Guest blog by Elisa Boxer
First of all, I’m delighted to be here! 24 Carrot Writing has felt like a friend from the very beginning. It was the first blog I turned to for insight, inspiration and community when I was pre-published, fielding rejections (that one hasn’t changed), and wondering whether my words would ever become books.
With two picture books in the wild, three on the way this year, and three more under contract, I’m here to tell you to keep at it, and keep the faith!
In this busy year of launches, writing, and revising, I’ve had to be extra diligent about organizing, prioritizing and protecting my writing time. And while I wasn’t completely aware of any concrete process I’d been using to do that, thinking about a topic for this blog post has actually helped clarify a three-pronged method that I have been loosely following, that I will now follow even more specifically, and that I am happy to be able to share!
I’ve broken it down into three questions:
1. What wants to be worked on?
2. What time can I carve out for it?
3. What intention do I have for it?
What wants to be worked on?
I’ve phrased that in the dreaded passive voice for a reason. To me, each project has its own feel; its own energy. Like a living thing. And it’s our job to tap into that energy.
Try this: Think of one of your works in progress. Really focus on it. How do you feel about it mentally? Emotionally? Do you feel a sense of possibility? A spark? A readiness to connect with it and move it forward, even in some small way?
Or do you feel resistance, like this one might be better put aside for the time being so you can work on something else?
Now how do you feel physically? I measure this by a sense of expansion and contraction in my solar plexus. When you think of this project, do you feel lightness and openness (this is the one!), or tightness and constriction (maybe not this one right now).
I go through each project and assess each one, paying attention to these feelings. Kind of like I’m opening the door to check on them. This all goes out the window, of course, if I’m meeting a deadline. Then I just have to plow through any resistance. But for example, I’m writing this blog post two weeks before it’s due, because I woke up and felt that niggle of “write meeee!” even though I had planned to work on something else this morning.
What time can I carve out for it?
This is a helpful re-frame for questions like: What do I have time for? and Where can I slot this in? The truth is, we’re all so busy and have so much going on, the only writing time we get is the time we proactively carve out for it.
Writing time, in my experience, doesn’t ever present itself. It has to be actively dug out of a busy schedule. So, each week and each night, I will look ahead and pen in blocks of space for works in progress. Some days it’s only a 15-minute block for a writing sprint in between calls, meetings and appointments. Other days it’s a 2-3-hour block for deep work.
But if I don’t commit to carving out time in advance, specifically for writing, other things will move in and take over that space.
What intention do I have for it?
Once I’ve identified the project that’s calling out for progress, I set an intention for it. Sometimes that intention is a short writing sprint where I set a timer, close all open tabs, turn off all notifications, and write nonstop, as much as I can, in the allotted minutes. Examples of other intentions include: Writing a thousand words, brainstorming titles, doing a revision, coming up with a more detailed secondary character, or putting together a bibliography.
Some days my intentions are things like securing photo permissions, organizing my research files, or lining up interviews with sources. The key to setting intentions, for me, is to make sure they’re do-able. Kind of like writing items on a to-do list that you know you can complete. If something is more of a stretch, I consider that a goal, rather than an intention. Goals are great too, but intentions, to me, are more manageable day-to-day.
I am sending you so much good energy for whichever project wants to be worked on, the amount of time you can carve out for it, and whatever intentions you decide to set for it!
Elisa Boxer is an Emmy and Murrow award winning journalist whose work has been featured in publications including The New York Times, Fast Company and Inc. magazine. She has reported for newspapers, magazines and TV stations, and has a passion for telling stories about people finding the courage to create change. She is the author of The Voice That Won the Vote, A Seat at the Table, and the forthcoming One Turtle's Last Straw. Elisa lives in Maine, and she has several more picture books on the way. Visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com/ .
Pre-Order Elisa's upcoming 2022 books, ONE TURTLE'S LAST STRAW coming in May, SPLASH! coming in July, and COVERED IN COLOR coming in August, at Print: A Bookstore and get pre-order bonuses like prints and stickers!
Guest Blog by Valerie Bolling
My husband and I set goals every year, as individuals and as a couple. In 2017, one of my goals was to explore the possibility of writing picture books. It wasn’t a SMART goal (more about that later), but it still propelled me forward.
That year I reached out to people I thought might be helpful to me in my “exploration.” I went to libraries and bookstores to do “research” – reading a myriad of children’s books and taking notes. I took a children’s writing class at Westport Writers Workshop where I now teach. I wrote and revised several stories. I even participated in a Twitter pitch, entered a contest, and sent out 16 query letters. Granted, that last sentence should be deleted. It was too early for me to take advantage of those opportunities and expect success. After all, I didn’t even have a critique group and hadn’t studied picture book structure and craft sufficiently. But I didn’t know that at the time.
My goals have become SMARTer over the years. A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Relevant, and Timely. Therefore, instead of my nebulous goal about exploring the picture book genre, I could have written a goal like: By March 31, I will read 100 picture books.
In addition to creating goals that are SMART, goals should have other components that lead to achievement.
1. Think broadly about what you want long-term, and then break that down into a smaller goal.
2. Name the specific steps you’ll take to reach your goal.
3. Be accountable to yourself and to someone else.
What’s most important is that your goals work for YOU. Here are some things to consider:
I have witnessed the power of setting goals. Not just setting them, but committing to them. That exploration goal in 2017 turned into the acquisition of my debut, LET’S DANCE!, in June 2018 and its release in March 2020. I’ve continued to set goals and, as a result, have two books releasing this year – TOGETHER WE RIDE (illus. Kaylani Juanita, Chronicle) in April and RIDE, ROLL, RUN (illus. Sabrena Khadija, Abrams) in October – and more on the way in 2023 and 2024.
My goal for this year is to write a chapter book series. I’m currently revising my manuscript for the first book, which I plan to share with my agent in March. What do you hope to accomplish this year, and what goals will you set to get there? I wish you all the best as you turn your goals into successes.
Guest Blog by Nancy Tandon
Hello and thank you to everyone at 24 Carrot Writing for hosting me on your blog during a very exciting time for me! After eleven years and close to 200 combined rejections across multiple manuscripts, my very first middle grade novel will be published tomorrow! This is especially rewarding for me since I thought I would be celebrating this accomplishment in the fall of 2017. Yes, you read that correctly. My book launch was delayed by five years.
Most 24 Carrot readers will be familiar with the concept of publishing being slow. But even insiders agree mine was one of the more slothy paths. What happened? How did I keep going? And how will you stay motivated on your journey?
I sent my first query letter, on 3/9/2010. I know the exact date because it was my 40th birthday. It was an underbaked picture book manuscript, and I addressed the letter To Whom It May Concern. Spoiler: I never heard back. But the important thing is that I was signaling to myself and the universe that I was ready to pursue publication in earnest.
Over the next several years, I did all the things. I joined SCBWI, became active in critique groups, went to conferences, read books in my genre, read literary blogs, and of course…even wrote from time to time. I was focused on learning the craft of writing picture books, while also plugging away at a longer piece that began to take the shape of a middle grade novel.
During this time, I continued to submit to agents, editors, magazines, and contests. As my little baby rejection pile grew, my belief that I would find success shrank. Then, in 2014, I learned that a selection from my middle grade novel had been awarded the Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship from NESCBWI. It was just enough encouragement to bolster my drive to keep working.
With the help of my critique group, I completed and revised that novel and in 2016, submitted it to a small publishing house. A few months later, things seemed to happen very quickly: an offer, a phone call, a book contract! I was thrilled! Still un-agented, I used the services of a lawyer who was familiar with literary contracts, and also educated myself using a book called The Writer’s Legal Guide by Kay Murray and Tad Crawford before signing. (I highly recommend this book whether you are agented or not.)
Everything looked great. Publication was set for fall 2017. I joined a debut group. This was happening!
There was a wrinkle. The small press had been acquired by a larger publisher. They were willing to take on my manuscript as part of the deal! I was relieved, happy, even excited about this chance to be published by a bigger house.
Publication was moved to 2018. I joined and became active in another debut group. This was happening!
After a year of working to negotiate a new contract (I had learned just enough from The Writer’s Legal Guide to know the first offer was not favorable to me), I still had not heard from my new editor. And the contract negotiations were spinning in circles. I found out that the second publisher had decided they were not moving forward with my manuscript. My heart sank. I had told everyone about this book deal. I had celebrated with champagne. And now, nothing.
Worse, I had to buy back the rights from the first publisher. (Which is completely on the up and up business-wise, by the way. And in truth, the editing done by that first house was worth the cost. But still, it was painful.) I was embarrassed, disheartened, and very close to giving up all together.
Luckily, past me (the one who’d had a book contract and was all excited about kidlit) had signed up for two well-known New England spring conferences that year, NESCBWI and Whispering Pines. I forced myself to attend both.
After the New England conference, I earnestly studied the list of agents and editors and sent my work back out there. It felt like I was shouting into the wind, but at least I could still say I hadn’t given up. Not fully, not yet. Even though my heart did very much want me to.
The second conference, Whispering Pines, included a one-on-one consultation with Rachel Orr from Prospect Agency, who represented (among other amazing authors) a writing friend I’d met through the 2018 debut group (which again I was now no longer a part of – cue tears). That friend, Samantha Clark (The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast; Arrow), alerted Rachel ahead of time that she’d be meeting me and gave her the heads up about my manuscript’s twisty past.
That meeting did not result in an offer of representation from Rachel. (I know! I wanted the story to go that way, too!) But, Rachel passed my work to a new agent at Prospect and I was agented at last!!
Ready for another plot twist? Meanwhile…
Karen Boss, an editor from Charlesbridge, had gotten my query and read my fist chapters. She asked to read the full manuscript. There were other in-house readers, and a presentation at their acquisitions meeting. I hoped for the best and braced for the worst.
Then in September 2018, it came. An email that made me shriek and cause a scene in the coffee shop where I was writing with a friend. Re: Offer…
This time, I didn’t have to negotiate on my own, or spend money on a lawyer. My agent at the time, Emma Sector, made sure my interests were represented while also easing the process of getting back my rights to the work.
Everything looked great. Publication was set for 2021. I joined a third debut group. This was happening!
Due to circumstances at the publishing house, the date of publication got pushed back to 2022.
I’m not embarrassed to tell you I cried. However, my disappointment was strongly tempered by the fact that in fall 2019, my agent sold my second novel (The Ghost of Spruce Point, coming from Aladdin in fall 2022) within a week of being on submission!
And then of course 2020 and 2021 happened, which weren’t great years to debut anyway (when you can, please show love to writers who did debut in the past two years!!). During this time I also navigated an in-agency switch as Emma left agenting for a new adventure, and I gratefully landed in Charlotte Wenger’s web (Prospect Agency).
And now: I have held my first novel in my hands. And tomorrow, it will wing out into the world to have an adventure all its own. I’m revising my second and have seen amazing cover art.
Friends, it was a long road from desperation to celebration. And if you have read this far, you might be a person who is in the exact position I was in. One breath and one keystroke away from giving up. Please consider this a sign from the universe for you to keep going.
Give it time.
Give it space.
Don’t give up!
Nancy Tandon is a former speech/language pathologist and author of two middle grade novels, The Way I Say It (Charlesbridge, 1/18/22) and The Ghost of Spruce Point (Aladdin, 8/2/22). Her short story, Finders Keepers, was published with Heinemann for the educational market. Nancy lives in Connecticut with her family and is a fan of popcorn, reading, and literacy outreach programs of all kinds. To find out more, or to get in touch with Nancy go to www.nancytandon.com, Twitter @NancyTandon , Instagram @_NancyTandon_, or Goodreads.
Order a signed copy of THE WAY I SAY IT.
7 Tips to Set Up a Rocking Blog Tour
By Kelly Carey
If you are reading this blog, then you already know the benefits of perusing great blogs as a reader, but blogs can also be a tremendous help when you are trying to market your book. Two of my writing friends are launching amazing books soon and they asked me for advice on setting up a blog tour. I’m going to share that advice with you too!
Don’t have a book contract yet? That’s okay. Read the tips and advice and learn how you can position yourself now to be ready to send your book out on an amazing blog tour when you do have a publishing date!
#1 Your KidLit Community Is Flush with Wonderful Bloggers
The authentic time and energy you have put into building your KidLit community likely means you know a few KidLit bloggers. Have you met authors at conferences who have blogs? Have you met bloggers at book signings? At retreats? Those relationships are the best place to start when deciding to reach out to bloggers for spots. Your KidLit friends are going to be excited about your upcoming success and if they have a blog, they will be happy to boost your news on their site.
Don’t have any blogging contacts? Don’t worry, it’s okay. Ask your critique partners if they have any connections. Reach out to the relationships you have in the KidLit community and ask if anyone could introduce you to bloggers they know.
For those of you who are pre-published, work on building relationships now so that you will have a long and comfortable list of bloggers ready to trumpet out news of your debut!
#2 Offer Relevant Content to the Blog
If you are asking for space on a blog, you need to honor the theme, format, and audience of the blog. The blogs that will host you are those that see you offering good content. Make sure you have read the blog and that you have a clear idea of how you and your book fit the blog’s structure and how you and your book could be featured.
For example, does the blog routinely run interviews with debut authors, like Lindsay Ward’s CritterLit blog? Offer an interview. Does the blog feature authors with a unique hook, like Nancy Tupper Ling’s Author Acrostic blogs? Offer to write a poem. If, like 24 Carrot Writing, the blog offers tips and advice to writers, offer to write a helpful post on a relevant topic as Cathy Ballou Mealy did for 24 Carrot Writing here.
Know how the blog handles guest authors, debut books, and cover reveals and be specific in your request. A straight ask to “please review my book,” is not the best method. Leave that type of request to the publicist at your publishing house. At 24 Carrot we never review books on request. That’s not our format.
The best way to know how you can fit into a particular blog is to be a regular subscriber of the blogs you love and might want to see yourself on someday. If you are pre-published, be a patron of your favorite blogs. Comment, retweet and repost your dream blogs and you’ll be ready to fit into their format when the time comes.
#3 Be an Easy Guest
Many bloggers are busy wearing multiple hats and love finding guest bloggers who provide everything needed to assemble a great guest spot.
Make sure your request to be featured on the blog is easy.
In your initial email offer up the following:
Once you have a spot make sure you:
Even if the blogger hasn’t asked for these things, make it easy for them to pop this information into a post. If you have provided it and it is readily available, chances are you’ll see it in the post.
#4 Timing Can be Flexible
If you are setting up a blog tour for your launch, you’ll want blogs to post ideally the month prior to your launch and the month of your launch. This will create that wonderful buzz you want to generate and hopefully drive preorders as well as post launch purchases. Many blogs schedule their posts three to six months out, so it’s a good idea to start asking for spots four to seven months before your launch month.
Worried you’re too late? You’re not. Bloggers are always looking for great content and sometimes have spots in their schedule to fill. They might love a last-minute booking. And remember, if the only spots left are months after your launch, a post at any time can still help readers find your book. Suggest a date tied to the theme of your book, even if it is a year after your launch, it will still help readers find your book.
#5 Don’t Rely Just on the Publicists at Your Publishing House
The publicists at your publishing house will reach out to bloggers and reviewers on your behalf. But publicists are busy folks and if you have personal contacts, they will be happy that you reached out. If your publicist sees you working hard to promote your book, they will be happy to work hard alongside you.
Your publicity team is never going to be upset if you have already secured spots on blogs - go for it!
#6 Don’t Worry About Over Saturation
Marketing stats say a person will need to encounter your book 7-10 times before they decide to purchase it. That means they need to hear a friend talk about it, see it on social media, read about it in a blog, and/or spot it in a bookstore a handful of times before a purchase might be made.
Every blog about your book is a chance for a reader to find and hopefully purchase your book. Every blog gives you a reason to repost and retweet things on social media that will keep your book news buzzing.
Remember, not every reader will see every blog you appear on. You want to maximize your visibility. When it comes to a blog tour, you want lots of venues.
#7 Asking for Group Spots
If you are in a Marketing Group that’s wonderful! If you are not check out this post about the benefits of group marketing and how to find a group here.
I reached out to bloggers that I knew for my Soaring 20s Picture Book marketing group, and I have to say, asking on behalf of others was a bit easier than asking just for myself. Other members of our group did the same. Many bloggers, offered to let members of our group contact them individually while others opted to host us as a group. Either way, we were grateful for the opportunity. Make sure you take advantage of these offers when they come your way.
All of these tips are made easier if you are already a follower of the blog. While you are awaiting your first or next contract, spend time connecting with the KidLit community and be a regular reader of your favorite blogs.
When you ask them to support your marketing efforts, you will be glad you did!
Announcing Book Pick Summer!
There is nothing more decadent than a summertime read.
As I kid, I loved the freedom from textbooks and school assigned reading when I could browse a bookshelf and select whatever caught my fancy. We all have favorite spots to read but, in the vacation laced days of summer, I especially loved flipping the pages with smore sticky fingers by the shadowy light of a camp lantern or diving into the pages with my toes in beach sand and waves for an audience. With these gleeful moments in mind, 24 Carrot Writing is embarking on Book Pick Summer!
Every month, we’ll be posting some of our favorite books in the Book Pick section of our website. Join us for Book Pick Summer and add your own favorite reads to our Facebook page.
Guest blog by Sarah Jane Abbott
As a writer myself, I understand the struggle of trying to figure out when a story is “finished.” Is it ready to submit? Or does it just need a few more months of tinkering before it’s ready to be extracted from the bowels of my laptop? The truth is, it’s easy to make little adjustments to a manuscript forever and never send it out. There’s a fine line between putting thoughtful, thorough revision into your manuscript and completely overworking it. So how is one to decide when it’s time to stop tinkering and start querying?
Take A Step Back
One of my best tips is to take a step back for perspective. It’s easy to get so close to a manuscript that objectivity is impossible; if you’ll excuse the cliché, you can’t see the forest for the trees. So put the manuscript away and work on something else. Try not to even think about it for several weeks. Then, when you come back to it, it should feel fresher and you may be able to see it in a way you couldn’t before. Maybe you’ll realize it needs more revision after all. Or maybe, after being away from it, you’ll see that it’s stronger and more polished than you remembered.
Picture books are a unique and special form in literature in that they are often read aloud. I always suggest that authors read their work out loud before finalizing it. This will help you see numerous things: Is the language colorful and engaging? In a rhyming text, do the rhyme, rhythm, and meter flow naturally? Does the pacing move along quickly enough to keep a child’s attention, while allowing time for the plot to develop? If all of these things feel good during read aloud, it’s a positive sign that the manuscript is polished.
Get Feedback from Critique Partners
Another helpful tool to gauge readiness for submission can be input from a trusted critique partner or group. It’s one thing to have a non-writer family member or friend read your work; you’ll often be met with sincere, but vague feedback like, “this is really great!” Peers who are familiar with the world of writing for children specifically will be able to give targeted, constructive feedback on your work. Your critique partners can give their honest opinions about the readiness of the manuscript for submission and, if they think it still needs work, their thoughts on how it can be revised.
The possible pitfall, of course, is taking so much feedback from so many critique partners that you lose your own voice or intention. Maybe you’ve followed several different suggestions and ended up with so many different versions of your manuscript you barely remember the story you were trying to write in the first place. Maybe you’ve written both rhyming and non-rhyming versions, both first and third person narration, in past and present tense. It gets confusing! Or maybe you’ve tinkered and tinkered and even though you think it’s a strong manuscript, you just can’t seem to make yourself press send on any queries.
If you feel stuck, maybe it’s time to bring in a professional. A freelance editor can use their experience and industry knowledge to give you an expert opinion on your manuscript’s readiness for submission as well as what areas need revision. They can read multiple versions and tell you which one they think is the strongest, or help you pull together the best pieces from different iterations of the manuscript to make the heart of your story shine through.
Most of all, the important thing to remember if you’re thinking you’re ready to query is: it’s a big accomplishment just to be at this point! So take a breath, take a step back, and read through that manuscript one more time. Pressing send can be scary, but once you’ve put in the work to polish up a story you’re confident in, it’s an incredibly satisfying feeling to send it out into the world.
Sarah Jane Abbott is an experienced editor who has spent eight years making books for children. She got her start at Simon & Schuster’s Paula Wiseman Books and Beach Lane Books, where she had the pleasure of working with many wonderful authors and illustrators including Samantha M. Clark, Samantha Cotterill, Scott Magoon, Anita Lobel, Alice B. McGinty, and Diane Goode. In 2020, she established Sarah Jane Abbott Editorial, and works with authors and publishers on a wide range of projects. Visit her at sarahjaneabbotteditorial.com or get in touch at email@example.com.
Illustrators from The Soaring 20's PB debut group have joined us to celebrate The 24 Carrot Writing Illustrator Bonanza! This tenacious and talented group has spent 2020 launching debut books in the midst of a pandemic!
They share how the use art to capture just the right mood and tone in a story, how they hone their craft, and what keeps their skills fresh.
Welcome to the Illustrators of The Soaring 20's!
Let's start at the beginning of the illustration process. When you first receive a manuscript to illustrate or you complete your own manuscript, what is the first thing you do?
When the sketch dummy was approved. It was time to once again panic paint. I painted digitally mainly because it allowed for many, many, many, more mistakes.
And there were many.
I started first by painting page one, then two, then three (do you notice the pattern). For me, this was a mistake. I had to back up and think stylistically how I wanted this to look with color, I needed to define my color palettes, and I had to pick (and stick) with a set of digital brushes for the book prior to painting the book.
I ended up creating four digital palettes. One each for Goat Girl and Merle, one for the backgrounds, and another for supporting characters. My Photoshop document was set-up as spreads (20”x10" + bleed) in folders with sub-folders for individual pages/panels/spots. While my document was actual size, I worked at a higher than needed resolution for layout flexibility/adjustments. I also had a template layer showing my text placement for each page as I painted.
Instead of painting a complete single page, I jumped through the pages by blocking in color first for Merle, then Goat Girl, then backgrounds/other characters. This allowed me to stay focused especially early one with character finishes - Ideally I would have done full character/environment studies prior to painting
- Greg Barrington is the author/illustrator of COW BOY IS NOT A COWBOY (HarperCollins, October 20, 2020)
Is it easier or harder to illustrate someone else’s story, versus a story you’ve written yourself?
story is that you care so much about this story you’ll want everything to be perfect, thinking that everything in this story os a reflection of your taste and ability - but the problem is perfectionism kills creativity. Small breaks and critique groups can help during those moments of self-doubt. Though the reward of publishing my very own story makes it all worth it!
- Isabella Kung is the author/illustrator of No Fuzzball! (Orchard Books, August 4, 2020)
What does the revision process look like for an illustrator?
When you are not working on an assignment, what do you do to grow your craft/art?
I have probably learned the most about the craft of writing/illustrating picture books from webinars—particularly the ones offered by StorytellerAcademy.com and from regional SCBWI chapters. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from top-notch authors/illustrators, art directors, editors, and agents all from the comfort of my own home and for a relatively low cost. I find they often give me the confidence and/or inspiration to go just a little bit outside my comfort zone and try out new story structures, formats or techniques.
- Abi Cushman is the author/illustrator of SOAKED (Viking Books for Young Readers, July 14, 2020)
To learn more about The Soaring 20's Picture Book group please visit them here.
Guest interview of illustrator Qing Zhuang
Often there is a cloak of mystery surrounding the relationship between an author and an illustrator. When illustrator Qing Zhuang signed on to illustrate How Long Is Forever?, I did what every good author is instructed to do. I sat down and zipped my lip. The idea, and it is a smart one, is to allow the illustrator freedom within their creative process without being hampered or interrupted by the pesky author.
It was hard. And I was grateful when the editor sent me sketches and asked for my feedback. But I wonder, what did that process feel like from Qing’s perspective? Let’s ask.
Qing, I’m so happy that you are joining us at 24 Carrot Writing as we celebrate our Annual Illustrator’s Month. Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming an illustrator?
Sure! I studied illustration in college and spent many years afterwards trying to improve my work. I went to SCWBI conferences making incremental progress. I had a lot of growing to do, personally, practically and artistically. So even though I had some good foundational skills and recognition from teachers in my school years, my work was all over the place. It took a long time to figure things out when I graduated. Meanwhile, all my talented friends were getting cool art jobs, awards, reasonable income, name recognition and not horrible dates! Dang! Sometimes I’d cry on the bus after getting yelled at by some grumpy and condescending customer at my retail job. This is not what I’d imagined when I won the children’s version of the Ezra Jack Keats bookmaking contest in 6th grade and decided I was going to become a great writer-illustrator! Alas, I marched on in my tortoise pace.
Eventually my work improved and I tightened up my portfolio by taking out work that didn’t fit and focusing on a singular style as best as I could. The road here was not super glamorous and not without doubters so it takes a lot of conviction within myself that this is what I must accomplish in this lifetime. I took my portfolio to the NJ SCBWI conference and met Karen Boss our Charlesbridge editor there. The rest is history!
A few months after Charlesbridge bought How Long Is Forever?, I received an email from editor Karen Boss letting me know the Art Department had identified three potential illustrators for the book. I went into major cyber stalk mode. All three were fantastic, but the drawings on your website had me convinced that you were the best pick. Did you know I wrote a four page email back with pics from your website as proof? How did you first hear of the project? And what made you sign on?
I wish I could read why you liked my work best out of the three! The competition is SO fierce! I signed on because of how simple but deep it is. This is a story that can be as sweet or thought provoking as you want it to be. I just remember gazing up at the sky as a child getting lost pondering the nature of time and forever-ness.
“How Long is Forever?” Can spur such a philosophical discussion with young ones but it can also be about the down to earth experiences of familial love and the creature comforts we share with the people we love.
It can be about losing a grandparent. When I showed the manuscript to my now husband, he started tearing up. He said it reminded him of his own grandfather who used to make him Chinese pancakes and that was his favorite memory that he will keep forever of this person whom he loved so much. I knew that this story can potentially mean something special to each reader so I was excited to be a part of it!
Qing, I'll send you that email. But for the readers here, I'll share a few of the illustrations Qing had on her web site that made me fall in love with her talent! Here is a reason number one on why illustrates should set up a website, make it easy to find, and populate it with your work!
What was the first thing you did when you received the manuscript to illustrate? What was your process?
I made many thumbnail sketches, researched reference photos and did character designs. I based the farm on the Queens County Farm as well as the farm at Manhattan Country School, where I teach. They have a fantastic farm program and children make wonderful memories at its farm in the Catskills every year.
One of the exciting things about working on this project is the opportunity to try to honor the joy of spending time in the farm and in nature. In this age where many children spend hours doing virtual farming and building in a video game I think it’s really special to have a book that explores just running free and asking questions and investigating out in the world.
But as a city girl who also spends too much time online, I needed to do a lot of research on things like tree species and tractors and which way a weathervane blows (the arrow points against the source of the wind). It took many tries to get it right. This could be said about every stage from beginning to end. Sometimes the illustrations didn’t fit the layout or just something was off with the pacing and I had to scrap it and do it over! I am so grateful to have the patience of the editors because the book really improved from every version.
My manuscript did not have illustration notes and aside from the editor asking me for “minimal” feedback on your illustrations, we didn’t connect until after the book was sent to print. I might have sent you a quick “you’re doing great, keep it up” pep talk email but I wonder what direction you got from Karen Boss and/or the Charlesbridge Art Department.
There were many discussions about the layout of the story because ultimately the words and their legibility are paramount. So depending on where they decided to put the text the whole composition and even perspective of the scene had to change. There were also discussions about the type of tree that would be in the book.
The character designs also took a couple of tries. I made many different potential Masons and the editors picked the one we know and love pretty easily. But I had to redo all my designs of grandma and grandpa because they looked too old fashioned. Somewhere in me I am still pouting that I wasn’t able to do the sweet and chubby grandparents in my initial sketches because it’s kind of my nature to be sappy and nostalgic. However, I’m also glad I was challenged to make more contemporary looking grandparents, especially with our very hip and artsy grandma design who I based off of my college art professor. I also tried to make grandpa kind of cool looking so I ditched the overalls and gave him a jean jacket and nice shoes. Someone said he looks like Ernest Hemingway. My friends make up stories about how they met as young artsy hippies and decided to retire at a farm where the grandma makes pottery and takes photos of pastoral landscapes.
Anyway, many changes were made at all stages of the book. Anytime anything changes it affects the whole book. For example, there were these cute bird feeders hanging on the house porch but they were blocking the text, so I had to edit them out of all the pages. Another example is the editors wanted me to depict teeth. Stylistically, I rarely drew teeth so at the last minute I had to photoshop in the teeth of all the characters. Haha! Now you know how the sausage is made.
It is important for all children to be able to recognize themselves in the books they read. The manuscript never offered a physical description of the character and you smartly took the opportunity to present Mason with darker skin and his grandparents with light skin. Can you talk about that decision?
I just want different types of families to be portrayed because whatever we see in the media gets legitimized and embraced. It’s wonderful now to see so many books and other kinds of media beginning to embrace a diversity of experiences. In the school I work at, there are so many students who are adopted, from a mixed or blended family, or simply don’t look like their caretakers for some other reason. I also have friends and professors and colleagues who are in such families. I am excited that a sweet book about love and timelessness can reflect them too. I mean why not? Teachers and parents now are so good at discussing questions about different families if they do come up. For my character designs of Mason, I featured many different looks, actually referencing some children I know. It’s just how I work, I don’t like to just make stuff up, I tend to care about it more if it is based on things and people I know in real life.
You recently signed with an agent! Congratulations! How did that happen? And how is it changing how you are working? What are you working on now?
Thank you! For the past couple of years different literary agents have reached out to me even before I had a real dummy ready to present to them. I knew that getting an agent is a long term commitment and didn’t want to rush and find someone I don’t feel right with. So I worked on How Long is Forever? and didn’t think too much about representation because I wanted to focus on my debut book!
After the book was sent off to the printers, I started to read some interviews of the different agents I had been acquainted with but they didn’t seem to fit. At a portfolio review, the reviewer suggested that I query Wendi Gu of Sanford Greenburger Associates, so I wrote her name down and read her online interviews. Those interviews resonated with me. Then I saw her speak at a virtual panel and found her to be very professional and warm. I still felt like I wasn’t ready to reach out because I am a chicken. Then an editor at Holiday House who I had met a year ago emailed me asking me if I have finally written a story for them. I had a dummy in progress about grocery shopping with my mom which I sent anyway to see if there would be any feedback. To my surprise they enjoyed it and offered a deal! I really wanted an agent to help me negotiate this time so I reached out to Wendi and fortunately she replied right away! We had a few Zoom meetings and now I can feel very glamorous and tell people to contact my agent if they want to work with me!
Qing Zhuang is an illustrator and elementary educator based in New York City. She holds a BFA in Illustration from Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, and a MA in teaching from School of Visual Arts, New York. How Long Is Forever? is her debut as an illustrator. She is represented by Wendi Gu of Sanford Greenburger Associates. Qing's debut as both author and illustrator, Rainbow Shopping will launch from Holiday House in the summer of 2022. To learn more about Qing, visit her website at www.qingthings.com.
To purchase a copy of How Long Is Forever? click here.
Kelly Carey presents a guest interview with Jordan Standridge, Marketing Associate, Charlesbridge Publishing
Prior to the release of my debut picture book, many colleagues had warned me that the marketing work for my book would fall squarely and heavily on my shoulders. That was a bit terrifying! I was new to this rodeo and the marketing bulls were rippling with scary muscles and fuming with bad smoky breath. I dove into research, determined to be a marketing bronco buster, and then along came Jordan Standridge, Marketing Associate at Charlesbridge Publishing. And suddenly, I was no longer alone.
I have been incredibly relieved to find that Jordan has proved to be both a partner and champion in marketing my book – which is really our book! I’ve invited Jordan to join us for 24 Carrot Writing’s July Marketing Month to explain how authors can help market their book, what they can expect from their publishing house, and how to have a good marketing partnership with your publisher.
Thanks for joining us Jordan!
First, can you explain your role at Charlesbridge and how you interact with authors, booksellers, and influencers and …. well, who else do you work with?
Thanks for having me, Kelly! It’s been such a pleasure working with you on How Long is Forever?.
As the Marketing Associate for Charlesbridge, I work closely with authors. So really, anything that falls under that umbrella: I’m in touch with indie bookstores across the country, and help get events set up; I submit authors and their books for festivals, if timing and fit are there, and organize the planning leading up to it; I reach out to various outlets/influencers for publicity opportunities, and mailing out advance/complimentary copies; I pitch upcoming books at bookseller regionals/conferences, too! Basically, if you’re an author with book releasing with us, we’re going to be working together.
Many debut authors don’t know where to begin in marketing their book. What are some essential first steps debut authors should take in preparing for a book release?
As much as I am going to help get your book out there in the world, it’s so helpful to have an author to work with that is willing to put in the work, right there with me. So how can a debut author be a partner to market their book?
The more we have worked together, the braver I’ve become in asking for marketing help. For example, I came up with some classroom activity ideas to go along with the book, but I couldn’t make them look professional. I reached out to you, and the Charlesbridge team designed a spiffy looking activity guide to accompany the book. I’ve also reached out to ask if Charlesbridge would supply books for giveaway campaigns – you did! What sort of support should authors feel comfortable asking for? What support do publishers want to give? And what makes the marketing partnership between an author and publisher work?
I think the most successful marketing partnership between author and publisher is when it can be a more collaborative experience. If you, the author, have relevant kid lit/book subject contacts that would help promote the book, tell us — we’d send out copies. Are you already tight with certain bookstores, and have the event coordinators’ contact info? Pass that along. And yeah, you had an idea for a tie-in activity guide that you would then be able to use at all your events. The publisher sees the value in that material, so of course we helped bring it to life! If you have a reasonable ask, that would help sell copies of the book, the publisher will try to help make it happen.
I’ve been thrilled that you have reached out to bookstores to find me virtual gigs. What helps you get an invitation for an author? What can an author do to help?
Those essential first steps I mentioned earlier are the building blocks for this question, too.
Kelly, you’ve been not only willing, but excited, to help promote your book! Do you remember our early conversations around author events (pre-Covid-19), and you essentially said "I’ll drive to any bookstore events you set up in MA and the states that touch it." Haha. That’s dedication. I knew then that you would be awesome to work with. While I don’t expect that level of determination, I admire the spirit, and it was nice to know you gave me the green light to really go for it. When events were starting to go virtual, you adapted, and even learned all of the various platforms that bookstores threw our way. You also worked on your presentation (you had a couple, depending on what the situation called for), even offering a meaningful and easy craft kids at home could make, so it definitely made my job easier.
When you’re a debut, bookstores don’t have a backlist/sales to consider when making event decisions. However, if you’re putting in the extra work, I can better attempt to paint a picture in an event coordinator’s mind on what an event with this author will look like, what we can offer, and how that would be a draw for their community’s families. So, in short, be willing to open up your schedule and prepare!
Guest post by Author Carrie Finison
Please join me in my DeLorean as we travel back in time…
On June 7, 2019, I woke up with BIG plans for the day. My 8th grader would be graduating from middle school on June 11. My 4th grader would be in school for only another week after that. Mama had a mile-long to-do list to accomplish before the busy, distracting days of summer arrived!
But a brief Twitter check stopped me in my tracks. #NationalDoughnutDay was trending. How could I, author of a soon-to-be-released picture book entitled DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, have forgotten about this important national holiday? As I scanned through the tweets in my feed, one thing became clear. People like to talk about doughnuts. A LOT! It was a festive atmosphere and I wanted to jump in with both feet.
At that point, I had officially been on Twitter for six years, since 2013, but I rarely used it. I had joined only to participate in pitch contests when I was seeking an agent. I didn’t spend much time tweeting and didn’t have a large following. But one of my goals in advance of my July 2020 book release was to grow my connections on Twitter. And I wanted to do so in a genuine way, not by participating in many of the “follow fests” that I saw happening. Without knowing the words for it at the time, I was seeking “audience engagement” rather than numbers.
Normally, I’m a planner. I second-, third-, and fourth-guess most of the things I do. But right then, I needed to get two kids to school and get on with my day. With no time to play guessing games, I posted the following:
Then I packed up the kids and left the house.
I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe some fun pictures of doughnuts to fill my news feed? Maybe a few more followers? I was pretty surprised when I came home, checked Twitter, and found over a dozen responses to my tweet. As I started responding to them, more responses came. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to share their favorite doughnut.
I tossed my plans – whatever they were – aside and spent most of the morning on Twitter. At some point, I realized my plan to offer a critique needed some parameters, and posted a quick update:
Responses slowly tapered into the next day, as Twitter moved on from #NationalDoughnutDay. When the dust settled, I took a peek at Twitter Analytics (something I’d only just discovered) and found that, in the short timeframe of the giveaway, I had gained over 120 new followers and my tweets had earned a total of about 29,000 impressions. Maybe that’s not a lot for some people, but at the time for me, that meant a 10% jump in my followers. And, most importantly (to me) these were followers who genuinely wanted to engage with me, and who might later be interested in reading my book.
So what were my takeaways? There were some practical things I learned. Keeping track of a lot of responses all at once is tough. The logistics of doing a fair drawing from retweets can be a little complicated. Tweeting on a hashtag that’s already trending (#NationalDoughnutDay) can greatly boost your visibility. But, just as with making a delicious batch of doughnuts, some of the intangible lessons were more important:
1.Don’t rush the doughnuts! Engagement takes time.
You want followers who are interested in you and want to engage, and that means you need to take the time to reciprocate. Offer something of value and people will respond - and that doesn’t necessarily mean monetary value like a critique or a book. I think people had fun that day and valued the interaction as much as (if not more than) the chance at a critique.
2.Just add sprinkles! It’s more fun when you have fun.
This particular giveaway didn’t feel like “work” or a drain on my time because I was engaging with people over a topic we all loved – doughnuts!
3.Don’t overmix your batter! Don’t overthink it.
Probably a life lesson for me, but I’m not sure this would have gone as well as it did, if I had spent time planning it in advance. For good or bad, Twitter is a very spontaneous medium and that can work to your advantage.
Just to quickly illustrate an example of #3, let’s jump back in the DeLorean and zoom forward to 2020. This year, I planned a big preorder giveaway for DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, scheduled to launch on National Doughnut Day – June 5. However, when the day came we were in the midst of major social upheaval and protests against racism and police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and…well, it didn’t feel like a good moment for self promotion or talk of something frivolous like doughnuts. So, just as spontaneously as I had jumped into the National Doughnut Day celebrations in 2019, I pulled out of them in 2020, and waited for a different moment to announce my giveaway.
Twitter can keep you on your toes, for sure, but keeping things spontaneous and real will help you grow your audience in a genuine way – and have fun while you’re doing it!
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