by Lani deGuia
I just had my third child 8 months ago and a recurring recommendation from other moms has been:
Don’t let him play with your iPhone.
This week, Common Sense Media released their report on Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013. The study was the second in a series analyzing the media environments and habits of children ages 0-8. The findings are summarized in this infographic.
One finding that resonated with me was on what kids are using mobile devices for in the past two years. Reading books through mobile devices went from 4% in 2011 to 30% in 2013. The first thought that came to my mind was the implication of picture book reading. My two older children, ages 12 and 8, did not know of mobile devices until a few years ago, and loved picture books growing up. We have stacks of them spilling out of our upstairs closet and in their bedrooms. How will my son be different?
I probably can argue the case both for and against our society completely switching from paper to digital reading. As an instructional technologist, I’m seeing a big push to go “paperless” in the classroom and using mobile devices for learning. Text in digital format for both schools and personal use can be less expensive, make reading convenient and accessible (what child has ever been able to carry their entire collection of books wherever they go?), and more readily accommodate special needs (vision, auditory, etc.). However, I am still an advocate for children getting to enjoy holding a book with pages in their hand. I believe there is psychological value in turning each page with their fingertips, opening a book open wide to see a full spread illustration, and even trying to peak towards the end to see how the story turns out. In addition, my paranoid self can’t help but think we are bound to hear about “mobile device” arthritis and dry eyes soon down the road.
So this has made me wonder about what other research is out there regarding the reading preferences of young children. Here is what I found:
Do electronic devices impede on children falling in love with reading? A study by the National Literacy Trust of 35,000 British children found that 52% of children say they would rather read on electronic devices with 32% preferring a hard copy. However, those who read daily only on-screen were half as likely to be above-average readers than those who read daily using both digital and paper format.
A generation gap exists for now, but what about the future? A survey from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center surveyed ~1,200 parents found parents prefer hard copy books when they read together with their preschool age children. Although results showed children preferred the electronic device over the hard copy, parents are active in limiting reading on these devices for traveling or when the child is left alone.
Could reading in digital formats start rewiring the brains of generations to come? Some of the best insights I came across was in this article from the Scientific American on The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper Versus Screens. It discusses how the brain interprets text in physical formats by creating mental mapping, similar to topography. This mental mapping is limited when reading in digital screen formats. In electronic devices, we don’t have cues for the text in relation to the whole text and navigation isn’t as intuitive.
I personally think we will probably adopt a hybrid of reading formats in my household. I will still buy my son picture books, let him chomp on and touch board books, and take him to the library setting him free to peruse the shelves of colorful book bindings. However, he’ll probably have books to read on our mobile devices as well.
So what is your opinion? How do you feel mobile devices impact children's reading?
Lani deGuia is an educator, blogger, and mother of three. She has over 13 years of educational experience as a teacher, instructional technologist, and curriculum developer in traditional and online classroom settings for both K-12 and adult learners. She has a strong passion for promoting lifelong learning and family values. She views the social media landscape as an alternative classroom and also works in social media management and strategy. You can find her thoughts on family, travel, and parenting on her personal blog Rose Tinted Traveler.
Should You Quit Your Job and Write?
By Miranda Paul
If you haven’t checked out resources such as SCBWI’s The Book or Harold Underdown’s Idiot’s Guide to Children’s Publishing, you might not know how much (or how little) to expect when you sell a picture book.
I'll enlighten you: there’s no set amount.
Advances can be as low as $0 from very small presses to $10,000 or more from larger houses publishing repeat authors or high-demand titles. For debut authors (who aren’t celebrities and don’t have a wide fan base), plan on an advance of $5,000 or less.
Compared with the magazine market’s pay-per-word rate or a work-for-hire flat fee, traditional publishing seems more lucrative. But it can be tougher to sell a picture book than a magazine article, and WFH editors tend to give repeat work.
The reality, for me, is that I didn’t quit my day job—I was teaching English when I sold my first picture books, and I still substitute teach now. My income is supplemented by speaking and hosting local writer’s workshops in my city and online. I do school visits and professionally critique manuscripts. I freelance for magazines and websites and submit on spec work for others. Heck, I even donate plasma.
I’ve diversified myself enough so if one door seems to be closed, another is open. If you’re able to hear me present at a writer’s conference, I may go over my first year of freelancing in financial detail. I’ve had quite a bit of success, but have made plenty of missteps, too. I’m often better at the dreamer part of writing than I am at the business and promotion parts. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
1. Writing is a job.
If you’re quitting your job because you don’t want a job, prepare for disappointment. Writing is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. I rarely get to “leave it in the office.” No one makes a tidy schedule where I get to punch in and out and get a paycheck based on my time and performance. There are tedious duties with no assistants or secretaries to pass the work on to (at least for me).
I might be able to wear my pajamas to work, but if and when I do, I’m giving others yet another reason to stereotype my writing career as a non-job.
2. Writing is a business. YOUR business.
To be successful in today’s market, I push myself to do more than write and dream. These things are significant parts of what I do, but not everything (unfortunately!).
If you want to succeed, you need time, energy, and money. Yes, money. Who launches a business without startup funds or financial support and a fallback plan? If you were going to open a restaurant or become a doctor, you’d need capital for your venture or a loan for your education. If you want to make money, you’re probably going to have to spend money to learn the craft, take classes, attend conferences, buy a computer or software, set up a website, obtain professional help or advice, buy books, purchase art supplies, etc. (Please note I am not suggesting you pay to publish your book.) I can’t even recall what I’ve spent on my B.A. in English, plus other courses and conferences. My annual books and research budget is in the thousands.
Just like any self-employed person, you’ll track your expenses and income, file and pay taxes, and keep records. If there are things you’re not good at or don’t like to do, you can hire people to do them for you—but again, that means money.
3. The picture book industry moves slowly.
If you’ve started submitting your work, you know that it can take months or even years to get your work read, land an agent, or sell a book. A year (or three) might pass before that book is released. Your royalties might come after an advance earns out, which could take months or years after that. Essentially, each book might be a four- or five-year journey. Even if you sell three picture books per year, do the math. Why not keep your day job, write for magazines, or take on freelancing gigs that suit you, at least until you’ve got more an idea of what your capacity and income will be?
If you want to approach this industry as I have, try letting your current writing jobs support your future writing aspirations. You can, and hopefully will, make money. Test the waters, ease in slowly. Build an empire. Take risks, but don’t sell the farm.
(Apologies for the overuse of cliché.)
Everything you spend is an investment in your craft, your career, and you. Make smart and purposeful choices with your money, time, and energy—that suit your lifestyle and goals and reward you in myriad ways.
Now get off the internet and back to writing. Kids are waiting to read your stories!
Miranda Paul is the author of One Plastic Bag (Millbrook, 2015) and Water is Water (Neal Porter Books, 2015). In addition to being an instructor for the Picture Book Academy’s newest course on grammar, she is the founder and administrator of RateYourStory.org, an online service dedicated to helping writers prepare their manuscripts for submission. Whenever she can find an ounce of free time, she hosts spontaneous dance parties with two kids, two cats, the best husband in the world, and an ever-changing rotation of international houseguests. Read more online at: www.MirandaPaul.com.
The “setup” is such an important story element, you’d think it would be impossible to carry on without it. But even after writing many years, there are times when I don’t catch the weakness in my setup until later in the revision process.
So, what’s the setup? In fiction, it’s that essential first paragraph that establishes the identity of the main character and the premise or problem of the story that the rest of the story depends on like the legs of a chair, or the poles of a tent. I recently finished a manuscript where my main character wanted to do a certain thing—good! But when my critique buddies reviewed it, they said, but why does she want to do that? I hadn’t included the reasoning behind her actions, so my setup was incomplete which made the rest of the story feel empty. What was the point of her doing all the stuff she did anyway without knowing the desire that triggered the whole thing in the first place? It was a big oversight, but easy to correct when I stopped and thought about it.
Successful stories have successful setups. Here are just a few examples:
In This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers, he opened with:
Wilfred owned a moose.
He hadn’t always owned a moose.
The moose came to him a while
ago and he knew, just KNEW
that it was meant to be his.
What a wonderful setup. The main character is Wilfred. He owns a moose. And the reader knows from the beginning that the rest of the story hinges on this premise. Did he really own him? The reader will have to keep reading to find out.
In Silly Sally by Audrey Wood, the set up looked like this:
Silly Sally went to town,
walking backwards, upside down.
Although the setup is short and silly,the reader instantly knows the identity of the main character and what she’s doing, and the reader can’t help wondering what will happen next.
In Heather Fell in the Water, by Doug MacLeod, he created this intriguing setup that instantly introduced to the main character and her problem to the reader:
Heather was a little girl who always fell in the water.
She didn’t mean to do it. She didn’t enjoy it. But she fell in the water nearly every day, especially when she was wearing her good clothes.
Right away, the reader knows the story is about Heather and her problem is falling into the water. The reader has to keep reading to find out what she’s going to do about it.
In my book Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, I setup the story by saying how Cowpoke Clyde had cleaned up his house, but spied one thing he’d plumb forgot—his dirty dawg. When the dog took off, the reader knew it was the beginning of a rambunctious chase.
Cowpoke Clyde propped up his feet.
His house was clean, his chores complete.
He'd even washed the kitchen floor
and shooed the horseflies out the door.
But right behind his cookin' pot,
he spied one thing he'd plumb forgot:
ol' Dawg, his faithful, snorin' friend,
all caked with mud from end to end.
So, if you’ve been scratching your head over one of your manuscripts, maybe the heart of the promblem lies with your setup, Did you establish the main character? Did you setup the story problem, the promise of where the story is going?
If you did—great! If you didn’t, go back and revise it because successful manuscripts always start with a successful setup.
Remember being bored in class or the car or on the bus ride home? Someone would break the boredom by drawingdraw hundreds of dots and a game would be begin? One by one you added a line until a box was made and you could claim it as your own.
This simple game is the perfect formula for picture books. Line by line we add words until a story is formed and we can claim it as our own. But fortunately for us, we only need 16 dots.
The first dot is our title, or at least our title in progress.
Dot #2- a scene/fact
Dot #3- a scene/fact
Dot #4- a scene/fact, you get the idea.
Dots 2-16 are individual facts or scenes, moments in your story that you feel are important, that the reader should know.
Then slowly you start connecting them with transitions, links, segues to tie it all together.
Stop killing yourself trying beat Bobby Fisher at chess and return to your school yard games. Make it simple. Start with your 15 facts (these will be your page spreads, page 3, spread 4-5, 6-7, etc) and your story will end with you as the winner.
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