A Picture Book Pledge

I’m sure you’ve seen this Picture Book Manifesto before–and hopefully taken it to heart.

Mac Barnett wrote it, Carson Ellis hand-lettered it, and all sorts of creatives signed onto it. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us creatives can’t pledge, too. So here I am. Anyhow, being bold means I don’t need permission to sign on in my own hand-lettered font.

(With my writing hand over my heart):

I, Elayne Crain, signify my agreement with “A Picture Book Manifesto” and pledge to continually strive to be original, industrious, and bold.

You can print out your own copy (and do with it what you like) from thepicturebook.co.

If Children’s Book Publishers Were Kids…

>>>Full credit for the content of this post goes to Jennifer Laughran from ABLA (Andrea Brown Literary Agency) and her awesome tumblr account, @literaticat.<<<

Though it’s hilarious, it’s also actually (at least for me!) very illuminating and interesting. Sharing this in case any of you are also having trouble sometimes parsing some of the (sometimes more subtle) differences between children’s book publishing houses. It does give me a little more of their flavor!

Take Your Cue from Papier-Mâché (and the Zen of Caring Too Much) While Querying or Submitting

One editor I recently workshopped with said she had heard from another editor that publishing was “a gambling industry full of people who hate to gamble.” This quote feels very accurate! As wannabe published artists, we are playing a game with very long odds–and, boy, do we wish we could beat them. But throwing our projects into the email inboxes of strangers can feel like we are a mascot chicken, handing out flyers on the street. “Picture books–get your picture books!” Of course, the only thing worse than wearing a costume and handing out flyers is when people won’t take them–or worse, sneer at you.

We all want the person who reads (or looks at) our hard-won work to be swept away–or, at least, to glimpse its potential. So it’s natural to feel disappointed after you put your creative work into a world that doesn’t appear to notice initially. Still, I am sometimes surprised at how hard some writers take even decent rejections (meaning those with helpful information attached) or mild critiques or rejections. If we let each setback on our publishing journey get us down, we are in for a very unenjoyable trip because it absolutely will be long and full of rejection–the only way to not be rejected is not to try.

I certainly didn’t realize it then, but getting a fair amount of rejection as a kid may have helped me in this regard. Sure, I have bad days…but rejections typically fuel me in the “I can’t wait to show them what these stories can do” kind of way (for the most part…I’m only human). Still, people frequently tell me they admire my “put it out there and see” attitude with my work. (Is it overconfidence or less fear of failure? I’m hoping it’s the latter. 😉 Time will tell.)

Still, when I get a rejection (whether that is an actual rejection, a critique that seems overly personal, or…worst of the worst…no response at all), two things do definitely help me:

  1. When you were a kid, did you ever make anything using papier-mâché? Well, I picture any rejection, “a-little-too” criticism, or non-response as an actual piece of paper. Then, in my mind, that paper gets dipped in a mixture of flour and water, squeezed until it’s no longer sopping wet, and gently smoothed onto my back. In this thought exercise, the rejection actually thickens my skin, as if I were an in-progress art piece. I know next time, I will be even stronger. (And that has held true.) Let’s call this the “envision turning rejection into art” method.
  2. I tell myself, truthfully: “Thank goodness you have found a calling you care about this much!” I don’t care about a lot of things, tbh. The response to my writing will never be one of them. That’s…a good thing. I say…LEAN IN. That feeling–caring! an awful lot!–is what reminds me that writing is the road, and I am building it. There is a certain zen that comes from surrendering to your authentic self. Let’s call this the Craig Middlebrooks from Parks and Rec method (a character that once yelled: “I have a medical condition, all right–it’s called caring too much! And it’s incurable!”)

If neither of those help you out, my next best advice is to channel Judy Blume, who said, “Do not let anyone discourage you. If they try, get determined, not depressed.” Put that care into action! Prove naysayers wrong! And, in severe cases, go ahead and use spite as a positive—to kick yourself in the pants to put out your next submission.

Are You Enjoying the Journey? A Check-in for Frustrated, Yet-Unpublished Writers.

This is a revised version of a response I shared with someone who was no longer sure they wanted to write with the goal of being published–and wondered if they should continue.

I’m certain all of us “writers yet to be published” have had self-doubts–that’s a normal part of the process, unfortunately. The odds of a creative “making it” are the same as a salmon avoiding being eaten by bears to complete its egg-laying journey: minimal. Still, they’re juuuuuuuuust good enough to keep those with that “I *must* do this!” drive going, and the cycle renewed with relentless optimism, year after year. I am not sure what the answer is for anyone–if they are THAT salmon that will make it.

The frankest/most helpful advice I’ve heard on the subject is from an author who, when asked in a webinar about deciding if it’s worth it, simply said: if you really don’t love that specific kind of work, don’t NEED to do it…don’t. And honestly, they’re right. After all, there is no shame in the form your love of writing takes! Reading is its own lifelong journey, full of rewards!–OR maybe you concentrate on writing, but not on publishing, per se! (which frees you to write only what you want to write!!!) BUT!!!!………

BUT!!!!

YOU NEED TO CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF.

Writing friend: are you ENJOYING this? Do you love the work you are doing? Does it fill you up–far more than it frustrates you? If you NEVER got published, would you regret the time you spent working on this craft–on these stories? These are sometimes hard questions to answer honestly, but I am certain the answers will point you toward the right path forward. If you love it, love the ways it bends your mind (good and bad), why stop?

You started this journey for a reason, right?

I don’t know what form the voice inside you that kicked off this adventure took–maybe it specifically said, “I want to see my own work mixed in with the books on the bookshelf right here at the library…” Perhaps it was more of a general creative yearning to express yourself. Maybe you just wanted to feel a sense of achievement in a public space. I don’t know the “Your Name, Trying-to-Get-Published ” origin story, but that doesn’t matter–because you do.

As always, your “why” is going to be the key to a satisfying ending. What will it take for you to get your need(s) met?

I wish you happiness, whatever your future holds. Courage!

(Please note: if your overwhelming feeling right now is fatigue, consider that you just might need a break–not necessarily a breakup. It’s easy to get tired of looking at one thing repeatedly. Funnily enough, I find having a stable full of problematic stories can be a great position to be in—because options prevent boredom! 😂 Also, it helps to remember that there is no deadline for this journey–if you need a break, take one! And come back when you are ready. )

Free PB Author Tools Add-On for Google Docs

If you are writing your picture book manuscripts in Google Docs, consider using the free PB Author Tools tool (created by Nathan Christopher) to save yourself a lot of time and “word count” admin!

I’m not getting any kickbacks or incentives for plugging this software. I’ve just been giving it a whirl for a few weeks now, and it really does do what it promises, which is to:

  • Give you an accurate word count (without art notes!)
  • Allow you to format your art notes throughout your manuscript with just a few clicks.
  • Check for word frequency, troublesome rhyme words, and adverbs.

Check out the creator’s Twitter thread (below) to find out more–including how to install this free, super helpful tool.

(A Big THANK YOU to Nathan Christopher for creating and sharing this super helpful tool. Another big thank you to Amy and the Storyteller Academy Team for sharing a tip about using Nathan’s software in their newsletter, which is where I first heard about it. Sign up for the Storyteller Academy newsletter here if you’re interested. Though I take coursework through them, I don’t receive incentives or kickbacks for sharing that link, either. LOL!)

Setting the Story Table

I’ve been thinking this week about a humor writing workshop I took not long ago (for, gasp!, adult writing!), where we were talking about story introductions.

One writer (who also happened to be an editor) said writing a compelling story/piece opening is like setting the table for guests. I haven’t been able to get that analogy out of my head ever since. We, as writers, need to welcome our guests and set expectations as a good host would.

What would someone sitting down in front of my manuscript expect, based on what I’m serving on that first page/spread (and through the title)? And when it’s time to stand up, would they leave that table satisfied? These are challenging but necessary questions for any host–especially if we want our guests to visit with us again.

There’s no use putting a soup spoon down and not serving soup! Or a lobster bib, but no lobster. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be considered.

How are you setting your latest story’s table?

Author Index Card Storage – One Adorable Option

If you’ve read “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” you know that author Anne Lamott swears by index cards for jotting authorly notes–and she’s not the only one. I have seen index card systems used by creators of all walks of life, ranging from children’s book author-illustrator Travis Jonker to decidedly children-UNfriendly writer Vladimir Nabokov.

My index-card usage system is a little weirder, but it works for me.

I temporarily store random bits of detritus absolutely wherever–scraps of paper, notes on my phone, even sometimes on my hand–and then move them to a more usable form whenever they get unruly (usually within a week or two).

  • “Ingredients” – meaning random facts, notes, quotes, themes, or what have you – go into my Commonplace Book
  • “Funny bits” – meaning things that I find funny (other authors’ bits, which aren’t usable as-is but may spark another idea) – I jot in my Things I Find Hilarious notebook.
  • “Recipes” – meaning actual, honest-to-God story IDEAS (or at least enough of a prompt to myself I could sit down and start to try to write something) go onto index cards. I sort the index cards (so far) into four crude groups: HOT! (meaning, I’ve GOT to write this), PBs (meaning picture books…but still murky or needing spice), Seasonal (story ideas with a built-in selling moment hook), and Misc. (which range from poem ideas all the way through YA novel ideas).

(This may sound complicated, but I assure you it only takes 10 minutes a week to keep this system going–which is why I like it.)

Anyhow, then I’ve got all these cards. Then what? Well, I look through them–and see what sparks enough interest/passion to write the thing right now.

In the meantime, though, how do I store my story “recipe” cards? I originally used binder clips and rubber bands, though both bent the cards in ways I didn’t appreciate. But one day, by mistake, I found an adorable option that I have a feeling other writers might like…

Despite appearances, this little storage drawer is not made of wood–but, rather, sturdy cardboard. Which means you shouldn’t put it anywhere where it could get wet, but also that it’s incredibly light and portable. Created by Chronicle Books, it originally came full of adorable stationery reproductions of the original 3″x5″ index cards that the Library of Congress used to keep track of thirty different beloved works of literature. I rehomed the original inhabitants to my stationery drawer and ‘Voila!’: story ideas at my fingertips.

You can buy your own on Bookshop.org if you would like to throw me a tiny commission so I can buy even more books:

“I’ve got nothing to query (or share).” – A Common Creator’s Lament

Recently, a writer friend said she felt like she had nothing to query. We nodded knowingly at our computers (each one likely spilling over with files). This is a common feeling for creators, isn’t it? We all go through phases where, despite all our fine work, despite all the time we’ve invested, we don’t know what we are ready to share–if anything.

Paradoxically, the underwhelm we feel can be overwhelming.

I’ve thought about that sense since, and I’ve decided it’s a bit like choosing an outfit for an important occasion. How many of us have stared into our closet full of clothes and (against all the evidence right before our eyes!) decided we had nothing to wear?

It’s not that we have nothing. It’s that we’re tired of looking at the same things, over and over, in the same way.

But…maybe the answer is the same for manuscripts (or portfolio pieces) as it is for clothes. Instead of looking at the pile of all your writing, take each piece out and spend some time looking at it individually.

Especially look at the oldest stuff you have, the pieces that you may not have had the chops to tackle then–but maybe you do now. Or, perhaps society’s mood has changed…and what was once considered old-fashioned seems charmingly classic.

Sometimes you do need to invest in a new piece. But I suspect there are some real gems in your crowded writing or art files, just waiting for wise eyes to unearth them.

So take them out, try them on…tailor them so that fit you now.

And then, when you are ready…show them off!

“Stop trying to make #Bookstorecore happen, Elayne…” – some mean girl, probably

#Cottagecore! #MCM! #Grandmillenial! There are so many aesthetic hashtags being bandied about these days. BUT…

What about #bookstorecore? The aesthetic, or lifestyle choice, desiring to live in, around, on top of, under, and beside #books and all the wonder their interiors hold. Ask yourself: would “this” <waves hands> be at home at The Shop Around the Corner in Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail?”

Work with me, people! Let’s get this off the ground–and into the zeitgeist.

#booknerdsunite #read #readingcommunit