Friday, July 8, 2016

Kidlit Summer School is Coming Soon!

Kidlit Summer School is starting soon, and if you haven't heard about it already,  you will definitely want to check it out! 

Kidlit Summer School is a fabulous free way to learn about writing for children. It is put on by a fabulous kidlit faculty. There will be daily lesson posts with writing exercises and more. You'll want to register because it comes with some great perks:
  • eligible to win any giveaways or books, critiques, or other swag that they’ll be handing out during the month
  • eligible to participate in special Summer School events like webinars
  • able to access the Kidlit Summer School exercise book
  • invited to join our private Kidlit Summer School Facebook community where you can connect to other children’s book creators and lovers of kidlit
Even if you miss out on registration (it ends July 15th) you can still take part in class by going through the blog posts and doing the exercises. This year's theme is Heart & Humor. All stories can use those elements!

Kidlit Summer School runs from July 11th through August 5th. I'm all signed up and excited to get started. You can read about Kidlit Summer School here and sign up using their form. Hope to see you there!


*Bonus info! BEDTIME MONSTER illustrator Bonnie Adamson is this year's Kidlit Summer School Art Director. She created the adorable logos!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

I've Written a Picture Book, Now What?

It's pretty common when you're starting out writing picture books to have written a picture book and not know what to do next! I get questions about it all the time. So, here are some basics things you should do when you have written a children's book but are not quite sure how to go about getting it published:
  1. Get critiques. Just because you wrote a picture book doesn't mean it's ready to send out into the world. Once you've made the story the best you can make it find some other picture book writers to trade with. Getting thoughts and opinions from others writing in the same category as you will help you see your work in a new light. Getting professional opinions from those who are working in the field can be eye opening as well. My recommendation would be to trade with critique partners and when you are ready, to spring for that professional opinion. (To find critique partners you are welcome to join my Sub It Club Critique Partner Matchup. If you are ready for a professional opinion, check out my critique services.)
  2. Revise. Revise, revise, always revise! Revise to make your manuscript the best that you possibly can. Revise before getting critiques. Revise after critiques. Ha! Seriously though, putting your manuscript away for a few weeks then taking a new look at it can help your see it with fresh eyes. Picture books take lots of rounds of revisions.
  3. Read Picture Books. In between all of those revisions and even when you are revising, read loads of picture books. Reading newly published ones from the larger publishing houses will help you know what the market is looking for. Although there are definitely some good books published by smaller publishers, don't automatically take them to be the general consensus on what publishers are looking for. Sometimes small publishers are able to make allowances that the big publishers don't. Self-published don't make good guides either as the author has no guidelines they have to follow.
  4. Read books about writing for children. Get them from your library. Order them from your book store. Just read them!
  5. Read blog posts about picture book writing. There is a lot of good information out there. I have some posts about picture book writing. Author Josh Funk has a great Guide to Writing Picture Books. Author Pam Calvert has Picture Book University where you can also learn a lot. All of these resources are free and they are just the tip of the online iceberg!
  6. Do numbers 1 - 5 so many times that you can't even count how many times you have done them.
  7. Do NOT try to find an illustrator. I put that one in red because it is such a common misconception. If you want to sell your picture book manuscript to a publisher it is their job to find the illustrator for the book. They want to do this. You having the manuscript illustrated counts against you, not for you. If you yourself are not a professional illustrator, write the best, submission-ready, illustratable manuscript you can. Then send it out for consideration. 
  8. Learn about what publishers, and therefore agents, are looking for. When you start delving into the world of children's publishing you will know things like #7, for instance. You will know that to give your picture book manuscript a better shot it just might be best to keep it under 700 words. A high-concept can be a good thing too. (Tip #8 here is a little repetitive but I felt like it needed saying. You can learn about what publisher and agents are looking for by doing #'s 3, 4, & 9!)
  9. Learn about querying.
  • Join me at Sub It Club. We talk about all the things that have to do with submitting manuscripts for publication. We post lots of submission information on the blog and have a very active private Sub It Club Facebook group with loads of super fantastic writers and illustrators where you can learn and ask questions, get help on your query letters, and more.
  • Check out the Monster List of Picture Book Agents where you can start learning about agents and what they are looking for. (Hint: agents who represent picture books often like to know what else you have if they are interested in the manuscript you have queries with, so it can be good to have a few polished manuscripts ready to go when querying. But keep in mind, there are no hard and fast rules here. Use your judgement.)
  • Check out the Monster List of Picture Book Publishers with links directly to publisher's submission guidelines so you can see what you need to do to ask them to consider your work. (Hint: If you are interested in working with an agent, you should submit your work to them first as they don't like a manuscript to be too shopped around. But you can definitely submit your work straight to publishers who are open to unsolicited submissions.)
  • You can join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. SCBWI is an international professional organization for writers and illustrators of children's literature. They have tons of resources and put on great workshops and conferences. Peruse their website to see all the things they offer.
  • Become a member of the SCBWI Blueboards. This is a message board where tons of writers and illustrators hang out. You can learn so much there! You do not have to join SCBWI to take part in the boards.

Please realize that all of these things take time. Picture books may seem short and simple but they take a lot of work and thought to be great. That beautiful picture book you see on the shelf has most likely been years in the making. But, they are definitely worth it!

If you have a specific question feel free to contact me. If I can I will answer your question on the blog here. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Suddenly it's Spring

In the Fall of last year I was excited. I told myself that over the winter I'd have lots of time to get writing done. Oh yes, I'd finish up a few of those picture books I've been working on. Maybe I'd even revisit that middle grade novel I have half way finished that is sitting in the file waiting for me. I had other big plans too but, ya know, they didn't quite happen as planned.

The thing is that writing something of quality always takes longer than I feel like it should. Logically, I know this. I work long and hard on each one of my picture book manuscripts. I get critiques, revise, re-revise, and revise some more. I mull over that scene, that phrase, that word until I can get it "just right" for the story. Still, my brain can't help but think, you know what the story is. Just get it finished up already!

Of course, writing a publishable picture book takes time. Sure, we hear the stories of 'it just came to me, I wrote it down, sent it out, and the publisher loved it!' I am certain that can happen but I tend to take any of these sorts of statements with a grain of salt. They are not the norm by any means. The picture book authors I know work long and hard to make those few words shine. They get critiques, revise for their agents, revise for editors, and sometimes... eventually those words get turned into a book.

Finding that "perfect" way to tell a story that will mesh with illustrations takes a lot of thought time. I can tend to get hard on myself that I am not getting anything accomplished. I have to remind myself that I am. Stories are always rattling around in my brain. They have been all winter. And now, suddenly it's spring. And that's okay. Because now I can write outside.



Friday, May 13, 2016

Picture Book & Query Letter Critique Up for Bid!


There is an Auction of Hope going on right now for writer and Sub It Clubber Cindy Springsteen.  Cindy was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma and Plasma Cell Leukemia. The auction is to help with any medical or miscellaneous cost that will come their way during treatments and other things she will be going through.

One of the items up for bid is a picture book manuscript and query letter critique from me. No bids so far so you just might get a good deal and help someone out at the same time! Bidding ends on 5/15.




This link should take you right to my critique: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154135548979544&set=gm.1137741916276691&type=3&theater

You can read about my critique services here if you want to know more: http://frolickingthroughcyberspace.blogspot.com/p/critique-services.html

Please check out the rest of the items in Cindy's Auction of Hope: https://www.facebook.com/events/1136700729714143/?active_tab=posts


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Picture Book & Query Letter Critique Services


I have updated my critique services page! It's something I've been wanting to do for quite a while now but haven't taken the time. I think that the explanations on what I do when critiquing and the process for requesting a critique are much more thorough now. I also added a bit about my experience. I get a lot of the same questions and I tried to answer them on the page so people don't have to ask. If you see anything else you think I should answer, just let me know! I do love helping others with their picture book manuscripts and query letters. Here's the updated page info:

Picture Book Manuscript Critiques


You should never submit a manuscript to an agent or publisher without having your worked critiqued and then undertaking revisions. This is how we make our work shine! We become so close to our stories that we just cannot see what needs improving after a while. Another pair of eyes can do wonders!

How do you know when you are ready for critique? Have you rewritten and revised and worked hard on your manuscript and feel like you are stuck? Are you thinking your story is complete but have not gotten any feedback? Then it's probably time. For me, when I cannot see anything else I think I should change, or am even making changes back and forth to words or phrases I have previously written, I know I am ready for a critique. When I get those critiques back I always see ways to make more improvements.

Picture books in particular take more work than it feels like they should, because they are so short. Don't be fooled! While there are many different ways a manuscript can be written, there are certain criteria that publishers are looking for that make a picture book manuscript publishable. Of course, each story is different and I always keep your vision in mind, as well as the market, when giving a critique.

My picture book critiques tend to be intensive. I use track changes and include line by line notes using the comment feature to point out issues I see as I read through the manuscript. I oftentimes put in examples to help illustrate ideas or concepts to help you get your revision juices flowing. I can't help but throw in line-editing if I see a spot that needs it or a general issue that needs to be addressed. I also write notes straight onto the manuscript. At the end of the document I give a general big picture analysis. I do not just read through once, but many times, until I feel that I have given you the best critique that I can.

Beginning writers will find that I do a lot of teaching in my critiques. There are many common mistakes that I see in picture book manuscripts -- things that are definitely learned from studying, writing picture books, and taking part in the industry for an extended amount of time. I tell people things I wish I would have been told when I was starting out! I add tips or links that I think might be helpful to you in your picture book writing endeavors. 

Experienced picture book writers will find that I keep an eye toward the market when giving critiques. I make suggestions and ask questions to help you bring out your best manuscript.

All of my picture book critiques, no matter your experience, are given with an eye toward helping you create a salable manuscript. I want to see you succeed! I put in lots of time and thought on critiques. Of course, we all want to hear that our work is wonderful and ready to go, but I vow to give you an honest critique pointing out the good and the things that need work. To me, that is the best kind of critique that a writer can get!

Picture books up to 1000 words, non-rhyming critique fee is $85.00.
Higher word count manuscripts can be prorated. 
Add $15.00 for rhyming manuscripts (because they take much longer to critique.)
Picture book and query letter critique at the same time, for the same manuscript -- $120.00


Query & Cover Letter Critiques


I love query letters. Cover letters too. The difference? A query letter asks if you can send the material, while a cover letter introduces what you have sent. When you have a good base letter, you can change it up to fit your needs.

To me, writing these letters is a fun challenge. That seems to make me somewhat of an anomaly. But, it’s true. Query letters are like a puzzle that has many possible solutions. I just love piecing them together.

It is imperative to remember that your letter is a sales tool. One that you need to use to your best advantage. I can help you make sure your letter includes an enticing hook, the pertinent manuscript information, and relevant bio. Just as with my picture book critiques, I am very thorough with query letter critiques. I give line by line notes and suggestions as well as line editing if needed. If I need to ask you questions to help me give better suggestions on your letter, I will.

As with manuscripts, you can't always see the issues in your own query letter. You want to give enough information so that the gist of your story is clear to someone who has not read it. You want it to be enticing. You want your query letter to make the reader want more!

My letters for various manuscripts have gotten requests and interest from many agents and publishers. I have helped writers of all genres with their query letters. So, if you are ready for another set of eyes on that all important introduction to your work, from board book to picture book, MG, YA to Adult novel -- fiction or nonfiction, I would be happy to help.

Query letter critique fee is $40.00 
One page letter, any genre.
Picture book and query letter critique at the same time, for the same manuscript -- $120.00

Critique Request Instructions


When you are ready for a critique please email me. Indicate the type of critique you are looking for -- picture book manuscript, query letter, or both. You can put CRITIQUE REQUEST in the subject line of your email.

For picture book manuscripts please let me know the word count and whether or not the story is written in rhyme. For query letters I'd love to know the genre you are working in. If you have any questions for me, just ask. You are welcome to attach the manuscript or query as a Word or Open Office document in your email.

I bill through Paypal, which you can pay whether you have a Paypal account or not. I will email you an invoice via Paypal once I have gotten your request and we have worked out any details. I am also happy to take a check. Critiques will be started once payment is complete.

I like to have up to two weeks to complete manuscript critiques as I sometimes like to have time to think on things, but I often have them done more quickly than that. Query letter critiques will be completed in one week or less. I am happy to work with you to have your critique done by a specific date if requested. 

It is nice if you have your manuscript in a standard format. Plus you will need it that way for submitting! If you are not sure about standard picture book manuscript format, you can find instructions in my formatting post.

Critique fees are for a one time critique. If you are interested in having me critique a manuscript after you have revised, I am happy to do it at a discounted rate.

About My Experience


I've been writing picture books for a very long time. I can't even begin to count the number of critiques I have done. I’ve edited novels, both fiction and nonfiction for publishers, critiqued everything from story app concept to magazine article, MG, YA, and even the "dreaded" synopsis.

My picture book, BEDTIME MONSTER, is published by Raven Tree Press. KICK! JUMP! CHOP! THE ADVENTURES OF THE NINJABREAD MAN is scheduled to be released by Sterling Publishing in 2017. I am represented by Sean McCarthy Literary Agency.


"Heather's critique is exactly what I needed to get me out of a state of stagnation and moving in a better direction on my children's book proposal. The constructive information she shared in my critique was conveyed with a distinct air of "been there, pitched that" experience. Heather knows what agents and publishers need from a proposal and helps writers hone in on their story's hook and refocus their pitch. I highly recommend her services and wouldn't hesitate to work with Heather on future projects." - Stacey Viera, Best Light Media

"Heather has critiqued a number of my picture book manuscripts--and I couldn't be more satisfied. Her comments are thorough and insightful and straightforward--a gift for any of us who have walked away from a critique with more questions than answers!" - Terry H., Children's Book Writer

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Monster List of Picture Book Agents - Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, Red Fox Literary

5/15/2016 - Stephanie is CLOSED to unsolicited submissions. Red Fox agents only consider submissions through industry referrals or conferences at which they present. Stephanie is scheduled to participate in #PBPitch on 6/16/2016.

Red Fox Literary has a new agent! Stephanie Fretwell-Hill started her career selling foreign rights for Walker Books Ltd. and also worked as an acquiring editor at Peachtree Publishing. You can read her full bio on the Red Fox Literary About Us page.

Red Fox agents are normally closed to unsolicited submissions but Stephanie is open for a limited time. If you want to submit your work to Stephanie you will need to do so by July 25, 2016. Update: As of 4/25/16 Stephanie has already gotten over 4,000 submissions! She will now be closing to submissions on 5/15/2016. Please do check the Red Fox Literary Submission Guidelines to make sure that date has not changed before you submit.

The Red Fox Literary Press Release about Stephanie joining the agency has some great information in it.

Although she is new to agenting, there is a bit more good information around the web to help you make the decision as to whether or not Stephanie might be the right agent to submit your work to:

Kathy Temean has a great interview with Stephanie about her agenting style, what she is looking for as an agent, and more. You will definitely want to read this one. Bonus: Stephanie will be doing first page critiques on Kathy's blog. Submissions need to be in by April 21st. The post will be up on April 29th.

Stephanie is on Facebook and has some public posts on her page that might help you get to know her tastes.

You can follow her on Twitter @SFretwellHill

Writer's Digest did a New Agent Alert that is repetitive if you've read the other links here, but it does lay out what Stephanie is looking for quick-style.

You can find Stephanie's profile on LinkedIn.

There are a couple of quick tips from Stephanie at this post about the Blue Ridge Writer's Conference at Write Naked. (Scroll down to under the second photo.)

There's some comments on Querytracker regarding Stephanie's response time. You have to join to be able to read them, but it's free.

Alright, this is digging deep. I found a link to an old blog of Stephanie's. If you have a food manuscript she just might dig it. ;) (I put the link to the profile so you can see it for yourself. Website 1 does not work. Website 2 does.)

Okay everyone, do remember that submitting to Stephanie has a deadline! A new agent such as Stephanie can be a great opportunity as she is building her list. Good luck!

This post is part of the Monster List of Picture Book Agents. If you have an additions or changes you think should be made to this listing please contact me or leave them in the comments. Thanks!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Some Picture Book Writing Tips

I've come across a few good sites with some helpful picture book writing tips as of late, so I wanted to pass them along. I know so many of you reading my blog are working hard on your picture book manuscripts!

Author Josh Funk has put together a Guide to Writing Picture Books that breaks the important parts of picture book writing into short, easy to digest posts. I know that a lot of you like to write in rhyme so be sure to check out Don't Write in Rhyme where Josh point out many of the common rhyming mistakes. You can also find loads of good rhyming tips at RhyPiBoMo like this one on multi-syllabic ending rhyming words by agent Sally Apokedac.

Mem Fox has so many great books. I happened upon her website and found that she has a whole bunch of hints for writers. She has 4 links in the sidebar on the page. Her hints are nice and straightforward. Love them!

I also really enjoyed DON'T DO IT! - how Not to write a picture book by Malachy Doyle on the Picture Book Den blog. Funny post title but true enough!

It can be good to take a break and refresh your picture book writing knowledge with posts like these and then dive back into writing. I myself am off to dive into picture book revisions again now.

When you think you are ready for new eyes on your manuscript check out my Critique Services. I love helping new and seasoned picture book writers and can always make time for a picture book critique!