This is the blog home of #kidlitart, a live Twitter chat Thursdays at 9:00 pm Eastern, for children's book illustrators, picture book authors, author/illustrators and friends. Check back weekly to read transcripts, comment on previous chats and suggest topics for upcoming chats.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

And the winners are!

Bonnie and I are pleased to announce the name of the Secret Agent and the winners of the professional critiques.

Drum roll, please! The #PBDummy challenge winners:

-Pippin-Mathur/little princess whose little brothers are dragons

-Lewis/Katrina penguins relocate to Monterey Bay aquarium

-Matusic/pirates go shopping

The below is a direct quote from the agent, Jennifer Mattson, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Please let the chatters know that it was a difficult decision - I was really impressed by the nice breadth of topics and the refreshing absence of old-hat, familiar storylines. Kudos to the participants for taking the bull by the horns, and kudos to kidlitart, in general, for creating this terrific and needed community.

Please help us congratulate the winners.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

#PBdummy Wrap Party!

It's a wrap!

We've come to the end of our six-month picture book dummy challenge. Wendy and I have learned a lot, putting together the introductory posts and researching links. We've also had a great time discussing the highs and lows and, most of all, gaining inspiration from the fantastic community of kidlitart followers.

Whether or not you finished with a submission-worthy dummy, we hope you've had fun and been inspired, too, and that the experience of talking through the process has been a valuable one.

We've saved the best for last: the 15 pitches posted during Pitch Fest have been reviewed (favorably!) by Secret Agent; winners of the detailed dummy critiques will be announced during the #kidlitart chat on Thursday, June 30 (9 pm Eastern)!

Join us to congratulate your colleagues and share what you've learned on the #PBdummy train. And thanks to all for taking the journey with us!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pitch Fest!

As mentioned in yesterday's post, we've arranged for an agent to review #PBdummy pitches left here in the comments section, between now and midnight Eastern time on Saturday, June 25.

The agent (whose name will be revealed at the close of the contest) will pick her top three. The winning author/illustrators will be invited to send her their dummies for detailed critiques. Awesome!!

Don't be shy. Ready, set . . . GO!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Pitch

Drumroll, please.

It's time to introduce your exciting story concept to the world. After all this work, there's one more thing to do: you must come up with a dazzlingly witty and irresistible sentence or two to grab that agent or editor and let them know you have got A WINNER on your hands!

Think of how you'd describe what you've been working on to your best friend, then polish it till it shines. You should be able to encapsulate the characters, conflict, and at least hint at the resolution in the time it would take an elevator to travel a couple of floors. That's because, the next time you find yourself at a conference, that might be just the opportunity you're given.

You to famous editor: "I enjoyed your keynote. And I agree that exciting days are ahead for the picture book market."

Famous editor: Thank you. Are you a picture book author or illustrator?

You: "Why, yes, I am."

FE: "What are you working on?"

This is where you keep your wits about you (don't hyperventilate!) and produce the above-mentioned dazzling sentence. (Good manners require you to wait until asked. You do NOT, under any circumstances, ambush an agent or editor at a conference with your sparkly pitch uninvited--you will be labeled unprofessional at best, creepy and stalkerish at worst.)

Or perhaps you're interested in submitting to a house which accepts queries only. Your pitch is the nucleus of your query. In essence, you're providing the editor or agent with your marketing hook. You know the text on the jacket flap, or the back cover of a paperback that makes you want to buy the book? That's basically a pitch to the consumer; you want to be just as engaging with your pitch to the publisher or agency.

Here is an article about pitching in general--not specifically for children's books, but the rules apply. Of particular interest are the six tips at the end. Note the refinement of the term "elevator pitch": http://publishingperspectives.com/2010/11/pitchapalooza-2010-tips-for-perfecting-your-book-pitch/

Shhh . . . #PBdummy secret!

So, those of you following along for the past six months may recall that when we started this challenge, we said the finished dummy would be its own reward. This is still true. If you've completed a picture book dummy to submit, congratulations! Quite an accomplishment, huh? Seriously--dummies are hard work.

We hope everyone has gotten something out of the challenge, and we expect to hear of exciting submission news from some of you! But we thought maybe you intrepid dummiers (I'm sure that's not a real word) deserved a reward for sticking with it.

Accordingly, Wendy has secured a special surprise for #kidlitart chat folks, or those following the blog: Starting tomorrow (June 23) and continuing through Saturday, June 25, we're asking you to post a pitch for your dummy project. An agent Wendy contacted has expressed interest in what we've been doing with the challenge, and has agreed to review the pitches, pick her three favorites, and offer a detailed critique of each of the three winning dummies!

Exciting, yes? Feedback like this from an agent who regularly deals with picture book manuscripts and art is invaluable. I am personally extremely bummed that I did not complete the challenge, and have no dummy to throw in the ring. :-(

The rest of you, polish those pitches!

Share your perfect pitch in the comments section of tomorrow's post for your chance at one of three professional critiques.

And join us Thursday, June 23, at 9 pm Eastern, to further discuss tips for showcasing your work in 20 words or less.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

GUEST BLOG: Targeting Your Submission June 16th Chat

Please welcome guest blogger, Carolyn Kaufman. She'll be answering your question via the comments section below.

Now that you know what goes in your submission packet, it’s time to target your submissions!

You have two main options if you want to pursue the traditional publishing route: submitting to literary agents or submitting directly to publishers. While it may seem like a no-brainer to cut out the middle-man (or, in most cases, -woman), an agent provides you with some important benefits.

First, a good, reputable literary agent is well-connected. She not only knows acquisitions editors at both big and small publishing agencies, the acquisitions editors know her. Even better, they trust her judgment, because they know that the only way a literary agent gets paid is if she chooses to represent strong projects that consumers will want to buy. In other words, rather than ending up in a mountainous slush pile, your project lands directly on the desk of someone who has the power to make buying decisions.

Your agent will work to negotiate the best money possible for you. In other words, she knows what your project is worth and how to get publishers to increase advance and royalty payments if you’re being offered less than your work is probably worth. She may actually pay for herself very quickly this way!

So how do you find good, reputable agents?

My top recommendation goes to QueryTracker.net, a website that will not only help you figure out which agents represent projects like yours – it will also help you track your submissions. There are other websites that will help you find agents, but only QueryTracker vets each and every agent that’s listed. If an agent has ever done anything disreputable (such as asking for money upfront), she is not listed. (Full disclosure: I blog for QueryTracker, so I’m not unbiased – on the other hand, I am very careful what I put my name behind, and I stand wholeheartedly behind QT. It has also been recognized by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers every year since 2008.)

Now it's time to find information on past sales, likes and dislikes, and so forth. Writers should subscribe to Publisher's Weekly to track who's selling what, to QueryTracker to find advanced reports on things like who reps whom, and to Preditors and Editors to find out who's a crook.

To use the QueryTracker site, choose the genre you’re targeting (e.g. Fiction – Children’s) and Search. Clicking on the name of a listed agent will give you links to the agent’s website and any social media the agent uses. You should always follow these links to gather details on what the agent is looking for, as well as her submission guidelines. If you get a premium subscription to QT, you will also have access to “Quick Click Tools” that will take you to other agent-search websites that will give you additional information (the best ones, in my opinion, are AgentQuery.com, Publisher’s Marketplace, and Preditors and Editors).

As I mentioned at the beginning, you can also submit directly to publishers if you wish. In these situations, you will want to thoroughly research the publisher online, most notably through the publisher’s website. Caveat: Particularly if you choose to research agents through non-vetted sites like AgentQuery and Publisher’s Marketplace, or if you want to submit directly to publishers, be sure to double-check Preditors and Editors, which tells you which agents and publishers to avoid like the plague.

In any case, you'll want to identify your book's niche in the market. My personal experience has been that I (as a writer) need to be able to identify a hole in the market and then explain how my book fits that niche, why there is no other book like it, and so on. While that is obviously going to give me some ideas for publishers (and I am fortunate to have an agent who is open to my thoughts), many agents see it as their job to identify and target particular publishers. Certainly, I need to find an agent who's into my kind of stuff,

In most cases, you will be sending a query letter, which introduces you and your project, either before you send your submission package or with that package (again, check the individual agent or publisher’s submission guidelines to find out what to send). The query letter, sometimes referred to as a cover letter, includes a brief, catchy description of your book, as well as your credentials (if any) for writing it (e.g. previous publishing credits).

Best of luck in finding a great agent and/or publisher for your project!


Carolyn Kaufman is a writing coach, a psychologist, and the author of The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior. She regularly blogs on writing and publishing for the QueryTracker Blog, and on psychology and writing for Psychology Today. If you have a writing and publishing question, feel free to contact her through the QueryTracker Blog; if you have one about psychology for your story, you can contact her through the Q&A form on her ArchetypeWriting site.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

#Kidlitart Chat June 9 2011: What is expected in the submission packet?

We’re coming down to the bottom of the challenge! Have you been keeping up? I hope so. I think one thing we’ve all learned in the past 6 months is how labor intensive creating a picture book dummy can be.

The writing of the text and development of characters, the deciding on format and creating story flow with thumbnail sketches, the concentrated effort on tight pencils and preparing the dummy for delivery all culminating an exciting (and we hope salable) picture book dummy.

So the book dummy is done now. Are you ready to submit it to agents, art directors or editors? Not quite yet. Don’t moan at me, you knew this was coming!

While it’s true as illustrators we don’t have to include quite as many things in a submission packet as a writer, we do need to include something.

The best place to find out what the person you plan to submit to wants from you at their web site or blog. Find their submission guidelines to make sure you are sending them a complete package.

In general there are several things to include in your submission packet:

  1. The picture book dummy (well duh!)
  2. A cover letter that contains your current address, phone number, and a brief description of your project. Often cover letters become separated from manuscripts, be sure to include your name, address, and phone number on the dummy as well.
  3. A hard copy of the text of the picture book dummy. This should be typed and double-spaced. (You might want to mention in your cover letter you are open to consideration of text and art being considered separately to double your chances of acceptance.)
  4. Do not, under any circumstances, send original art.

The cover letter usually has three parts and is one page long. Besides your contact information, most publishers like to receive a synopsis or pitch (brief description of the book) and your previous publishing credits (if any).

Remember at the beginning of this challenge how we stated there were no prizes and the only reward was the completion of your book dummy?

Yeah, we do, too. But things change.

We have a secret. It has to do with your book dummy pitches.

We’ll be asking you to post your pitches on this blog between our June 23 and June 30 chats. You’ll have 48 hours to get your pitches posted. Only pitches posted on the blog between June 23 (9PM eastern) and June 25 (9PM eastern) will be considered. You’ll want to have your pitch ready.

During the June 30th wrap up chat we will announce the secret. It’s big, it’s exciting. We can’t wait to be able to tell you!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dummy assembly

It's that time, folks--time to put it all together into a neat package. What you're striving for is to look professional (you ARE a professional illustrator, even if unpublished), but not to get so elaborate that an editor or art director is going to think you're some sort of artistic diva. No matter how well-thought out your proposal, the text of your story will most assuredly undergo some editing, and that will mean rethinking layouts, adding or deleting characters--whatever it takes to make a viable property for a publisher. You want to demonstrate that you know what you're doing, but also that you're flexible and willing to make changes.

This is a fine line--in the end, you have to be happy with the way you present yourself. I've heard some people say minimal presentation is best, and there's certainly NOTHING WRONG with standard typing paper folded in half, with text and copies of illustrations taped (neatly) into place. An experienced publishing professional has the imagination to fill in the gaps and see what you intend.

True confession: I thumbnail and storyboard up a storm, but I've only produced one dummy in my career so far. (Yeah, yeah, I know!) For my one, I chose to do a slightly fancier job, because I wanted something to keep in my portfolio. My process is outlined below. If you're looking for suggestions, this is ONE WAY to do it--and I do think the dummy helped to sell the manuscript in my case. I submitted both for a conference critique, and got a request from an editor (yay!) . . . but she also said (apologetically), "You wouldn't necessarily expect to illustrate this yourself, would you?" LOL!

So, with that caveat in mind:

STEP I: Choose a convenient size for mailing and display.

I knew my page width would be 7" max, because legal-size paper is the largest my printer will accommodate. I played around and discovered that between 5.5" and 5.75" worked well, proportionately, for the other dimension. This gave me a finished book size that would fit easily into a mailing envelope (more on what should be in a submissions packet next week!), and would also fit nicely in the front pocket of my Itoya portfolio.

STEP II: Gather your tools.

Here's what I used to produce my dummy:

legal-size paper for printing spreads
110-lb. cover stock for front and back covers
quilter's needle
waxed dental floss
pushpin (for making pilot holes for stitching)
clear adhesive shelf liner

STEP III: Print your spreads.

I used Photoshop--you can also use a layout program like InDesign. Figure out the imposition (i.e., the way individual pages print when bound into a book). For a traditional 32-page picture book, you'll have eight sheets folded in half, printed front and back.

Here is the imposition for the first sheet of paper. (My story starts on page three, with pages one and two for title and copyright info.)

I composited the images and text, using Times New Roman as a "neutral" typeface. Mine worked out to be 14 pt. for my page size.

STEP IV: Assemble the printed pages in the proper order, including a blank spread for "endpapers."

Fold all nine sheets in half. Along the center crease, punch five evenly-spaced holes. I stitched the pages together using a simple technique, a quilter's needle (one with a large eye) and waxed dental floss.

Here is an excellent tutorial, using three holes instead of five (it doesn't matter how many holes, as long as it's an odd number).

STEP V: Print your front cover and back cover.

I chose to print mine separately and glue to the endpapers, because I wanted to print a full bleed, which would not have been possible with my printer and legal-size paper.

STEP VI: (Optional) "Laminate" your cover with clear self-stick shelf liner.

I figured this would hold up better for repeated handling. Also, my printer inks are not waterproof, and I didn't want to run the risk of having the dummy arrive smudged or water-spotted.

STEP VII: Fold; crease as well as you can, then trim edges neatly.

Use a paper cutter or a craft knife (which I forgot to include in my tools photo).

And, voila!


Back: I used my "elevator pitch" as jacket copy.

Inside spread: Yep, those are my pencil thumbnails, blown up.

The hastily-done color spread (NOT recommended, given the editor's comment!):

And the dummy at home in my portfolio (to get an idea of scale, my portfolio is 8.5" x 11"):

In the end, I think it accomplished what I wanted to do--which was to demonstrate the flow of the story and how the page turns would work to reinforce the pacing. Also (I think) it shows that I understand the picture book format. What wasn't so successful, obviously, was the presentation of my skills as an illustrator!

The point is, there are MANY ways to produce a dummy: better and easier ones, I'm sure . . .

Join us at #kidlitart Thursday, June 2, at 9 pm Eastern, to discuss your favorite dummy assembly techniques--and if you have a tried-and-true method, please feel free to share and/or leave links in the comments section below.