Monday, April 16, 2012

Poetry Month

April is poetry month, so, with apologies to real poets, I offer the following on what this April has meant to me:

Springtime or A Little Misery

When little green worms drop from the sky
And bees buzz ‘round making honey,
I watch from my window as birds sing and fly
And squirrels swing around like monkeys.
But I hide inside, with tissues galore;
One day I will go out the door!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Seven Things I Learned from Writing for Magazines

I began writing by starting with magazine pieces: short stories, poems, games, and articles. After about seven years and over 50 published articles, I tackled the herculean task of writing a novel. In so many ways, magazine writing helped prepare me for that.

1. I learned to write concisely. Most magazines have strict parameters for word count. I learned to find the core of the story and stick to it, to find the salient bits of information and focus on those. Turns out that's important for longer pieces as well.

2. I wrote across many genres and ages of readers. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, historical fiction, folktales, crafts and activities, humor, puzzles and games--you name it and I tried it. I found that some genres interest me more than others and that versatility is a valuable trait for a writer.

3. I became intimately acquainted with rejection. This is a big deal. Many writers never quite become comfortable with it. Even after I felt like I knew what I was doing, I still got tons of rejections; probably 9 out of 10 submissions were rejected. After a while, rejection just became part of the process for me. I learned to glean information from it, move on, and submit more. Sadly, the rejection experience continues throughout a writer's career (there are a few individual exceptions to this, I suppose). The earlier you get used to it, the better.

4. I learned to welcome criticism. That's right, welcome it. Crave it. Seek it out. Because I saw how it made my writing stronger. Whether it was from people in my writing group, professionals at conferences, or (thrill!) editors to whom I had submitted, criticism was an opportunity to improve.

5. I built my resume. When I started querying agents, my writing credits were an important asset. It showed that other professionals had found my writing up to par.

6. I met a lot of wonderful people in the world of children's publishing. These people not only inspired me, but also encouraged and supported me. I'm so grateful for each of them!

7. I began to think of myself as a writer. It seems like a small thing, but it factors into how you envision your future, what you are capable of, how you deal with obstacles. All of these perceptions significantly affect the outcome of your efforts.

What about you? How did you learn what you needed to learn about writing?

If you are interested in learning about other writers' paths to publishing success, you can attend our FREE event, presented by SCBWI in Richmond on April 28. More details here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fun fact: Our own Brian Rock not only writes wonderful picture books and poetry, but he's also in a country band called Family Reunion. And this is no ordinary band--it's a virtual band. A virtual band is one that...well, it's complicated. Read all about Brian and Cousin JD in the article that recently appeared in the Chesterfield County Observer.

The exciting news is that Family Reunion has been nominated for three awards from the Independent County Music Association. Click over to the ICMA site to vote for Family Reunion!

Song of the year: YES
Album of the year: Family Album
Best Country Band: Family Reunion

Thursday, April 12, 2012

National Poetry Month

I always found it ironic that National Poetry Month has no rhyme in its title. In any event April is National Poetry Month. Scholastic has some fun activities and author recommendations (although with some glaring omissions who happen to be near and dear to this blog!) And of course, one of my all time favorite children's poets, Kevin Nesbitt has more poems on his website than you can shake a thesaurus at! And while we're at it, here's a new one from my upcoming collection of poems:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Illuminations From The Illustrator

Recently I was asked how to put together an illustrator’s portfolio to send to art directors for illustrating children’s books. As you might imagine, there is more than one way to put together a picture book portfolio. Generally, it helps to remember that a picture book illustrator’s portfolio is quite different from a portfolio assembled for submission to a gallery or exhibition.

Jennifer Laughran presents an excellent summary of what is recommended. Read her November 6, 2010 post at:

(Copy and paste into your internet browser)

Keep in mind that it is also very important to visit the publisher’s web site or other resource that lists what a particular art director wants to see. Remember, you are not just selling your ability to draw or paint, but also your ability to tell a story visually and to use the visual elements you create to expand and add subtext to the words in the picture book. You are demonstrating your style, your versatility and your ability to interpret words throughout 32 pages of the (average) picture book.

This makes you different from a fine artist, illustrator or graphic designer, though it doesn’t hurt to have skills in any or all of those fields. Illustrating children’s books requires something of all those elements and more. So take the time and effort to assemble the best possible picture book portfolio and it will be worth a thousand words.