by Mira Reisberg
MIra is super busy preparing for next month's Craft & Business of Illustrating Children's Books, so we're reposting a previous blog that many found helpful. Children's Book Academy is offering generous full and half scholarships for this course AND for a limited time, you can use the promo code ARTLOVE for an incredible $100 discount.
by Mira Reisberg
I'm getting ready to teach another fabulous picture book illustrating course and have been reflecting on why some books sell and others don't. So I came up with five reasons why your picture book might not be selling.
Let's start with the four essentials that every picture book needs to have.
,One. Is your story and language age-appropriate?
Your story needs to be age appropriate with age appropriate interests and language. In other words you need to know about children's developmental stages. For example, if you are writing a book for 3-5 year-olds, you might want to re-think having a super scary Halloween story with an unresolved ending as kids that age can have trouble differentiating between fantasy and reality and can also be fearful of the unknown. At the same time, you could absolutely have a Halloween story for that age but you'd want to make it playful with a reassuring ending so that the child won't be scared to go to sleep at night. Generally with a much younger audience, stories need to be sweeter, or more quirky or goofy, or reassuring than scary. In terms of language, 3 to 5-year-olds are beginning to learn about their world and starting to try and decipher or memorize words to keep up with the read aloud. So the language needs to be more manageable, more playful, and more accessible. If you do introduce higher level language, you need to contextualize it, or explain what it means in some way either through the images, or in context with what else is going on in the story. The Fancy Nancy books, which are marketed for 4-8 year-olds use elevated language, which is explained in asides by Nancy such as, “My favorite color is fuchsia. That's a fancy way of saying purple.” The word is explained in a fun way while adding to the kid's vocabulary . While Tara Lazar's list of "500+ Things That Kids Like" isn't set up in terms of developmental stages, it is a fun read to get inspired. https://taralazar.com/2007/11/04/199-things-that-kids-like/
Two Do you write in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading?
This begins at the beginning with your hook - in the form of a problem that needs to be solved, a journey that needs to be taken, a great desire that needs to be attained and so on... to provoke the big question or curiosity of... What happens next? Pacing your story through suspenseful tries and fails and gripping page turns, or laugh out loud language will help you keep your reader hooked. Language comes into play in a big way. If it's a soulful book or more serious nonfiction, use exquisite lyrical language with assonance, consonance, alliteration and beautiful rhythms. If if it's a playful or funny book use onomatopoeia, wordplay, the different types of lyrical language described above and different types of humor (hyperbole, contradiction, malaprops, spoonersims etc.).
Three. Do you make the reader care enough about your characters to stay with them?
No matter what your characters are like, we need to care enough about them to want to stick with them throughout the story and we also need for them to be memorable. Even if they're not that sympathetic you can make them more sympathetic by making them charming, or by revealing where they got their flaws from, or having them do or show something kind-hearted or generous early on in the story. For example, "Grumpy George didn't have any friends, except his Mama and his little brother Gordy, who he loved more than anything else in the world." Well if he loves his Mama and his little baby brother, he can't be all bad and there's room for redemption. One of my all-time favorite sympathetic villains is John Szieska's A. Wolf in The True Story of The 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf. He's such an incredibly charming unreliable narrator (liar) that we can't help but keep turning the page. Think about giving your characters quirky names or names that go against their essential nature as Jenny Offil does with Sparky! (the sloth). Your characters are the emotional core of your story and their problems and feelings become our problems and feelings as we stay with them on their journey to solve the problem or attain their goal.
Four. Do you leave your reader satisfied at the end?
You need to give your picture book a wonderful ending that ties up all the loose ends, and leaves the reader with a good feeling whether that's a satisfied feeling of well-done, a touching tender feeling of "awwww", or a big smile or laughter with a twist at the end. Reading children's picture books needs to be a satisfying experience no matter what the subject matter, so that kids will want to become readers or become stronger committed readers. It's a big responsibility, one that editors and agents take seriously, no matter how playful the book. So ask yourself:
If you can answer yes to all of these, you are 3/4 of the way there.
Now I'm going to insert 4.5 here with some other practical things before launching into the slightly more random #5
Four.5 Did you present professionally?
Editors and agents are crazy busy. You cannot imagine how stretched they are, which is why you need to research them first and address them as people with names when submitting and why you are specifically submitting to them. Your manuscript needs to be professionally formatted with few typos or errors and the same with your cover letter, which should be as charmingly written as your story. You want to come across as professionally and personable as possible so that they will want to work with you and reassure them by the professionalism of your submission package that you know what you are doing and that you won't be a pain to work with. Why? Re-read Four.5's first sentence.
And now for reason five of why your book might not be selling
Five Did you submit to the wrong place or wrong person at the wrong time, or Are you resisting to persisting in submitting?
The beginning of this one is a bit of a wild card. You might have submitted your work to an editor at a house that has just acquired a book very similar to yours, or there might be another similar book already on their list (this is where research comes in handy because they don't want to compete with themselves) or you might submit your dog story manuscript or query to an editor who dislikes or doesn't connect with dogs. Fortunately with MSWL sites (manuscript wish lists from editors and agents), you can find out what specific editors and agents like or are looking for in advance. The thing to be aware of with this is time sensitivity. By the time you contact them with your alien chocolate loving cat story, you editor or agent might have acquired another chocolate loving cat story from someone else, which is why it's important to not write according to what someone else loves, but to write what is meaningful or important for you. Still, if you go to MSWL and find someone who loves or likes things similar to what you are writing - go for it!
Here are some links for a few MSWL websites that might prove super helpful for you (you might even want to start putting your own custom database together:
And finally - are you resisting in persisting in submitting your manuscript after receiving some rejections? Children's book creatives are in a weird position in that we need to be sensitive to create kid's books and at the same time we have to have a thick skin to learn from critiques and rejections and not personalize them so that we can keep improving our work and re-submitting. Oy! But the thing is that the people who do all 5 (or 6) of these things well are the ones most likely to succeed. Having a wonderful support network, continuing your education into both the craft and business of creating kid's books, and being persistent really are the keys to success.
Brief Bio: Dr. Mira Reisberg is the founding director of the Children's Book Academy, an Editor and Art Director and an A type overachieving creative with a ridiculously long resume! Mira is passionately committed to helping people make wonderful children's books to get them published and into children's hands.
by Mira Reisberg
As the curve of our national pandemic rises and falls, so too do our emotions. These are probably the not-so-good emotions--fear, anger, sadness. So, let's take this opportunity to learn and experiment with the power of emotions.
Let's look at the power of emotion in turning your story or art into something that really affects the reader/viewer and makes your work really memorable. Here's a handy Feelings and Emotions List that you might want to consider using to highlight different (not just the crummy) emotions as you write and illustrate.
Generally, children have very strong emotions and part of the process of socializing them is it to teach them to repress and control a lot of their emotions. But as a children’s book illustrator or writer, you want to connect with those emotions as much as you can. You want to make kids laugh, cry, be scared for the characters, worry about them, be curious about them, be angry with them or their antagonist or bullies, be happy for them, identify with them and most of all care about them.
The most effective ways to convey emotion is with your color palette, body language, scale, and facial expressions.
If you don’t have great drawing skills, model the body language and facial expressions in the mirror and then draw it as a stick figure and build that out.
I also want to encourage you to go through your manuscript and then your thumbnails and write down what the key emotions are on those pages or spreads to remind you that emotion is the heart of your visual storytelling and to highlight those specific emotions in your images.
What does your character feel? What do you want your audience to feel on each page? And that's what you go for.
It's really weird but if you want to draw someone smiling, smile while you are drawing. It will make that smile seem much more authentic. Weird I know.
You've probably heard of "show, don't tell" and here's where you describe your characters emotions through physical actions. Use your words to create vivid and specific details that allow the reader to draw their own conclusions. Use literal lightness and darkness as cues, avoid adverbs and passive voice, use strong action verbs, use active dialog, call the five senses into play, and focus on your character's actions and reactions (not their state of being).
Showing creates a connection, pulling the reader into your story, because they have to interpret what's happening. Telling the reader what emotion your characters are experiencing makes the reader passive because you're telling them what they should understand or feel.
When we're reading, we don't want to read a sentence like, "Stella was sad," which does all the work for us. How about: "Stella wiped tears off her face" instead? We want to interpret and feel the emotion for ourselves, not be told what to feel.
Writers, consider what's going on in your story, how your hero or villain is doing in achieving their goals or being triggered with underlying emotions, and see how you can convey that in your story.
We hope you found this helpful. Stay safe and wash your hands!
Mira Reisberg’s life is all about children’s books - writing, illustrating, and helping others write, or illustrate, and publish their books through the Children’s Book Academy. Mira has worn just about every hat in the children’s book industry including award-winning illustrator, author, editor, art director, kid lit professor and children’s literary agent. Her students have published over 380 books and won every major North American award. Mira also acquires, edits and art directs for small press Clearfork Publishing/Spork. Connect on Instagram @ChildrensBookAc or at facebook.com/childrensbookacademy.
By Maggie Lauren Brown
Many hilarious picture books feature unexpected combinations. So, instead of trying to craft a perfectly-thought-out story idea, use this exercise to help your ideas fly and work together in unexpected ways.
Start by writing a list of 10 (or more) things that kids love. Bonus points if these are things you like as well. The list can include people/animals/creatures, activities, places, foods, etc. It’s okay if your list is totally random. Actually, it’s better if it is!
Here is my list:
1. Roller Coasters
3. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
4. Hula Hooping
8. Staying Up Late
9. Snowball Fights
After you’ve written your list, write each thing on a separate scrap of paper. Throw the scraps in a hat. Mix them up, then pull out three.
Next, use these three elements to write a pitch for a story idea. It might take some serious creativity to force the ideas to work together. That’s the point! Don’t think too hard about it—if the story idea seems silly or outrageous or unbelievable…well it just might be a winner.
I drew Zombies/Snowball Fights/Sandcastles. Here is what I came up with:
Zeke the zombie dreams of one thing: winter. But life at the beach with his zombie family means sunshine and sandcastles. Zeke is desperate for a wintry relocation before he sweats what’s left of his face off. His only hope is to prove to his family how awesome winter is—with the help of THE SANDIEST SNOWBALL.
It’s a stretch but it’s definitely fun!
I hope this exercise brings some fun to your creative process as well. Happy writing!
I hope this exercise brings some fun to your creative process as well. Happy writing!
As soon as I could talk, I began telling stories. I "wrote" my first story at age 2, dictating it to my mom, complete with a (pretty exciting!) plot line. These days, I aim to spark little imaginations with a sense of wonder and delight through picture books and middle grade novels. After studying Creative Writing and Political Science at The University of Minnesota, I logically chose beluga whales as coworkers and became a professional synchronized swimmer. I performed for 10 years in cirque shows—Le Reve at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas and Azul at SeaWorld in San Antonio—and worked as a mermaid-for-hire. From there, I began a new sort of performance career--as a teacher. I taught high school English and elementary Language Arts, and I credit my students for teaching me exactly what makes kids fall in love with books. My current starring role of “Mama” is perhaps the most important of all. You can find me telling stories to my son, husband, and hairless cat in The Woodlands, Texas. I am a member of SCBWI and 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, a Children's Book Academy Graduate, and am represented by Adria Goetz of Martin Literary Management.
Splashes of Color and Verse
by: Sarah Momo Romero
It’s the new year and for many of us, it’s the start of new projects or adventures! This time around, it was a bit of a struggle for me to return to the swing of things after the holidays. It was so nice and comforting to settle into spending time with family and friends, it’s taken a bit of a push to get myself back into creativity. And this post was a great start! This month, I’m highlighting books that sparked a new excitement for me, with words, poetry and illustrations that are completely different from ones I’ve written about before. Here I have The Stuff of Stars and Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, both coincidentally illustrated by the amazing Ekua Holmes.
The Stuff of Stars is written by award-winning author, Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by artist Ekua Holmes. This picture book beautifully blends the mystery and ethereal quality of the universe, the formation of the stars and all beings on Earth through words and artwork that starts of dark and quiet, and explodes off the page with a great life force and energy.
As a long-time lover of handmade paper, the cover for this picture book mesmerized me and drew me right in with its swirls of color and bursts of energy. Holmes created the illustrations with hand-marbled paper and collage and assembled it digitally, crafting images to compliment Bauer’s vivid words perfectly. The textural quality of the artwork across each page captures movement in an abstract way that invites the reader to look closer and really take in each moment on every page.
Readers of all ages will enjoy reading Bauer’s lyrical telling of the creation of our world, as well as looking deeper into each illustration for the hidden images within.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets written by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, also illustrated by Ekua Holmes, pays tribute to twenty well-known poets from around the world and across centuries with original poems by the authors.
Out of Wonder is a great introduction for readers of all ages to the many different poets and their styles through the eyes of the authors of the book. Poems honoring and in the styles of Emily Dickenson, e.e. Cummings, Pablo Neruda, just to name a few, come alive and dance through Holmes’ eclectic style for each poem, illustrations created in collage on paper.
I hope you all have had a great start to the new year, and are on a roll with your creative projects! And if you’re like me, and need a little extra push, hopefully checking out these distinctive picture books will spark a little creativity for you as well!
Sarah Momo Romero is a Japanese Peruvian American artist, a graphic designer by day and children's book author and illustrator by night. She’s loved drawing and painting since she was a chiquita and now crafts stories of adventure and wondrous creatures. Sarah is an active SCBWI member who draws inspiration from her life in sunny Los Angeles with her husband/creative partner and dog/infamous escape artist, Peanut. Her debut picture book, "Wake Up, Little Bat!" is out now through Clear Fork Publishing!
You can find more of Sarah's musings and drawings here: www.sarahmomoromero.com
Facebook: Sarah Momo Romero + Instagram: @sarahmomoromero + Twitter: @sarahmomoromero
Some reading suggestions for this month, as the country attempts to heal.
This has been quite a month. As the tide turns, and America (and Americans) begin to face the past, teachers and parents are looking for reading recommendations to help understand how racism has affected Blacks in this country. Lists of Black books are popping up all over the internet.
I believe, as writers who create stories for children, we have a significant responsibility to those who read our books and fall in love with our characters. Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite books (both non-fiction and fiction) that I think are important reading for everyone. I’ve mentioned many of these in previous posts but wanted to consolidate them here.
You’ll notice, not all of these books feature Black protagonists facing down racism. I think it’s important that readers also see Black characters just being people. It’s one important way that books can help us see that we’re not so different from one another after all.
THE BEAUTITUDES – FROM SLAVERY TO CIVIL RIGHTS
written by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Tim Ladwig
THIS IS IT
written and illustrated by Daria Peoples-Riley
WE SHALL OVERCOME: THE STORY OF A SONG
written by Debbie Levy
illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
WE ARE THE SHIP: THE STORY OF NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL
written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
written and illustrated by Oge Mora
Middle Grade Books
MARCH, BOOK 1,2,&3
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
by Nikki Grimes
THE PARKER INHERITANCE
by Varian Johnson
by Jerry Craft
CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND
by Rita Williams-Garcia
One last thought: I fell in love with both magic and books at an early age, mainly because of their ability to transport me to worlds I never thought possible. These are trying times, but I truly believe that what readers read and, therefore, what writers write, will make a difference in the weeks, months, and years ahead.
Happy writing and have a magical month.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
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 the fabulous debut author/illustrator Maggie Brown.
And 5th Mondays will feature the wonderful Ave Maria Cross