behind a chair while he gulped it down. This lasted a whole of five minutes before their mom would figure out what had happened and take the bottle away. Apparently this became a household routine.
So between the Conan voice bouncing around in my head and the story my husband told me...BROBARIANS was created. As soon as the idea popped into my head, I wrote the first draft in one go. The story went through many, many, many drafts and revisions. But finally I was ready to create a dummy and send it to my agent. She must have thought I was crazy the first time she read BROBARIANS. I knew it was going to be a tough sell because the voice was so adult. But I also knew that's where the humor was. This idea of babies juxtaposed with this over-the-top narration was too funny not to try.
We went out on two rounds of general submission and magically two houses were interested! I couldn't believe someone was going to let me publish this book. Even now I still feel that way. Ultimately we felt that Two Lions and Amazon were a great fit for BROBARIANS.
After finishing the book, I received the best editorial letter yet, to which my editor said:
"I can say with certainty that this is the only time I have ever said this to anyone: thanks for watching Conan the Barbarian."
So...here's the point of this post: you never know where your ideas will come from, least of all a movie night with your husband starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who'd of thought?
I'm thrilled to share BROBARIANS on March 28th! I hope you all find it as funny as I do!
To pre-order BROBARIANS, please click here.
Make sure to check back during the month of March for more posts about the making of BROBARIANS!
Create what you love. And do it every day.
At 31 this is what I would have told my 24-year-old self when I started in publishing.
It sounds relatively simple right? Wrong. Or at least, that’s how it was for me. Specifically the do it everyday part. I didn’t keep a sketch book. I didn’t write everyday. I didn’t think about new ideas all the time. I’d come up with a book idea. Write it. Make a dummy. And pitch it. If it sold, I’d make said book. Exert a serious amount of energy and then feel like I needed a three month vacation. And then repeat the whole thing all over again for the next book. Which isn’t exactly wrong. The problem was that I was treating my book career like a hobby. A career is not something you do occasionally. It’s something you invest your time in everyday. And I love my job. So why wasn’t I investing my time?
For me it was easy to step back and say I deserved a break after completing a book. It takes a lot of work! But I found when I looked at it like this, it started to feel like a burden. And writing and illustrating is not a burden, it’s a privilege. Truly. So I realized it was time for a radical change. Which is funny because 2016 was insanely full of them for me and my family, so why not add one more?
This past August we sold our house, bought a new one (but not without being transient for three months at my parents and in-laws with a baby and dog in tow). Renovated the new house because it was a total disaster. Moved in two days before Christmas and basically reinvented our whole work schedule. It was a massive overhaul. And it changed everything in the most difficult and best way possible.
It’s 6:19am right now and I’ve already been up for an hour and half.
This is what I do everyday now. Including Saturdays and Sundays. Which today is Saturday. I wake up at 5am and work for a solid four hours before most people start their work day. And I do it seven days a week. I know what you’re thinking…I can’t do that. I can’t wake up that early. I’m too busy. (I know this because those are all the things I said when my brilliant husband suggested this to me.) He told me that in an average work day, people are only truly productive for four hours, which is crazy considering most people work a job from 9-5 everyday. So why couldn’t that work for me? It would certainly allow me to be a mom and take care of my home and family in a much more efficient way than I was already, let’s be honest, struggling to do.
It’s all about commitment to craft. Do you love to create? Great. Do you love creating so much that you would get up and do it at 5am? Because that’s what it takes. Everyday. Even if you have another job. I’m not saying you have wake up at 5am like I do, but you do have to be committed to making time for your craft each and everyday. I picked 5am because I like feeling like I’ve already worked a solid block of time before the day has really started, that and I have a 18-month-old son. This is the schedule that works for me and my family. You have to find what works for you.
Because here’s the thing - if you keep waiting for extra time to come along for you to create your next idea, it won’t. Time doesn’t give a crap about you or the millions of things you have to get done everyday. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of mornings I get up and everything I write is terrible and my drawings are awful. But I still keep going. I push to get through those four hours even if it’s killing me.
Here’s what a typical morning looks like:
5am: Roll out of bed, which is difficult every morning. I don’t think that will ever change. Especially when my dog (a mid-sized portable heater) snuggles next to me. She is not supportive of my early morning drive.
5:10am: Some sort of stretch or repetition of ten to get blood flowing. My hands are stiff in the morning. And my brain is fuzzy. This helps. Seriously. I know it sounds silly, but it works.
5:10-6am: Draw. Anything. As much as I can. Whatever pops into my head. I use Japanese PiGMA pens and whiteout for corrections. I started using this method for a few reasons. I generally stay away from black ink in my work, it always feels too harsh or heavy. I tend to prefer grey or navy ink or a simple pencil line. But my goal is to make intentional lines, no second-guessing myself, and pencil encourages hesitation. The more I used the black ink, the more confident I became in the lines I was making. Going directly to ink, rather than creating a pencil sketch first, pushes me to be decisive with my line. Now, of course, I still make plenty of bad lines and change my mind about the drawing as it comes together - thus the whiteout. But I find that my morning sketches have a way of maintaining the integrity of the line I intended because I haven’t sketched, used a light table to transfer, and then created the finish. The first drawing is the finished drawing.
6am: Then I post one of my morning sketches. This is a relatively new thing. I’m horrible at social media. But I found that posting a drawing everyday makes me feel accountable to something. Like if I miss a day, everyone will know. Which isn’t really the point, the drawing is for me, but thinking this way is encouraging. Keep drawing. Keep creating.
6am-7am: Write. I allocate a solid hour to NEW creative writing every morning. Not editing. Not a book I’m currently under contract for. But new ideas. This part is really difficult for me. I tend to self edit a lot as I write. I work on just getting words on the page in this hour. The computer I write with doesn’t have access to internet intentionally. The internet is a time succubus that doesn’t care about the creative work you need to do, so ignore it.
7am-9am: This is when I do the work I’m contractually accountable for, like new books or illustration jobs. Currently, I’m working on finishes for my new book, DON'T FORGET DEXTER.
9am: I walk out of my bat cave and see my little man. This is my favorite part. Because this is the part where I actually feel like I’m devoting time to my craft and my family. I don’t feel torn between carving out time during the day to work or play with my son. This schedule allows me to do both and feel good about my use of time.
The rest of the day is spent working during the time my son is napping. Before I did the 5am wake-up, I’d get really stressed out because I could only work during his naps. Sometimes he would wake up early, sometimes he wouldn’t sleep at all. I couldn’t focus. And it felt like I wasn’t able to get anything done because of constant interruptions. But now, by the time he’s up, I’ve already worked four hours, so anything else I’m able to accomplish is a bonus.
Then at some point, I take a walk with my family, to reboot and think about new ideas.
Now obviously, everyone’s schedule is different. People have day jobs, kids, and a million other responsibilities. And I’m not suggesting to all of you that this is what you have to do to be successful with your craft. All I can tell you is that this is how I feel successful on my own terms, without external pressures telling me otherwise.
*Also, in case you’re wondering, my husband is self-employed and works from home too. Which means I have to make those four hours count. I have to hustle. We both do. There is no day job income to fall back on for us. This is the price we pay for the freedom to create and spend time with our son everyday.
If you get anything at all out of this post, I hope it’s this: don’t waste time waiting around for the perfect moment to create because it will never come.
You have to make time for what you love.