This Book is Funny!
And now that I have a child, the funny is simply nonstop. He gives me a reason to be silly all the time. And he's so much funnier than I realized kids would ever be. Just a few crazy funny faces that keep me laughing..
I mean seriously, with all those crazy faces, how can I not be laughing all day long?
One of my first blog posts, I ever wrote on Mondays with Mandy or Mira was about using humor to hook readers. This has always been one issue I've been passionate about because there is so much value in it.
Which is why I am so excited to have recently discovered This Book is Funny! This Book is Funny! was conceived by author/illustrator Alex Milway, though it is run by a co-operative of authors, comics artists and illustrators.
Check out this video of Alex explaining about his brilliant idea.
I am really excited about this idea and I think it's really going to take off. I can't wait to order some stickers and posters and start spreading the funny throughout my school and public library.
And I noticed on twitter that Alex was looking for recommendations of some newer pictures books that deserve a This Book is Funny sticker. Therefore, I'd like to recommend that you check out the following three books I just purchased that will cause you to say:
What I love about all three of these books is that the funny is there on the cover right from the start. Instant conflict! A wolf who is dressed up like a bunny. A frog shouting I Don't Want To Be A Frog! And Sweet Little Bunny Foo Foo with that sly little smirk on her face. (And let me tell you, the ending to Foo Foo is so fantastic!)
What books would you slap a sticker on? Comment below or follow Alex on twitter @ThisBookIsFunny and let him know!
Let's get more funny books into the hands of readers and turn those non-readers and struggling readers in readers that are rolling on the floor laughing out loud!
Community and Scholarships
I'm on vacation and it feels glorious. My hubby Guy and I were originally going to LA but our accommodations fell through and we decided to stay closer to home in sunny Berkeley. Friday night, we went to the Oakland Art Museum with our awesome friend Hugh D'Andrade who is a fabulous artist and is both a former student and a former teacher from when we both worked at UC Berkeley extension in San Francisco. Hugh taught me Illustrator and Dreamweaver and I taught him kids books, and while he hasn't had the perseverance to send out his picture books as much as is needed he has done plenty of wonderful MG and YA covers as well as music posters. Check them out here. The photo below is of Guy and I in front of a Margaret Kilgallen painting that Hugh took.
Friday nights at the OAM are magical. They have lots of food trucks with all sorts of fabulous foods, live music and dancing in the outdoor area, and great art in the museum. There's this overwhelming sense of community that is so beautiful with all ages and ethnicities and orientations, dancing, smiling, and just feeling the goodness of a group of people coming together liking each other. This sense of community is one of the things that is most important things for me in Academy classes where we all help each other and that our bloggers share and it is something that makes my heart really big.
We bring community in many ways, but one of the ways is through scholarships that enable folks who normally might not have access to our courses, to have access, helping to make them the most diverse courses out there on many levels. Soooo, drum roll please..... Our newest scholarship for the upcoming Self and Indie Publishing Interactive e-Course empowering students to take their destiny into their own hands with minimal financial risk, is named after another beautiful former student Kathryn Otoshi. Years ago, Kathryn had the courage of her convictions and became an indie publisher starting KO Press. She believed in herself and her work and is now a multi multi award-winning best selling author, illustrator and publisher. So it is with great pleasure that we honor her by naming this scholarship after her right here.
And for a special treat we have an interview that I did with Kathryn years ago where she shares some of her books. We'll be having a much longer interview in the course, where Kathryn will be sharing helpful information on how she became an indie publisher, what she's learned, and how it's changed her life. Also, Kathryn is especially brilliant with concept books and her books make great mentor texts so check them out.
We'd love it if you would help get the word out about this scholarship and the amazing course that Jed Alexander and I have put together. xox
Things You Must Do When Starting Out in Picture Books (If you insist on learning the hard way)
Things you Must Do When Starting Out in Picture Books
(If You Insist On Learning the Hard Way)
(Before You Decide to Get Real and Actually Get Serious)
We all have these stories. It’s like a rite of passage. I guess you can say I’ve learned the hard way by making these mistakes. I wish someone had told me things I should and shouldn’t do when I was just starting out.
(Wait a second…People did tell me!!!) But darn it, I was just too stubborn to listen. I didn’t need to listen. I was going to do it my way and be the ultimate success story!
Well, 10 or so years later. Here I am, still truckin.’ I have to admit though. Those first several years shouldn’t really count. I wasn’t serious about writing. I was ambitious and I was persistent. But not in the right areas.
But once I decided to get serious, I started listening to the advice I had once pushed away. I started studying the craft seriously. I finally joined SCBWI. I started going to conferences. I started seeking out a writers group. I started reading everything I could about writing. I started an MFA program. I started reading and writing and revising seriously. And I started doing editor/agent/industry research. So my point is, I did all the wrong things at first. And then I got real.
So If you are just starting out, be humble. And listen to the advice of other writers.
But if you insist on being like me, learning the hard way since you aren’t ready to get serious yet, follow this step by step guide exactly!
Things you Must Do When Starting Out in Picture Books
(If You Insist On Learning the Hard Way)
(Before You Decide to Get Real and Actually Get Serious)
1. Decide to write for children because it’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s easy! After all, you are only writing for children, so it doesn’t have to be that good.
2. Come up with that one idea that hits you and write it. Don’t worry about writing anything else. Your idea is so brilliant it will jump right to the bestseller list. You will make so much money you won’t ever need to write anything else.
3. And when people suggest writing something else, consider them jealous of your fantastic idea. And then get mad that they can’t see the brilliance behind it. (Just imagine all those plush stuffed toys and games that will all be marketable crap for your book. )
4. Don’t bother to revise. Ever. People say it’s necessary, but your book was so brilliant the very first time you wrote it, there is absolutely no reason to revise. Yes! It’s happened before. So it can happen to you too!
5. Be really persistent and ambitious! Send your book out to every single publisher that is in the Publisher’s Marketplace Book. (Which by the way is filled with articles you don’t need to bother reading because it’s just other people’s ideas about the craft of writing.)
6. Query letter? Don’t bother spending time crafting a good one. Your book will stand on it’s own.
7. Definitely illustrate your own picture book! Even if you aren’t that great. It’s just like writing for kids…anyone can do it! Then, make a dummy of it with the original art and put it in a binder. That's right! A binder. That way, you can carry it around showing it to people in hopes of making connections. Maybe someone who reads it will help you get published.
8. It’s really not necessary to read picture books. Someone once suggested I read at least 100 of them. (They’re short, but can you imagine how long it would take to do that? It’s better that you spend your time talking to people about your one unpublished picture book.)
9. Definitely write it in rhyme! (Don’t know anything about rhyme or poetry? No worries. This book is for kids. As long as it has a bouncy silly beat, they’ll love it.)
10. Make sure there are a few grammar and mechanic errors in your manuscript. You want to be able to give you editor something to do, right?
11. Lastly, make sure it has a really good moral or lesson. (It's even better if it actually says it in the book that you are going to teach them a lesson, because little kids may not realize the point behind the book.) And after all, that’s why we adults write picture books for kids. So we can teach those little rascals a lesson or two.
12. Bonus***Send your book to Oprah in hopes of getting on her show because she will love your picture book. And if Oprah loves it, hey she can pull some strings and get you published! See how ambitious you are?
And unfortunately, all of that is true. Yep. I did all those things.
I wrote the picture book as a poem when I was 16. When I was 18, I decided it should be a picture book. When I was 20, I became an education major in college and decided I would illustrate my own picture book. From age 21 to 25, I submitted that book to every publisher I could find with an address.
I received hundreds of rejections. I guess I was pretty stubborn. It wasn’t until I was 26 that I realized something had to change. That’s when I got finally got real and got serious.
I can’t say, don’t be like me. Because if you are as stubborn as I was, you won’t listen anyway. And if you are willing to go through all that learning on your own for all those years and still want to write picture books, then hey, good for you! I think you have a shot.
And now for this fantastically bad very first picture book written AND ILLUSTRATED! by yours truly.
One last little bonus.
Here's actually one of my very first picture books that is a concept book about animals. I would say it breaks less picture book rules than the one you just read. A Book about Animals was written and illustrated when I was 4.
Notice the erased alligator or crocodile. That's the one I drew. My mom helped me "redraw" the second one.
Be sure to check out Sylvia Liu who is next up on the blog hop to share her bad picture book tomorrow. Sylvia Liu www.sylvialiuland.com
I taught a Developmental English class a few semesters ago at a community college. One of the assignments I required was a writing journal where they would have to freewrite daily. This included at home as well as in class freewrites. I would give them daily prompts and they had to write honestly and freely for a specific amount of time. At first they didn't like the idea, since they thought they hated writing, they didn't value it, and they certainly didn't see themselves as writers.
But after a while, they all loved it. I remember one student saying to, "I didn't know writing could be like this. I didn't realize you could write about yourself."
I would often ask them to share their freewrite, if they wanted to. Again, many were reluctant, but after I shared mine, they would open up and start sharing. The prompts that I gave them were personal, thought provoking, and forced them to be reflective. After one session, one student remarked that writing was like a personal therapy session. And it really was. Writing helped them realize things about their lives, their pasts, and their futures. It forced them to think things they would have never thought, or could have imagined thinking. Writing has that magical power.
But unfortunately, some students will never experience that. Grammar and mechanics definitely have their place in the classroom. But something is deeply wrong when students' only association with writing means filling out grammar worksheets.
As writers, we are told to write everyday. I honestly find that hard to do, but it is something I still strive to do. But as a picture book writer, what does that mean? How do I write everyday? Does that mean write something new everyday? Revise something? Brainstorm everyday? Read and take notes or study the craft of writing? I think yes to it all. I think write every day can mean do something writing related everyday.
But I also think just the physical act of writing is sort of like muscle memory. Keeping your hand moving, somehow keeps your mind moving too.
Several years ago, I came across these two quotes. And I'm constantly reminded of them.
“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?"
-E. M. Forster
“I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Sometimes, we write to simply discover what it is we want to say. Or to discover what we think about something. Writing your thoughts forces you to....THINK. (Imagine that.)
So, when stuck, I think it would be good to engage in the same types of personal prompts I use for my own students. It may not seem like it is picture book related, but it's going to force me to think about life. And aren't all picture books about some aspect of life? Friendship, love, relationships, fun, food, etc...? So maybe something I write could spark a picture book idea.
Therefore, I wanted to encourage you to do the same. And I found a fantastic resource to use for yourself or for your students. The following image prompts are from a website called www.thoughtquestions.com. They deliver a new picture prompt each day.
I've spent a lot of my adult life working in the children's book field, but as has become pretty obvious, the traditional publishing industry has gotten harder and harder to break into. Publishers have gotten much more particular about what they publish, and more often than not, that doesn’t include taking risks on new and unknown authors or books and projects that fall outside the norm. Apart from independents and imprints who are able to publish more literary works, traditional publishing has become increasingly commercially driven. In response, more and more authors have gotten creative in sidestepping this issue to publish projects that they believe in. Laura Numeroff, author of the Give a Mouse a Cookie books has a Kickstarter project going on right now at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cleverkick/laura-numeroffs-work-for-biscuits-series?ref=thanks to fund a series of books about service dogs, which I hope that some of you will help support..
While self-publishing is not for everyone, with new technologies and resources it is a wonderful option for those who are tired of closed doors or whose books have gone out of print. Self publishing offers greater creative control over your book.You find and choose the illustrator. You create and work with the design, format, and look of the book. You also determine how and where you want it printed based on quality, cost, and distribution plan (print on demand or keeping them in stock).
Related to creative control is maintenance of copyright. Self-publishing authors and illustrators maintain the copyright of their works. This allows for greater flexibility when publishing, selling, and reprinting books. Authors and illustrators can also regain the rights to out of print works and then self publish them keeping all or a majority of the profits. This is particularly true for sales of books through book fairs, school visits, and book signings. Online retailers will take a portion of the sale, but this would be true for a traditionally published book as well and does not represent an additional cost to self publishers.
There are lot of options within each step to publication. For example, funding can come from your own pocket or you can crowdsource the funding. If you don’t feel confident marketing or creating an author website there are services available that can help you along or take over that step of the process.
With a lack of diversity in children’s publishing, both in stories and within authors and illustrators, and with resistance from the traditional publishing industry to take chances on diverse authors and stories, self publishing is increasingly more important for getting these authors published. It can fill the demand for diversity by getting those books and authors into kids’ hands even when big publishing houses won’t. Stories with smaller audiences can also more easily target and reach specific audiences without the pressure of needing to appeal to a best seller list. Once you’ve self published it’s possible that you or your book will be picked up by a traditional publisher. It’s also possible to keep trying to publish through traditional channels while self publishing other books. A well made self published book won’t ruin your credibility and, if you are successful enough, might even make you more attractive to publishers.
Of course self publishing comes with its own downsides and is not an excuse for bad writing, poor design, and generally bad quality (which has happened all too frequently, giving self publishing a bad rep). There isn’t a marketing, design, or editorial team behind you taking on the bulk of the work. Authors and illustrators need to call on experts in these fields to ensure top quality in their work as they would at a traditional publishing house. But weighed against the traditional publishing industry and all the positives, self publishing is a viable and possibly better route to getting your book out there.
After attending a conference on diversity last year, I became really excited about self publishing and its many possibilities. So one of the reasons that I am writing this is to announce, drum roll please, we are bringing a wonderful new course to the Academy right here. Jed Alexander, who successfully self published an exquisite picture book with Kickstarter crowdfunding, raised more than his goal and received all sorts of accolades before it was picked up by an independent press. Together we brainstormed and worked hard to come up with something new and exciting for anyone interested in this needed field or who might be interested in starting their own press. And just to give you a taste of what an indie published book can look like, here’s a beautifully created book by former student Dianne Burch who will be sharing her experiences in the course. You can find out more about her and her partner's press here http://worldofpawsabilities.com/
With people like SCBWI co-founder Steve Mooser self-publishing (click here to see his fun book) and many other traditionally published folks embracing the DIY ethos of self or indie publishing, I believe that we are witnessing a new self publishing paradigm that has the potential to do a ton of good and shake up the industry. To which I say, about time!
Mira Reisberg is the Director of the Children's Book Academy and has worn many hats in the industry, helping many people get traditionally published. She is really excited about this new adventure helping authors and illustrators get more wonderfully crafted books into children's hands through self-publishing or becoming an indie publisher.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with awesome multi-published former student Shirin Shamsi who will be focusing on Muslim and cultural kidlit.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature STEM, STEAM & SEL obsessed author Kourtney LaFavre sharing delightfully dorky, quirky, and fun info.
And 5th Mondays we'll be taking a break