Monday, July 29, 2019

Picture Book Querys

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.

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, July 15, 2019

SCBWI Conference HiJinks When Pen and Ink filmed a Pirate Alphabet.

The 2019 SCBWI Summer Conference is coming and it seems an appropriate time to share what Pen And Ink did at our first conference together in 2011.
On Kris Kahr's suggestion, we gathered up our pirate paraphernalia and asked authors to put on the pirate gear we thoughtfully provided and take a letter of the alphabet.
You may be surprised to see some of the wonderful people who participated. Below are a few frames from the film.
Lupe Fernandez was our videographer and Hilde Garcia, Kris and I lured volunteers to him. My Only regret?  I was sitting next to Judy Blume at one event and she agreed to do it. But I couldn't find Lupe and the rest of the crew. We had so much fun with this.
Here's a link to our film.'

The Pirate Alphabet

in 2012 we tried a different stunt. More on that later.
We hope to see you at this year's Summer Conference

Monday, September 3, 2018

Writing for the Transitional Reader

by Susan J Berger
For those of you writing for this market, Here's a post from 2012. Has anything in this market changed?

I attended Bonnie Bader's breakout session, Writing for the Transitional Reader. Early Chapter Books at the SCBWI Summer Conference because I wanted to know more about them. 

I find it a confusing subject.

Bonnie clarified many things for me. I did some internet research to try fill in the gaps. As best I can figure out, this information varies by house, so take it with a grain of salt.

Leveled readers: Usually 32-48 pages. Leveled readers have a structured vocabulary.

The best known structured vocabulary list is is the Dolch List I've linked to the one that is alphabetical by grade.

Beginning Readers:
This is taken from Mary Koles's Kid

Early readers are the earliest “chapter” stories that a kid can get. They’re very short in terms of manuscript length (1,500 words max) but are broken up into either chapters or vignettes that will give the reader the feeling of reading a book with real chapters in it. Your target audience for these is kids ages 4 to 8. Early readers feature a smaller trim size, some the size of or slightly bigger than a paperback novel, and can go from about 32 to 60 pages. The font size is smaller and they feature spot illustrations in either color or black and white instead of full color throughout, like a picture book.  Even if you think you have a great early reader idea, it has to be a very precise fit for a publisher’s established vocab/sentence/word count guidelines.

Some examples of early readers: LING AND TING: NOT EXACTLY THE SAME by Grace Lin and Good Night Good Knight by Shelly Moore Thomas.

If you use the "look inside me" feature, you can get a very good idea of this format.

Bonnie's example was Young Cam Jensen, (a level three book) 4 chapters. Color illustrations Probably under 48 pages. But, I believe more words than Ting and Ling

Easy Chapter Books

The Princess Posy series:
These books have 10 chapters, and black and white illustrations. They run 96 pages, 2400-3000 words per book - approximately 300 words a chapter. If you go to the link, you can see how the illustrations meld with the text, making some description unnecessary. "She slipped a spoonfull of green peas into Danny's mouth." (Yes you can add an art note to your manuscript Mom feeding Danny in High Chair.) The illustrations shows a mom feeding a baby in a high chair.
Bonnie said this type of book requires simple plot lines,memorable characters with a short hook, and familiar settings. We need to know who the character is and what their problem is right from the beginning. The sentences are shorter in these books. You have to figure out your chapter breaks carefully so that you reader is left with a hook and a sense of accomplishment in finishing the chapter.

Henry and Mudge, by Cynthia Rylant. Color illustrations Seven chapters. 100 words per chapter. Average 25 words per page)
The ever popular Captain Underpants series
These are longer books. 29 chapters LOTS of black and white cartoon illustrations. about 185 pages long.
Boys and girls love this series.

You may have noticed these books are all series books. That's what publishers prefer. Is there room for a single book? Why, yes. Deborah Underwood's Pirate Mom is a stand alone level three reader published by Random House (Three chapters 48 pages color illustrations) I bought a copy at the SCBWI Summer Conference and I think it's hilarious and very accessible to young readers.

Early Chapter Books

These are aimed at ages 7-9, Grades 2-4, depending on the level of reading competence. They run around 128 pages and 10,000 words. The illustrations are black and white and the number of them seem to vary by series. The characters are usually aged 8-10

Bonnie says George Brown Class Clown is about 10,000 words. Take a look at the layout.

The Author, Nancy Krulik, also writes the very popular Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo  Katie looks to be a bit more word dense than George Brown,(smaller print. I counted 100 words on on page and 10 pages in the chapter.) but they are both listed for the same reading level.
My current favorite early chapter books is Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker and illustrated by Marla Frazee. This one breaks some rules. There is no Chapter 2. It goes from chapter 1 to chapter 3. I believe it is seven chapters for the days of her "not so good of a week. " I love the humor and the wonderful first person voice.

Another popular early chapter books is Judy Moody  This one had 141 pages but many full page illustrations.

My friend and fellow author Nancy Stewart's blog post Early Chapter Books for Young Readers.  mentions several books I want to check out. 

I hope this clarifies a few things. If you want to look further for information on leveled readers, the best place I found was Here's a link to their criteria for Early emergent readers, Level aa to Z. (phew!!) and here is the list of books that match their criteria. If you click on the books. you will see a picture and a word count. Levels aa-books have 17-24 word. Levels A-C seem to average 50 words and use a High frequency word list.

Happy writing and researching.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Kid's Magazine Submissions Quick Guide

by Susan Berger

Anybody have an article, a story, a poem, a Puzzle or Rebus suitable for a children’s magazine? Here is a list of places where they might be accepted. Be sure and grab a copy of the magazine to check their style, before submitting.

  • Pays $150 per article or story.
  • 500 words younger reader
  • 800 words older reader
  • Stories: 200 to 2,000 words (2 to 8 pages)
  • Articles: 200 to 1,500 words (2 to 6 pages)
  • Poems: not longer than 50 lines (1 page, 2 pages maximum)
  • An exact word count should be noted on each manuscript submitted. For poetry, indicate number of lines instead. Word count includes every word, but does not include the title of the manuscript or the author's name.
  • Stories and articles: up to 25¢ per word
  • Poems: up to $3.00 per line
  • Payment upon publication
 Spider Magazine Age 6- 9
  • Stories: 300 to 1,000 words
  • Poems: not longer than 20 lines
  • Articles: 300 to 800 words
  • Puzzles/Activities/Games: 1 to 4 pages
  • An exact word count should be noted on each manuscript submitted. Word count includes every word, but does not include the title of the manuscript or the author's name.
Rates for Spider Magazine:
  • Stories and articles: up to 25¢ per word (1,000 words maximum)
  • Poems: up to $3.00 per line
  • Payment upon publication
Ladybug Ages 2-6
  • Fiction: read-aloud stories, picture stories, original retellings of folk and fairy tales, multicultural stories. Length: up to 800 words.
  • Rebuses: focus on concrete nouns. Length: up to 200 words.
  • Nonfiction: concepts, vocabulary, simple explanations of things in a young child's world. Length: up to 400 words. (Be prepared to send backup materials and photo references—where applicable—upon request.)
  • Poetry: rhythmic, rhyming; serious, humorous, active, from a child's perspective. Length: up to 20 lines.
  • Other: imaginative activities, games, crafts, songs, and finger games. See back issues for types, formats, and length.
  • An exact word count should be noted on each manuscript submitted. Word count includes every word, but does not include the title of the manuscript or the author's name.
Rates for Ladybug:
  • Stories and articles: 25¢ per word; $25 minimum
  • Poems: $3.00 per line; $25 minimum
  • Payment upon publication
Skipping Stones (multi cultural no pay)
  • APPLESEEDS - general history and cultures (for ages 6-9)
  • CALLIOPE - world history (for ages 9-14)
  • COBBLESTONE - American history (for ages 9-14)
  • DIG - archeology (for ages 9-14)
  • FACES - world cultures and geography (for ages 9-14)
  • ODYSSEY - science (for ages 9-14)
  • Appleseed ages 8 and up
  • Assume 150 words per page; payment approximately $50 per page
Their magazines are:
  • Turtle age 3-5
  • Humpty Dumpty age 5-7
  • Jack and Jill age 8-12
  • Turtle: up to 35¢ a word fiction — up to 350 words nonfiction — up to 200 words
  • Humpty Dumpty: up to 35¢ a word fiction/nonfiction, up to 450 words
  • Jack and Jill: up to 25¢ a word fiction/nonfiction, up to 700 words
  • Poetry: $25 to $50
  • Photos: $15.00 minimum
  • Puzzles and games: $25 minimum
(they sent me this by email. You cannot find guidelines these on their website)
Submission Guidelines

 Thank you for your interest in contributing to NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS, a monthly general-interest nonfiction magazine for 6 to 14-year-olds. NG KIDS' tagline is:

Dare to Explore. It's our mission to find fresh ways to entertain children while educating and exciting them about their world.

Submission Guidelines

 What types of stories does NG KIDS publish?
NG KIDS stories cover a broad range of topics, including science, geography, history, and cultures from around the world. For our departments, we are looking for animal anecdotes and stories about endangered animals.
What kinds of proposals is NG Kids looking for?
Although our staff generates most of our story ideas, we'd be delighted to hear from you about stories that have kid appeal. 
Here are things to consider before pitching to NG Kids:
Entertainment story ideas must offer some behind-the-scenes perspective that is unusual and informational.

Geography, archaeology, paleontology, and history story suggestions must answer the question, "What is fun about that?"
Science and technology story ideas must answer the question, "How does this directly affect a kid's life?"

Natural history story ideas must be tightly focused and exciting. For example: Don't pitch a general story about cheetahs. Do pitch a story on how a cheetah's physical attributes make it the ultimate hunting machine.

For "Amazing Animals," we're looking for animals that have stories to tell about unusual abilities, animal heroes, friendships, or silly situations.
How should one propose an idea?
A carefully considered proposal should be based on a well-researched premise or hook. Do your homework and check the online NG KIDS index to be sure that your idea has not already been covered within the last three years. A good query is short and to the point (about 250 words). It should include a headline that suggests what the story is, a deck that amplifies the headline, a strong lead, and a paragraph that clearly sets out the premise and approach of the piece. The query should represent the style in which the piece will be written. We look for a writing style that's informed but speaks the reader's language and has a sense of humor. Tell us which area of the magazine your story fits into. Please include clips and a resume. 
Once you have the perfect idea, here's who to pitch to on the NG KIDS staff at:
1145 17th St. NW, Washington DC 20036
Science, technology, environment, natural history, and wildlife: Science Editor, Catherine Hughes.

Human interest, "Amazing Animals," and entertainment: Special Projects Editor Rachel Buchholz.

Cultural stories, “Wildlife Watch,” "Fun Stuff," geography, archaeology, paleontology, history: Senior Editor Robin Terry.
If you're not sure about which editor to pitch, send your query to Jill Yaworski and she'll forward it to the appropriate editor.
Any photographic queries should go to photo director Jay Sumner,
Please note that we cannot accept phone queries and we cannot acknowledge or return submissions. All submissions become property of the National Geographic Society, and rights therefore are transferred to the Society. 
Happy Writing

Friday, May 25, 2018

In Memoriam. A Conversation With Richard Peck from the 2013 SCBWI Conference

Our youngest Pen and Inker, eight-year-old Victoria Kroll did a wonderful interview with Richard Peck by telephone after meeting him at the 2013 SCBWI Summer Conference. Her mom helped her. The original interview was published in January, 2014. We are reprinting it In Memoriam. All of us at Pen and Ink revered Richard Peck's work. He will be sorely missed. 

In 2018 Hilde Garcia's class read his trilogy featuring Mrs. Dowdle, (A Season of Gifts, A long Way From Chicago, and Way Down Yonder.) They all wrote thank you notes to Mr. Peck, dated the day he died. Hilde will be doing a post featuring the notes. 
In the meantime, here is the original conversation with Mr. Peck.

 by Victoria Krol and Hilde Garcia

Pen and Ink met Richard Peck at the 2013 SCBWI Summer Conference. Hilde asked if she and Victoria could interview him for the blog. He said yes. It took some time and doing, but we finally connected.

Scene 1- The Call

Hilde: (The number on the screen is a NYC number I don’t recognize.) Hello?

Richard Peck: Is this Hilde Garcia?


Richard Peck: This is Richard Peck. (My heart skips a beat. My hairdresser waits patiently, blow dryer in hand.) Is this a good time for an interview?

Hilde: Umm, well, (I sound so dopey), I'm getting my hair styled for a party. Could we possibly do it in 30 minutes?

Richard Peck: (chuckle) Yes of course. You can call me.

Hilde: I know I said I would drop whatever I was doing to be at your disposal, but I don’t think I can drop the hair dryer.

Richard Peck: (chuckle) No, I don’t think you should.

Scene 2- The Introduction

One very excited eight-year-old, pen and pencil in hand, was waiting for me to run in through the door, with perfect hair, no doubt.

I am ready mom.

Me too.
(I am about to interview THE Richard Peck, author of more than 30 incredible novels. I am most certainly not ready.)

We run to the garage and set up our call. We dial.
Good evening, Mr. Peck. We are ready and the hair dryer is safely put away.    
That’s good.

Hi Mr. Peck, remember me? We met and I was wearing my Hello Kitty earrings.

Yes I do.  Hello Victoria.

  (To me, she mouths: “He remembered me!")

To Mr. Peck:  May I ask my first question?

 Yes, you may.

Scene 3- The interview

Why do you use a typewriter to write your stories and not a computer?
I use a typewriter because I have never lost a young reader to a typewriter, but I have lost too many to computers, games and texting.
My teacher says that we have to rewrite our stories to make them better. How do you revise your stories, because there are no mistakes in them at all?
I write each page six times because I don’t get it right the first 5 times.  Then when I get it right, I take out 20 more words because I wasn’t confident initially with the words I chose.  Then I go to the next page.
Why did you decide to become a writer?
I was a teacher but I couldn’t find things for my students to read that had any worth.

Well, that answers the question of what other jobs have you done.

Yes, it does. My students didn’t know it was stuff I had written.  And eventually, I had to stop teaching because I needed the time to write.

I had a teacher in high school for advanced English Literature, Mr. Harrell, who did the same.  He would write poems, essays, and short stories, and then have us analyze them for daily assignments or exams.  I never realized he was writing these original pieces of literature.  I simply thought they were from some famous writer I hadn't studied yet.  I think I figured out it was Mr. Harrell a couple of years after I graduated. I was in a college literature class and it suddenly dawned on me that none of those pieces were actually published.  Thank you, Mr Harrell. 
In The Secrets of Sea, you made the mouse, Louise, and the girl, Camilla, friends, and then their lives took a lot of crazy turns.  Why?  
Louise and Camilla. Well I created the story with three sisters. The older sister was bossy.  The youngest was the rebel.  And then Louise was the communicator even with human beings.  I often use middle children in my stories because they are good communicators. And taking the story through many turns is what makes it compelling.

So in essence the middle child or mouse becomes your reliable source of information.
Mrs. Dowdel (from A Season of Gifts, A Long Way Down from Chicago, and The Year Down Yonder) is a completely unique character. 
Yes, she is unparalleled and works her way into your soul the more you read of her in each of those books.

Is she inspired by someone you know?

She is inspired by all the old ladies in my house. I had a grandmother that was six feet tall with a crown of snow-white hair, that lived in that house and in that town.  My dad told me the story so in a way, these stories are his, and I felt they had more poetry than my own, so I wrote them. I will share with you something serious, too.  Mrs. Dowdel loved her grand-kids, where my own grandmother didn’t.

    (This was whispered to me, and Mr. Peck obviously couldn’t see Victoria’s face, which was both excited and sad.)

I love the chapter in A Long Way from Chicago entitled “Shotgun Cheatham.”  Why did you decide to have the cat jump out of the coffin?
Mom, why wouldn’t you?  That was the funniest chapter I have ever read.  A cat jumping out of a coffin, but everyone thinking the dead person was still alive.
(chuckle) Well, the cat in the coffin was from a story I heard as a child.  The idea intrigued me and stayed with me throughout until I finally wrote it down.  And here’s a little something about Mrs. Dowdel.  She is a free thinker.  She doesn’t care what other people do or other people think.  She decides what’s right.
I think she’s a great example of what our current generation lacks, this moral compass, which guides each and every individual. Everything about today’s world is about mass mentality and conglomeration.  Free thinking is a lost art.
Yes it is.
Mr. Peck, have you read The Harry Potter series?
I haven’t read all of it.  I don’t really like fantasy and witches and all of that business.  But it wouldn’t be bad to be J. K. Rowling. (Another chuckle).  Not every character is for every child.
Which is why we need so many writers, to write for each child.   
So true.
Our principal’s book club chose to read A Season of Gifts. It was amazing to see how many children -- and in some cases, very young children -- identified themselves with Mrs. Dowdel and Bobby and how many of them understood very well the scene in which Bobby is bullied into the privy. It seems a universal feeling.

Principal Atikian's Book Club - Morning Meeting
Bullies are mean. Mr. Peck, did you write your stories about your time in school and places you lived in or visited?
I am very fond of geography and when I grew up, classrooms had maps.

Imagine that!  Well, I am happy to say that my classroom has one map.  
Good.  I’ve never written a story about a place I haven’t visited. I tried once, but it didn’t work. My newest book is set in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.  It took me a long time to get into the gardens because they weren’t public until recently, but once I visited them, I could write the story.  It wasn’t enough to look at photos for me.  I had to be there. 

Now, the three books that feature Mrs. Dowdel were about my father’s home and I did visit that house.  On the Wings of Heroes and Dreamland Lake are about my hometown and my experiences, though I doubt you can find those books in print  anymore.
Well, I'll just have to pay a visit to Amazon or eBay and see what they can turn up for me.
 Do you have a favorite character that another author wrote?
Yes of course, because I am a writer. My teacher in the 4th grade gave me a book about a boy named Huck Finn, and then I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of  my life.
I love that story too!  I also love Phyllis and Ruth Ann in A Season of Gifts.  What inspired you to make the sisters so different?

Yes, they are quite opposite aren’t they?
Here’s another story about a middle child. The brother is very protective and that I find interesting. Having three siblings in my stories always fascinates me even though that wasn’t the case for me, as it was only my sister and I, and I was the oldest.

Also, in A Season of Gifts, these kids are PKs- Preachers' Kids- and where ever they live, they are watched and judged for everything they do.  Ruth Ann ends up becoming a little Mrs. Dowdel. This is an example of how your characters become living people and will do and say things that don’t seem to come from you, the author.
Mr. Peck, I am a writer too.  And I was wondering if you had any advice for me?
Yes.  Learn five new words a day.  Every book has a new vocabulary.  You want to use words to create new worlds.  And you need more words than you and your friends use every day.  If you are going to be a writer, you need to collect words.
I will do that, I promise.  I do have one more burning question.   
Well, you spelled Ruth Ann with an E at the end of Anne.  My middle name is Anne with an E like the main character Anne in Anne of Green Gables. Well, with or without an E, she’s a great character and you are a great writer.  I love your stories, all of them that I’ve read so far.
Thank you, Victoria.

Mr. Peck, it was an honor to have your book selected by our Principal for her book club and to have so many children inspired by Mrs. Dowdel. Many of the students in our club drew their own version of the cover for A Season of Gifts and I promise to send you photos of our bulletin board.
 That would be wonderful.
I hope to see you at the next SCBWI conference in LA next summer, Mr. Peck.
 Look forward to it.

We hang up the phone.

Scene 4- The Aftermath

Hoo Boy.
My daughter and I sat in euphoria in our garage studio, trying to linger in the glow of the interview, letting the words fall on our memory.

We were on our way to a holiday party for the teachers at our school, and couldn’t help bouncing on our way there.

There are magical moments in life, moments you know you will not forget. I remember turning 19 and waking up in Paris. I remember holding my children the day they were born. As a child, I remember the day I won the school’s spelling bee at age 8.

And for my daughter, I think this become her first of what I hope will be many magical moments, the evening she interviewed Richard Peck. I have to say, I was quite impressed with her poise, her calm, her questions. She is a greater woman at 8 than I could ever have been, even now in my 40’s.

I will add this magical moment to my collection and she will use it to start hers.

Thank you, Mr. Peck.