Can you tell us about yourself and your picture book writing journey?
Those are two very different questions. Although I’ve always been a writer (how does one shut this “thing” off?), I’m also a number of other things—mother, traveler, scrabble player,
adventure-lover . . . the list goes on.
My picture book writing journey began, I suppose, when I took my first writing course for children at St. Mary’s College of Maryland with National Book Award winner and children’s book author Lucille Clifton. I wrote a few very bad picture books, and I knew they were bad. But Lucille planted a seed in my head about how transformative literature for children could be if I really believed in what I was writing. Later that year I flew off to West Africa and all kinds of other seeds began to take soil; I didn’t try writing children’s books again for nearly seven years. I had some years where I wasn’t writing much for myself at all, and had to make it a New Year’s Resolution to start again. I did a lot of teaching, freelancing for newspapers and magazines, and writing and editing for digital app companies. When I did come back to writing picture books, one of the stories I wrote was about a group of amazing women in The Gambia. That book is coming out in 2015 from Millbrook Press (Lerner Publishing). My second book is called Water is Water, and will be published by Neal Porter at Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan).
And I just learned that I've sold my third book which will be out in 2016. CONGRATULATIONS Miranda!!!!
What is your revision process on your picture book manuscripts?
Wow. Another toughie. Revision looks differently for every manuscript. I’ll talk about Water is Water a bit because that’s a rhyming manuscript. Rhyming manuscripts seem to be the ones I revise most.
When I drafted Water, I had four different versions of the story—but couldn’t decide on how to get the structure just right. After storyboarding, I chose the strongest sequence to continue working with. The strongest version wasn’t my first idea or even the one I thought was the cutest or that I “liked” most. Strongest meant it considered my young audience, offered more illustration possibilities, and stood out against other titles I was aware of.
Whatever I’m writing, I usually draft multiple versions or “alternate paths”. That way, when I submit it to my critique group or agent, I have some tools in case it’s not the “big hit” I hope it will be. Recently, an editor loved a manuscript I wrote, but didn’t think I had chosen the strongest ending. Because of my revision process, I had three alternate endings ready, and sent them off.
Perhaps the part of my revision process that is most significant happens during the writing process: I imagine the book is already under contract OR that the book will never be published. Either way, the pressure is off. I have to admit, I didn’t always write this way in the beginning, but I’m finding it immensely helpful for my creativity now.
I suppose the other piece of advice I can give is not to love individual words, phrases, or sentences so dearly. Learning to let go (of entire manuscripts sometimes!) is really important. Not everything I write is going to get published. I’m not suggesting that giving up is what writers should do, but spending years on a project that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere can be taxing. If I’m struggling, I let a troublesome manuscript “simmer” while I work on another project. Time away from a story can be very eye-opening for the revision process.
Can you tell us how RYS (Rate Your Story) can help writer's revision process?
I began Rate Your Story before I entered the dreaded arena of “submissions.” I had a critique group, but most of us were unpublished at the time. I wanted a place I could practice submitting my work, get an outside opinion from someone who would be honest, and that that somebody was publishing work in today’s market. Before I blew my chances with agents or editors, I wanted to know if my work was even ready to be sent out. I didn’t find a free site out there like that, so I created one.
While I think critique groups are vitally important for writers, Rate Your Story offers a very attractive one-way service. Writers who use our site don’t have to commit to the tedious “manuscript exchange”. Most critique groups have 5+ people, which a writer has to read and review four or five other stories before getting feedback on a single manuscript. People who write across genres often join two or three critique groups to meet their needs, which can add even more work to a writer’s plate! Rate Your Story has judges whose writing spans the range from board books to adult, including picture books, novels, rhyming stories, and even nonfiction. Though we can’t always guarantee it, we do our best to match each manuscript with a judge who writes, edits, or reads that genre.
Rate Your Story also offers eNewsletters with different perks depending on membership level. Some of the PRO offerings include links to outside contests, calls for submissions, agent/editor interviews, writing tips, and discount offers on professional line-edits. RYS members attending the WOW Nonfiction retreat in July 2014 also get a free critique from a faculty member.
We’ve helped more than 500 writers with thousands of manuscripts since we opened in 2010. It’s exciting when we get an email from a user who has landed a contract, gotten representation, or published a story. That is the thrilling part that makes up for all of the hours we pour into the site and our service.
You do professional critiques and editing. What would you say is the most common problem with people's manuscripts?
I mostly edit picture books, so I’ll comment on those. Overwriting is something I see often. Using the passive voice is another, because it really can hurt a book’s chances at standing out. A book has to stand out—from ideas to the execution and even the characters (think beyond farm and forest animals, for starters!). Always read your book aloud.
Can you tell us a bit about your Grammar Groove course?
I’m an English teacher. I spot all of those misplaced apostrophes and may or not have corrected people in public regarding the “I/me” grammar rule... So, when Picture Book Academy Director Mira Reisberg asked me to create the course, it was a yes.
From what I see on Twitter and beyond, editors are mostly English majors who clutch their style guides like bibles. They read a lot. They love language so much, they tend to know and respect the rules of writing well. If your manuscript is up against thousands of others, it behooves you to make it as perfect as you can.
I’ve met a lot of creative people in my lifetime, and I know that grammar and punctuation (the nitty gritty details) aren’t a strong suit of many who are “big idea” people. But it is important in today’s competitive market that your manuscript crosses an editor’s desk in professional shape. The Grammar Groove course covers everything from syntax to where to put commas to what a style guide is and even how to format your submission before snail mailing or emailing it to an editor or agent.
Did I mention that I sing in the course? There’s a music video, which is hidden from the public and will ONLY ever be seen by those who sign up for the Picture Book Academy’s Get Your Grammar Groove. Isn’t that reason enough to register? :)
I know I'm intrigued. :D Thank you very much Miranda!
Miranda Paul is a fierce reviser and the author of One Plastic Bag (Millbrook, 2015) and Water is Water (Neal Porter Books, 2015). In addition to being an instructor for the Picture Book Academy's Grammar Groove course, she is the founder and administrator of RateYourStory.org, an online service dedicated to helping writers revise and polish their manuscripts for submission. Miranda has a background in newspapers, magazines, and producing digital content for clients. Read more online at: www.MirandaPaul.com.
|Mira Reisberg of the Children's Book Academy and Miranda have graciously donated:
*The Picture Book Academy's Grammar Groove Course with Miranda Paul
| Miranda has generously donated:
*A Basic Rate Your Story Year Membership for 2014
*A critique from Miranda Paul (PB or first two chapters [up to 15 pages] of MG or YA)
*Critique of a query letter from Miranda Paul
- Scroll down to the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post.
- Under the prize listings, click on the “Revised PB MS Today & Commented on Today's Post” button. If you have revised a PB manuscript and commented on today's post, click ENTER and you're entered! Remember you are on the honor system!
Each day you revise and comment (Jan. 12-18th) you can enter for chances to win. The winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter January 19th. There will be a final giveaway January 19th for those of you who revise 5+ days! Good luck everyone!