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.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Greg Matusic kicks off the Kidlitart Picture Book Dummy Challenge with a success story

So you have a story in mind and you’re thinking about creating a picture book dummy (PBDummy)? That’s awesome! You’ve definitely come to the right place. The KidLitArt Picture Book Dummy Challenge is a wonderful, hands-on, community-supported, 25-week online challenge to create and submit a rough, semi-complete version of your story.

Speaking of stories, here’s one you may relate to…

There once was (and still is) a guy who wanted to write and illustrate picture books. We’ll call him Greg, because that’s his name. Greg held a day job as a web and print designer. He was also a freelance illustrator when time and opportunity permitted. Greg also authored and illustrated picture books as gifts for his wife and son and was often told that his artwork and writing would be perfect for picture book industry.

He agreed, but he wasn’t sure how to get started. So Greg headed to the Internet and researched picture book authors and illustrators, publishers and agents, websites and blogs. He learned a great deal about writing and illustrating picture books, but he still wasn’t sure how to get started.

Then one dark and stormy late-December night Greg came across a tweet announcing the KidLitArt 2011 Picture Book Dummy Challenge. Picture Book? Cool! Challenge? Yes! Dummy? Hey!

Greg bookmarked the site, followed the organizers on Twitter and anxiously awaited the start of the Picture Book Dummy Challenge. And you know what happened 25 weeks later? He had written and illustrated a PBDummy.

The End? Not really…

Yes, that story is about me. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started the 2011 Picture Book Dummy Challenge, but I followed the schedule (for the most part) and put in a lot of effort and time.

Even though I haven’t been handed a fat stack of cash for the publishing rights (yet) I couldn’t be happier with the rewards:

• Completion of a submission-ready PBDummy titled “Pirates Go Shopping."

• I won a contest within the Challenge in which we were asked to write a “pitch” for our PB. The prize was a free picture book critique with Jennifer Mattson of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency who gave me some very positive feedback.

• I submitted my PBDummy and was accepted to the Eastern NY SCBWI’s Master Class Retreat on Picture Books (aka: Falling Leaves) where I schmoozed with a number of picture book authors, illustrators, publishing house Editors and an Art Director. I also received extremely positive, constructive critiques from my peers, the Editors and the AD. A few of the Editors wanted to see a revised version of “Pirates Go Shopping” and I was also asked to submit a few stories with illustrations for one of the publishing house’s “Young Reader’s” series.

The knowledge and experience that I gained from last year’s Picture Book Dummy Challenge has been invaluable. Here are some of the things I learned or discovered along the way that really stood out:

Your Story Idea: Love It or Leave It
I changed my story idea four times before finally returning to my original idea – “Pirates Go Shopping”. I thought I had found a better (more marketable) idea, followed by a few more that I thought were even better (and even more marketable). But the ideas felt a bit forced and the Challenge soon became too much like “work”. I still think they’re fine ideas, but I didn’t love them nearly as much as “Pirates Go Shopping."

25 Weeks is a Long Time
The Picture Book Dummy Challenge is set up with a number of goals and subchallenges that lead up to the completion of your PBDummy. I’m not very fond of the adage “life gets in the way”, but to be honest – it kind of does. If you haven’t reached a particular goal on the day it’s scheduled to be completed, no worries, you can finish it when time permits. And if things are going well, feel free to jump ahead. You can get a whole lot done in a 25-week period.

25 Weeks Flies By!
Like I said, you can get a whole lot done in a 25-week period. But week 25 creeps up on you pretty quickly. While it’s always nice to step away from a project for a little while, make sure you step back to it or you may find yourself too far behind to keep up with the rest of the group.

Join us for the Weekly Thursday Night #KidLitArt Twitter Chats
The #KidLitArt twitter chats are not only a lot of fun and informative, but they can help to keep you on track through the Challenge. Newcomers will be amazed by the sense of community and the eagerness of the participants to help one another. It’s an extremely close and very giving group of talented author/illustrators. Make sure you take full advantage of these chats.

Keep Your Eyes Open
Visit libraries and bookshops to check out new and classic picture books and note which publishers offer styles similar to yours. Surf the web to see what’s trending in popular culture. Browse through magazines to find a new color palette. Check the daily comics and discover a new way to draw a nose. In other words, keep your eyes open! You’ll never know where you’ll find the inspiration for your next great idea.

Be Social
Social settings, both real and virtual, provide terrific venues for you to spend time with and learn from your fellow picture book authors and illustrators. Join the SCBWI (or at least attend some of the fantastic SCBWI-sponsored events), read and comment on the blogs of your author/illustrator peers, friend them on Facebook, and of course follow them on Twitter – the unofficial Internet home of picture book news, advice and hilarious 140-character or less comments. (@matusic btw)

Stay Active
Write, write, write. Draw, draw, draw. Rinse and repeat.

Best of luck to everyone planning on participating in this year’s KidLitArt Picture Book Dummy Challenge. Wendy Martin, Bonnie Adamson and your fellow author/illustrator participants (including me) will provide you with all the direction and peer motivation that you’ll need to complete the task. Bring your talent, time, effort, and of course, your story, and you’ll reach that goal of creating a submission-ready PBDummy in only 25 exciting weeks.

Greg Matusic


  1. Great post Greg! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences from having done the challenge. this is the swift kick in the rump I need to get started, so count me in!

  2. Yes, ditto what Russ said! Thanks for this, Greg!

  3. Pig and pirates, how much more fun can you get? Love the illustration too. Great stuff, thanks for sharing.

  4. What a fantastic post on a fantastic experience! Brillianter and brillianter Greg! Can't wait to hear more good news from you!

    a : )

  5. Greg, this is great!

  6. Wonderful, can't wait to start!

  7. Well that's so inspiring how can I not sign up?

  8. Awesome post Greg! Very inspiring, I can't wait to get crackin' :-)

  9. Belated thanks, everyone. Like I told Gaia on Twitter: "You know, if I can change the life of one illustrator, then it's all been worth it."

    I was joking of course, but I'm certainly glad you're all excited for the challenge.

    Good luck! See you around the blog, twitter and facebook quads.

  10. Feeling very inspired after reading your post... nowe to get started!

  11. I tried and tried to comment in the appropriate page to join in, I had watched the blog faithfully for over a month and somehow I could not comment in the 'window'. I shall follow along like a lost puppy and try to join in what I can but I am heart broken to not be part of it officially. :(