Thursday, June 30, 2016

The 'Misaligned' Picture Book - Advice For Authors and Illustrators

I really liked this piece, Writing Between The Lines, by Author/Illustrator Fred Koehler, whose illustration collaboration with author Rebecca Kai Dotlich on ONE DAY THE END just won a Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award.

Fred discusses how in that picture book, "the pictures tell a completely different story than the words," and then breaks down - with some very specific advice - how authors can help illustrators achieve this.

In particular, the exercises Fred suggests are well worth it, guiding us with insights like:
Describe the emotional impact of the scene instead of the physical one. (i.e. – instead of “Quinn threw his stuffed dog toy against the wall.” Try “Quinn was mad, and he wanted everyone to know it..”)
 Give it a try with your picture book manuscripts!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thanks to Claudia Harrington for the heads-up on this one!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A cool brainstorming tool

For those times when the right word or visual concept eludes you, or you need stretch your curiosity muscles, check out the App Blippar.

You point it at something (I aimed my smartphone at an arrangement of sweet pea flowers) and it generates a cloud of words that are, according to it, related.

Words like floral and blooming pop up on the screen, and then the app loads the circles at the bottom with options to explore. Garden snapdragons, poinsettia, Flower bouquet, Streptocarpus, Flower.

I chose flower, which then gave me these choices

And then I went down the path of the word I didn't know: Gametophyte:

Which lead me to Pollen:

Which lead me to Pollen tube:

Which led me to Giovanni Battista Amici:

Who? Well, I clicked on it and discovered Giovani was one of the inventors of the microscope.


It's a pretty interesting visual brainstorming tool. I wonder how you'll use it?

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Stuart Horwitz's Advice on Finishing Your Book In Three Drafts

Courtesy of Jane Friedman's indispensable blog for writers, this post adapted from Stuart's book of the same title, How To "Finish Your Book In Three Drafts" has some really good advice in it.

Even the idea of calling each draft a different name offers the value of having the right mindset for wherever you are in the process. He calls:

Draft 1 - Messy Draft
Draft 2 - Method Draft
Draft 3 - Polished Draft

I also thought Stuart's list of questions for your beta readers included some stunningly obvious ones that have never occurred to me to ask… but I will now!

Things like: "What scenes do you remember the best?"


"Which parts did you want to skip?"


"Where did you feel there was an emotional payoff?"

Well worth reading, whichever draft you're currently on…

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Barnes & Noble's Future, and the ecosystem of Publishing

This New Republic article by Alex Shephard, "Pulp Friction: If Barnes & Noble goes out of business, it will be a disaster for book lovers," is a fascinating perspective.

In particular, the idea that

"The irony of the age of cultural abundance is that it still relies on old filters and distribution channels to highlight significant works."

is worth considering.

And, as the article explains, if B&N is the old financial support for risk-taking in publishing, what might be the newer supports?

Will it be the old model of chain bookstores placing huge initial orders, or will it be something else? 

Will it be crowd funding, along the lines of the recent success of "Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls?"

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

In the face of tragedy: Create

These words by self-described "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet" Audre Lorde (from her journal entry, as collected in A Burst of Light, and found here) may offer some solace and purpose in the wake of this week's anti-LGBTQ hate crime attack in Orlando, Florida. Every moment we get is precious.

Note, it includes the f-word, so if that offends, please skip this post.

Audre Lorde's biography at the Poetry Foundation website

I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I am going to write fire until it comes out of my ears, my eyes, my noseholes—everywhere. Until it's every breath I breathe. I'm going to go out like a fucking meteor!
-Audre Lorde

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Author Photo Advice

Okay, first, the comedic answer, courtesy of Powell's tumblr:

There are lots of articles offering authors advice on their author photo, which seem unanimous mainly about hiring an actual photographer. The best of the bunch was Porter Anderson's "Facing Up to the Importance of Your Author Photo." Some of Porter's advice:

The best background is no background. Friends won’t let you drive drunk, and professional photographers won’t let the Eiffel Tower emerge from your left ear.

Don’t hold your book(s) in your shot. Nothing says carnival barker like an author clutching his or her book(s) in a photo. Remember: dignity is a virtue.

It’s a headshot. Not an upper torso shot. Not an arm-on-the-back-of-the-sofa shot. Not a you-and-your-kids shot. Your photo has to convey accessible, intelligent personality in the tiny space of a Twitter thumbnail. “Headshot” means your head. We want your face up-close, not your furniture.

Arguably, his best tip was:
But the true secret to a great photo is always having something on your mind at the time the picture is taken. It’s so easy to go mentally blank as soon as the photographer says, “Ready?” So be ready with an idea, an image, a voice, a person, even your grocery list. Just put your mind to work on something and your personality will surface nicely.

Check out the full article here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Kwame Alexander Has A Strategy: Do You?

Kwame and Lee hamming it up

Recently I had the opportunity to sit in on one of Kwame Alexander's amazing school visits with an assembly of Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders. As always when I get to see a master do their thing, I learned so much. How it's as much performance art as anything else. How music (guitar played by Kwame's friend Randy Preston) can elevate and set the tone. How giving the kids some measure of control (like asking the students which of his two picture books they wanted to hear him read to them) is empowerment, and that's the key to having the audience engaged and hanging on your every word.

An incredibly well-behaved and excited group of 5-8 years olds are still a bunch of excited 5-8 year olds, and there was a moment about twenty minutes in when there was a lot of excited chatter that wasn't really focused. Kwame didn't miss a beat, shifting into a call and response cadence that he'd already engaged the students with earlier, but changing the words:

Kwame: I say, Surf's, you say Up. Surf's...

Kids: Up!

Kwame: Surfs...

Kids: Up!

Kwame: I say Listen, you say Up. Listen...

Kids: Up!

Kwame: Listen...

Kids: Up!

And then he just stood there, smiling. And they were listening again.

Kwame's picture book "Surf's Up"

It kind of blew my mind how elegant and tied into the title of his picture book "Surf's Up!" it was, and it worked! Do you have a strategy to re-gain control of your presentation? It's certainly worth considering.

Illustrate and Write On,

Gratitude to my librarian friend Yapha for inviting me to Kwame's presentation and for the photo above!

You can find out more about Newbery-Winning author Kwame Alexander here.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

"What To Do When No One Shows Up To Your Reading" - A Funny and Poignant Piece by Matthew Norman

Posted over at literary hub, this article cracked me up, and made me so sympathetic for Matthew and everyone else who has been in this situation...

I like how Matthew focused on cherishing the reader he had, rather than bewailing the ones he hadn't reached yet. There are a lot of additional lessons in here, not the least of which are these three:

• Don't expect a crowd to materialize for your events. You have to participate - and even take the lead - in getting the word out!

• Do be professional and do your best job, even if there's an audience of one... or none. Consider that every bookseller at the store can become your proxy, talking up your book and hand-selling it to potential readers for months and months to come... if you wow them, your visit will reap rewards long after you've gone home.

And maybe my favorite lesson is from author Sara Zarr, who while she was speaking of something else in her podcast with Gayle Forman, gave some great advice:

• "If your validation comes from an exterior source you are f***ed. You're in real trouble because that is so fickle."

Applying Sara's advice to this situation, the size (or lack of size) of the crowd shouldn't be your yardstick for your self-worth.

Any further advice to share with the community? Add yours in comments, or tag @SCBWI and/or @leewind on social media.