Monday, February 27, 2017

Picture Book Queries. Again/

This is a repeat post. But I had a query about the post and the West Side Writers Mingle is having their Picture Book Critique night this Wednesday, March 1
Westside Writers Mingle
Wednesday, March 1
7 pm - 8:45 pm
 Ocean Park Branch, Santa Monica Public Library
2601 Main Street (corner of Main & Ocean Park Blvd.) Here are their instructions:

To participate, bring 6 copies of your picture book manuscript (double spaced, please!). This is a great opportunity to find out what is working well in your manuscript as well as what could possibly use a little polishing. 

To assure everyone gets a turn, each author will get an allotted amount of time to read and receive feedback. Lori might even ring her yoga bell. Please note: Picture book manuscripts are often 500 words or less. If yours is lengthy, you may want to read only part of it so you don't miss out on valuable critique time!

Do you write novels and not picture books? Please come anyway and offer feedback. And never fear; you'll get a pass as well: the MG/YA critique night is next month!

It's also 100% okay and encouraged for you to come without material to share. Those who are reading will value your feedback.

For this Mingle, it's particularly helpful to know who is coming and who is bringing material to share. Please RSVP to if you can!

Picture Book Queries

Picture Books queries are a different animal from Mid grade and YA queries. You are going to be emailing your entire ms.

I met with two of the four other members of my picture book critique group this week and we each tried to hammer one out.
One question that came up immediately was what do you put in the "experience" part of the query letter when you have yet to be published? 

Everybody had to have a first query. Even Dr. Seuss. And we all know how that one went. It took him lots of tries to get a "yes" for To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. And he had illustrations!

Then there are those of us who write stories only.  Doreen Cronin's first book was Click Clack Moo. Cows That Type. What did she put for experience?
 Best advice I could find was if you have not yet been published. Don't put anything. Except that you are a member of SCBWI.

Advice from Query Letter Wizard:
The first paragraph. Always. Why? Because most query letters are not read top to bottom. Sad, but true. Agents, buried under mounds of submissions, will give your query only a quick look to determine if the first paragraph grabs and sustains their interest.
This is why you must write and re-write those three sentences so they tell the plot and give compelling information about your protagonist and their challenge.
SENTENCE ONE: Introduce your protagonist (main character) and what they want in the first sentence.
SENTENCE TWO: Describe the obstacle (s) that stand in their way.
SENTENCE THREE: Hint at the possible outcome and the terrible "or else" that could happen if your protagonist does not succeed. Write this "tease" to motivate the agent to read your query second paragraph which expands the plot as it involves your protagonist.

Here's another POV Mary Kole's From

 Since most agents ask that the picture book manuscript be included in the submission, writing a really meaty query for that short a manuscript seems a bit silly. When I see picture book queries — and when I write my own picture book pitches, in fact — I keep it very simple.

I’ve had a book by Katie Van Camp and illustrated by Lincoln Agnew called HARRY AND HORSIE in my sidebar for a while as an example of a great picture book with an outside-the-box friendship hook. If you haven’t picked it up yet, I’m sorry for you, because you’re missing out.

If I were writing a query for HARRY AND HORSIE, it would read something like this:

Harry and plush toy, Horsie, are the best of friends. One night, Harry is trying out his bubble-making machine when one of his bubbles swallows Horsie and hoists him into outer space! Harry has to rescue his best friend — and go on a wild space adventure — before returning safely home.

A quirky picture book with a great friendship hook, spare text and retro-style illustration, HARRY AND HORSIE is sure blast your imagination into the stratosphere! This is a simultaneous submission and you will find the full manuscript of XXX words pasted below. I look forward to hearing from you and can be found at the contact information listed below my signature.

Easy peasy. No need to write an elaborate letter. Just present the main characters, the main problem, and the resolution, then work in a hook (“great friendship hook,” above), and sign off like you normally would with a novel query.

After that, just paste the picture book manuscript. If you are an author/illustrator, include a link to an online portfolio where the agent or editor can browse your illustrations. Do not include attachments unless the agent requests to see more illustrations or to see a dummy.
If you are an author/illustrator you provide a link to your portfolio. One of my PB critique members, Cassandra Federman has a wonderful website. Check out her portfolio. She also has a wonderful book to query.

Krysta Wittmore and I have nothing but our words. Together we hammered out the best queries we could. I don't have permission to share theirs, so I will share two of my own. I wrote short letters and did not follow the advice given above, although I did try to write letters that that my voice in them.

Dear John,

Your blog says are looking for fast paced/thrilling/heart-breaking stories. Villains with vulnerability.

So I'm submitting my picture book, Fat Cat and Nat, the Rat (or War and Peace for the challenged reader) complete at 170 words. It's a crime story between rival gang leaders.

Besides writing, I volunteer with young students who are reading challenged. When I ran out of books I wanted to use to help them read, I started writing them. 

I am a member of SCBWI .My Great American Novel, Log on Log, complete at 65 words is contracted by Beach Lane Books.

Dear Linda

 My son’s best friend was terrified of undertows, which she called Undertoads. It set me wondering what would an undertoad look like? I wanted to see their world.

The Undertoads, complete at 463 words is a cautionary tale told by an older child to a younger child. It's in (hold your breath.) rhyme.

NO! Please don't stop reading! It's in meter, I promise you. I was seduced by Dr. Seuss at a tender age. 

I am a member of SCBWI and RWA. My Great American Novel, Log On Log, a picture book, complete at 65 words. is under contract with Beach Lane Books.

Places to Query. Things to do.

Here's a link to Manuscript Wish List agents who are looking for Picture Books. I know you always go to the agency website and check guidelines. Here is a link to more picture book agents. It includes link to their websites and my notes. (Suggest opening it in Excel.)
Do set up your own excel sheet so you can tract your queries. I have columns on my submission sheet for Agency, Email, Project queried, Date sent, Date responded and a note about the response  - or lack of response. So many agents do not respond. I know it hurts. We put so much time and thought into querying. But don't let lack of response stop you.
“It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” 
Martha Graham

 How do you query your picture books?   Want to show us one?    Leave it in comments or send to Write on!                   

Monday, February 13, 2017

Dispatch #61: Kissing in the Rain


by Lupe Fernandez

Romantic versus realistic.

Have you ever kissed in the rain? I mean during a cold, drenching downpour. Water hammers on metal gutters, splashes in murky puddles, beats on window pane, liquid streaming off your hair, clotting your nose, stinging your eyes, dripping down your back, punching your membrane-thin umbrella.

I watched Four Weddings and a Funeral the other night. Great movie, but watching Andie MacDowell and Hugh Grant kissing in an English downpour got me thinking about what’s it like to kiss in the rain. No, this isn’t a romantic disclaimer.

I present another version:

I walk with Sheila around the Lodi High school campus and talk what we will play in our set for the jazz festival. My hand brushes hers and I cross the great chasm of insecurity – what if she refuses - and slip my fingers around hers. Sheila holds my clammy hand.

Drops go tap, tap, tap on her wind breaker. We hurry to get out of the drizzle. The sleeve cuff of her wind breaker rubs against my palm. Her jacket fabric flexes and crinkles as her body moves; we hurry to shelter of the school auditorium.

My sneakers squish on a watery sidewalk. Humidity has frizzed her red-hair tucked under her hood. I kiss her quick. She smiles, a glimpse of dull braces, and quickly covers her mouth, embarrassed.

Back in the auditorium, our fellow jazz players see us, my sweater soaked, her face flushed and our nervous smiles, followed by a trail of damp footsteps.

Love is like that: a gentle tap on a window pane, an invitation to fill parched lips of dry earth or a root ripping torrent wiping away the past into a chaotic present.

A little of both, I should hope.

Is it raining now?

Is it raining all over the world?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Andrea J Loney on Preparing for Publication

By Susan J Berger and Andrea J Loney

Meet Andrea J Loney, whose first picture book Bunnybear will hit the shelves January 31st.
Although Bunnybear was born a bear, he feels more like a bunny. He prefers bouncing in the thicket to tramping in the forest, and in his heart he's fluffy and tiny, like a rabbit, instead of burly and loud, like a bear. The other bears don't understand him, and neither do the bunnies. Will Bunnybear ever find a friend who likes him just the way he is?

Sample Editorial Reviews:
"Despite the lighthearted tone, Loney's story has important things to say about identity and acceptance, and is valuable both as entertainment and a conversation-starter." Publishers Weekly, November 7, 2016

"A sweet story of friendship and acceptance…the message of being true to one's nature is one many children need to hear." Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2016

Susan's review. Funny, charming, An implied message we all need right now. I plan to buy a copy for each of my grandchildren. I loved it.

Andrea's first ever Book signing is at Children's Book World this Saturday, Feb 4th, 2:30-4:00 PM
There will be puppets and sweet things and games.
address: 10580 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles 90064
More book signings at the end of this post.

Bunnybear is not actually her first book accepted by a publisher. Andrea won the 2014 Lee & Low New Voices Award for her biographical picture book, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee. It's illustrated by Keith Mallett ( ) and will make it's way onto the shelves in May, 2017. 

 In other news. Andrea will be inducted as a Brown Bookshelf Honoree on February 1st.

And this just in from Publisher's Weekly:
Erin Clarke at Knopf has bought world rights to Andrea J. Loney's Double Bass Blues, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, a picture book celebrating music and family in which a black boy shoulders his beloved double bass from his suburban school to his city neighborhood. Publication is slated for spring 2019. Jill Corcoran at Corcoran Literary Agency represented the author and the artist represented himself. I couldn't be happier for Andrea, and for her agent, Jill Corocran

I asked Andrea how she prepared for her book launch. here's her answer.
Preparing for Publication
One of the things I did not know when I first started writing picture books is how long it actually takes to get them out in the world. It can take a long time. Three years from sale to publication is not unheard of, and it can take years to get a book ready for sale. I’ve heard this process described as “hurry up and wait."
But once a book is sold and printed and about to hit the shelves, things can speed up at a dizzying rate. I’ve heard this phase described as “wait and hurry up.” So as soon as I sold my first book, TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VANDERZEE!, I started searching for information on how to publicize my book. Most places mentioned getting a website, staying active on social media, connecting with bloggers, and things like that. Then I found this 15-tab book marketing preparation spreadsheet  It took me a few days to even read through it, but there were so many of great ideas for promoting a book online and offline, and through various forms of media. I downloaded this spreadsheet. It's incredible. A great author tool.
Also as a book gets closer to publication, the publisher’s publicity department sends out an author questionnaire. This multipage list asks questions about the author’s publishing contacts, local magazines and newspapers, organizations that might be interested in the book, and more. Then the publicity department combines the author's information with their own contact information to circulate advance reading copies of the book-to-be-published. So far I’ve filled out these forms for two publishers since both books will be published in the next five months.
Bookstore visits and signings are also very important for promoting a new book. Luckily, my publisher connected me with Tracie, the publicist, and she booked me to read BUNNYBEAR at three local bookstores and a children’s museum. There are lots of things that Tracie is doing behind the scenes, which is great because then I can focus on promoting my book by writing blog posts, engaging potential readers on social media, and inviting everyone I know to my book events.
Thank you, Andrea. I'm definitely going to the Children's Book World signing, bar flooding or famine. You are one of the most creative teachers I know and I can't wait to see what you have planned.
Andrea other events so far:
The Zimmerman Museum
Thursday, February 16 at 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM6505 Wilshire Blvd. #100, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Vroman's Bookstore
Saturday, February 18 at 10:30 PM - 11:30 AM
695 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, California 91101
Pages Bookstore Monday, February 20 at 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM (President’s Day)904 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, CA 90266


Monday, January 23, 2017

Getting It Out There

You've written you book. And re-written it a number of times. You've sent it through critique groups, re-edited and sent it back to the critique group and repeated the process till you and your group decide you've written your story in the best possible way..
No it's time to submit it. What do you do? Look for an Agent to do it for you?
Send directly to publishers? Both of the above.
Rules have changed. In the age of eBook and self-publishing, very few publishers claim the right to exclusively sit on your manuscript while they take six or seven months to decide if they wish to see more of your work.

The Right Agent.

Method one: You can put together a list of recent books that you admire or that you think are similar to your work. Then, find out who represents those authors.. Many authors list their agents on the acknowledgments page in the front or back of their books. If you can’t find the agents this way, contact the publishing companies of the books on your list and ask their publicity departments who agented the books you are interested in.
 Method two: Go to, The internet's largest free database of literary agents. There you will find all kinds of wonderful tools to help you come up with a list of agents to query. Put in the keyword "Juvenile" and it will bring up another list.  I choose this method.
Method three: Go to Manuscript Wish List. This is the twitter link/site. Search the tags for your type of book.
Here's a link to the FAQ sheet for Manuscript Wish
Bypass the Agent. Go to the Publisher
Submit directly to a publisher. SCBWI publishes The Book with a list of publishers. Author's Publishing is a free magazine which tells who is accepting manuscripts. I know there are other methods. I use these.
However you choose to do it, get it done. I know how hard it is to submit. I sent one out yesterday. Good luck to all of us.




Monday, January 16, 2017

In Honor of MLK day. Flygirl by Sherri L Smith.

by Hilde Garcia
This is a repost.  And if you are looking for the Feel Good movie of the year, race to see Hidden Figures.
Sherri's most recent book is The Toymaker's Apprentice Winner of the
Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Award
for Middle Grade.
Flygirl, a YA novel by Sherri L. Smith, tells the story of Ida Mae Jones, a girl with a passion to fly. There’s only one problem. She’s a light skinned black girl and isn’t allowed. So when the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) is formed during WWII, Ida Mae Jones faces a fork in the road. Does she sign up and pass for white? Or does she stay in Slidell, New Orleans and continue to clean the Wilson’s home?

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Smith at The Mother/Daughter Book Party at The Flintridge Bookstore this past January, where 11 fabulous YA/MG authors came and chatted with young ladies and their moms about books, writing and life. 

Sherri, when you heard the NPR broadcast about the WASP, how did you know you were meant to write Flygirl?

That's an interesting way of putting it. I don't think of it as "meant" to be, but rather "wouldn't that be interesting?" I start out hoping to write a story, but you don't know whether or not it will end up being what you intended to write. Listening to the Radio Diaries piece, there was a line that sparked my interest—about farm girls and heiresses being thrown together for training. I thought it, "What a great story." And then I put my own ideas into it—what it would mean for an African-American girl in the same situation, and went from there. 

How did you balance all the facts we needed to know without losing your strong fictional voice of Ida? 

I have a funny way of researching projects. I start with picture books on the topic, because they give the straight scoop. Then I read the bibliographies on those books and sort of work my way up the reading levels. If I've got my story ideas, I'll write them first. I knew Ida's story, so I outlined it, wrote the parts I knew, then researched until I knew more, and kept going back and forth between writing and more research until the book filled in completely. But I always knew Ida Mae. 

What kind of research did you do? Did you fly an airplane? Have things changed for black female pilots in today’s world? 

Most of my research was secondary sources—books, documentaries, museum exhibits. There was not as much available on the WASP when I wrote the book as there is today. So I did a lot of WWII research in general, and went to airplane museums. I spoke to friends that are pilots, but I didn't fly in any vintage planes myself. (No, I am not a pilot!) I don't know the stats on black women in aviation today, but I'd say things have changed for female pilots in general, if not by the leaps and bounds. According to the American Airlines website, of the 115,000 commercial pilots in the US in 2007, only 7,100 are female. That's what, 6%? Not a lot, but considering the first female pilot wasn't hired until 1973, and men have been flying since the days of Orville and Wilbur Wright, I guess its progress. 

Tell me about your thesis project and how Flygirl became part of it. 

I was working on an MA in Humanities with a concentration in Creative Writing from CSU Dominguez Hills and I knew my thesis was going to be a novel. In fact, it's part of a novel and includes a scholarly analysis of young adult literature, which really informs my philosophy on writing YA. At the time I had two ideas I was developing, which became Flygirl and my third novel, Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. My thesis advisor, Dr. Abe Ravitz, had served in WWII, so it seemed like a natural fit. 

You mentioned that Flygirl was developed as a thesis project. Was this part of an MFA program? Do you think Flygirl would still be grounded if it weren’t for the program? Is there anything unique about the project that ensured the completion of FG? 

While I believe Dr. Ravitz' input was invaluable, there's no way I would have not written this book, degree or no degree. It was more a matter of when I would write it. Where Dr. Ravitz really helped was in encouraging me to make the book as complex as it is. There were times when I thought the WASP story was enough. I didn't need to add the racial element, even though that's what made it sing to me personally. Sometimes it takes a cheerleader saying you can do it to help you get it done. 

I noticed the long list of accolades for Flygirl. Is there any of them that really surprised you when you received the honor? 

All of them. When I write, my goal is to do the best job I can with a book and not "muff it up" as we used to say when I was kid. Then it's to send it out into the world and hope it does well. Any time an email or a letter shows up saying "hey, we liked this," I'm thrilled. Books are like my kids—I'd like to think I'm raising fools, but you never really know until someone from the outside says "Well Done!" 

When you visit schools, how do the boys react to Flygirl? Do they seem shocked that women flew the planes during the World War II, as well, if not better than most men? 

I actually think that's a prejudice reserved for older generations. Boys like the airplane stuff—the details of flight, but so do the girls. I think the sense of adventure in the story speaks to both genders. I've heard from a lot of girls that want to be pilots (grown women too!), and older men who are WWII buffs. I'd say that's the biggest compliment, when a white-haired gentleman in an army green flight jacket and WWII commemorative baseball cap comes up and asks me to sign the book. That's priceless. 

The reader never knows if Ida will be caught passing for white. The reader doesn’t expect what happens to her friends. And what if she is caught posing as a white woman? What would have been the consequences? Did you and your agent consider a different ending for the book? 

The consequences could have been quite severe, especially depending on who caught her. She's breaking military law and social norms. That could be a court marshal, jail, or violence if she was caught by civilians. I never considered a different ending for the book because I think of Ida's situation as being that of all of the women in that period. Once she finds where she belongs, she can still be so easily ousted, as so many women were once the war ended and the men needed their jobs back. It's a terrible position to be in, and I wanted the reader to be there with her. 

Passing as white is still a controversial topic. In your NPR interview, you said that “it’s not glorious, it’s just factual, it’s part of life.” Do you think African-American people today still “pass for white?” How have perceptions changed? 

Absolutely, people still pass today, and not just for white. People pass for the "not persecuted" group, if they think it's safer or more beneficial. They pass for religious in the Bible belt, or not religious in the agnostic big city, for rich, for poor, for gay, for straight. I was in college during the first Iraq war and I very clearly remember hearing an Iranian girl describe herself as something other than Iranian for fear of reprisal. Consider "don’t' ask, don't tell" in the military. That's government sanctioned passing! The world has not changed as much as we might like to think. 

How did race affect your selection of subject matter? Were you particularly drawn to it because of your ethnicity? 

I was drawn to the story of the WASP because of the classic underdog narrative, and the strange bedfellows it made. As I said, the idea of farm girls and heiresses bunking together just grabbed me. The ethnic element came about because I was riffing on the idea of rights, expectations and the second-class citizen. Stories my mother told me about her childhood in the South came to mind, and the rest grew from the marriage of the two. 

Was your ethnicity an advantage for you as an author? Is this bicultural trend here to stay? 

The word "bicultural" makes me angry. What does that mean? There is the American culture, and if you want to break ethnicity down into cultures, then there are certainly more than two. As long as there are as many different types of people in this world as there are, we will write about them. That's not a trend, that's just life. As far as the advantages of being a black writer, I'm not sure what they are. There is a tendency in the publishing world to think that black writers should "write black." My main characters are people from all walks of life. I have to do my research to make them sound authentic, but the world is my palette. I don't believe in sticking to monochromes.

Tell us about your fifth novel. It also takes place in New Orleans, but present day. Now, according to your biography, you have lived all over the country, but not in New Orleans. Any reason you seem to be drawn to this area? 

The novel you are speaking of is actually set in the near-future, not the present. It's speculative fiction that takes place in a possible New Orleans. I'm drawn to New Orleans because my mother is from there and it is a fantastic city. I visited my grandparents in the house my mom grew up in every summer of my childhood. I'm not a native, but it's a part of me as much as any other city in which I've lived. 

During the event at the Bookstore, we discussed a high school writing program for students that would span all four years, beginning with their freshman year and an idea for a novel and ending in their senior year graduation with a completed novel. Do you think it is possible? 

Actually, I think four years is almost too long. I would love to do something along these lines over the course of one year, at least for the first draft. I do think this is possible, but the question is whether the curriculum would allow for it. We live in a test-taking age, and that would have to be considered. Still, wouldn't it be fantastic to have a novel-writing track at school? What would that do for the book world—readers and writers alike! 

The young ladies at your table were excited. Both of them were very good short story writers, but their biggest fear was how to make that into a whole book.  Do you think this type of program could give birth to a new generation of young and strong writers? 

Undoubtedly. We're told that books are a fading form that people don't want to read, but I disagree. Everyone loves a story, whether it's gossip, news, a movie or the printed word. Video games are so compelling in part because they involve the player in the world of the game. If we gave kids that sort of access, by having them create the world and invent the story, I think it could lead to an exciting new wave of creative intelligence and engagement. 

I’d like to thank Sherri for this interview. For more about Sherri L. Smith, visit her website at