Have I got a treat for you! The wonderful picture book author, Linda Ashman, has written her own e-book about writing picture books called The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books and is giving away a free copy to one of my blog readers!
I met Linda online just a couple of weeks ago through my blog. (Of course, I had heard about her in the kid-lit world, and so it was very cool to meet her because of Google Alerts!) Linda is the award winning author of 29 picture books, has taught writing classes, and has degrees in economics and urban planning. She graciously let me read her e-book, and I’m posting a review and an interview.
Tina’s Thoughts on The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books
I’ve taken a few picture book classes and read some other picture book writing books. I’ve learned that a writer can never have too many. Each instructor is unique in voice, technic, and delivery of material. So even though you might’ve read about a concept one way, hearing it another might turn on the light bulb. At least, that’s how it is for me.
Linda’s writing is easy to follow and understand, detailed, and super creative! I love the creativity throughout the book because I’m a creative-oriented person. Linda takes you from the very beginning, talking about what makes a picture book and the types of picture books to selling your manuscript, dealing with contracts, and finding an agent. I don’t want to sound like the table of contents, and so I’m going to list things I thought made this book stand out.
This book has:
· 3 ways to make picture book dummies
· links to Linda's own manuscripts to show how to do art notes and different dummies she’s made
· CURRENT interviews with top editors, what they like and dislike
· Cute way to categorize and write 3 types of endings
· Great checklists and questions to apply to my manuscripts
· Fun writing exercises for yourself or critique group
· The Wizard of Oz Factors for plot—I love this!
· Everything you need to know about poetry and rhyming
· Poem/rhythm starters for those of us who have problems
· Good questions to ask an agent
· What happens when you sell a manuscript
· The Resources in the back of the book itself are worth buying. She lists up-to-date picture book titles categorized by voice, strong characters, twist endings, etc…
As you can see, I really enjoyed reading this e-book, and it only took me two days! I just had to know Linda’s secrets. I know I’ll reread it for my WIPs. By the way, while reading this, I wrote a brand new nonfiction multicultural picture book. I think Linda’s writing inspired me. Keep reading for Linda’s interview + your chance to win this e-book!
1. What led you to write your own picture book how-to book?
It was my husband's idea, actually. After seeing the amount of preparation I did for various classes and workshops I taught -- all the planning, the stacks of picture books I'd bring home, the handouts and/or slides I'd create -- Jack would encourage me to compile all that information in a book. And like many authors and illustrators, I'd frequently get questions about the publishing process from friends and strangers, so I'd developed a good list of resources over the years. I resisted Jack's suggestion at first -- as you know, my friend Ann Whitford Paul had already written an excellent guide (Writing Picture Books). But as I thought about it more, I realized that all writers approach their work differently. Just as there are many books about writing novels and screenplays, I figured there was room for another book about writing picture books.
2. How long did it take you to write this book? Why self-publish?
It took me a long time -- more than a year -- to write the guide, mostly because I started it right before my family moved from Colorado to North Carolina. Bad timing! For many months, all my energies were channeled into packing up on one side and settling in on the other. But eventually things calmed down enough that I was able to focus on the handbook again.
As for self-publishing, I initially envisioned the guide as a self-directed writing class rather than a traditional book, so I didn't think about submitting it to a publisher. I also knew I wanted to include hyperlinks to various resources -- helpful websites, blogs, and other sorts of things -- so it needed to be available in an electronic format for those links to be usable. Personally, I prefer reading from paper copies as opposed to an electronic screen, so offering it as a PDF seemed like the best of both worlds: the links work for screen-reading, but you can also print out parts or all of it and put it in a 3-ring binder if you choose.
3. You list superb editor/agent interviews. Have you worked with each of these people?
Yes! Jennifer Mattson from Andrea Brown Literary is my wonderful agent. Lara Starr is the smart and savvy publicist at Chronicle in charge of publicity for Peace, Baby! and many other books. The others -- Kate O'Sullivan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Nancy Paulsen (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), Maria Modugno (Random House), Stephanie Lurie (Disney-Hyperion) and Meredith Mundy (Sterling) -- are all very talented editors I've been lucky enough to work with over the years.
4. What do you think is the #1 mistake pb writers make?
I think many people start writing picture books without understanding their basic structure, so their stories often wind up being too long, too rambling, and/or too descriptive. It's important to keep in mind that a typical picture book is 32 pages, and several of these pages will be used for the copyright, dedication, etc. That leaves just 27 or 28 pages -- and, typically, less than 800 words -- to tell the story. As picture book writers, we need to grab our readers from the first page, wrap things up nicely on the last one, and keep the story lively and engaging along the way. We also need to be concise, think visually, and leave room for the illustrator to tell much of the story.
5. What advice would you give to those looking for an agent?
Do your research! Read agency websites, blogs, and interviews with agents. If possible, go to conferences where agents will be speaking, and ask any authors or editors you know for recommendations. Keep a target list of possibilities based on what you find out and who appeals to you. And, before submitting, be sure your manuscript and cover letter are engaging and impeccably written (no typos!) and that you follow submission instructions for that particular agency. Finally, if you receive an offer of representation, don't be afraid to ask questions. If all goes well, this will be a long-term relationship, so you want to make sure you and the agent are compatible and that she's enthusiastic about you and your work.
6. Can I ask--what are you currently working on?
I just finished a picture book manuscript which is written in prose rather than rhyme -- rare for me -- and am revising a second one in verse. After that, I'll be thinking about what to start next while I'm hauling rocks and plants around the garden -- the next phase of our settling-in process here.
Thanks so much, Linda, for finding me, letting me read your book, and hosting this give-away! You can find Linda at her web page: lindaashman.com and find out more info about her book here and bio here.
Tina M. Cho, children's author
I'm a children's author and freelance writer for the educational market. Welcome!