Are you a picture book writer? Or Illustrator? Would you like a chance to get your picture book manuscript or dummy critiqued by an industry professional: an experienced author, a professional illustrator, or a literary agent? If you answered YES! then you won’t want to miss Picture Book Critique Fest 2019, a one-time picture book critique giveaway, created by Brian Gehrlein, the brains behind the splendid site Picture Book Spotlight! Thirty-five winners will be selected and matched up with one of the thirty-five participating professionals (there are some big names here, folks) to receive a critique. This is an amazing opportunity! I’ll be applying; you should too. You only have until 9 AM CST on October 25th, so get going! Click the #PBCRITIQUEFEST logo above for more information.
I am so excited to share this interview with fellow Ripple Grove Press children’s author Katey Howes! Katey’s debut picture book Grandmother Thorn released this past summer and has received many wonderful reviews. I don’t remember where in the kidlitosphere Katey and I first met, but I do remember sending her a message and spellcheck changing her name to matey. I’d like to think we’ve been kidlit “mates” ever since. 🙂 Let’s learn more about Katey Howes!
How long have you been writing with the goal of being published?
I decided in early 2014 to take my writing seriously, and to take the steps necessary to learn about the publishing industry, to improve my craft, and to actively pursue publication. I also started a blog that January, to give myself a way to connect with other writers and to hold myself accountable for producing and “publishing” written words every week. Looking back, I am overwhelmed by how far I’ve come. Here’s an excerpt from one of my first blog posts on January 14, 2014, entitled “Can I call it an author page?”
I’ve imagined myself a writer so long, it’s surprising to me that I have no real idea how to go about becoming one. Can I just put “author” down as my occupation and start counting endless hours of staring into space as work time? Are all those cups of coffee and bookstore bargains now business expenses? And exactly how guilty should I feel when I get caught up in a chapter and don’t fold the laundry?
Three years later, I’d answer those questions: yes, yes, and not one bit!
What was the inspiration behind Grandmother Thorn?
I had several berry bushes in my backyard, in a garden bed where nothing else seemed to want to grow. The berries must have loved it, though, because they grew out of control!! I spent hours chopping them back, wrapping vines around trellises, and eventually hammering 10-foot lengths of rebar into the ground to support the trellises! One day, as the unruly raspberry bush gave me one too many thorny scrapes, I yelled at it, “sooner or later, everything meets its match!” And then I stood silently, wondering whether that advice was for the bush, or for me. I knew then and there that I needed to write Grandmother Thorn.
How did you hear about Ripple Grove Press and why did you decide to submit Grandmother Thorn to them?
Through SCBWI and the KidLit411 website, I found listings of publishers that accepted unagented submissions. I went to my local library and requested recent books from those publishers, trying to get a sense of what they made and how their books resonated with me. I was blown away by the beauty and timelessness of the Ripple Grove Press titles. I wanted those qualities for my book.
How did you feel upon seeing the finished book for the first time?
What a wonderful day that was! My daughters were home with me when the box of books arrived, and we all opened it together. My heart was pounding, I was so excited! As soon as the box was opened, my girls each took a copy and curled up to read it. I held my copy reverently, examining all the beautiful details – from the surprise on the case cover to the thick, heavy feel of the paper. It was truly a dream come true!
What is your favorite thing about picture books?
That’s a tough question! I suppose if I have to choose one thing, it’s their versatility. Picture books can do and be so many things for so many people. They bring art to story and story to life. They invite the engaged reader to slow down and search for hidden details, or allow the reluctant reader to skim through quickly and confidently. They open the door to big conversations, or wordlessly introduce new worlds. It’s a kind of magic, the things that picture books can do.
What is your best piece of advice for aspiring picture book authors?
It’s been said before – but I’ll say it again: READ! A great composer listens to and plays and studies thousands of compositions before writing her own – authors need to do the same. There are times when I take a brief break from reading picture books because I can feel other authors influencing my writing too heavily, but in general, I read at least two a day, sometimes as many as ten.
Where can fans connect with you online?
I love to connect on Twitter as @kateywrites, and on Instagram @kidlitlove. You can also follow my author page on Facebook. Check out my website, www.kateyhowes.com, for more about me and my books. I’m no longer very active on my blog, but there are several years of posts about raising kids who love to read and about my journey to published author. You can find a link on my website, search #RaisingReaders, or go directly to www.kateywrites.wordpress.com. I’m also a team member at the fabulous children’s book website, All the Wonders, where we find new and wondrous ways to connect readers to books they will love.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself, your book, or picture books in general? What’s next for Katey Howes?
There are more picture books on my horizon – MAGNOLIA MUDD AND THE SUPER JUMPTASTIC LAUNCHER DELUXE comes out January 2nd from Sterling Children’s Books and is available for pre-order now. I’m very excited to be launching (pardon the pun) a book about such an innovative girl, as I’m passionate about helping girls see themselves as inventors, scientists and leaders. In fact, I’ll be presenting a session on using picture books to support STEM/STEAM curriculum at nErDcamp NJ in April. I hope to see many of your readers there!
Thank you so much, Katey, for sharing more about yourself with my blog readers! I love the berry bush story! It proves that inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere! 🙂
And congratulations on your forthcoming Magnolia Mudd And The Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe! I can’t wait to read it!
This article originally appeared last year on Operation Awesome as a guest post by me. I thought it was a good time to repost as a reminder to my writer friends to grab those ideas that are floating around in your minds, plant them, and grow them into beautiful stories for children.
Tending Your Story Garden
Before you can harvest your vegetables, you must plant the seeds, water the seedlings, nourish the soil, and have patience. Without tending, your garden will wither and die. Stories are gardens grown from the seeds of ideas, watered with love, and nourished with knowledge. Just like a vegetable garden, your story garden must be tended so that, in time, it will fill up with a cornucopia of plump and tasty tales.
Every story starts with an idea seed that has formed in our minds. When we choose to take that idea and put it down on paper or computer screen, we’ve planted the seed that has the potential to bloom into a beautiful story.
Each story is a garden of its own that began as an idea seed, or more likely, multiple seeds from which tiny seedlings, or idea-lings, have sprung forth. Once the idea-lings have sprouted, it’s time to nurture them. If we don’t, our story will never come to fruition.
Water with love. If you don’t believe in your story, it will show in your writing, which will be flat and lifeless. Most likely, you will abandon it and it will wither away. Always begin with an idea that excites you, then you’ll shower your story with your heart and soul and it will flourish.
Nourish with knowledge. Just as gardeners use hoes, rakes, and fertilizer to tend their gardens, writers should arm themselves with the right tools. I don’t mean paper, pencils, and laptops. No matter what kind of story you write, or what audience you’re writing for, boost your writing skills through education, research, and practice. If you polish your skills, your story will shine.
Weed with purpose. In a garden, weeds can spread quickly. They take over and suffocate the crops. Stories can have weeds too. Too much description, unnecessary words, passive voice, poor pacing, bland dialogue, and a thin plot are weeds that overshadow and choke out your characters, action, and theme, all the things that give life to your story . Once you’ve completed your first draft, go back and edit it. Weed out everything that bogs your story down and keeps it from blossoming.
Self-doubt is the worst weed of all. It’s a force as destructive to your story as a hail storm is to a fragile flower garden. We all hear that negative voice coming from deep inside that tells us our writing is not good enough. Grab hold of it and yank it out by the roots. If you write about things that interest you, practice your writing skills, edit your work, and persevere, your stories will be better than just good enough; they’ll be dazzling, just like that prize-winning giant pumpkin at the county fair.
Why, Oh Why, Oh Me, Oh My!
by Sonja Anderson
Writing a novel: Difficult
Publishing a novel: Difficult
Writing a picture book: Difficult
Publishing a picture book: Nearly IMPOSSIBLE!
That sums up my writing journey to date; I hope yours has been easier! After fifteen years on the publishing trail, my first children’s novel (Sophie’s Quest) was released last summer, and two picture book manuscripts have nearly been published. A third is currently in a round of encouraging emails from the publisher I submitted it to two years ago!
Unfortunately, I’ve learned that emails from publishers containing the words, “I LOVE IT! I want to publish it!” and even signed contracts do not translate to a book on the shelf. In the first case, the owners chose a different project over mine at the very end of a year of personal email conversation. A “Dear Author” form rejection letter brought that correspondence to a painful end. OUCH!
The second picture book got even farther—I was a finalist in a contest, awarded a contract, and I even got to see the finished, adorable artwork. So close! Then, the little company was purchased by a great big company, and my story was “orphaned.” Ironic, as Luna Whooping Crane, the main character, is nearly made an orphan in the story itself. So sad, right?
I find myself fearfully hopeful now that a manuscript has entered yet another round of encouraging, personal emails. Will this end up in a 32-page, glossy, full-color picture book? Will it instead, like other manuscripts, end in disappointment? Why submit myself to this agony again and again?
Why, indeed. Do you know why you stick with it? What pulls you over and under, around and through all the obstacles on the way to publication? What makes the choice to write worth it to you?
Dead ends and hopelessness over my novel led my husband to ask me what I would give to read something written by my great-grandparents that showed their creativity, faith, and maybe even their sense of humor. That would be priceless, right? “You’ve already done that for your great-grandchildren. Even if it doesn’t ever get published. You’ve done it.”
He was reminding me that the “holy grail” of publication isn’t the only game in town. If I am writing to help children draw closer to God and to love his creation, I also need to trust God for the outcome and to have joy in the journey. That hope, that surety that God will take my gifts of time and talent, and use them for his purposes (published or not), outweighs the fears of rejection, the unbearable waiting for publishers to respond (and some never do), and the sudden turns of events that make even a signed contract meaningless.
A few quick tips to get through your own dark times:
- Think hard about your reason to write. Does it connect to your greatest passions?
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. For example, while I’m waiting for one of my picture books to “make it to the shelf,” I’m practicing my writing skills and connecting to kids through “Sophie and Timley’s Bible Time.” Found on my website, it connects the characters in my novel to a Bible study about interesting animals in the Bible, and connects me to my readers as I read aloud a story through a recording that they can click on.
- Enjoy the writing journey by making friends along the way. Lauri Fortino and I became online friends through the experience of becoming finalists in that infamous contest together, and then commiserating together the merger of the company that orphaned our stories.
- Avoid being a bitter whiner! Focus on small victories and be grateful for opportunities to learn the craft and meet other writers. Agents and editors will LOVE to work with you if you do!
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8
Sonja Anderson writes from Seattle and enjoys hearing from readers. Find more information, including Sophie and Timley’s Bible Time (a free Bible study for kids}, on her website at www.sonjaandersonbooks.com.
Thank you, Sonja, for sharing your personal publishing journey with us. Your words have reminded me that, as children’s writers, we are all in the same boat, yet on very different journeys, as we pursue our passions.