"Snippet" -- a small piece or brief extract
I've been working with a young writer who wants to write picture books. As I was sharing with her some tips for starting out on this journey, I sent an email to reinforce some of our conversation, and I thought it might be helpful for others who are aspiring picture book writers. So, here it is for anyone who needs it. Feel free to add clarifying comments or "steps" I may have missed in the comments.
Tonnye's tips for beginning picture book writers:
11. When you have (at least) 5 good, solid, polished stories, you are ready to begin the querying process to try to get an agent. Research agents' MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) to find suitable agents. Use Querytracker and agency websites to determine who is open to queries and matches your manuscripts.
12. Draft a query letter for ONE manuscript that matches the agent who you think might like your book. Be sure to include comp titles (2 or more books that have elements in common with your book that tell publishers you understand how your book fits into the marketplace.)
13. Send your query letter to a trusted critique partner or group and revise it just like a manuscript until it is shiny and polished.
14. When your manuscript and your query letter are polished to a shine, submit your first query. (Most recommend small batch submissions to your top 5-ish agent matches for that book)
15. Do NOT check your email every 5 minutes. ;-) Congratulate yourself for getting this far. Eat some chocolate. Drink some wine (but not too much ;-). Celebrate. Do something fun.
16. Start on a new project. Enter a contest. Research agents for your other books. Take a class. Revise another manuscript. Forget about the query letter. It is in an abyss. Put a note in your calendar for the date when they say you can consider it a pass. When that date arrives, revisit any feedback you received (probably NONE . . .)
17. Understand that EVERY journey is different. It is a matter of the right story getting into the right hands at the right time. For some it happens quickly. For some it takes longer. Sometimes it feels like forever. Don't give up. Take every opportunity you encounter to learn, grow and succeed: pitch parties, contests, webinars, classes, conferences, retreats, critique trades, etc.
18. Revise the manuscript OR send more queries OR choose a different book to query.
19. Repeat ad infinitum until you achieve success. . . .
20. Celebrate BIG when your moment comes!!!
How it Started. . . .
Writing is an arduous journey. It's not UNLIKE a baby sea turtle's journey to the ocean. Well, actually theirs is a life-and-death situation, so it is arguably more important, but no less difficult. When I watched a clutch of straggler babies be helped on their journey to the vast ocean a couple of years ago, it was a life-changing experience, and one of the most moving experiences I'd ever been a part of. It was the most unifying moment where people came together, regardless of differences, and rallied for LIFE! It was amazing!
So, I did what kidlit people do -- I wrote a story about it -- a lovely picture book, which will probably never make it to anyone's shelf because everyone writes beautiful lyrical picture books about sea turtles and their journey to the ocean. Well, SNAP! Over time, though, I began to realize that their journey was analogous to our journey as writers, and I began referring to this analogy as I tried to encourage my kidlit family along the way. Recently, as part of the PBParty journey, I shared some of these observations with my ranking party and they asked me to share more widely, so I created a google slide show and a video, and I'm posting it here. Why? Because I believe our words have purpose and power. Because MY words have purpose and power, I hope they will bring you encouragement when you're feeling "not-quite-enough" or way further from your goal than you want to be. Because I believe YOUR words have purpose and power, too, and you need to share them. The world needs to hear them.
The "Webinar" -- encouragement video (41 minutes)
The video goes into a bit more detail about the sea turtles and the analogy. If you have time to watch, I think you'll find it interesting. If you'd rather view the slideshow, here's the link: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Pmk3bgoBYPkrbn-h4EQaTwbiy_sbWqof/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=104587931882604493613&rtpof=true&sd=true
The song I try to share at the end of the video . . .for further encouragement. . . .
The Writing Business. . . and some tips . . .from me to you!
This business is so wonky! It's hard and full of ups and downs! Just in the way of example, a couple months ago I was riding high. I got my first heart in PBPitch, had gotten ALL of my pieces accepted for Ignite the Spark and then I won the Mighty KidLit mentorship and I had won a giveaway. I felt like I was on a roll. I should have bought a lottery ticket in that moment. LOL Then came all the contest results: KidLit Choice (I was a finalist last year; didn't even place this year.) Valentiny (No Love at all), 50 Precious Words (which I have been a winner or honorable mention every time I've entered) Not even an honorable mention this year. PBParty for the third (or is it fourth) time -- not in the finals (even after the mentorship helping me to hone my entry) All of that riding high had gotten my hopes way up for ALL those things, and they were all duds for me. But in the midst of all those losses, this amazing opportunity was working itself out. I started not to enter PBPitch. I had posted that same pitch so many times before and had never gotten so much as a nibble. What was the point after all?!? But, Hello . . . .a heart. . . an offer. . . .an agent; all from an opportunity I started not to take.
It's a twisty path, friends. One writer friend in the PBParty ranking group had an agent and probably thought her future was steady and beautiful, but she ended up parting ways and is back in the query trenches. Today I have an agent and a potential book sale (it's not official or announced). There are no guarantees. Tomorrow or next week or next month I could be singing a different song. I have a dear CP who had an agent and we were so excited for her. Her agent had health issues and had to step away from agenting. There was no one to pick her up and now she's back in the query trenches.
Here are some principles I've found to be true:
1. It's hard not to be jealous and envious when others (even friends) have success that you want and are working so hard for. What I found was the more I cheered others on, the more I genuinely felt sheer joy over their success. And you can feel both at the same time -- joy for them and sadness for you. Those feelings CAN coexist. But, the more I was genuinely excited for others, and looking for friends' names on the winning lists, the less sting I felt of my own. It may not work that way for everyone, but it definitely worked for me. It took some time, though. I didn't get to that place overnight. If you struggle with comparison, you might find this helpful.
2. You lose 100% of the chances you don't take. Sometimes when I get those really hard rejections/passes, I take a small break. Eat some chocolate, drink some wine, have some ice cream (Can you tell I'm an emotional eater?? LOL).Maybe take a walk, take a weekend . . . But don't quit. Take a little break if needed, but get back on the horse -- and don't wait too long until it feels comfortable not to put yourself out there. Take the chances! Enter the contests, the pitch parties, send off the queries and the magazine pieces! You never know when your YES is right around that corner, hiding behind that doubt!
3. Find your why. If you write for the accolades, then probably best to stop now. It's risky and not everything will get accolades. If you write to get published, that's unpredictable. Crowds are fickle. If you write because you must, if you write because it's like breathing, if you write because it's how you process and heal and express, then do that. Learn about craft, find your niche, figure out who you are as an author, and then do that with all your might, all your heart. Never forget your why. Why do you write? Write it, frame it, make it your screensaver on your computer. Meditate on it every day. For me, I'm a woman of faith, so I have a life verse, "May my words and my thoughts be pleasing to you, Oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer." It guides what I write -- not only my stories, but my Twitter, and everything I say and do. It's my why. Basically, I want my words (written and spoken) to make the world a better place. Can I do that without being published? Yes, and I hope I have been for the 4 years that I've been busting it on this journey (and for all the ones before that when I didn't know as much about writing.) And, if for some reason publishing doesn't work out, I hope I'll continue doing that. It's different for all of us, but find your motivation, find your why, and then do it. Dolly Parton said it this way, "Figure out who you are and then do it on purpose."
None of that fully takes away the sting, but you are a talented writer! Don't let these phases get you down. This business is incredibly subjective, but also, Know that all the passes/rejections/not-yets are preparing us, thickening our skin, building our immunity so we can handle the subjectivity that will get hurled at us when we ARE published.
Stacy McAnulty has been super-successful but she got a terrible review from Kirkus for her latest book about Pluto. Does that make her less of a writer? Nope. She's having to shake that off and keep moving forward. We'll never get to a place when there's not critiques, nay-sayers, negative people, folks who simply don't like us or don't like our writing. Shake it off!
Don't you let nothing, nothing stand in your way . . . .Ain't no stopping us now! We're in the groove, and moving forward, just like our little sea turtle friends!
How It's Going. . .
I'm now represented by super-agent Joyce Sweeney, and on The Seymour Agency website, under pre-published authors (for now ;-))
Writing contests have been a huge part of my writing journey since 2020 when I became part of the kidlit family on Twitter. They're so fabulous for so many reasons. Now that I'm (eek! :-D) an agented author with some exciting things in the works, I'm navigating which contests are applicable in this new stage. Every stage of the process is different, and I'm excited to navigate this very new and super-exciting stage!
SpringFling KidLit was the very first contest that I entered after joining the kidlit community. The contest is sponsored by Ciara O'Neal and Kaitlyn Sanchez. You can find out more about the contest here. The gist of the contest is that it must be inspired by a GIF, be written for kids, and be 150 words or less. (Mine clocks in at 147 words.)
This year, the inspiration for this year's story literally came from my own back yard. The painted bunting is like a flying rainbow -- so beautiful! Seeing one of these birds was on my bucket list for a while. Then 3 years ago, as I was washing dishes in my kitchen, a rainbow blur visited my backyard bird feeder. I was ecstatic to realize it was a painted bunting.-- my first sighting -- and in my own back yard! Their range is limited, so it was a real treat. My little multi-colored friend has continued to visit for a few months out of each year. This year for Valentine's Day/birthday, my (very sweet) husband got me a bird feeder that takes pictures of our feathered visitors. We were very excited to catch these photos of Rainbow. He is the inspiration for this year's Spring Fling KidLit writing. I hope you enjoy my informational fiction piece about Rainbow the painted bunting.
These two pics were taken from our feeder bird cam in February of this year! Isn't he a handsome fella? The GIF below is not my creation. The original link is included at the end of my story. Painted buntings are only typically found down South -- Carolinas westward to Texas and into South America. Brown-headed cowbirds do parasitize the nests of Painted Buntings, and many of the areas the buntings inhabit are also home to alligators. They are drawn to water features, and eat seeds, but also eat insects, especially when they are feeding their young. They are beautiful and fascinating birds!
A Bath for Rainbow
Rainbow, the painted bunting, had migrated far and he was tired, hot, and thirsty. He needed a beverage, a breather, and a bath.
First, he tried a puddle, but there was a plethora of brown-headed cowbirds and no room for Rainbow.
He tried a pool, but it was full of kids – and noise!
He flew over the river. It looked refreshing, but dark and dangerous – and full of alligators!
Then, Rainbow flew over a lovely yard full of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet flowers! It was as colorful as he. In the middle of the flowers was a small statue –full of water and empty of everything else!
Rainbow cautiously fluttered to a rest in the birdbath. He ducked, dipped, and dove through the cool refreshing water. It splished, splashed, and splattered. When the rainbow formed in the droplets, Rainbow knew he was home!
It's another contest -- one of my faves! Partly because it's run by my friend, Vivian! Partly because it is such a challenge fitting a full story arc in 50 precious words! Talk about making every word count. For a loquacious, verbal processor like me, the challenge is even more challenging, but I do love to rise to the occasion, so below, check out my entry for this year. Our stories have to have a full story arc, be 50 words or less and appropriate for kids 12 and under. You can check out the guidelines or enter for yourself here: https://viviankirkfield.com/
One of my favorite things as a child was going barefoot. Whether it was outside in the grass, the garden or the mud or early morning padding through the house or wrinkly prune toes in the bathtub and then snuggled up under the covers, being barefoot was a huge part of life. Now that I'm "all grown up", I don't go barefoot nearly as much as I should. They say it's good for you -- grounding you to Mother Earth, healing for body and soul. It's a gorgeous day. Maybe I'll kick my shoes off and gaze at some clouds. Maybe you should too. . .
Barefoot in the bed;
Shuffling across the floor
Warm, fuzzy carpet
Cool, clean hardwood.
Barefoot in the earth –
Running through the grass,
Squishy, sploshy puddles,
Freshly tilled garden soil.
Barefoot in the bath,
Snuggled on the sofa,
Cozy, warm pajamas,
Then sandwiched in the bed!
'Tis the season -- for love and romance and valentines. Speaking of valentines, I was neck deep in writerly tasks on Saturday when I ran across a post on Facebook that piqued my interest and sent me down a rose petal strewn rabbit hole. What I discovered was a story with heart that deserved to be shared -- the story of the post office of Valentines, VA. What follows is based on the true story of Kathy and Mr. Willie and the Valentines post office -- with a few details filled in. So I hope you enjoy my informational fiction/historical fiction account of one of the sweetest stories around. I hope it reminds us all, as adults, to take time to inspire curiosity in children around us. For children, I hope it encourages them to keep dreaming and cultivating hobbies. You never know which one might change your life! For all of us, I hope it encourages kindness and sharing love in special ways.
This story was written for Valentiny -- a fun Valentine-themed writing contest hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill.
The gist is:
I hope my story earns your heart-shaped stamp of approval. Let me know in the comments!
VALENTINES: STAMPED WITH LOVE
I've been a teacher of K-3 students for over 20 years; I'm also a writer of poems, short stories, devotionals and picture books. I'm wife to an amazing husband and mom to Sparkles, Mocha, and Rusty -- our feline fur babies . I love reading, writing, singing and listening to music. I enjoy nature, Bible study and spending time with friends and family!
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