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Picture Perfect Children’s Books

Have you ever considered writing a children’s book?

Picture books were our first experience with the printed word. They introduced us to delightful new adventures and taught us to read. It’s not too surprising that even as adults we still remember some of our favorites. Where the Wild Things Are comes to mind.

Personally, I’ve never considered writing a picture book or a middle-grade novel, but after reading this issue I certainly feel like I have the knowledge to attempt one. The experts in this issue go in-depth to bring you down to their level, so to speak, and up to speed with the ins and outs of children’s book writing. I literally feel like I’ve just taken a course on the subject!

Even if you’ve never had the inkling to write for children, this issue will change your outlook. And if you are a children’s book writer already, you will delight in the solid take-away tips and perhaps learn something new.

A big, warm, thank you goes out to our freelancers and staff members:

We welcome new freelancer Sue Bradford Edwards to the WOW! family. Her feature article, How To Write a Picture Book, sets the tone for this issue and introduces you to the process of picture book writing. Even though picture books top out at 1,000 words max, they may not be as easy to write as you think!

With so few words, you have to be extremely selective with word choice. Sound, rhyme, and rhythm are an important part of picture book writing. We welcome back freelancer Barbara J. Petosky and learn the secrets of sound from her interview with Nancy Shaw. Nancy is the author of the popular series Sheep in a Jeep and five other related rhyming titles.

We welcome back a WOW! freelancing favorite, Cathy C. Hall, and are thrilled with her interview this month. Cathy interviews Eve Heidi Bine-Stock for our 20 Questions column and gets the scoop on structuring your children’s book. Want to know where to put your plot twists? Check out Eve’s diagrams for visual aid and use them to craft your book.

What if you’ve written a piece (fiction or nonfiction) and don’t know if the language is right for your targeted age group? New-to-WOW! freelancer Gail Martini-Peterson shares a step-by-step method to lower the reading level of your story using MS Word’s Readability Statistics.

Another thing writers should consider is creating a teacher’s guide as a companion to your children’s book. We welcome freelancer Jessica Kennedy to the WOW! family and thank her for bringing us an instructional interview with Carol J. Amato on crafting a teacher’s guide. If you’ve published a book, this interview is not to miss!

A big thank you goes to WOW! columnist Margo L. Dill for providing us with two fantastic interviews this month. Margo chats with award-winning author Jody Feldman about writing books for middle-grade readers, complete with puzzles!   

And what would a children’s writing issue be without including the wonderful organization SCBWI? (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.) Margo chats with Esther Hershenhorn, a children’s author and regional advisor for SCBWI, and gets the scoop on what the organization provides.

We welcome freelancer Jennie Adams to the WOW! family and thank her for bringing us an inspirational interview with children’s playwright Melissa Nicholson. For seventeen years, the Popcorn Hat Player’s Children’s Theatre, led by Melissa and husband Clark, have brought classic children’s stories to life to the delight of their young audience members.

I’d also like to take a moment to thank our newest member of the WOW! family—Amy Robertson! Amy is a talented journalist and graphic designer who is interning with WOW! at our home base in Placentia, CA. She created many of the wonderful headers you’ll see in this issue, as well as the theme artwork. Welcome, Amy!

And of course, a big thank you goes to Senior Editor Annette Fix for her attention to detail and expert editing skills.

If you are looking for a freelance editor to polish your manuscript, website content, query letter, or book proposal, Annette now offers editing and development services. You can find out more by visiting www.annettefix.com/editing. She is offering a 10% discount for WOW! subscribers now through the month of April. Just mention WOW! Women On Writing to receive your discount!

Now, on to the issue...enjoy!

 

   

 

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THE EDITORS

Angela Miyuki Mackintosh is Publisher, CEO, and Art Director of WOW! Women On Writing. She has been published in Maxim, Transworld Surf and Skate, Vice Magazine, and numerous trade publications for the action-sports industry. She is an award-winning artist whose works have been commissioned for public art by the city of Long Beach, and has received grants from Funds for Women.

Angela lives in Placentia, California with her husband, Michael, and her cat, Noodle.

 


Annette Fix is Senior Editor of WOW! Women On Writing. She began her writing career hawking her feature film spec scripts in Hollywood, nearly killed her muse by working as a freelance copywriter for various boring companies, and finally found her way to narrative writing, which feels like “dancing naked in a field of flowers” compared to her previous writing ventures. Annette is an author and a spoken-word storyteller who regularly performs in L.A. theaters. Annette's memoir, The Break-Up Diet is available in bookstores and online.

She lives in Southern California with her husband, her son, and two dogs.

 

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SCBWI Helps Writers
Keep Up With
Children’s Publishing

Interview With
Esther Hershenhorn

It seems these days everybody wants to write for children. Many celebrities are getting their stories published, and more and more young adult novels are being made into movies, like the Twilight and the Harry Potter series. Even picture books are coming to life: The Polar Express and Curious George.

If I had a nickel for every person who has said, “I read all these books to my kids, and I have even better ideas,” I wouldn’t need to play the lottery ever again. But writing for children is not just about having great ideas. Yes, that’s a start, but there’s so much more. Children’s writers work hard while learning and perfecting their craft. The children’s book world is always changing, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up.

I was lucky enough to talk with Esther Hershenhorn, who is a children’s author living in Chicago, IL. She is also a regional advisor of a wonderful organization for children’s writers called SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). SCBWI helps writers keep up with the children’s publishing world and offers them a support system. Esther is also a member of their board of advisors. Her books include The Confe$$ion$ and $ecret$ of Howard J. Fingrhut, Fancy That, Chicken Soup by Heart, and There Goes Lowell’s Party!.

***

WOW:  Hello, Esther, thank you for talking with us about children’s writing. I know you are very involved with SCBWI. Why is it a good idea for a children's writer join this organization?

Esther:  SCBWI is the only professional international organization for children’s book creators, numbering over 23,000 members around the world. It does everything a good children’s book must do—inform, encourage, inspire and offer hope. Not to mention, SCBWI connectswriters and illustrators within a singular children’s book community.

One need only read an issue of the bimonthly newsletter, The Bulletin, to realize how much SCBWI works to ensure its members are in the know about their craft, their literature, their publishing industry, their careers, and their community.

Benefits include, for starters, membership in local chapters; national, international and local conferences and programming; grants; scholarships; newsletters; resource guides ranging from publishing markets to manuscript preparation to school visits and book contracts; discussions boards and listservs; promotional opportunities and organization awards.

WOW:  All of SCBWI’s benefits really show that a writer needs to be very involved and knowledgeable to write and illustrate for children. I recently interviewed two children’s writers, and both said they did a lot more than just write with all the school visits and promotional activities they did. They also both said to join SCBWI! When did you join SCBWI and why?

Esther:  I joined SCBWI in 1978, when it was simply SCBW (no I). Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser had established the organization a few years earlier, looking to find like-passioned writers. The Illinois chapter was quite small. I had just begun pursuing my life-long dream to write a children’s book and SCBW’s ad in The Writer caught my eye. Programming was almost non-existent here in Illinois, but the “Manuscript Exchange” allowed me to learn from some of my very favorite authors, including Bernice Raab. Once I’d become a member, I’d bring out the small blue membership card each time I received a manuscript rejection; I liked that my name was on a card that read “Society of Children’s Book Writers.”

“SCBWI is the only professional international organization for children’s book creators, numbering over 23,000 members around the world.”

WOW:  Your reasons for joining in 1978 are still reasons why many writers join today. They want to feel connected to other children’s writers and receive some feedback on their work. You also mentioned that SCBWI holds conferences where writers can meet face-to-face. Should a children's writer attend an SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles or New York, attend a regional conference, or both?

Esther:  Professional conferences are life-changing.  Sometimes the changes are instantly noticeable: you meet an editor, agent, publisher, writing group, member, bookseller, book reviewer, or fill in the blank. Other times, a shared insight, a book recommendation, an introduction to a new format or publisher or editor or friend works its way into your life. Before you know it, you’re taking those proverbial leaps, fictive or otherwise. 

Writers do three things: they write, they read, they connect.  Attending any SCBWI conference or program, whether local or regional, can help you do all three.

How ironic, that we, writers, like to write in the privacy of our small writing spaces; yet we’re writing stories for all the world to read. 

It takes courage to leave the safety of your writing room, your artist’s studio; but then, it takes courage to tell your story, in words and/or art.

WOW:  I really like that you pointed out it takes courage to tell your story and share it with the world, especially when rejections are inevitable. It is also important to remember, as you pointed out, that writers write, of course, but they also must read and connect. It is nice that SCBWI helps writers do all three. Why do you enjoy SCBWI so much?

Esther:  I have a dear writing friend who told me when we first met at a writer’s conference: “Children’s book creators are actually long-ago friends from another time and place who have simply and suddenly reconnected.” I agree.

We are a community of folks who learned everything we needed to learn in kindergarten, and we practice those things on a daily basis.

On any and all levels, SCBWI keeps me professional; it keeps me tuned-in and connected; it surrounds me with like-minded, like-passioned people who understand why I do what I do and why I can’t not do it.

“It takes courage to leave the safety of your writing room, your artist’s studio; but then, it takes courage to tell your story in words and/or art.”

WOW:  I’m sure several of the writers reading this interview would agree with you completely—we write because we must write. Without writing, we would not be complete. If a writer decides to join SCBWI for the $75 fee for the first year, what are two important benefits they will gain?

Esther:  Membership in SCBWI tells the world you take yourself, your work, seriously.

And, I earnestly believe in Six Degrees of Separation. Each of us is but six people away from the person we need to know. SCBWI connects you to all six!

WOW:  (laughs) It might even connect us to Kevin Bacon as well. Thank you for your insight into an organization that you have been a part of for thirty years, and one that many children’s writers will be sure to check out if they haven’t already.

Ladies, if you want a writing coach for any of your projects, Esther is the one to turn to. As you can see, she has been active in the children’s writing business for 30 years, and she knows what it takes to get a book published. Check out the information on her website, www.estherhershenhorn.com

***

Margo L. Dill (margo[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com)is a freelance writer and elementary school teacher, living in Mahomet, Illinois. She is a columnist for WOW! Women On Writing. Her work has appeared in publications such as Grit, Pockets, Missouri Life, ByLine Magazine, and The News-Gazette. Her first book, Finding My Place, a middle-grade historical novel, will be published by White Mane Kids in 2009. She has her own blog for teachers, parents, and librarians called “Read These Books and Use Them” at http://margodill.com/blog/. When she's not writing, she loves spending time with her husband, stepson, and two dogs—Charlie, a boxer, and Hush Puppy, a basset hound. You can read more about Margo at http://www.margodill.com.


 

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