Wednesday, August 16, 2017

uPS and DOwns of Writing

Finding a Publisher

My writing career has been like traveling through the years on a bumpy roller coaster.  I started by sending my writing to magazines. Over the course of a few years, I had over thirty stories/filler published. However, my earnings added up to about enough to purchase one large coffee (but certainly not Starbucks)! I then decided it would be exciting to have a book published. The thought of having my name on a hardcover book was enough to cause me to dance on my desktop. Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. With time my memory has faded some. But I did get a book published and it was a hardcover. But, the excitement was short-lived. The publisher soon closed their doors. Not just to me. As in closed for business.

Chapter Two. I signed a contract with a new publisher for a very short book to accompany their reading series. I was later excited to sign a contract with them for a full-length middle reader. But. That word seems to always interrupt my happiness as an author. When that publisher discovered that I had attained an agent, they stopped replying to my correspondence completely. After talking with legal aid, I gave the whole thing up and went to step 4 above.

Chapter Three. I located another publisher. At the time I was blinded by my desire to be published and their love for my writing. I didn't notice that their publishing house was built out of cards and not long for this world. And, as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.  I began to see the red flags as they slowly climbed the flag pole. Four books later that publisher closed their doors.

Chapter Four. Yes! After licking my wounds I located yet another publisher. I signed a contract on a picture book. He then began sending me illustrations that were being made for the book. But. . . the publisher then decided to go another direction since he decided picture books were too costly, etc. etc.  
I picked myself up off the floor and located a new publisher who published my latest book. But. Oh, no, there's that nasty word. I got an email that they are closing this month. I'm very sad, not just for me, but for them. 

Chapter Five. I'm busy doing my four-step program above. And of course, it's fun. Why? Because my passion is reading, creating, finding a publisher, and . . . 

If you share that passion, I have some informational sites for you to take a look at.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Recommended Middle Grade Novel

     I've posted very few Middle Grade Novels that I would recommend. Partly because I don't read them that often, but mostly I haven't found many that I care to pass on. My last posting was A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget. If you haven't read it, be sure to pick up a copy.
     I'm so excited to have found another great book to share: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

          This book is about finding true friends, bravery, second chances, about asking for help when you need it, and offering help when you see it is needed. It's about struggling with something in school (dyslexia) but realizing at the same time that you are not stupid, but have amazing gifts and talents.
            I loved the fact that Lynda Mullaly Hunt tied so many aspects of the story together. I loved the sentence structure and short chapters (since the book is so long). I loved the characters but at the same time felt a bit uncomfortable with them. Many of the characters felt exaggerated and like stereotypes. (But even with that possible downfall, I did still like them.) I was also concerned that a sixth grader had slipped through the education system without someone realizing her true problem, fairly unlikely in this day and age. 

I know it sounds like I've given several negatives, but the positives totally outweighed the concerns for me. Give it a try and let me know what you think.



Another Winning Picture Book

If you've been following any of my posts on Goodreads, you know I'm pretty hard on my ratings of picture books. Many books don't seem cute, clever, kid-friendly vocabularies, good text, fun illustrations . . . . Need I go on? I can't tell you how many books I have to read to find one I like. Of course, I'm always interested to see if others agree with me so I check reviews. I'm constantly shocked at the books rated at five stars that I would rate one star. Although I don't. That seems downright mean. But alas, after reading many, many books I found another to share. If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library. Don't by Elise Parsley is a winner. After reading a poster at the library saying, You can do anything at the library, Magnolia decides to take a circus there. As Magnolia performs acrobatics, she reminds her audience to hold their applause, because you can do anything at the library except clap. But there might have been one important thing Magnolia missed when she read the poster. And it might have even helped if she'd been paying attention during story time at the library. Bright, fun illustration. A book most adults won't quickly tire of reading to a child multiple times.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Dear Publishers . . .

Ever feel like you dive into something you love, but find you're just treading water? I think many people don't realize how hard it is to break into the writing world. I've silently laughed when I hear people say, "Well, after retirement I think I'll write a book and see if I can't get it published." For some, it's about that easy (though I don't think many). For others, lots of time is spent swimming a few strokes then being dragged back by the current.

I tend to fall in the latter group. After hard work, I find a publisher then manage to watch the business fold like it's made of a deck of playing cards.

So far I've been standing inside when two publishers close their doors. And yesterday I received a very nice letter from my newest publisher saying they will be closing at the end of August.

Once again, I will take the dive, since writing is my passion. But if you are a member of Scholastic Press, Harper, Philomel Books, or Little Brown and Company, will you please watch for wonderful stories submitted by Debbie Shakespeare Smith? I promise to do my best to keep the cards standing in an upright position!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Lily and Bear Grumpy Feet

I am posting this picture book mainly because of the cute illustrations.  I thought the story was just okay, but the illustrations overshadowed any short comings in the text. I think most children will really enjoy the book.

Lily loves to draw, but one morning Lily finds herself out of sorts: nothing is quite right. The day is too rainy, the teapot too dribbly. Even her pencils are too pointy. It is clear nothing will be right until Lily draws . . . bear!

Lily and Bear Grumpy Feet by Lisa Stubbs is definitely worth checking out.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Picture Books: Concept or Plot-Driven

I’ve been sending out my picture book manuscript to several agents and at the same time reviewing some newer, published picture books. A few books are very good, and those are the ones I try to share on my blog. But if you've noticed, I haven't been sharing very many. This is only my opinion regarding picture books, but I still say it's hard to find a good one.
Most of us are familiar with this type of picture book:
Setup- Tells a little bit about the characters and maybe the setting.

Problem- Something the main character needs to solve.

Attempt to Solve- Picture books typically will have three attempts.

Try. Fail.

Try. Fail.

Try. Fail.

Drum Roll-Moment of overcoming or solving the problem. 

Resolution- Wrapping up loose ends, and showing positive consequences.  
I'm not going to list the titles of some of the books I'm reading since it might be conceived that I'm criticizing them, I’m not, I’m trying to make a point.
Published 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons: The main character’s friends solve his problem.
Published 2017 by Roaring Brook Press: The problem is solved quite by accident.
Published 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Problem not solved by the main character.
Published 2017 by Tiger Tales: Problem solved, but perhaps not by ways you’d recommend?? (However, I realize it’s a picture book and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.)
More and more picture books seem to be drawing away from Plot-Driven and moving toward Character-Driven.
A Character-Driven Book (be it a child or an animal), is about the main character’s wants, dreams, hopes, plans, problems, and more. These are characters the reader comes to care about, root for, and relate to. The author of character-driven stories needs to understand the main character’s motivations, weakness,  strengths, inspirations, internal struggles. . . well, the author needs to know the character just about as well as he knows himself.
In summary, a Plot-Driven Story features a sequence of events in which the protagonist fights to attain a goal. Character-Driven: A unique and fun character makes internal changes.
You can Google to find examples of each type of book, which can be helpful.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sale Ends Today!

If you haven't picked up my book, The Blabbermouth Club, now is the time to do it!

20% off any item at Barnes and Noble
Offer ends today 7-07-17
**Some exclusions apply

Don't wait!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Surprise! Another Picture Book Post

The animals on the farm are preparing to celebrate a birthday. But duckling isn't quite sure how to prepare for a birthday party since he's never experienced one. The sheep are snippity-clipping, the chickens are shimmy-shaking. But what should duckling be doing?

Not only did I choose to post this book because it's cute, but also to show that not all books (as I'm sure you know) follow the rules that authors are taught to use when writing. You may want to refer to my previous post regarding feedback that I received from an agent on one of my picture book manuscripts. The bold print indicates recommendations to my manuscript. The regular print refers to Click, Clack, Surprise!.

  • I needed "more suspense in the beginning" 
    • There is some suspense in the beginning of Click, Clack, but minimal
  • I needed "tension with higher stakes in the middle"
    • no tension (that I could tell)
  • I needed "more character growth"
    • if duckling grew it was on the last page
  • While I didn't post anything about this earlier, as authors we are always told to have the main character solve his/her own problem.
    • character growth only on last page
So, while I wholeheartedly recommend Click, Clack, Surprise!, I wanted to point out that if you have a certain feel and love for what you are creating, don't immediately dismiss it because it doesn't follow the guidelines you've been taught. One of the best examples of this is the Harry Potter series. This book didn't sell quickly, but when it did it flew to the top of the charts and exceeded all expectations.

My thoughts are to follow the guidelines, but if your heart says to veer off the path, I say Go For It!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On Writing Picture Books

Though they look short and simple, picture books can be challenging to write. I know that first hand, from replies I've received from agents.

"...I especially enjoyed the humor and know that the illustrations will expand in greater depth visually. Overall, this is entertaining for young readers.
Here's where the but comes in:
"When considering your story further, I'm wanting more suspense in the beginning, a tad more tension with higher stakes in the middle, and more depth in the end. For plot I'd like to see more character growth . . . "
Don't misunderstand me. This personal reply is very encouraging. But I want to reply, "Hello, I've read so many non-exciting picture books with no plot or . . . ." well, you know what I mean. It's a tough business, but one I find exciting.

My suggestion for you is to read lots of picture books to see what's being published. Some books will make you chuckle and marvel at an author's creativity; you might even consider that he/she is totally out of your league. But other books will cause you to shake your head. That being said, I still recommend you read and find authors who inspire your creative thoughts. Sometimes writing is in your blood. You've got to do it! If that happens to be how you feel, I understand.

I will be posting picture books that match my style and ones that I hold up as examples of good writing. I will also share some great articles to guide you through the writing process.

You may want to look at the picture books I've recommended in the past, as well.

Want to write a good children's book? Here are 7 tips to guide you

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Those Darn Squirrels

Love good Picture Books with sequels? Then these books are winners, especially if you’ve ever watched squirrels raid your bird feeders and thought, Those Darn Squirrels.  Look at the covers of these books. They just about say it all, don’t they?  What? you say.  You can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, if it makes you smile, usually you can.

Old Man Fookwire (so old that dust comes out his nose when he sneezes) is a grump who likes birds. With lots and lots of bird feeders, he is able to attract more birds. And what could be better than birds unless it’s painting birds? But Old Man Fookwire soon realizes he is attracting squirrels, too. And those pesky squirrels are smart!

All of the books are filled with cute illustrations that children and adults will love. Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door and Those Darn Squirrels Fly South are sequels to Those Darn Squirrels

Author: Adam Rubin

Illustrator: Daniel Salmieri