I have three new books coming out in 2016. That obligates me to have at least one New Year's resolution, right?
No. No it doesn't.
Some people hate resolutions, some love them, some make them, some break them. I'm not here to tell you what will work for you, but I can tell you that in the past, my best New Year's resolutions have had three things in common:
1) They were driven by ME. They were sparked by something internal, not by someone else's suggestion, blog post, popular culture, obligation, or a comparison to others. The goal was something I personally wanted (or needed) to change about my life or habits.
2) They were realistic. My best goals and resolutions were things I actually had the capacity to achieve, without depending on people or circumstances out of my control.
3) They were made over time, not in haste. By the time New Year's rolled around I already knew what I would be resolving to do, and had taken steps to prepare or gather information and resources.
You're already on a good path since you're reading the info here at the Children's Book Academy. But instead of focusing on a big, daunting resolution, why not break it up into a checklist of tiny tasks? Here's a list of 100 small-scale things I've done over the years that have helped, in some way, to foster my writing career in children's literature. (I've actually taken many more small steps, but the list was getting rather long...)
While there's no one path to writing or publishing books, sometimes it helps to have a few breadcrumbs to follow or new ideas to employ. Feel free to check off tasks that you've already done (you'll feel accomplished right away!). You may skip the ones that you feel don't apply to you, then try to check off as many of the rest as you can in 2016. Happy New Year!
2016 Path-to-Publication Checklist
By Miranda Paul
1. Get a library card.
2. Bring a crate to the library and don't leave until it's full. Repeat often.
3. Designate an office space, nook, or area in your home that you'll use for writing.
4. Introduce yourself to your local children's librarians.
5. Read 100 books in the genre you're hoping to write/publish.
6. Keep a reading log or spreadsheet.
7. Join Goodreads and keep track of books you've read or want to read.
8. Write reviews of your favorite books and post on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.
9. Set a 30-minute timer and do a "writing sprint" every day for a week.
10. Place a small idea notebook and pen in your car, by your bed, and in your purse or briefcase.
11. Join the SCBWI.
12. Learn how to use the Notes and Dictation features on your electronic devices.
13. Take an online writing course or webinar.
14. Sign up for an in-person writing course or retreat (I highly recommend the Highlights Foundation - and hey, I'm teaching there in April 2016, and there are SCHOLARSHIPS AVAILABLE!)
15. Go to the grocery store and pick up the free local magazines. Find the editor's info on the inside page and query to see if they're looking for more writers, or pitch an idea.
16. Introduce yourself to the local booksellers. Get to know them all by name. Support them.
17. Search for a local writing group or book club and attend their events.
18. Join a writing critique group.
19. Sign up for a writing challenge - RhyPiBoMo, ReFoReMo, NaNoWriMo, 12x12, PiBoIdMo & More (See a list at KidLit411).
20. Make themed book lists (e.g. 10 books about robots, 15 MG memoirs, etc.)
21. Make a list of recently-published, debut books and authors.
22. Join Facebook groups where the discussion is about children's books or writing.
23. Get a trial or full subscription to industry services such as Publisher's Marketplace, Writer's Digest, Publisher's Weekly, etc.
24. Volunteer for your local SCBWI chapter.
25. Volunteer to read books at a local school or library.
26. "Kid-watch" (Not in a creepy way, but to get a sense of how kids talk and act today).
27. Strike up conversations with kids in your life - ask what they're reading, what they like, or what their ideas are.
28. Attend (or watch live-streaming) any major kidlit award banquet.
29. Host your own Mock-award competition, ranking recently published books against a set of criteria.
30. Organize your manuscript files in a clear way on your computer.
31. Back up all of your files regularly.
32. Make a Pinterest board (or magazine cut-out board) of things your main character likes.
32. Make a clay or play-doh sculpture of your main character.
33. Storyboard your new idea.
34. Make a word web for your current work-in-progress.
35. Catalog every story or poem you've written with a pitch sheet - include the title, word count, genre, and 1-sentence pitch for each thing you've written.
36. Write a blog post or guest post for a writing website or a site geared for parents, teachers, or book buyers.
37. Visit bookstores and libraries in other cities while you're traveling.
38. Tweet a picture of the books you're currently reading.
39. Browse the bookshelves when you're visiting someone else's home. What are they reading?
40. Do an Amazon search of books in your genre/topic and sort by "Recently published" to see what's coming soon. (Yes, Amazon lists books months before they even come out!)
41. Join Amazon Author Central (if you have books published already).
42. Secure your website (yourname.com) from a domain service.
43. Build a simple website that includes your contact info or contact form.
44. Join a freelancing service or make a work-for-hire package.
45. Read a range of children's magazines to get familiar with what they publish.
46. Query a children's magazine with a story, poem, or nonfiction article you've written.
47. Read a book, then watch the movie.
48. Host a movie marathon and show only films that were first children's books and now are movies.
49. Make or wear a costume based on a kidlit fictional character.
50. Play a writing or prompt game, even if you have a million ideas already.
51. Play language-related board games with family or friends.
52. Buy books as gifts for the young people in your life.
53. Get a book signed.
54. Go see an author talk/signing in your area.
55. Attend a major library, bookseller, or education conference such as ALA, NCTE, ILA, or ABA.
56. Attend regional library, bookseller, or education conferences.
57. Submit a proposal to speak (if qualified) at a conference or workshop.
58. Read your work out loud.
59. Ask someone else to read your work out loud.
60. Read your work out loud to an audience.
61. Join (or become more active) on one form of social media.
62. Join and participate in a writer's forum (e.g. SCBWI blueboards, Writer's Retreat, Absolute Write Water Cooler, etc.)
63. Read a book on the process of writing, or a writer's memoir.
64. Attend a business/networking group in your state where you can learn more about the business side of earning income as a sole proprietor (or corporation/LLC if you choose to incorporate).
65. Open a bank account that is strictly for writing-related expenses and income.
66. Get business cards printed.
67. Learn how to use video chat software such as Skype, Google Hangouts, OoVoo, GoToMeeting, and more.
68. Ask friends for technology recommendations if your computer/laptop needs to be replaced.
69. Pack a writing-event bag and keep it handy - with a pen, notebook, business cards, water bottle, etc.
70. Pull out a story you haven't looked at in awhile and revise it until it's not horrible.
71. Pull out an unfinished manuscript and FINISH IT.
72. Make a rejection folder and stuff all of your rejections in it (make sure to print the electronic ones!)
73. Write one of your manuscripts from a different point of view.
74. Change something major about your main character and see how the rest of the story would change.
75. Write a poem about one of your characters, settings, or story plots.
76. Take a rhyming manuscript and write it as prose, just to see how the story progresses.
77. Go do something fun - not necessarily writing-related - with other writers.
78. Give your current manuscript a deadline, and stick to it.
79. Offer to critique someone else's manuscript.
80. Apply to get a writing mentor, or hire a mentor through Mentors for Rent.
81. Send your manuscript to a site such as RateYourStory.org for feedback from a published author.
82. Make a submissions log tracker sheet or sign up for submission tracker software.
83. Make a list or flow chart of publishing houses and their imprints, so you understand how they work, which company is part of which company, and which ones are independent.
84. Read books such as The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, or SCBWI's The Book.
85. Do a book report/analysis on your own current manuscript. What is the takeaway value? Is it didactic? Does it have a story arc and climax? What "type" of book is it? Which titles compare?
86. Write three different author bios for yourself. Make sure each is no more than 100 words.
87. Place books in every room of your home or apartment. (Baskets work great if you don't have shelves in each room).
88. Give books and authors you love shout-outs and/or attention on social media or word-of-mouth recommendations. The love will come back to you when your books come out!
89. Enter a writing contest.
90. Enter a book giveaway.
91. Make a piece of fan art and take a picture.
92. Take a college course on writing, illustrating, or literacy/children's books.
93. Make a song about one of your books or poems.
94. Print a picture of your literary heroes or inspiration and print it above your desk/table.
95. Try writing at different times of the day and determine when you're most productive.
96. Purchase bins, files, or folders to organize your research. Even a simple filing system will do!
97. Write a fan letter to an author or illustrator who's work you love. Don't expect a reply or ask questions.
98. Buy a writers' market guide and highlight names of agents or editors you'd like to work with / are compatible for your work.
99. Make a list of individuals who review books or are "book champions" or ambassadors in kidlit circles. (Hint: these are often bloggers, reviewers, and teachers with an online presence).
100. Give away a piece of your writing, so that you'll have to write something new in its place.
Miranda Paul is an award-winning picture book author whose current career hinged on keeping a New Year's Resolution. Her 2015 debut, One Plastic Bag, received a Eureka! Honor award from the California State Reading Association and a starred review from School Library Journal. Water is Water, her second book, was named the 2015 "Best Creative Nonfiction" for kids from The Huffington Post and was included on Best of Year lists by Bookpage and the Chicago and New York Public Libraries. Her forthcoming 2016 titles include Whose Hands Are These? (Lerner/Millbrook), Trainbots (little bee books), and 10 Little Ninjas (Knopf/Penguin Random House) — all of which she'd love for you to add on Goodreads. Learn more about her upcoming events, her advocacy efforts, and how to contact her at mirandapaul.com.
We love ping pong at our house. In fact we love ping pong so much, that we threw convention to the wind and moved our ping pong table into our front room. Why, you say? Since I’ve started homeschooling, I’ve become more utilitarian in my approach. We never used that room. It may not be pretty, but now we’re playing ping pong. My son even set up a tournament schedule. So far, my kids haven’t beaten me yet, but I have a feeling that I won’t be undefeated for long. Practice, competition and flexibility improve our ping pong and writing skills.
Practice: There’s nothing more satisfying than a good volley when you’re playing ping pong. And the more you play, the better you get. Just like writing...the more you write, the better your work will be.
Competition: Lately I’ve been learning how to return curve balls in my ping pong game. I know that if I don’t, I’ll start losing. Competition, even with yourself, helps in your writing life too. If it weren’t for the12x12 challenge, PiBoIdMo, ReViMo,and ReFoReMo, I wouldn’t have many of my stories written.
Flexibility: Sometimes someone surprises you by hitting a ping pong ball on the very edge of the table. Sometimes you have to move in ways you never thought possible in order to return the ball to the other side of the table. Flexibility is key for writing too. We have to be willing to let a story evolve and to revise over and over and over again. It’s flexibility that makes an incredible story possible.
What helps you improve your writing skills?
Kirsti Call is a homeschooling mom of five. Her debut picture book, The Raindrop Who Couldn't Fall, came out December 2013 with Character Publishing. Her family band, Calling Out, plays songs written by her children. She contributes to Writer's Rumpus, and Kids are Writers. If you visit her house, you’ll likely find her reading or writing. You can find out more about her at www.kirsticall.com
I wonder if anybody has concerns about whether they truly know how to revise. My first experience with an actual editor, as opposed to kindly readers who had comments, was like stepping through an open elevator door in the dark: is there support there or am I stepping into an empty space?
Luckily, I was working with an editor who was both kindly and skilled. Over the course of several books and working with three editors, I’ve picked up some useful revision techniques. These are the ones I try to incorporate before a manuscript hits the editor’s desk:
I look for places where I’ve stepped away from the heart of the character and now I’m observing more than living the part. I use the search feature on my word processor to find “I thought” or he, she, or it thought, or decided, or worried, or wondered, or saw, or knew, or heard, or believed, or smelled, or tasted, or felt, or did anything else that is an internal or sensory process that might go undetected by an observer.
Sometimes it’s a big revision effort: I saw that she knew that I’d heard. . . Whew. Hard to miss the fact that sentence is going to need a fix.
But this problem usually shows up in a sentence that reads: "I thought I’d look in on Grandma, see if the Big Bad Wolf has been bothering her"—and that can be harder to spot in reading our own work.
Sentences with this hesitant structure (hesitant because it’s working up to a statement of the action we intend) can nearly always be improved by going right to the point with an interior comment that is more active: Why don’t I stop by Grandma’s? See if that wolf is making a pest of himself again.
Hesitating: I believed I’d done the right thing, and I knew I could defend my actions.
Right out there: I’d done the right thing. “You can’t bully me.”
Hesitating: He saw she’d stopped before she said something she’d regret.
Right out there: She’d paused, most tellingly, to choose her words carefully.
Hesitating: She felt her old fear of public speaking creeping in again.
Right out there: As she stepped up on stage, her legs were trembling so hard her silk pants shivered.
That technique always leads me directly to the one
i'll talk about next month, showing emotions. This isn't meant to be a "if you show up next month. . . " It simply occurred to me how long it took me to incorporate this technique with any effectiveness. I had to learn to see this mistake in other people's writing, as well as my own. So that's what I recommend you do this month. Look for this error, or the lack of it, in everything you read.
Audrey Couloumbis, who is usually on time, is late today. I've plugged in photos of various more or less messy reading corners (more messy being the trend), hoping they entertain while you think about how to use this suggestion.
meanwhile. . .
Audrey Couloumbis is the Newbery Honor-winning author of Getting Near to Baby. She sometimes writes sad stories with a happy ending, and she's published by St.Martin's Press, G.P. Putnam, and Random House. Look for her books at your favorite bookstore.
Or look for her. She'll be the one in her pajamas.
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