Thursday, May 23, 2024

Social Media Tips that Stand the Test of Time

 Last week, I talked about having a marketing plan and setting goals. This week, I thought I’d talk about social media, since that’s obviously closely linked. I do a talk at writers’ conferences on the subject, and the room is always filled with creatives who are almost afraid of social media. And that can’t be the point.

            The best way to look at social media platforms is this: they are a tool to help you reach individual readers. That’s it. You’re talking to one reader at a time.

You don’t have to dance on Tiktok if that’s not your thing.

 

1.     Set Social Media Goals

A good place to start is to make a list of social media platforms and see what they do. Facebook is for friends and fans, X (formerly Twitter) is for quick bites of information, Instagram for photos and short videos, Tiktok for spontaneous videos. Think about what you’re comfortable sharing. Readers, librarians and teachers love a behind-the-scenes look at your workspace, your inspiration, and your process.

            If you’re new to social media, set smaller goals until you feel more comfortable. If short form sharing doesn’t speak to you, consider starting a newsletter. Much like this blog, it allows you to write longer pieces and reach readers directly in their email inbox.

            The key is to build a habit and share regularly. That way, your readers and fans know when they can expect to hear from you. Start with weekly goals and a checklist, so you can walk away (and get back to writing!) when you’re done.


This is my virtual author visit setup (complete with ravens)

2.     Create a Social Media Calendar

Using your big-picture goals, set a social media calendar. What are you going to share, and when will you share it? Each platform has a best time to share as well (you can Google this) so plan around that. You can even use a social media scheduling tool.

A word of caution: all these platforms only work if you engage with fans. Comment on and share other people’s posts—it’s called social media for a reason: you must be social.

           

3.     Focus on Individual Connections & Do Nice Things for Others

If it feels like you’re screaming into a void, you’re probably not approaching social media right. Even if only one person comments or shares your post, that’s okay: you still made a connection. People who have massive followings and engagement tend to be bigger name authors and illustrators, so don’t compare yourself to those people. It takes years to develop this kind of following. It’s better to look at growing your number of followers as a long term goal but not as something you can control.

If you’re unsure of what to do, do something nice for someone else. Post a review, share a new release (called a bookbirthday), and celebrate good news a friend has. It’ll earn you some goodwill points and with some luck, they’ll share your good news when it’s your turn.

 

Extra tip: try out two platforms if possible. The consensus used to be that you should pick your favorite platform and focus there, but with the recent uncertainty in platforms (Twitter’s demise and transformation into X, Tiktok on the brink of being banned, etc.), don’t put all your social media eggs in one basket. Try to be active on at least two platforms.

You can Google examples of social media calendars, though I urge you to find your own process. Everyone shares in their own way. That’s what makes social media interesting.


How about you? How do you manage your social media?

About Fleur:

Fleur Bradley has loved mysteries ever since she first picked up an Agatha Christie book at the age of eleven. She’s the author of middle-grade mysteries Daybreak on Raven Island and Midnight at the Barclay Hotel (Viking/PRH), the Double Vision trilogy (HarperCollins), as well as numerous short stories, one of which was recently chosen for the annual Best Mystery Stories of the Year anthology. Fleur’s work has been nominated for the Agatha and Anthony Award and has won the Colorado Book Award, among others.

A reluctant reader herself, Fleur is also a literacy advocate and speaks at events on how to reach reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in a small cottage in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies.

You can find Fleur online at fleurbradley.com.


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Registration for the SCBWI 2024 Summer Virtual Conference opens Today, Tuesday May 21 @ 10AM PST!!

 

the logo for the SCBWI Summer 2024 Virtual Conference


#SCBWIsummer24 is going to be amazing!

The 2024 SCBWI Virtual Summer Conference will include:

  • Inspiring keynotes featuring Kate DiCamillo and Felicita Sala
  • Panels of agents, editors, and art directors discussing the current state of children’s publishing⁠
  • A half-day Intensive just for Illustrators
  • Over 35 breakout sessions with tracks for illustrators, self-publishing authors, traditionally published authors, nonfiction authors⁠, and more
  • An opportunity to pitch to acquiring agents and editors⁠
  • The career-launching Portfolio Showcase⁠
  • Online socials and peer critiques⁠
  • Website and Social Media Consultations

Get all the details and see the full scheduled here. And if you register before June 21st you get a special early bird discount of $20 off.

We hope you'll join us!

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On!
Lee

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Creating a Marketing Plan (that doesn’t take over your life)


Confession time: I love marketing. I know, most authors dread it, but to me it can be as much fun as writing my books. That said, marketing can become a serious black hole where time and space does not exist…*cue Twilight Zone music

            I’ve wasted my share of hours on Twitter (actually, that’s X now), Instagram, and whatever platform is the latest buzz. I had to set limits on the time I spend on social media, and how much time I spend on marketing in general. It’s very easy for marketing to take over your life, especially around book launch time.

            It took me a while to get this balance right. Here are a few things that worked for me:

 

1.     Set Clear Goals (try 3 at first)

When my first book came out, I tried everything I could think of. I sent postcards, attended conventions, and roamed around social media platforms telling everyone who would listen about my book. Some of it was effective, but a lot of it was a waste of time. I quickly realized that if I wanted to write the next book (which I was under contract for), I had to stop trying to do everything and focus on those marketing activities that were more effective.

            It helped me to set goals. For instance, I have a goal to write a newsletter once a week. I put in roughly four speaking proposals to literacy and writers conventions a year. I post to social media platforms almost daily, but I limit my time spent there (I use it as my watercooler/coffee break, since I’m a full-time writer).



This is me at a school visit (they are my favorite kind of marketing)


            Define what you want to accomplish, so you can use these goals to remain focused. Extra tip: split your time between in-person and online marketing, roughly evenly. That way, you’re getting your message out there on multiple platforms and reaching different audiences. Be realistic about what you’re capable of doing.

 

2.     Define Steps to Get You There

Once you’ve identified your (annual or quarterly) marketing goals, make a checklist of actions that will get you there. For example, a goal of four speaking engagements a year means you have to create a presentation to pitch, plus research so you can make a list of events you want to pitch it to. Those are clear actions you can check off when finished. Try to estimate the amount of time each task might take, so you can schedule them on your calendar, just like you would a doctor’s appointment or your kid’s karate lessons.

            If you have a book launch or other event surrounding your book (say, Earth Day for a book about the environment), you’ll want to make sure your marketing steps reflect your outreach goals. Be sure to plan ahead so you don’t miss an opportunity. If you want to land speaking engagements in 2025 for example, you’ll want to start planning your pitch and research where you want to put in a proposal now. Those proposal windows are often small, so you’ll want to be ready.

3.     Schedule Time for Marketing and Walk Away

As a rule of thumb, I make sure that I never spend more time on marketing than I do writing my next book, unless I have a book launch happening. I have to protect that writing time, because I want to have a new book to talk about in a few years. Marketing is fun to me, and I always have a marketing activity on my calendar. But once I check off the actions on my to-do list, I walk away.

            Accept that you can’t do everything. You’re not a robot, you know.

 

Tell me: what do you do to make sure marketing doesn’t take over your writing life?

Bonus Resources: you can check out my newsletter. I share writing tips just like these posts, plus inspiration every week.

 

About Fleur:

Fleur Bradley has loved mysteries ever since she first picked up an Agatha Christie book at the age of eleven. She’s the author of middle-grade mysteries Daybreak on Raven Island and Midnight at the Barclay Hotel (Viking/PRH), the Double Vision trilogy (HarperCollins), as well as numerous short stories, one of which was recently chosen for the annual Best Mystery Stories of the Year anthology. Fleur’s work has been nominated for the Agatha and Anthony Award and has won the Colorado Book Award, among others.

A reluctant reader herself, Fleur is also a literacy advocate and speaks at events on how to reach reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in a small cottage in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies.

You can find Fleur online at fleurbradley.com.


Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Today (Tuesday May 14, 2024) is the last day to vote in Round One of the SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards

All current members of SCBWI may vote once in each division per each voting round. Go login and vote here: https://www.scbwi.org/crystal-kite 

screenshot of the new voting platform for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards

Round two will open on May 16!

(It's a great way to support your fellow children's book creators, and a super way to add to your to-be-read list, too!)

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, May 9, 2024

3 Tips for Writing a Mystery for Kids

 Hello, I’m Fleur Bradley and I write mysteries for kids.

    This is my standard introduction whenever I go to a conference or other event, so it seemed only fitting to start my series of blog posts here this way. I love mysteries. I actually got my start as a writer in the genre, writing short mysteries and getting them published in magazines and anthologies. In fact, there’s an SCBWI anthology out in July, The Haunted States of Americawith one of my stories (representing Colorado) in it. More on writing short stories in a future blog post…

    I still write a few short stories every now and then, though I spend most of my time writing MG and YA mystery novels now.

    As luck would have it, kids love mysteries too. Just like me, they love the puzzle, the excitement, and turning the pages to see if the whodunit is in fact the who that they thought dunit.


    I’ve been writing mysteries long enough that pacing and placing clues comes easy to me now, though that took many years. The question I get most often from fellow SCBWI writers is how to place your clues so a mystery novel works.

    Here are a few tips. 

1.     Start with your Big Reveal and Work Backwards

The best way to ensure you place your clues in the right spot is to start with the big reveal of your mystery bad dude or lady, and work your way backwards. Outline the scene where your kid detective puts the pieces together and reveals who the antagonist is. Then simply make a list of clues that would logically get your protagonist to come to that conclusion.

2.     Sprinkle Clues Throughout

Next up, you’ll want to place those clues throughout the manuscript. These revelations will become plot points you work your manuscript scenes towards, a bit like stops on a road trip. Make sure your protagonist has to work to uncover these clues and that they don’t just fall into their lap—especially avoid clues handed on a silver platter by adults. Your detective should earn it. Bonus points if your protagonist’s skills make them uniquely qualified to put these clues together, a little like Sherlock, Marple or whoever your favorite detective is.  

            Extra tip: You can use tangents or false clues to send your detective down the wrong path. They’re called red herrings in the mystery world.

3.     Play Fair with Your Reader

Make sure you play fair with your reader. No one likes a ten-page monologue by the antagonist, telling us how they outsmarted everyone, or a magical uncovering of a dozen clues at the end. Some sort of final reveal scene is okay, but it shouldn’t be a clue or info dump. Your reader should be able to put the clues together if they read your story again, or even the first time. As a mystery reader, half the fun is in seeing if who you think did the crime is actually it.


I’ll never tire of the mystery genre, because I love this clue hunt.

Tell me: do you have a favorite detective, either on the kid or adult side?

 

Quick resources:

To find a list of mysteries for kids, check out this list I made on Bookshop and Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards database.

 

About Fleur:

Fleur Bradley has loved mysteries ever since she first picked up an Agatha Christie book at the age of eleven. She’s the author of middle-grade mysteries Daybreak on Raven Island and Midnight at the Barclay Hotel (Viking/PRH), the Double Vision trilogy (HarperCollins), as well as numerous short stories, one of which was recently chosen for the annual Best Mystery Stories of the Year anthology. Fleur’s work has been nominated for the Agatha and Anthony Award and has won the Colorado Book Award, among others.

A reluctant reader herself, Fleur is also a literacy advocate and speaks at events on how to reach reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in a small cottage in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies.

You can find Fleur online at fleurbradley.com.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Make Your Book Indistinguishable In Quality to One Published By the Big Five Publishers: A Free Resource

Hello, SCBWI friends!

The Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) has a free PDF checklist called The IBPA Industry Standards Checklist for a Professionally Published Book.

screenshot of the first page of the IBPA Industry Standards Checklist for a Professionally Published Book

It's very helpful two page PDF that can help you make sure that when you publish your own work it is professionally put together and presented--both for industry folks (librarians, booksellers, agents, trade outlets, etc...) and the reading public.

The good news is the reading public doesn't care who published a book. So if you make sure your book is professionally done, you're giving that book the best chance to succeed.

Note: The term "self-publishing" tricks a lot of people into thinking that they just need to learn how to do it all themselves. This is the wrong approach. You need to hire professionals to do a lot of the elements that you can't do at a professional level. (Think about it: If no one is going to pay me to design the cover of their book, then I have no business designing the cover of my book.)

A better term for a creator publishing their own work is "author publisher" - because as a publisher, you're the final say on how professionally put together the book is. You hire the team, you oversee the project, and you're the one who signs off on the version that goes out into the world.

So if you are or want to be an author publisher, this IBPA Checklist for a Professionally Published Book is an excellent resource.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee



Friday, May 3, 2024

What Are All the Different Paths to Getting Your Work Published? The IBPA Publishing MAP (Models and Author Pathways) Helps You Explore the Options

Even for the same creator, each book project can have a different path to publication. The nonprofit Independent Book Publishers Association (I work for them as their Chief Content Officer) has put together a FREE overview and resource for the book publishing industry and for authors looking at different pathways to getting their creative works published. It's called the IBPA Publishing MAP (Models and Author Pathways).

Image of the first page of the IBPA Publishing MAP

The IBPA Publishing MAP includes eight different publishing models:

  • Association, Society, & Non-Profit Publishers
  • Author Publishers
  • Corporate Trade Publishers
  • Higher Education & Academic Publishers
  • Hybrid Publishers
  • Independent Publishers & Small Presses
  • Service Providers
  • University Presses

For each model, the IBPA Publishing MAP explores and explains these attributes:

  • Definition
  • Examples
  • How They are Funded
  • How They Generate Income
  • Model Characteristics
  • Appropriate for Authors Who
  • Not Right for Authors Who

Additionally, the IBPA Publishing MAP includes a discussion of areas of model overlap, a disclaimer regarding predatory business models, and links to related resources.

Many advisors, volunteers, and staff members worked together to make this first iteration of the guide the best it could be on release. As with all documents, there are always ways to improve it, especially as publishing continues to evolve. You can leave feedback here in comments or email the IBPA team at info (at) ibpa-online (dot) org

IBPA's hope is that this is helpful to members of the SCBWI community as you consider the different options for getting your creative work published!

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Is Your Picture Book Exhibit-Worthy?

Those of us who create picture books are probably just as excited as the lucky kids who get to visit The Rabbit Hole, a new museum in North Kansas City, Missouri that “brings countless works of children’s literature to life.” —That's from their website, which goes on to explain:

Visitors become explorers in an immersive, multi-sensory, narrative landscape... you can catch a ride with Nana and CJ on the bus to the Last Stop on Market Street; whisper “Goodnight Moon” in the quiet dark of the great green room; outshine Mr. Sun with Sam and the Tigers; feed jum-jills to The Funny Thing, or find yourself scaling the cliffs of My Father’s Dragon.

My favorite of the museum profiles I've seen so far is this video tour by the amazing librarian, blogger, and children's book author herself, Betsy Bird (a.k.a. A Fuse #8 Production) which you can watch here on Betsy's Instagram.

France's house welcomes visitors to view the wonders inside...  Frances series written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Lillian Hoban. Photo from this The Rabbit Hole Instagram post.


As someone who writes picture books myself, I found myself daydreaming... what would it be like to see one of the worlds of MY picture books brought to 3-dimensional, tactile life in this way? 

The 1990s Montana town celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah so shimmeringly created by Paul O. Zelinsky for Red and Green and Blue and White. Or the pre-unification China of 500 B.C.E. where Yuan, Duke Ling of Wei fell in love with Mi Zi Xia, so lovingly fashioned by Jieting Chen for Love of the Half-Eaten Peach.

And I thought about how that's a pretty great exercise for all of us. Is the idea we're working on worthy of our time? The page? Does it have enough whimsy, or gravitas, or special sauce to make it a world of characters readers love so much they'd want to walk around inside that world and explore?

Maybe it's a litmus test for our passion. 

Is your current work in progress something you'd want to see built into a museum exhibit?

Hopefully this is both motivating and inspiring. If nothing else, it's a beautiful daydream...

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, April 25, 2024

When You’re Thinking About Self or Hybrid Publishing

In my last post here on the SCBWI blog, I shared quotes from some incredible creators, including Author and Illustrator Todd Parr. He passed along some amazing advice and touched on self-publishing, noting that it wouldn’t be easy but “the option to really be creative has never been more within reach.” That statement sparks joy, doesn’t it?!

When researching publishing options, I found that there was much more information available on traditional publishing. So I decided to talk to some authors who have self-published or used a hybrid publisher to better understand their experiences and share them with you.

Author Christina Williamson has published five books with hybrid publishers. Her first book debuted in 2017 with a company she had full trust in. They were an imprint of Reader's Digest. However, because she was so disappointed with how her book turned out, she didn’t end up marketing or promoting it at all. 

“The quality of the end product was poor, and there was a typo even after editing,” she explained.

This would be a nightmare for any author, but she didn’t give up. She conducted more research when looking to publish her next book and worked through the Alliance of Independent Authors. 

“At the time, they had a catalog that ranked the various independent publishing houses. That is where I found Gatekeeper Press,” she said. “The alliance gave them an approval (green light) rating. They offered a variety of packages. I could pick and choose what services I wanted (needed).”

She went on to tell me that she was assigned an author manager to help her through the various stages of the process and that the manager was easy to contact and communicate with. She found an illustrator through the press and was very happy with her book in the end.  

Christina has now published 4 books with Gatekeeper, including Can Little John Find A Way, and they are available on Amazon. She learned from her mistakes and her persistence paid off. The icing on the cake? She's made a return on her investment.

If you are considering working with a hybrid publisher, you'll want to make sure ticking all of the boxes on this checklist from the IBPA is part of your research process. 

Author Blair Northen Williamson self published her first book Island Girls: Free the Sea of Plastic and has a traditional book deal in the works. She told me that she “battled with the decision regarding Indie publishing for a very long time.”

Initially, she had a traditional publishing deal with her manuscript Island Girls. After receiving the first rounds of illustrations from her publisher, she learned that they planned to use computer-generated graphics that were far from the vision they communicated prior to signing the contract. 

“There are many other manuscripts I have that I won’t feel as passionate about the exact style when it comes to what the illustrations will look like. I know the importance of an illustrator having creative freedom, but in this particular manuscript – ISLAND GIRLS – this story was about my children, my family, and a very specific setting that I wanted to bring to life,” she explained.

Since her vision for the book didn’t match the publisher’s, Blair got a reversion of rights and began her self-publishing journey. She had upcoming plans to speak at a conference, a golden opportunity to introduce her book to educators and librarians, so she began interviewing self-publishing houses and illustrators. 

When asked what the process was like, Blair said it was “A LOT- and it still IS a lot.”

She explained that she spent time looking into everything from the size of the book to the placement of the words on the page to the paper weight. She controlled the entire process.

“Marketing, networking, financial, distribution, having books physically in bookstores… The legwork is all on YOU, the author, with self-publishing,” she explained. “Luckily, I have a big network of people who are excited to help, and I’m a very outgoing person who’s not afraid to ask for help and put myself out there. I think part of that is because I have a book where people really believe in the message.” 

Her book does have a great message, still, Blair told me that she had a hard time getting stores to carry it.  

“I have flown across the country to pitch in person to APG Book Distributors, and I have a lead where I might decide to distribute Island Girls through that person one day. But right now, stores have to order Island Girls from INGRAM at a huge discount,” she explained. 

She’s still working on figuring out distribution.  

When asked what part of the process was most difficult, Blair said it was financial. “The financial piece was the hardest to figure out—I had to raise the money upfront and pay for it myself to do it right. I hired Gatekeeper Press to help me. I’m not a graphic designer, but they have a great team there, so I hired them to produce the book.” 

She also hired an illustrator, Svitlana Holovchenko, who she said was “absolutely incredible.”

Here’s an amazing part of her story that you’ll be happy to hear. I asked if she made a return on her investment, and she said yes! “Fairly quickly actually.”

And the good news keeps coming. What Blair said next surprised and excited me. 

“No one cared that I self-published this book. In fact, there was a level of respect that I received from other authors for having self-published so well.”

I asked Blair what advice she would offer to someone looking to self-publish and she said it all starts with research.

”If you want to indie publish, do research on who you want to go with, the timetable, and what you expect. Interview them and ask them questions. Make sure that you know what you’re getting into before you do it and invest in it. Know that it’s not an overnight situation,” she shared. “Do your work, do your research, there’s so much to learn about the publishing industry, and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.”

She added that it’s important to understand marketing, PR, social media, the Amazon author dashboard, royalties, and more. She noted the importance of immersing yourself in the writing community, supporting other writers, and asking for help when you need it.

I spoke to a few other writers who opted for a non-traditional road to publishing and they all shared similar sentiments. If you want to self publish or use a hybrid publisher, it’s completely viable if you’re willing to invest upfront and work very, very hard.

Hugs and happy writing to you!



Ashley's debut picture book The Balloonimals will be published in 2025. She is a former journalist and marketing executive with an MFA in Writing. Ashley has written for various magazines and newspapers, along with a top 10 market television station. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter, and fur baby.



Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Pro Tip: Bring a Copy of Your Book With You When You Do an Author Appearance/Speaking Event

Generally, it's very helpful to bring along a copy of your book if you're going to be on a panel, or speaking about your author journey. Why?

#1 It's helpful to be able to hold up the book when you introduce yourself, and then set it by you (standing up) so the audience sees it the whole time you're presenting. If you have a paperback, consider bringing a simple stand so it doesn't slump over.

#2 When you meet other industry folks and introduce yourself, it's nice to have a copy of your book (kind of like show and tell). A good backup is to have a copy of your book cover image on your phone.

#3 You never know when it will be helpful. This past weekend at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, when I was asked to have my photo taken by their staff photographer (the amazing Myung Chun) I had my books with me. And then, the photo of me with my books was one of ten photos shared on the LA Times Entertainment Instagram account!

My photo from the LA Times Instagram Post, holding my nonfiction for readers age 11 and up No Way, They Were Gay? and my new YA novel, A Different Kind of Brave.


As a backup, if you forget to bring a copy of your book, you can always approach the bookseller working your event and ask to borrow a copy just for the time of your presentation.

I hope that's helpful!

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Words to Help Keep Your Writing Heart Full

A lot of people think that writing is the hardest part of a KidLit creator's job. For some, they may be right. But for others, it’s the rejection. Agent rejections, losing a contest, editor passes, the list goes on. They are called the querying trenches for a reason…this is not a dramatic name. It’s descriptive and honest.

The amount of rejection has always been tough for me and my mental health, and I know I’m not alone. How do you keep yourself happy and thriving through all of this? I reached out to several successful authors that I look up to, and asked for their advice. 


Here’s a roundup of what they had to say:

Sy Montgomery

Like all writers I know, there are times--even now, after writing 38 books, including five national bestsellers--when I look at the blank page and freeze: I am not worthy. I can't believe in myself enough to write this book. I can't trust myself to do this story justice. It happens to all of us. But that's OK. When I can't believe in myself, I can believe in my teachers: in the animals and places and people who allowed me to watch their lives, listen to their stories, and receive their wisdom. I can believe in the story THEY have to tell. And that gives me the strength to go on with the audacious task of writing a book. The book is not about me, even though I may be in it. Even if the book is a memoir, the book is not about me--but the generous, beautiful, and even sometimes scary lives and forces that shaped me. And the story's strength will not come from me.  It comes from them--and I can believe in them when I can no longer believe in me. They are the stronger force, and it's their story, their lessons, their dramas, that will carry the day!


Todd Parr

I get asked all the time, “How do you get a book published?” And every time, it takes me back to when I was starting with my art.

I’ve never forgotten the struggles I went through, the rejection, the defeat, and how I wanted to give up. So no matter how many times I get asked, I wish I had the perfect answer for everyone. But we all know that’s not possible, so here are a few tips that I hope might help and guide you based on my own experience. I will say that after years of “being a struggling artist,” I got my lucky break when an editor approached me after seeing some of my original art and licensed products at a trade show in NYC. I was lucky I hadn’t quit all those times earlier because there is no doubt I wanted to. (hint, hint)

The best advice I can give is no matter what idea you have for a book, think about what makes your book different. Keep asking yourself, “Why would someone want to read it or share it with others?” If I were starting now, I would pursue all fronts. It’s no doubt the internet has opened many doors if you have enough time and patience. Whether it’s sending manuscripts to publishers that accept them or discovering an excellent source to hone your skills, get feedback, or get the advice of others on publishing and sharing your material.

I would also explore a literary agent, not just anyone, but someone who connects with your ideas. With social media channels and your immediate network of contacts, you might just be surprised who you (or your friends) might already know who can connect you to someone in this field, beyond just emailing.

There is always self-publishing. I know it might not always be the easiest, but with more resources becoming available online, the option to really be creative has never been more within reach.

It doesn’t matter how you go about it as long as you always believe in yourself, and it only takes one yes.


Adam Wallace

As writers we face rejection in so many ways, so why let publishers get all the glory? Rejection from publishers, people listening to or reading our stories, children, magazines, and, often most of all...ourselves! So if everyone else is going to reject us, we have to be our biggest cheer squad. Our biggest believer. And write for joy. Have a goal of enjoying your writing, of giving it everything you have, of writing the best story you possibly can, so even if it is rejected, you have succeeded. And if you keep succeeding like that, it won't be long before someone in publishing will sit up and take notice.  


Jane Yolen

I consider a rejection merely an invitation to move on, not a full stop. It's the length of time it takes to say a simple NO I find annoying.

Join SCBWI. Find an agent if you can. And, prepare for the long haul... nothing happens quickly in publishing. And remember, rejection is about the writing--no one is criticizing how you look or how you walk across the stage, nor your weight, or your way of dressing. Sing! (Think what actors trying out for a part in a production go through!).


I have read these answers over and over and they will never stop inspiring me. I am grateful, from the bottom of my heart, for these words. I felt so lucky to get such thoughtful responses from these amazing authors, and I’m honored to be able to share their words with you. They have brought me so much joy and hope. I feel more invigorated than ever! I hope that you will take as much from them as I have. 

And I want to hear from you too! Please connect with me on social media and share, what do you do to stay positive on this journey? How do you keep your writing heart full?

Hugs and happy writing to you!



Ashley's debut picture book The Balloonimals will be published in 2025. She is a former journalist and marketing executive with an MFA in Writing. Ashley has written for various magazines and newspapers, along with a top 10 market television station. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter, and fur baby.


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The "Top 10" Most Challenged Books of 2023

Book Banning continues to impact young readers, their adult allies, and all of us who create books for kids and teens.

The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks challenges to books, and once again has released their "top 10" list of the most challenged books of the previous year. Here's the link to read up about the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2023.

screenshot of the ALA's article "Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2023"


They write:

ALA documented 4,240 unique book titles targeted for censorship in 2023—a 65% surge over 2022 numbers—as well as 1,247 demands to censor library books, materials, and resources. Pressure groups focused on public libraries in addition to targeting school libraries. The number of titles targeted for censorship at public libraries increased by 92% over the previous year, accounting for about 46% of all book challenges in 2023.

Seven of the ten titles were challenged for including LGBTQIA2+ content, which is particularly painful.

What's important to keep in mind is that the authors, publishers, and teams involved in these ten books are not the only ones impacted. The chilling effect of book bans impacts so many more of us, and prevents so many more titles from being included in library collections, and from landing in the hands of readers who need that representation.

I share not to bum you out, but to remind you of the importance of the work we do, and how we need to recognize that a fight against some books is a fight we all have a stake in.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, April 11, 2024

When Writer's Block Hits

Whether you are a new writer or a seasoned expert, it’s likely that you have experienced or will soon endure the dreaded writer’s block. Writer’s block is, according to Author Anne Lamott, not a block at all. If you are having trouble writing, she believes it’s because you are empty, not blocked. 

Maybe it can be both? 

The thing is, writing is hard. It’s not math, where 1+1=2 and there aren’t any other answers. Writing can be debated, unlike a simple math problem. And when you write something, someone somewhere is going to love it. And someone, somewhere is going to…not love it. 

That’s a lot of pressure. And that pressure can really add up and make it hard to create. I wish we would all give ourselves a break from that. If you put your writing into the world with gratitude and trust that it will reach whoever needs it, you will feel a lot of weight slowly melt off your shoulders. 

Easier written than done. I am still a basket case when it comes to my writing. But I’m working on it. Will you join me?

In the meantime, if you are having a hard time putting words on the page, here are some things that have worked for me in the past. Whether you are blocked or empty or feeling any kind of way that is making it hard for you to write, here are five suggestions.

1. Expose yourself to another form of art. Paint, sculpt clay (or dough or Play-doh, you know, whatever is around), draw, play or listen to music…do something creative that makes you feel joyful. And it’s important that you are doing this activity just for fun! The point is to clear your mind and open your heart.  

My stick figures are barely recognizable, but doodling and drawing makes me feel free. It allows me to step away from writing, but still exercise my creative muscles.  

2. Nature. Spending some time with nature is so powerful. Take a walk. Sit by a body of water. Hike a mountain trail and create endorphins. Stand barefoot in your backyard. Take mindful breaths while you are doing these things and feel your heartbeat. 

3. Ice bath. Eek! I know, I can’t believe I am suggesting this. I only recently tried jumping into a freezing cold tub, but I was impressed by how well it worked. It was a real reset for me and I felt rejuvenated after. Sure, it was horrible during. But the end result was worth the plunge.

4. Read. For me, reading always leads to more writing. I read picture books, craft books, parenting books, blog posts, newsletters, magazines, and so much more. It’s inspiration at its finest. 

5. BIC. When I was studying writing in graduate school and feeling blocked, my professors would always say, “Get your butt in the chair.” They may have used another word for butt. But it worked! It’s a great way to get yourself writing again. Just write. It doesn’t have to be good, but the act of writing may break whatever cycle you’re in.  

If none of these tips work for you, and you are still feeling blocked or empty, please consider these moving words from Author Lee Wind:

"We drive ourselves to produce (write every day!), ignoring the wisdom of the seasons: you cannot only harvest. You need to let crops lay dormant (winter), germinate (spring), grow (summer), and only then can you harvest (fall.) Plants and trees don't skip the resting time of winter, and we skip rest at our peril. That's also called 'burnout.'"

As Lee goes on to say, allow yourself the grace of seasons for your creativity. And while you are doing that, I challenge you to be kind to yourself. Fill yourself up, unblock all the things, enjoy the sunshine, and you’ll get back to your writing when it’s time. 

Hugs and happy writing to you!



Ashley's debut picture book The Balloonimals will be published in 2025. She is a former journalist and marketing executive with an MFA in Writing. Ashley has written for various magazines and newspapers, along with a top 10 market television station. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter, and fur baby.


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Differences Between Middle Grade and Young Adult

 

logo for "Middle Grade vs. YA: What's the Difference" session at the San Diego Writers Festival 2024, with Chris Baron (showing a photo of Chris and the cover of his middle grade book "The Gray" and Lee Wind (showing a photo of Lee and his young adult novel "A Different Kind of Brave")

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be in dialog with middle grade author Chris Baron at the San Diego Writers Festival, in a session sponsored by Anatasia Zadeik called "Middle Grade vs. YA, What's the Difference?"

Using Chris's most recent middle grade novel The Gray, and my own recently published young adult novel A Different Kind of Brave we covered so many things that come into play, and that are different, between the two age categories, including:

  • Character age
  • Inner journey
  • Outer journey
  • Voice (for your characters, as well as the voice of the novel's narration/POV)
  • Role of family
  • Intensity of opposition your main character faces
  • To kiss (or not) – how far do your characters go?
  • To curse (or not)
  • Reader age/maturity
  • Who you're promoting the book to once it's published (parents, teachers, librarians, and in the case of YA teens themselves.)

Some resonating takeaways for me included:

Middle grade are books you might imagine a young person reading with their family.
Young Adult might be more a book a teen would read on their own, so it's more personally theirs. Not that they need to hide it from their family, but books better enjoyed independently.

We also had a fun exercise, challenging attendees to do one-sentence pitch for their middle grade or young adult current manuscript and then do it again but this time for the other age category.

The one-liner pitch for Chris's middle grade The Gray (from the copyright page) is:

Sasha has been bullied at his middle school and his anxiety, which he called the Gray, is growing, so his parents and therapist suggest a summer in the country with his aunt might help him.

Chris's new pitch to make The Gray young adult raised the stakes and the drama, and there was talk about aging the characters up as well.

The one-liner pitch for my young adult A Different Kind of Brave is:

My Gay teen love letter to James Bond movies has two main characters: Nico, living a life of adventure that's pretty terrible, and Sam, who lives a life of privilege and wants to be just like James Bond–when they meet and fall in love, everything changes.

What I learned when I tried to make the pitch for A Different Kind of Brave middle grade was that the whole premise of the book didn't work younger. The opposition was too intense, the whole opening sequence of Nico escaping from a gay reprogramming center and then fleeing on his own down to Peru and then Mexico--none of that felt middle grade. It's a book that had to be young adult.

Finally, we offered some tips to get published, both speaking about working on your craft, finding your community, and Chris spoke eloquently about writing your best book (not someone else's) with these words:

"Be your own breakthrough." —Chris Baron

It was a great discussion, and hopefully these notes can help you with your own middle grade or young adult work in progress.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, April 4, 2024

5 Things to Do If You're New to KidLit

As a new KidLit writer, do you ever feel like you're alone on an island with your laptop? It doesn't have to be that way! There are so many writers to connect with, critique groups to join, and reputable resources to dig into. 


One problem is, the amount of information can feel overwhelming. There are so many things to do and learn, it's hard to know where to begin. Here are five things to try when you're just starting out. 



1. Connect on social media. Consider signing up for some social media platforms. There are so many to choose from! BlueSky launched just last year. Author and Illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Starter Thread really helped me get comfortable with the platform. You may also want to consider Instagram, X (Twitter), and TikTok (have you heard about BookTok?).  


Some popular hashtags to follow are #kidlit, #writingcommunity, and #childrensbooks. Follow agents you're interested in and other writers you want to get to know. This will immerse you in the community quickly. I'll see you there!


2. Find Critique Groups. Joining a critique group is invaluable. Whether it's in person in your community or virtual, these groups will be so beneficial to your writing journey. You can find critique partners right here within SCBWI. The 12x12 writing community connects critique partners along with KidLit411’s Manuscript Swap Facebook group, and so many more.  


3. Join SCBWI. The amount of resources, networking opportunities, and other gems that can be uncovered here when you’re a member are worth the small fee to join. Find events to attend, network, take advantage of free webinars, and read about scholarships and grants available for creatives. 


4. Industry blogs and podcasts. Get your information right from the source. Find agents and agencies that have blogs or podcasts, and follow along with the ones that resonate with you. Most will tell you exactly what they are looking for, and some even share query letters that have hooked them or turned them off.  


You'll also want to read or listen to some content from other writers. You'll find so many interesting and fun options.


5. Tools for submitting. Even if you’re not ready to query, familiarize yourself with QueryManager and QueryTracker. It can only be helpful to understand these tools and know how to use them so you’re prepared when you are ready to submit your work.


Some agents allow queries via email, but some only accept through QueryManager. 


QueryTracker can be utilized to track submissions and search for agents that are open to queries in your genre. It's still a great idea to keep a spreadsheet with all of your submissions so you can make notes and organize it in a way that works for you.


Hugs and happy writing!





Ashley's debut picture book The Balloonimals will be published in 2025. She is a former journalist and marketing executive with an MFA in Writing. Ashley has written for various magazines and newspapers, along with a top 10 market television station. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter, and fur baby.



Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Check out Authors Against Book Bans (Important for Illustrators and Translators as well!)

screenshot of the home page for Authors Against Book Bans

Authors Against Book Bans was featured last month in an article by Emma Kantor in Publishers Weekly. Their mission:

We are Authors Against Book Bans. 

We stand united against the deeply unconstitutional movement to limit the freedom to read. We unequivocally support the availability of diverse voices on our library shelves, in our schools, and in our culture. We pledge to band together against the oppression of literature, to speak when our voices are silenced, to go where our bodies are needed, and to fight as one to ensure this freedom. Together, we shall be fearless.

Our concern is not only for the books themselves, but for the children, families, educators, librarians, and communities that suffer when the freedom to read is challenged and taken away. We abhor the bias of the current organized attempt to censor books in schools and libraries across our nation, particularly because of these efforts’ insidious targeting of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ stories, erasure of history, and silencing of voices that speak truthfully about essential human experiences. The great power of literature is its ability to create empathy, foster self-empowerment, imbue knowledge, and enhance diversity of thought. We will defend this power from those who seek to subvert it.

As authors and as members of our local and national communities, we pledge to protect the rights of all young people to access the books they need and deserve.

If this is something you care about, consider signing up at the Authors Against Book Bans website. As they explain:

We need ALL authors on board, whether your books have been banned or not, because the fight for the freedom to read is every author’s fight.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee 

Friday, March 29, 2024

Are You a Poet? (A suggestion for Poetry Month: say "yes")


artful paint-strokes spell out "POET"

Do you use words in creating your content for kids and teens? (Many illustrators do, so this is not just for writers and translators...)

Do you select those words carefully?

Do you use space, like line breaks and negative space on the page?

Are you thoughtful about punctation?

Poets do. And are. 

April, which here in the US is National Poetry Month, is a celebration of poetry, and I have two suggestions: 

1) For the month of April, read a poem a day. They don't have to rhyme. They don't have to be for kids. Just enjoy the power of words.

2) For the month of April, write a poem a day. They don't have to rhyme. They don't have to be for kids. They don't have to be crafted with the intention of being published. Just enjoy the power of words—your words.

Allow yourself to play. Allow yourself to be poetic...

See if that practice helps you with the art you're creating. It's possible you'll find creating poems is worth it in and of itself. And then maybe you'll allow yourself to say, "yes, I'm a poet."

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee