Drum Roll Please ******** ReviMo 2014 Prize Winners ********

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Winners of the ReviMo 2014 Prizes are . . .

Monica Lauscher
*Simone Kaplan picture book critique*

Janie Reinart
*Making Picture Book Magic Class*

Becky Fyfe
*Basic Rate Your Story 2014 Membership*

 Lauri C. Meyers
*The Children's Book Academy's Grammar Groove Course*

And even more winners!!!!!!

Hannah Holt
*A chance to submit to Hummingbird Literary*

Judy Rubin
*A critique from Miranda Paul*

Milka Pejovic
*Critique of a query letter from Miranda Paul*

Rena Traxel Boudreau
*Picture book critique Margo Dill, Editor 911*

 Kirsten Larson
*Picture book critique Alayne Kay Christian*

 Lisa Connors
*Nonfiction PB critique Kristen McGill Fulton*

Sharon Putnam 
*A 30-minute consultation with Julie Hedlund*

Julie Beturne
*Beth Stilborn's Flubs 2 Fixes Copy Editing Service for 1 or 2 PB MS*
Melanie Ellsworth
*Beth Stilborn's Flubs 2 Fixes Copy Editing Service for One-Page Query Letter*

 Laura Renauld
*Copy of Linda Ashman's Nuts & Bolts of Picture Book Writing*

 Nancy Furstinger
*Signed book and swag from Ame Dyckman*

Winners I will be in touch with you, via email, about collecting your prize. If you don't see my email, check spam folder or contact me! 

Thank you all for participating in ReviMo. As many people said, the best prize is a revised manuscript and putting B.I.C. (booty in chair), but still I wish I had a prize for everyone! There will be more ReviMo events in the future, I hope you'll join us again!

Be sure to check out the CafePress Shop! All proceeds (through Wed. Jan. 22nd) will go to Reading is Fundamental. http://www.cafepress.com/megmillerwriterartist

And if you haven't signed up for Mira's FREE Webinar, Writing Cover Letters and Pitches that Agents and Editors Want to Read, be sure to do so HERE!

ReviMo 2014 Grand Prize Rafflecopter

Saturday, January 18, 2014

WOW! What a wonderful week! I'm so proud of all of you, 1 day of revisions or 7, you did great. Revising stories so short and succinct is tough, but if you're like me, you love this crazy picture book writing journey. Many thanks for joining me!

There is talk of a monthly ReviMo day or a quarterly ReviMo for 4 days or a week, so check back if you are interested!

******AND NOW!!!!!******  
To enter GRAND PRIZE giveaway, for those who have revised 5+ Picture Book MS:

1. Scroll down to the Rafflecopter Rafflecopter widget at the bottom of this post.
2. Under the prize listings, CLICK on the “Revised 5 or 6 Picture Book MS” button OR the "“Revised 7 Picture Book MS” button .
3.  Click ENTER and you're entered! Remember you are on the honor system!

You can enter the Grand Prize today or tomorrow, only 1 time. Rafflecopter Prizes will be drawn January 20th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

ReviMo Day 7 - Simone Kaplan Talks Revisions

Day 7, last day!! Today we have Simone Kaplan visiting. Welcome Simone!


Really. That might be a strange thing to say during ReViMo– but I bet it stopped you in your tracks. At least I hope it did.

Because what I wanted it to do is get you to stop.

To not write, not rewrite, not self-edit, not revise, not re-vision.

I really, really want you to stop.

There’s place for the gotta meet the deadline, gotta get the manuscript finished in time for (fill in the blank), gotta meet my goal of x number of manuscripts finished/conceptualized/drafted; but that approach can lead to you feeling pressured, stuck, closed in. It can mean that when you look at the work, you don’t see it; you simply react to it. And that’s not the most effective way to revise.

I really, really want you to give yourself some space.

I’m going to suggest that when you’ve reached a point where you feel that you manuscript is complete, you stop. And you don’t look at it for a month. At least. Some of the authors I work with tell me it’s almost unbearable not to look at their work. I tell them to stick with it. And I’ll say the same to you. Find ways to distract yourself or keep yourself busy. Work on other manuscripts; jot down notes, thoughts, insights that occur to you about the manuscript in question in a notebook. But don’t take the manuscript out of the file drawer, don’t open the document, don’t succumb to those knee-jerk, reactive impulses. Because those same authors tell me that after the month is up, when they do come back to their manuscripts, they have a whole new perspective.

And that’s what you want to do: jolt yourself out of your familiar point of view and give yourself another perspective.

You know how you see your home just a little differently after you’ve been away on vacation? Or you notice things about a good friend when you haven’t seen them for a while?

The same thing happens with manuscripts. By not looking at your work, you’re consciously and deliberately creating the space that you need in order to alter your perspective. Distance gives you the opportunity to approach your work like a reader rather than a writer.

When you come back to the work, you’ll see the tired images, the stale adjectives, and the sentences that need tightening. You’ll notice little holes in the plot and instantly see where a scene or spread isn’t working. If you’re lucky, you’ll also see how to fix them.

And that’s when you can settle back into your writer mode, take a deep breath, and start to revise.

Thank you so much Simone! That was the perfect wrap up to a perfect ReviMo week!

Simone Kaplan is an editor, consultant, and coach who provides creativity-enhancing, skill-building, heart-expanding support for creators of picture books. Visit www.picturebookpeople.com to find out more and to sign up for her newsletter in which she shares more tools, tips, and techniques such as this one.

 Simone has graciously agreed donate: *A one hour PB critique to one lucky winner!

***PLEASE READ CAREFULLY!!!!! Today's Rafflecopter is different!!!!!!! Click HERE for a How To Pictorial, if you need to.***

The daily rafflecopter was being weird, so this is a new one. Today's votes are CUMULATIVE, so read carefully. To enter giveaway:
1. Revise that picture book draft. Comment on this post.

*Scroll down to the Rafflecopter widget at the bottom of this post.
*IF YOU REVISED 5 or fewer days do this:
 Under the prize listings, CLICK on the number of days you revised. For example if you revised 3 days, Click the "I Revised 3 Days" button. Then click ENTER and you are done!
*IF YOU REVISED 6 days do this:
Under the prize listings, CLICK on "I Revised 5 Days" Then click ENTER. Then Click "Additional Day" button, then click ENTER and you are done! 
*IF YOU REVISED 7 days do this:
Under the prize listings, CLICK on "I Revised 5 Days" Then click ENTER. Then Click "2 Additional Days" button, then click ENTER and you are done!
PLEASE NOTE: It says there are 18 entries available to you for this giveaway, but there are only 7! Thank you. :)

Today is the last day to enter. The winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter January 20th. Enter Rafflecopter below, then for those of you who have revised 5+ manuscripts, the Grand Prize Rafflecopter will go up later this afternoon and will be up today and tomorrow.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

ReviMo Day 6 - Lindsay Barrett George

Friday, January 17, 2014

Today we have Lindsay Barrett George with us. Welcome Lindsay!

What makes a publishable manuscript?

This one’s easy. The story that you can’t get out of your head. The character that you fall in love with every time you re-read the story. Every time. And the fact that you want to re-read the story – and to re read the lines – the words – again and again. The one – the story - that makes you want to carry the book …close.

How do you determine if a story idea is worth pursuing/revising?


Time is always my best friend in helping me decide if an idea is worth pursuing. If you (one) can write the idea down –the premise – and put it somewhere special – file the idea away. Put it w a y away… For a month – or 2. Or 6 months. And then look at it again – with new eyes… That’s a sure fire test. This works well with a ms… Because you can never ever read a ms. every day with fresh eyes and ears. Which is what one needs to see and hear the story clearly.

Putting the ms. away for such a long time is tough. But this exercise will serve you well… it always has for me.

Revisions are excruciating and, at the same time - so very pleasurable. Easy to know when a story is not working … (we all know when it isn’t)… but problem solving is a lot of what children’s book writing is about… and being ‘in it’ is gooey-good – at least for me. But please remember that I deal with texts that have sometimes 50 - 70 words? And since every single word must be the exact right word – revising a text may mean living with and re-thinking, re-sleeping with, obsessing about ONE SINGLE WORD. Completely captivating. Completely engaging. Nuts but I truly love doing this. Reworking until it works.


I’d love briefly to talk about where ideas really come from – for me. They come to me – or more accurately – I snatch them out of thin air…

I hear THINGS –
on the radio
on TV (I sometimes watch, much to my annoyance)
I overhear people
I look at ads in newspapers
and often I’ll be in a conversation and someone will say something
and that something –
that Great Idea –
will hang there in the air –
often in a green neon typeface…
and then I’ll know that the idea is worth writing down
or I’ll surely forget it.

But never do I ‘come up’ with an idea for a story…they come to me. And you CANNOT lose faith in the fact that this process - this happening – will happen again. It does in it’s own good time. Can’t control the flow. I value ‘down’ time – Driving my car with the radio turned off. That’s a great time for idea gathering. Or walking the dogs…or duck.

Any other thoughts for fellow picture book writers?

haha… who am I to say… but maybe to…
Keep the faith.
Great Ideas come when you least expect them.
Be totally original.
Write the story that no one else can write.
(I didn’t come up with that – but it’s a great piece of advice).

I think there are 4 elements that we all share:

1. We’re all talented. Yup – we are.
2. You have to be lucky.
3. You need to be relentless.
4. And hope that timing is on your side.

Thank you so much Lindsay!


Lindsay Barrett George is a children’s book author/illustrator , widely recognized for her striking illustrations of wildlife. Her books have been picked as Outstanding Science Books for Children, American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, and have received Children’s Literature Choice Awards. She received the 2013 PSLA Outstanding Author/Illustrator of the Year Award.

Lindsay has doodled the animals outside her home in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, but is presently doodling the critters outside her 1898 red-brick schoolhouse. She lives with her husband, two cats, a diva mini Dachshund named Maggie, and a very handsome duck in northeastern Pa.

Lindsay loves to read books, she loves making books, she loves teaching how to make a book, and her dog, Maggie, loves to chew on books.

Books rule!

To enter giveaway:

1. Scroll down to the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post.
2. Under the prize listings, CLICK on the “Revised PB MS Today Commented on Today's Post” button.
3. If you have revised a Picture Book manuscript and commented on today's post, click ENTER and you're entered! Remember you are on the honor system!

Only one more day, hang in there everyone!! You can do this!

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!

ReviMo Day 5 - Jim Averbeck, ReviMo: A Selfie Photo-Essay

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Today we have Jim Averbeck with us. Welcome Jim!

Can you give us a little background about yourself?

I wrote this

and illustrated this serialized novel by Linda Sue Park

and wrote and illustrated this

and this

and this.

My next book out is this novel

which I am very excited about. It's about Jack, an 11 year-old orphan living with his aunt at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco in 1956. When she is kidnapped, he joins forces with another hotel guest, Alfred Hitchcock, who is staying there while checking out locations for his cinema masterpiece, Vertigo. Together, using the principles of the silver screen, they solve the mystery of the missing aunt. We just got the endorsement of the Hitchcock family and my publisher is making this a focus title for the list it is on. It comes out June 24, 2014. (And is available now for pre-order!) Did you notice the blurb?

Where, when, and why do you write picture books?

The answer to when and where is "everywhere and all the time." If you are a writer you are constantly observing the world around you. You listen in on conversations that you have no business hearing. You breathe in the smells and drink in the tastes of wherever you are. You take note of how the chair you are sitting in feels. When you are being very intentional about it, you write down in a little notebook, or on your phone, or a napkin or the back of your hand the details of the experience, puzzling out how you would describe it to someone who wasn't there, or making up a story to fit your observations.

Even if you are not being highly intentional, your writer's brain is storing away little snippets, which no doubt surface later on. And if you are an illustrator you look at the world around you and compose visuals, noting what emotions they stir in you and why.

The answer to why I create picture books is simply that I have to. A picture book is like a little puzzle that I am compelled to solve. How will I build a character, have a plot, and come to a fun resolution all in 500 words or less? There are a lot of nice side benefits- children's literacy, bringing kids and caretakers together around reading, the creation of something that will outlast me. But ultimately I’m just obsessed.

How do you determine if a story idea is worth pursuing/revising?

If we are talking just about picture books, I pursue a story for as long as it delights me to do so. If it starts to feels tedious or unenjoyable to create, then I doubt it will be fun to read. Sometimes the story is becoming too complicated, so it might need to be bumped out of the picture book format and into something longer. Sometimes a story is too slight - more of a greeting card. Then it either needs to be left alone until more story comes along, or used as a detail in another work. Novels, by the way, are quite different. There are many tedious parts of novel writing that you just have to slog through and make invisible to the reader. That's easier to do in a novel. A picture book has so few words and is so tight and concise, that there is nowhere to hide the displeasure you may feel while writing it. So don't even try.

What is your revision process?

People write in different ways. Some people overwrite. So, they may write a 2000 word picture book and have to winnow it down to 500 words.I am the opposite. I underwrite. A typical first draft of a picture book for me might be 200 words. Since I illustrate too, I usually know what the visuals will be, which saves a lot of words. Even so, my stories usually have deeper levels in my head than I have put down on paper. Now comes the most important step in revision for me. I meet with my critique group, the Revisionaries, twice a month. We read the story out loud (usually accompanied by a very sketchy dummy.) Then they look at me in confusion, because I have been so incompetent at recording the story I meant to. We discuss it calmly

and I make clear what my intentions were. They point out which intentions they don't see in the story, and ways I might surface them. Then I rewrite, focusing on bringing up the layers I left out. The story goes through several iterations like this. I try to nail down the emotional or conceptual story first, then I work on character, then language. When my critique group starts talking about punctuation, I know it is time to submit.

What's your least favorite part of revisions? Favorite?

I dislike revising illustrations. It's a time consuming process and after I've got all the story problems solved it doesn't feel as exciting to me. This is particularly true before the book has sold, since at that point I don't even know if my illustration work will be used.

My favorite part of revising is experiencing the "aha" moments when a piece of the story puzzle snaps into place.

There is usually a lot of work that happened to lead to that moment, but it never feels like anything less than magic.

What makes a publishable manuscript?

There are four essential ingredients to a publishable manuscript: paper, ink, sweat, and coffee.

As you continue on your writing journey, do you find your stories are better or are your first drafts crappy like mine? :D

That's an interesting question. Honestly I find these days that if I take more than two hours to write a first draft with a great beginning, strong middle and a fulfilling ending, then it will probably end up being abandoned. Of course, that two hours of sit-down writing is preceded by days of percolating ideas and recording little snippets of text, and is followed by weeks of revision. But it took me years of writing, and crappy first drafts, to get to this point.

Any other thoughts for fellow writers?

Get writing or I am going to kick your ass.

What's your favorite picture book?

I really don't have a single favorite. But without going to my bookshelf, I can tell you these are some recent books that stick in my mind: Henry in Love, Nino Wrestles the World, I Want My Hat Back, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.

Of the classics, you really can’t beat Where the Wild Things Are.

If you could write anywhere in the world, where would that be?

I illustrated the original serialized version of Linda Sue Park's "A Long Walk to Water" while in Bali. The assignment came in just before I left for this long-planned vacation, so while my family and friends toured the island, I sat at the pool of our hotel, overlooking the rice paddies, and drew. A cool breeze blowing. Dozens of colorful kites flying overhead. It was perfection. I've often thought of going back. The hotel was $70 a week and I could probably rent my San Francisco house and go write in paradise and still come out ahead, financially. I just need to convince my partner of the feasibility of this plan. Below is a photo I took then. Here’s hoping I can do a selfie there again someday.

Thank you so much Jim!

Jim Averbeck is the author of the Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, In a Blue Room (Harcourt, 2008) and the author and illustrator of except if (Atheneum, 2011) Oh No, Little Dragon (Atheneum, 2012) and The Market Bowl (Charlesbridge, 2012.) He studied writing and illustrating for children at UC Berkeley. He was the Regional Advisor for the San Francisco chapter of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Jim can be found online at jimaverbeck.com and followed @jimaverbeck.

To enter giveaway:

1. Scroll down to the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post.
2. Under the prize listings, click on the “Revised PB MS Today & Commented on Today's Post” button.
3. 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!

ReviMo Day 4 - Shirley Smith Duke

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Revising a Nonfiction Picture Book

by Shirley Smith Duke

Books ordered? Check.

Articles from Internet? Check.

Reading done for all sources? Check.

Background of reading multiple nonfiction picture books? Check.

Now it was time to start writing.

I looked at my subject from a distance. There were fascinating pieces of information and some unsavory actions later in life. I loved so many of them. But I wanted to write a nonfiction picture book for children. Well, I could discuss my subject, warts and all, I decided. I knew the event I wanted to focus on.

Now, most picture books are short—less than 500 words. Nonfiction can be a bit longer, so I thought I’d check. I typed Tanya Lee Stone’s nf pb biography, Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?, into a document. It ran about 800 or so words. Now I had my target goal.

Then I didn’t know where to go. I worked on an interesting introduction, realizing after that I needed a story arc. A plan! Nonfiction can make use of a story arc, so I wrote mine. I filled in notes to support the plan, filling four handwritten pages with tiny scribbles.

Now I was ready to write. I found it hard. Finally, I set a goal and got busy. I filled in the story of my subject’s life, from birth to death. I was forced to leave out fascinating facts, but I kept telling myself it’s a picture book. One can’t include everything.

Wrapping up the final sentence with a flourish, I was happy. And not happy. The picture book ran 3,000 words and told the entire life story. Well, it was interesting, so I bundled it off to my critique group. A number of revisions later, I had a 2,500 streamlined version. I hastily sent it along to a paid critique through my SCBWI retreat and waited.

I wasn’t happy with the story, and I thought about what I needed to do.

Guess what? The editor made the usual, standard comments. I wasn’t surprised. I knew what she’d say already. I knew what was wrong with the story.

I needed to focus on the one event. The extra material was the encyclopedia version. I needed to write the birth to death, but that version was for me. With so many incidents and a complex character, the overwhelming information was confusing. Cynthia Leitich Smith said she tears up her first draft before writing the second. I tore mine up mentally.

Now I’m ready to do the second revision. Really revise. Revision isn’t rearranging words. It’s an overhaul. I plan to narrow my focus and return to the single event and why my character was able to carry out the contribution.

I’ll probably still have a really long author’s note!

Thank you Shirley. So pleased to have a peak at your nonfiction revision process!


Shirley Smith Duke writes for children of many ages and focuses mostly on nonfiction. She's a former science teacher and by next month will have written 39 books. She's branched out with her latest book, Teaching STEM and Common Core, co-written with Anastasia Suen. She also wrote a STEM column for LibrarySparks this school year with her co-author. She's also written science poetry recently for Janet Wong's and Sylvia Vardell's forthcoming book, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. The picture book biography she wrote about in the blog is her New Year's resolution--send it out after lots more revision this year. She lives with her husband half the year in the Jemez Mountains and half the time in the Dallas area.
Teaching STEM and Common Core, ABC-Clio, 2014 
Seasons of the Biomes, (series of 8 books), Rourke,2014
"Grow with STEM", LibrarySparks, 2013-2014

To enter giveaway:

1. Scroll down to the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post.
2. Under the prize listings, click on the “Revised PB MS Today & Commented on Today's Post” button.
3. 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!

ReviMo Day 3 - Interview with Ame Dyckman

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Today we have Ame Dyckman with us. Tickled pink to have you with us, Ame!

Can you give us a little background about yourself?

I admit it: I ate paste in school. But I'd pretty much stopped by junior high. By the time I was in high school, I was telling people I wanted to write books for kids when I grew up. (Not sure if this had anything to do with the earlier paste thing.) Most folks told me my dream of becoming a published children's book author was never gonna happen. But Boyfriend Guy said, "You can do it!" I liked that. So I married him. After a bunch of alternative occupations (Costumed Character, Brownie Taste Tester, etc.), I joined my local SCBWI chapter, where I learned how to write for kids, met my Super Agent and rock star editors, and made a bunch of awesome friends. I got a fabulous Writing Buddy, too. And now all these amazing folks (and The Kid) come to my book signings and cheer me on. I am SO lucky. They're my paste.

How do you determine if a story idea is worth pursuing/revising?

There's a complex scientific algorithm that goes like... "HELP! I CAN'T GET THIS STORY IDEA OUT OF MY HEAD!" And then it's worth pursuing. Because often, I can't write anything else until I see that idea through its opening lines, sometimes to a full draft. Gotta be done, even if whatever gets done then gets tossed right into the Bad Manuscripts Drawer. (Or in the REALLY Bad Manuscripts Grave in the backyard.) But once the initial Make It Real exercise is over, if the idea’s still waving its hand in the air and squealing, “Ooh, me! Me! Choose ME!” there's a whole slog of homework (title/similar story check, marketability stuff, family/Writing Buddy thumbs-up, etc.) before it makes it to the Revisions stage. And then I place a standing order with our local Pizza Joint so we have something to eat for a week or two and get to it.

What is your revision process?

Besides the pizza? I’m a print-it person. I print out the latest version of my manuscript and keep it in my pocket, so no matter where I am (bank, grocery store, roller coaster, etc.), I can take it out and scribble on it and put it back in my pocket and repeat the process and even sometimes remember to take it out of my pocket before I do the laundry. (Sometimes.) And for a few weeks, I make my family and Writing Buddy play endless rounds of “Of these two sentences where I only changed one phrase/word/comma, which sentence is better?” Inevitably, there will be a 3 AM tantrum because “My new story ISN’T ANY GOOD!” Then I make baked goods for my neighbors to apologize for throwing a tantrum at 3 AM, and take a nap. And finally, I see that my new story is better than I thought, and I send it to Super Agent.

Any other thoughts for fellow writers?

Check your pockets before you do the laundry. Stock up on muffin mix for your neighbors. (I mean, stock up on recipes and flour. ‘Cause we bake from scratch. *wink wink*) Read mountains of books. And never, EVER give up! How will I get to buy your books if you do?

Thank you so much Ame!

Ame Dyckman reads and writes picture books when she should be sleeping. She’s the
author of:
· BOY + BOT, ill. by Dan Yaccarino (Random House’s Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).
· TEA PARTY RULES, ill. by K. G. Campbell (Penguin’s Viking, October 3, 2013).
· WOLFIE THE BUNNY, ill. by Zachariah OHora (Little, Brown; Spring, 2015).
· HORRIBLE BEAR, ill. by Zachariah OHora (Little, Brown; Spring, 2016).

You can follow Ame on Twitter (@AmeDyckman), where she Tweets picture book reviews and pretty much everything that pops into her head.
Ame Dyckman's book trailers:

Ame generously donated: 
*A signed copy of TEA PARTY RULES
*TEA PARTY RULES prize pack: bookmark, sticker, button, and squeeze cookie.

To enter giveaway:

  1. Scroll down to the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post.
  2. 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!

ReviMo Day 2 - Interview with Miranda Paul

Monday, January 13, 2014

Welcome to day 2! Today we have Miranda Paul with us. Welcome Miranda!

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

 To enter giveaway:

  1. Scroll down to the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post.
  2. 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!

ReviMo Day 1 - Interview with Deborah Underwood

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Welcome welcome, Day 1 of ReviMo is finally here. HOORAY! I'm so pleased to announce our first guest, Deborah Underwood. Welcome Deborah!

Can you give us a little background about yourself?

Sure! I grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, got a degree in philosophy from Pomona College (to the despair of the Philosophy Department, I suspect), moved to San Francisco, became a street musician, then worked as an administrative assistant until the year 2000.

Along the way, I tried various kinds of writing--everything from magazine articles to puzzles to screenplays to greeting cards. It finally dawned on me that since kids' books are the books I love best, maybe that's what I should be writing. (Another hint was the presence of a Paddington Bear tape in my tape deck, especially combined with the fact that I don't have kids.) So in 2001, after my corporate job conveniently disappeared, I started writing for children in earnest.

How do you determine if a story idea is worth pursuing/revising?

Ooh, that's a good question! Often I just thumb through my idea file and see what grabs me. But then I usually do some legwork. Sometimes I'll run an idea by my agent to see what she thinks. I'll search online to see if similar books come up. And I might ask a librarian pal or critique friends whether the idea seems fresh to them.

But mostly I pursue an idea if excites me; in the long run, that's what matters. 

What's a revision tip that you've found really helpful?

One picture book tip that I often share when I'm teaching a workshop: try to cut out half the words. Just try! You may end up adding back some words, but you almost certainly will find things you realize you don't need after all.

What makes a publishable manuscript?

Hm. That's a tricky question, because one editor might find a manuscript unpublishable, but the next editor might love it. There's an element--a BIG element--of personal preference, and that's something we don't have much control over (although by attending conferences and/or having a knowledgable agent, we might learn that Editor A loves cow stories, or that Editor B is dying to acquire a story about a tractor).

What we DO have control over is whether we're submitting the very best manuscripts we can--making sure we've gotten input from trusted writing friends and polished, polished, polished. Focusing on that feels more helpful to me than getting too caught up in the publishable/not publishable question.

Frankly, some ideas that grab me don't seem remotely publishable. Writing a book called THE QUIET BOOK when zillions of manuscripts are rejected for being too quiet? Insane! Writing a manuscript like HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT! that is so illustration-dependent that your agent submits your dummy to editors even though you're not an illustrator? Crazy! If I'd been trying to write only what I thought would be publishable, I might never have developed those ideas.

Any other thoughts for fellow picture book writers?

Be patient--with the industry and with yourself. Try to keep your focus on the one thing you have total control over: your current manuscript. Pay attention to what helps YOU in the creative process, and know that it may be different from what helps anyone else. Be kind to yourself.

And hang in there! I got my first "good" rejection letter from an editor a year or two after I started writing. The editor suggested I try her again, and I did--several times--over the next five years. And in 2008, she acquired THE QUIET BOOK. I am glad I kept trying!

Me too, it's a lovely story with adorable illustrations. Thank you Deborah!



Deborah Underwood's books include The Quiet Book, The Loud Book, The Christmas Quiet BookPirate MomA Balloon for Isabel, Part-time Princess, and the forthcoming Here Comes the Easter Cat! and Bad Bye, Good Bye. She has written 27 nonfiction books for the children's educational market. Her magazine credits include National Geographic Kids, Highlights, Ladybug, and Spider. Please visit her online: DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com.

To enter giveaway:
  1. Scroll down to the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post.
  2. 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. 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!

ReviMo Starts Tomorrow! Meg Miller - ReviMo and Revision Links GALORE

Saturday, January 11, 2014

ReviMo starts TOMORROW. I hope you are registered (registration here, closes at midnight) and primed to REVISE!

Below is a little gift, from me to you. I hope it will inspire many revisions!

Download or print for future use!

Recap of the ReviMo Rules:
You must (to be eligible for prizes):
1. Register (here). Registration closes at midnight CST 1/11/14.
2. Each day you REVISE (you are on the honor system!) January 12-18th and COMMENT on the day's post, you may enter the Rafflecopter giveaway. January 19th, I will have a separate Rafflecopter giveaway for those people who have revised 5+ days.
3. What counts as REVISING? Making significant and thoughtful changes to a Picture Book Manuscript. If you go through and change a few words that doesn't count! I want you to research and DELVE DEEP! Let's rip our MS apart and put together a best seller! *Fingers crossed*

Wordy Bird, "What’s wrong with my picture book text?" http://cleverbirdy.blogspot.com/2013/12/whats-wrong-with-my-picture-book-text.html

Mem Fox, author of Goodnight, Sleep Tight and Yoo-Hoo, Ladybug!, "20 Dos and Don'ts," http://memfox.com/for-writers-hints/for-writers-20-dos-and-20-donts/

Ame Dyckman, author of BOY+BOT and Tea Party Rules, on how to cut down PB word count! http://writeroutine.blogspot.com/2012/10/wriwopi-ame-dyckman-and-bot-astic-give.html

Linda Ashman, author of Rain and Peace, Baby, "Rhyme Clinic," http://susannahill.blogspot.com/2013/12/rhyme-clinic-with-linda-ashman.html
"Beyond the Bad Beginning," http://www.juliehedlund.com/linda-ashman-november-12-x-12-featured-author/ 

Corey Rosen Schwartz, author of Three Ninja Pigs and Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears, "How to Get a Black Belt in Rhyme," http://www.juliehedlund.com/corey-schwartz-august-12-x-12-featured-author/

Alayne Kay Christian, author of Butterfly Kisses, "Revising or Polishing Your Picture Book Manuscript," http://alaynekaychristian.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/revising-or-polishing-your-picure-book-manuscript/

Iza Trapani, author of Haunted Party and Rufus and Friends - School Days, "Rhythm and Pattern in a Picture Book," http://blog.janicehardy.com/2012/05/guest-author-iza-trapani-rhythm-and.html

Readability Calculator, http://www.online-utility.org/english/readability_test_and_improve.jsp

What's your favorite blog post on revision?

Feeling bold? How about a Picture Book Dummy?

One way to help see story problems is to make a picture book dummy. If you are like me, this process is much more daunting than it should be.

Take 8 sheets of paper. Fold in half. Staple (outside with regular staple; in the middle if you are a nerd and have a long arm stapler – GUILTY!).  Et voilĂ !

Tara Lazar, "Picture Book Dummy, Picture Book Construction: Know Your Layout," http://taralazar.com/2009/02/22/picture-book-construction-know-your-layout/

Debbie Ridpath Ohi, "Writing and Illustrating a Book for Simon & Schuster," http://inkygirl.com/inkygirl-main/2012/5/15/writing-illustrating-a-picture-book-for-simon-schuster-books.html

Have you made a PB dummy before, was it helpful?

Meg aspires to be an agented, published children's book author. It's one of her goals for 2014, so it's on like DONKEY KONG publishing world! She has two kiddos, Peep 4 and Speed 2 (nicknames!) who inspire many story ideas and keep her laughing.

To find out more about Meg and ReviMo, click here to read Elaine Kiely Kearns interview.

"Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do — the actual act of writing — turns out to be the best part."
-- Anne Lamott "Bird by Bird"

"There isn't really much to say regarding my literary career. It has been made up of two elements: 'hard work' and 'stick to it.'" -- L.M. Montgomery