Guest post by Cathy Ballou Mealey
My thanks to 24 Carrot Writing for hosting a guest post upon the release of MAKE MORE S’MORES (Sleeping Bear Press, 2023), a new picture book illustrated by Ariel Landy and written by me!
S’mores are a sugary sweet upgrade from the puckery pickles featured in my previous post about picture book dialogue. But the real reason I wrote about s’mores is that my earliest concept was a mathematics book.
Caveat: I am not a math person. Basic math, sure! But I still grimace when recalling the statistics courses required for my college major.
So, why math? S’mores were an enticing way to introduce math skills to my kids with a delicious reward at the end. ONE marshmallow plus TWO graham crackers plus THREE chocolate rectangles equals one perfectly proportioned, traditional s’more.
I counted, calculated and composed a story filled with hungry forest friends and mountains of marshmallows increasing exponentially. Cute! said my agent, Please revise it and take out all the numbers.
At first I resisted. The math was the whole point, I pleaded. I made a dummy to demonstrate the page turns. I was about to dig in my heels when…
The pandemic began. I began to walk daily, for miles. I pondered how to fix the s’more story as I plodded along. That’s when I found, to paraphrase Gloria Estefan, The rhythm is gonna get you!
Roasted, toasted. Sweet treat. Gooey, chewy. Share, bear. Each footfall reinforced the rhythm of rhyming word pairs that popped into my mind. But no, no, no. Write in rhyme? A picture book crime! I re-read the wisdom of Josh Funk and Renee LaTulippe among others, determined not to fall into the writing in rhyme trap.
Still, I had to jot down a few lines that were stuck in my head…
Day by day, I revised a phrase or searched for a synonym to build a new story with rhyming lines but no math. Good! said my agent, Please make the bears nicer. More walking and revising before it went out on submission. Sweet! said my editor, Let’s make it a bit tighter. I was now on my third pair of sneakers, but confident that pounding the pavement would bring me answers!
Talented illustrator Ariel Landy was probably not marching for miles as she brought the hungry bears, busy raccoon and sly squirrels to life in our story. She’s created an enchanting, flower filled forest where furry friends cozy up and enjoy s’more after s’more on a beautiful dusky purple evening. Perfection!
Will lacing up your kicks help you revise a rhyming story or find an irresistible beat in your prose? Maybe - it worked for me, for this story. Trust in Gloria: The rhythm is gonna get you!
Cathy Ballou Mealey is a scone lover and author of WHEN A TREE GROWS, SLOTH AND SQUIRREL IN A PICKLE, and MAKE MORE S’MORES. She has planted acorns, pickled cucumbers, and toasted marshmallows but spends most of her time writing picture books north of Boston where she lives with her family.
To find out more, or get in touch with Cathy:
by Kelly Carey
An accurate way to track the sales of your book are through royalty statements. But those statements often come only twice a year, and you might be itching to see how your book baby is doing much more frequently than that. There are few unscientific ways to take a little peek at how your book is doing out in the world of readers. Here are a few I check daily - I mean occasionally.
Warning: You need to assess your mood before you search through any of these sites. If an unkind comment from a reviewer will have you in a hedgehog-ball on the couch, best to wait for your royalty statement. But if you’ve tested your skin for the day and found it acceptably thick, dive in!
Yes, we all disparage the big online giant and prefer the indie bookstore down the street, but since Amazon exists, we might as well use it to see how our book is fairing. There are a few indicators on Amazon that you can peruse. Peek at the book’s star rating and overall number of ratings at the top of the listing, then scroll down and read any reviews. It can be fun to keep track of how many readers have left reviews. But, please, read the good reviews multiple times and never read the unfavorable or unkind comments. You can only care about the folks who loved your book!
At the bottom of your book’s Amazon listing under the header Product Details you can see your book’s Best Seller Ranking and where it ranks in the categories Amazon has assigned to it. If your book hits a top tier of these rankings, it can earn a special orange banner.
Finally, I always get happy when a notice pops up from Amazon saying something along the lines of “Only 8 in stock (more on the way).” I love knowing that more copies are being ordered and on their way to the Amazon warehouse.
Like Amazon, Goodreads uses a reader collected rating system that not only shows you an overall rating out of 5 but allows you to view details of how each reviewer rated the book. You can also find detailed reviews here.
Along the right side of your book’s Goodreads page, you can also see what other books your readers are enjoying and you can peek at the bookshelves readers have selected for your book. It’s especially fun when you find that your discerning readers are also enjoying books that you esteem.
Barnes & Noble
Much like Goodreads and Amazon, Barnes & Noble allows folks to rate and review books on their website. As a result, you can visit your book’s page on Barnes & Noble and see its overall rating as well as view and read individual reviews from readers.
Edelweiss+ is an online platform used by booksellers and librarians to get information to help them sell, discover, and order new titles. You can sign up for a free account and check out your book’s entry. You will see reviews from booksellers, librarians and fellow authors and you can also peek at comp titles, reviews, and recommended marketing plans. Your bio and website should be listed here. It’s a good idea to make sure the information here is accurate. If you notice any issues, contact your publisher.
WorldCat is a global catalog and search engine for library items around the world. You can visit www.WorldCat.org and go to your book’s page. On this page you can view all the different libraries that have a copy of your book in their collection. It's like playing an author version of Flat Stanley when you get to see all the places your book has traveled. You might be tickled to see that patrons in places like Hot Springs, Arkansas, or Anchorage, Alaska and Chicago, Illinois can all find your book on their library shelves. WorldCat also provides the Goodreads reviews of your book.
This is my favorite. I log into my local library’s online catalog. This allows me to see all the local libraries that have my book on their shelves and more importantly, I can see if my book is currently checked out. There is a wonderful thrill when you see that your book has been checked out of a library a few towns over and you wonder if a little reader chose it for their bedtime story last night. Or maybe, they are sitting on the couch right now enjoying your words.
You wrote your book to be read. Take a peek at a few of these places and take heart in knowing that readers near and far are indeed enjoying your work.
Then open a fresh page and get going writing the next one!
Living for the Lightning Bolt - Kirsten W. Larson
My book with illustrator Katherine Roy, THE FIRE OF STARS (Chronicle Books), is a double read aloud, sharing the life story of astronomer Cecilia Payne, told alongside the process of star formation. The book parallels the kindling of Cecilia Payne's own curiosity and her scientific career with the process of a star's birth, from mere possibility in an expanse of space to an eventual, breathtaking explosion of light.
Cecilia lived her scientific life in pursuit of the thrill of discovery versus fame or fortune. She first felt that thrill as a young girl, when she figured out all on her own why a flower was shaped like a bee (to trick the bees to mate with it and pick up pollen). For her, that feeling of understanding was electric and alluring enough to help her persevere through years of befuddlement as she searched for scientific breakthroughs.
I felt such a kinship with Cecilia when I read this, as I feel exactly the same way about writing. I can labor for years in the dark on a single story idea. I try writing it different ways using various structures, voices, and points of view. And then, just when I’m about to throw up my hands in frustration, it all comes together in a lightning bolt of insight when I discover my draft.
I live for the moment when a draft finally comes together, and I feel I’ve got it just right. And what I’ve learned from experience and from studying scientists like Cecilia is that you can’t force the break through. You will never know when it’s going to happen. You just have to stay present with the work even when you want to give up. And then, when you least expect it (in the shower, on a walk, or while doing dishes), it all comes together.
Working Together Is Better - Lindsay H. Metcalf
Collaboration is my secret sauce for breakthroughs.
This is true of both the poetry anthologies that I’ve created with Jeanette Bradley and Keila V. Dawson — first NO VOICE TOO SMALL: Fourteen Young Americans Making History (Charlesbridge, 2020), and now, as of March 14, the companion title, NO WORLD TOO BIG: Young People Fighting Global Climate Change.
It’s also true of the activism both books showcase.
Both of these books feature mini-biographies-in-verse of activists doing important work. While it's true that most movements are fronted by a “face,” no activist works alone, at least not for long.
One of the key takeaways from NO WORLD TOO BIG is the importance of shifting mindsets in the climate-action space from “me to we,” moving from small-scale individual action to scaled-up collaboration, whether it be in schools, communities, or beyond.
Greta Thunberg started her Fridays for Future climate strikes alone at the Swedish Parliament but was quickly joined by millions around the world. Leah Namugerwa helped hundreds celebrate their birthdays by planting “birthday trees” in Uganda. Students at the Green School in Bali worked together to convert their school buses to biodiesel fuel. And Nikita Shulga and Sofiia-Khrystyna Borysiuk persuaded hundreds of schools across Ukraine, starting with their own, to compost food waste.
When we work together, we see the potential for real impact. I instinctively knew this to be true for activism. But it took me longer to learn that the same is true for writing—which happens to be my preferred method of activism.
Our books are, of course, poetry anthologies, melding diverse voices of award-winning and bestselling poets. Each poet brings different strengths and experiences, which creates a powerful harmony of voices calling for climate action.
But the books are also a collaboration between Jeanette, Keila, and I, the three anthology editors. The thing about working with two other writers who happen to be brilliant in different ways means that when one of us gets stuck, someone else probably has a way forward. This speeds up the revision process as all of us massage the text. (Besides poems, these books have a lot of sidebar and back matter text.) We form a built-in critique group. With Jeanette’s background in science and policy, Keila’s experience in education, and my time as a newspaper editor and reporter, that’s a pretty powerful combination.
One of the main reasons we felt compelled to work together again after releasing NO VOICE TOO SMALL was to showcase the wide range of ways people around the world are tapping into their talents and tackling different aspects of climate change. We wanted to address any climate anxiety young people may be experiencing by encouraging them to counteract their anxiety by taking action. Beyond that, working with your peers is not only more effective, it’s helpful for keeping energy high when things get tough—in both activism and writing. Plus, working together is just more fun.
On Hiding, Hope, and Safe Space to be Seen - Elisa Boxer
I put off writing this post until the last minute. With apologies to my colleagues, who had their sections done with plenty of time to spare, here I am on the eve of our deadline and my share of the Google doc is still blank. This hasn’t been typical procrastination. I’ve had it written in my mind for weeks. It’s personal. It’s vulnerable. And that’s why it has sat in my head rather than on the page.
But I have a book coming out next month about a teenage French resistance fighter who used a hollowed-out toy duck to hide false identity papers from the Nazis during WWII. In addition to telling the story of this Holocaust hero, HIDDEN HOPE (Abrams, illustrated by Amy June Bates) highlights the importance of never having to hide the truth of who you are.
It’s a message I want more than anything for young readers to internalize. And so, I will begin. Because, inspired by the heroism of my main character, I want to show people that their voices, their experiences, and their identities should never be hidden.
I believe our books can be windows into aspects of who we are. And through those windows, readers can hopefully see themselves and know they’re not alone.
According to Hitler’s plan, I’m not supposed to be here writing this. Growing up, I learned about the Nazis’ intention to build a “museum of an extinct race,” displaying Jewish artifacts like the torah scroll in our temple. Our particular scroll was rescued from a synagogue in Czechoslovakia, which the Nazis burned to the ground.
Even as I felt a sense of intrinsic pride in being among a minority with a history of persecution and survival, there was a part of me that felt like I had to hide my Jewish identity.
In third grade, a classmate who I thought was my friend took out a ruler and tried to measure my nose, because his parents told him “Jews have big noses.” Just out of college, I was excited to be out with a new group of friends who decided to test if I really was in fact Jewish by dropping a nickel on the ground to see if I’d pick it up. There were countless examples in between. In each case, no one who saw what was happening said anything. Often, I was accused of being too sensitive, unable to take a joke. I would sometimes feel so self-conscious that I wouldn’t speak up. It took me a long time to come out of hiding — to develop my Jewish voice — even when it didn’t feel safe.
I’m hoping this book takes its place alongside others that are opening up wider conversations about anti-Semitism. I’m also hoping it encourages awareness about the importance of having a safe space to be the full truth of who we are, regardless of religion or experience or identity, and the importance of holding that space for others to do the same.
To learn more about Kristen Larson visit here.
To learn more about Lindsay H. Metcalf visit here.
To learn more about Elisa Boxer visit here.
To purchase their books, please click on the cover photos in the post.
All three authors are members of The Soaring ‘20s—High Flying Books for Kids and Teens.
by Annie Romano
Form submissions such as Query Manager have become the new normal for writers submitting to agents. Fading are the days of email queries (though some agents still accept them). At a glance, it seems like completing a submission form is straightforward: Fill in the blanks. Easy, right? But there are common missteps that might create a negative impression for agents before they even read your sample pages.
What follows is a walk-through of the most encountered submission form features with notes on common errors or shaky habits. Avoiding these missteps will help your submission present as professional and polished. (Note: Since agents can customize their forms, only the most common fill-in-the-blank features are covered here. Also, agents have their own style of considering submissions. Some read the query letter first; others jump right into the sample pages. These are simply tips to help you ensure your submission shines.)
WORD COUNT: Approximate word count is fine. If your word count is 97,256 words, 97,000 will suffice. This isn’t a make-or-break issue by any means; just something to be aware of.
GENRE: This IS important. Writers sometimes try to fit a genre that agents don't accept into their inbox by choosing another category. For instance, I do not represent science fiction, so there’s no “Science Fiction” option in my genre dropdown menu, but I’ll often get submissions for this genre submitted under the “General Fiction” category. Once I read that query/pages and it becomes clear the manuscript is sci-fi, I’m not going to accept it. And it’s not because it’s not well-written; it’s because I don’t represent sci-fi. It’s simply not in my wheelhouse, and writers should want their work represented by someone who knows the market for their genre and is familiar with what editors are seeking for that particular category.
QUERY LETTER: Yes, it’s a form, and yes, you clicked this specific agent’s link and typed in your name in the spaces above, but the query letter should still be a letter. In other words, it should be addressed to someone. (Some agents might not care about this detail, but to me it shows you’re taking care with your submission.) Include the agent's name: Dear “X,” and be sure it’s the correct name! Even with a form link, I still get query letters addressed to other agents. In the body of your query letter, provide your pitch/hook, brief book/project description, and any biographical information that is relevant to your writing (some agents have a separate section for your bio). If you don’t have any specific writing credentials or publications to include here, consider mentioning the inspiration for your story or why you're querying that particular agent (i.e., because they’re seeking “x” genre or because they represent books similar in tone to yours). A simple statement indicating you’ve researched an agent’s interests goes a long way in helping your query stand out.
SYNOPSIS: A synopsis should be approximately one page in length (single-spaced) and should give an overview of the storyline. It should include spoilers. If I receive a fiction synopsis that’s slightly longer than a page, that doesn’t bother me. But if it’s clear the writer doesn’t know how to write a synopsis (i.e., the synopsis is only a few sentences, or it's twelve pages long with character sketches and a chapter-by-chapter breakdown), that leads me to question the writer’s preparedness. Writing a synopsis can be challenging, which is why a solid effort is impressive. If you’re not sure how to write a novel synopsis, do some research and educate yourself on it before submitting. For picture book writers, one brief paragraph should suffice (though I do not represent PBs, so check individual agent websites for their specific guidelines). If you're submitting an adult nonfiction book proposal, chapter summaries/outlines are acceptable, but again, be sure to check individual agent websites for submission preferences/guidelines.
SAMPLE: Regardless of whether the agent has included an upload link or asks that you paste in your sample pages, be sure to include only the page count the agent requests (though most agents don’t mind if you round up or down to the closes section/chapter break). Do not paste 20 pages if the agent asks for five. It shows a lack of respect for the agent’s guidelines. Also, sample pages should begin with the opening pages of your manuscript (or full picture book manuscript) unless otherwise indicated.
PITCH: Yes, you probably included this in your query letter, and the form can often feel redundant, but consider this an opportunity to recapture the agent’s attention. Make sure it’s compelling and catchy. Some agents do not care for hypothetical questions as a pitch, so consider rephrasing if your pitch is formatted as a question. Also, read the prompt carefully. If the agent asks for a one-sentence pitch, give one sentence. If they ask for a paragraph, be sure that’s what you include.
SIMILAR TITLES: Don’t leave this blank unless it’s optional. If you included comp titles in your letter, simply retype the comp titles in this section. Some authors do not include them in their query, so this question is an agent’s way of ensuring the writer provides them. This prompt shows the agent that the writer has considered the market and where their manuscript sits within it. Writing something like, “nothing compares to my novel,” “I couldn’t think of any,” or “my idea is completely original” isn’t the best way to approach this section. The “similar titles” question isn’t insinuating that your manuscript isn’t unique; it shows that you understand there are categories and genres in publishing and that you are informed regarding where your book would sit on the shelves.
TARGET AUDIENCE: This is another way for the agent to gauge your understanding of your manuscript’s appeal. If you’ve written a horror novel dripping with violent scenes and gore, stating it will appeal to children might raise some eyebrows. Of course, that’s an extreme example, but take care to give this prompt some careful thought. Stating your rom-com will appeal to readers of Emily Henry or those who enjoy Nora Ephron films is a solid, sensible response. Stating that your book is “perfect for everyone who loves to read” indicates an unrealistic expectation of your book's appeal.
Adhering to an agent’s guidelines and thoughtfully responding to all the sections of their query form will go a long way in showing your effort and respect for the submission process and will help your query stand out from the many submissions agents receive each week.
You’ve put in the time and effort to submit a polished, professional query, and now you wait. When you receive a response, hopefully it’s a request. “I’d love to see the full!” is the message writers dream of reading. When that isn’t the case, a form letter is the usual response. Below is a note about the dreaded form rejection. It won’t erase the sting they deliver, but hopefully it will offer some perspective.
FORM RESPONSES: We writers tend to be a diligent, detail-oriented bunch, so form letters often send us over the edge. You’ve poured your heart into your manuscript, agonized over your query letter, read dozens of books to find the perfect comp titles, and then…Bam! You receive a form rejection. The nerve! As a writer myself, I understand the frustration with form responses. I receive them, too, and I don’t like them. But as an agent? I understand they’re a necessary evil.
When I started agenting, I was determined to send personalized feedback to all who queried me. I soon found myself drowning under the volume of submissions in my inbox and falling behind at an exorbitant rate because I wanted to include specific feedback in each response. I wanted to prove I had considered every query. It wasn’t long before I had to face facts: if I wanted to reply to everyone (and not have a “no response means no” policy), I’d have to incorporate a form letter for passes. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was necessary. While this is my opinion, other agents have expressed a similar sentiment: It gives them no pleasure to send form rejections, but it’s the only way to keep up with the volume of queries received while still attending to their other agenting responsibilities. So yes, form rejections are frustrating, but they’re a result of time constraints, not a measure of an agent’s respect for your efforts or talent. Please remember that.
In summary, making it to publication is extremely difficult, but putting your best foot forward when completing an agent’s submission form will help you get there. When you send a submission, celebrate! You’ve written a book! Don’t forget to embrace that accomplishment. Cheers to you and your writing!
Annie Romano is a literary associate with Olswanger Literary. She represents adult fiction and select nonfiction projects. She is also a published children’s book author and one of the founders of 24 Carrot Writing. You can learn more about her at www.anniecroninromano.com.
~by Amanda Smith
A couple of months ago, I was prattling my mental to-do list aloud while my husband patiently listened. “… and I still have to write down my monthly goals before our 24 Carrot meeting tomorrow,” I said, running out of breath, and steam. And time.
His eyes glinted mischievously. “Just copy last October’s goals,” he said.
Wrapped up in my busyness, I retorted, “If I could just copy last year’s goals, that means our method doesn’t work very well, does it?”
But wait? Does it? His silly suggestion intrigued me. 24 Carrot Writing celebrated its eighth birthday this year. For eight years (more actually, because we were an accountability group before we were a blog) I’ve religiously set monthly goals, checked them off, and reported back to my partners. Our whole premise is rooted in the idea of setting monthly goals and rewarding ourselves for reaching those goals. But the elephant in the room asks: Does it actually work?
I always check my yearly goals around this time of the year to see where I hit the mark, where I missed, and where, perhaps the road turned in a different direction. We also encourage our readers to check those goals mid-year with our June Years Eve blogs, making sure we are on track. But never have I ever checked a random month from the previous year to see how it lined up with my current journey. In the day-to-day work of writing, does setting monthly goals actually move me markedly forward? Color me curious!
So, with a hint of trepidation, I flipped back to October 2021 in my beloved bullet journal to reread my goals.
What about other 24 Carrot writers? I asked them to peek back at their goals.
In the past Kristi had a running list of tasks she’d cross off upon completion, but in January 2022 she joined our accountability group and took up monthly goal setting. One of her January goals was to revise a picture book. Her goal for this manuscript was to send it to Gnome Road publishing when their submission window opened in March. ALPACHAS MAKE TERRIBLE LIBRARIANS will hit the shelves in 2024, published by Gnome Road!
The trend is consistent: projects that were started are now complete, rewrites and revisions occurred, picture books went from concept to query (with all the appropriate in-between steps!), some projects carried over from month to month (oops), but eventually, they get done (or end up in the “darlings file”).
Beautiful, inspiring forward motion.
By Jove! It works!
Would we have done some of these things, even if we hadn’t set them as monthly goals? Likely. But would we have done all of them in a timely manner? Definitely not. To be certain, the smaller things, such as those poems, would have fallen off my radar, and I would have missed out on the joy of this anthology to come.
When our kids sometimes feel overwhelmed by the size of a task, my husband would ask: “How do you eat an elephant?”
One bite at a time.
In the elephantine cycle of writing, revising, critiquing, polishing, querying, waiting, signing, selling, marketing, promoting, doing-it-all-over-again, monthly goals are manageable bites.
So this January, yes, dream big and set those yearly goals! But then commit to bite-sized monthly goals, break them up in daily tasks, and keep moving forward. And every once in a while, peek back and see your progress – the biggest, sweetest, brightest carrot of all!
To learn more about my bullet journal, and how you can also keep track of things like monthly and yearly goals, check out this blog.
Dear 24 Carrot Writer,
This year you were brave!
Oh, you know it.
You sent out queries,
(so many queries)
signed with an agent,
acquired an editor,
launched a book
received glowing reviews-
and a few tough ones.
You were brave!
You were brave!
Even if you
didn’t query, sign, sell, launch because
You wrote words
You wove stories
You learned something new
Revised something old
Created something better
You were brave!
This Holiday Season,
may you celebrate grit,
encounter hope, and
to step boldly into the new year.
Amanda and the 24 Carrot Crew
The holiday season is here! Are folks asking you for gift ideas? Are you searching for the perfect item for a writing colleague? 24 Carrot Writing has compiled the dream wish list for writers.
24 Carrot Writing's guest bloggers, contributors, and active founders have each shared a special item that makes their creative endeavors happier, successful, and more productive. We hope you find ideas you want to share and maybe a few carrots for your next month of goals.
Ana Siqueira is a Spanish-language elementary teacher, and an award-winning Brazilian children’s author. Her picture books include BELLA’S RECIPE FOR DISASTER/SUCCESS (Beaming Books, 2021) and IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA/CUANDO, TU NIÑERA ES UNA BRUJA (SimonKids, 2022). Learn more about Ana here.
I'd heard about Highlights -- how amazing it is -- and had planned to travel there. When I received an invitation to serve as a faculty member in their Summer Camp in Fiction program in July, I gladly accepted; it was definitely a highlight (yes, it's a pun!) of my summer. I was excited to return in September for an Amplify Black Stories retreat, which was equally enjoyable. I'm already planning for a visit in the spring -- with a group of kidlit creators represented by my agent, James McGowan (Go, #TeamJames!) -- and will, hopefully, be invited back in the near future as a faculty member.
I cannot recommend Highlights enough. The setting is serene; the meals are fabulous; and the community is so warm and welcoming. This experience needs to be on every writer and illustrator's wish list. Highlights also offers numerous scholarships, so don't miss their window to apply.
Valerie Bolling is the author of the 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award-winning and CT Book Award finalist LET’S DANCE! (March 2020). In 2022 Valerie launched TOGETHER WE RIDE (April) and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! (October). To learn more about Valerie, visit here.
Nancy Tandon is an author of middle grade novels, including THE WAY I SAY IT (Charlesbridge, 2022), and THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT (Aladdin, 2022). She pulls on her past as a teacher and speech/language pathologist to fuel her current joy: writing stories about awesome kids doing brave things. Visit her at www.nancytandon.com.
your feet cozy during a virtual school visit. I have also packed these to take on writing retreats because it’s nice to have a few of the comforts of home. Also if you haven’t tried their regular socks, you really should!
Carrie Finison writes picture books with humor and heart, including DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (2020), DON'T HUG DOUG (2021), and – new in 2022 – LULU & ZOEY: A SISTER STORY, and HURRY LITTLE TORTISE, TIME FOR SCHOOL!. For updates and giveaways, subscribe to her newsletter, check out her website, or follow on Twitter or Instagram.
Kirkus called Elisa Boxer's picture book, COVERED IN COLOR: CHRISTO & JEANNE-CLUADE'S FABRICS OF FREEDOM, "compelling from cover to cover" in a starred review. She is also the author of THE VOICE THAT WON THE VOTE, ONE TURTLE'S LAST STRAW, and SPLASH! (a Junior Library Guild Selection). Visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com.
June Cotner is the author of FOR EVERY LITTLE THING and 37 other books, which collectively have sold more than one million copies and have been featured in many national publications. To find out more about June, visit her website at www.junecotner.com.
Alison Goldberg is the author of the picture book BOTTLE TOPS: THE ART OF EL ANATSUI, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Lee & Low Books, 2022) and I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017). Learn more about Alison at www.alisongoldberg.com.
Kelly Carey is an award winning children’s fiction author from Massachusetts. Her debut picture book, HOW LONG IS FOREVER? (Charlesbridge, 2020) received a glowing review from Kirkus and was named a MUST READ by the Mass Center for the Book. Kelly is a 24 Carrot Writing co-founder. To learn more about Kelly visit here.
Annie Cronin Romano is one of the co-founders of 24 Carrot Writing and is a published picture book author. In addition to her love of kidlit, she also writes adult fiction, works as a bookseller at an indie bookstore, and is a literary associate with Olswanger Literary. Learn more about Annie at www.anniecroninromano.com.
Megan Litwin is a 24 Carrot Writing Regular Contributor and author of TWINKE, TWINKLE, WINTER NIGHT (Clarion, 2022) and the upcoming early reader series, DIRT AND BUGSY (Penguin Workshop, 2023). Learn more about Megan at www.meganlitwinbooks.com/.
Kristi Mahoney is a children's book writer from Massachusetts and a 24 Carrot Writing Regular Contributor. Her debut picture book, ALPACAS MAKE TERRIBLE LIBRARIANS, will be released by Gnome Road Publishing in Fall 2024. She can be reached at www.kristimahoneybooks.com.
Amanda Smith is a co-founder of 24 Carrot Writing. Her poems can be found in the Writer's Loft Anthology, Friends and Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children and in the upcoming anthology Bless the Earth (Convergent Books, 2024) Learn more at AmandaSmithWrites.
Guest Blog by Ellen Mayer
All picture books are works of collaboration. But with Leaves to My Knees, I had an extra-special helper: my young granddaughter. Elise was three-and-a-half years old when I first brought her in as a collaborator. A beta reader for this newly published book, she is now a first grader.
The Math Makes Sense
Leaves to My Knees is a playful STEM story about a little girl, Camille, who is determined to rake a pile of leaves all the way up to her knees to jump in. In the story I wanted to demonstrate how young children, before they use formal units of measurement like a ruler, measure by comparing sizes with their own bodies in everyday activities.
Elise at age three-and-a-half helped me “test out” the use of the math ideas on measurement and comparing sizes in my polished draft. As we raked leaves together in the backyard, I slipped in story character Camille’s mathematical thinking. How about raking a pile all the way up to your knees? I asked. The prospect not only delighted Elise, but the thinking felt true and natural to her, and soon she was chatting about the progress of the pile up her legs, just like story character Camille. She was also interested in comparing the size of her little toy rake against the big grown-up rake of her grandfather. For this young child, the math in the story made sense.
Clarification Is Needed
In the fall of 2019, I submitted the manuscript to the publisher. After I signed a contract for the book in the spring of 2020, Elise began to help me with revisions. While zoom readings during the beginning of the pandemic meant the loss of the lap, this technology did afford me a clear view of Elise’s four-year-old face, and I was able to make note of her expressions and body language as I read the text to her. Before the reading, I said:
Elise, there are no pictures yet. You’ll just have to imagine them for now. But I’ll read you the words.
She listened intently as I read through the entire text.
What do you think? I asked.
GOOD! she proclaimed.
Even without the art, the story kept her attention – and elicited smiles.
But I noticed one point where Elise furrowed her brows. When Camille sets out to rake leaves all the way up to her knees, she hoists her rake up onto her shoulder and does so “Because I mean business.”
Elise was clearly drawing a blank at the idiom.
Is “I mean business” kind of confusing? Should I change that a bit? I asked.
How about if I say: “Because I am serious––I mean business!”
That’s good, she said.
Of all the idioms in the story, that one needed a little explication for this four-year-old.
Reconsider a Character
Months later, a PDF arrived from publisher Star Bright Books with illustrator Nicole Tadgell’s full-color art in it. After reading it aloud to Elise, my beta listener paused thoughtfully and asked:
You know, Mimi, Jayden doesn’t say anything. How come?
That gave me pause. She found it odd that the goofy and playful two-year-old brother Jayden didn’t say anything. I never deliberately intended for him to be silent. Hmmmm.
My publisher was getting the files ready for the printer, but I had to email the editorial team.
If it's not too late, I have a suggestion for one more text edit. This suggestion is prompted by a comment made by my granddaughter when I read her the story recently. She pointed out – with some concern – that Jayden doesn't say anything in the story.
I suggested that we have Jayden join in with Daddy when he cheers Camille on with a GO! as she readies herself to jump into her leaf pile, now up to her knees.
Star Bright Books concurred. One of the editors wrote back:
It’s always fascinating to learn what children can see that adults don’t. Thank you, Elise, now Jayden has his own “voice.”
A Starred Review
I learned that the reception of the story only improved with repeated readings.
I watched my granddaughter sitting on the sofa beside her grandfather as he read aloud from the pages of the PDF, her face passing through a wide range of emotions as Camille suffers ups and downs in her leaf-raking project. When they got to the page where Camille steps into her hard-earned knee-high leaf pile, confirming that it indeed reaches to her knees, and shouts “TA-DA!”,
Elise sprang up on the sofa and raised her hands high above her head in victory, just like Camille, and shouted joyfully:
Months later, she insisted that she had “requested” that Camille say “TA-DA” back in the editorial stage. But then, that’s what happens in collaboration, isn’t it? We often forget who contributed what.
When she was six years old and a rising first grader, Elise wrote out her review.
To help her elaborate on her stickies, I said I wanted to “interview” her about each page. With much eagerness and solemnity, she pulled up a chair next to mine. As we slowly examined each page I asked her what she thought and she provided detailed feedback. She loved what the kids were wearing (it’s a Stegosaurus hood on Jayden), Jayden was so funny, her favorite image was the cover because Camille looks so happy.
Elise identified with Camille, and she thought her peers would, too. They would understand how Camille feels and they’d feel the same way in that situation.
Like, it’s a good book because it’s kind of like you’d be if you were Camille… I think the kids in my kindergarten class would’ve liked the book because it’s like them.
Ready to Read
Soon after Elise started first grade, I had a surprise for her. It was the “F&G”, the folded and gathered advance pages of the book, before it was bound. It was a glossy splash of fall color, all ready to read, with real pages to turn. She was the person I most wanted to share it with. I jumped right in and started reading.
After several pages, she put her hand over mine.
She had a surprise for me, too.
STOP, MIMI! she said. Let me read. I’ll read this page.
Since I couldn’t see very well through my tears, I let her take over.
The book had come far in those last three years.
And so had Elise.
Lessons Learned From a Young Beta-Reader
Quite apart from the joy our journey together afforded me, getting reactions from a real child helped my writing process:
Each child and each book process is unique. For myself in this case, I came away with some thoughts about how to incorporate a young child into the making of a picture book:
You will never sell a book by claiming that your grandchild loves it, but working with a young reader in your family to critically evaluate your manuscript can make it stronger and help it find publishing success. I hope the collaboration I enjoyed with my granddaughter, as I worked on Leaves to my Knees, makes you think about using your own young beta-reader to improve your work.
Leaves to My Knees, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell, and published by Star Bright Books in October 2022, is Ellen Mayer’s ninth book for children and her third math-infused one. Before focusing on writing for children, Ellen was an education researcher at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, studying family engagement in young children’s learning, and an early literacy specialist home visitor with the Cambridge Public Schools in Massachusetts. To learn more about Ellen and her various books for children, visit her website at www.ellenmayerbooks.com. To learn more about illustrator Nicole Tadgell visit her website at http://nicoletadgell.art/.
by Kelly Carey
For two years I have enthusiastically participated in World Read Aloud Day. This annual event, held on the first Wednesday in February, brings authors and teachers together to host a day of virtual author visits in classrooms around the world. The day is fun and exciting, and meant to inspire students. But if authors don't take a few simple steps, it can also be nerve-racking and exhausting.
If you are a published author with a book to share and want to join this annual event, here are some tips to make your World Read Aloud Day run smoothly.
Visit the World Read Aloud Day (WRAD for short) site here to learn all about the WRAD program. The site is filled with information on how WRAD works, and offers great resources to make your involvement special. Once you decide to be a participant, you can register as a volunteer author on Kate Messner's blog here. It’s free to participate and you are not required to send books. All that is required is that you offer a few free virtual classroom visits on the first Wednesday in February.
Before you register, finish reading this blog. You'll want all the tips before you fill out your registration form.
The first time I participated in WRAD, I was SO excited that I booked visits from early in the morning and then every thirty minutes until late in the afternoon. Each WRAD visit is set to be fifteen to twenty minutes long. I foolishly thought that a ten-minute break between meetings was ample time to reset. By the end of the day, I was frazzled and exhausted. Not to mention hungry and needing a bathroom break!
Think about your energy level and stamina and consider how many high energy visits you can really do. My improved WRAD plan has me starting at 9am with visits on the hour until 4pm. I also built in a lunch hour. This is doable for me. Setting visits on the hour versus the half hour alleviates the stress if a school signs in late, or if technical difficulties cause delays. Sometimes, an energized classroom needs just a few extra minutes so one or two more students get a chance to ask a question. Building in a cushion will not only give you a chance to regroup, but it could also be important for the teacher and students excited for your visit.
Create A Sign-Up Form
Once you have decided how many visits you want to offer and at what times, you will want to create a sign-up form. I didn't create a form on my first year and the result was email chaos. Teachers were asking for odd times, conflicting times, cancelling, rebooking, and just when I thought I had overlaps smoothed out, emails requesting another change would hit my inbox.
A clear sign-up form ensures that teachers reserve a visit for an available time and only when they are really ready to commit.
I recommend using Sign Up Genius to administer your WRAD schedule. Sign Up Genius is free and easy to use. Check out Sign Up Genius here and for a sample of my WRAD sign up form go here.
My form asks teachers to provide the student's grade level, and the name, state, and country of their school. I also ask for an email contact that I use later to confirm the visit and gather information on a link for the visit.
Your sign-up form is the perfect place to layout expectations for the visit. WRAD visits are meant to be twenty-minute virtual visit where authors greet students, read their book, and offer a quick Q&A. This is NOT an hours long classroom visit with crafts and activities. Being clear on the format when teachers sign up helps ensure that everyone understands the structure of the visit.
When you register for WRAD, use the web address for your sign-up form on the registration. That way interested teachers will be directed to your form. Then go ahead and blast a link to the form out on social media. If you get email requests from teachers, you can eliminate confusion by replying with an email directing them to your sign-up form.
Once your form is full, you can direct teachers to an author friend or two who might still have open slots. Keep a few of these authors in mind and be ready to send teachers to their forms.
Send Confirmations and Reminders
Once a classroom has signed up, I send a confirmation email. I reiterate the format of the visit, confirm the time and date, and ask if the school will provide a visit link or if they would like me to send a link. I also ask the teacher if they would like their students to have the opportunity to order signed copies of my book (more on this later). A week before WRAD, I send out a reminder that reviews all this information again. This reminder email is a terrific opportunity to ask the teacher to emcee the Q&A by calling on students during our visit. With a virtual visit, I find this format works best.
Check Your Technology
All WRAD visits are virtual. While many schools will send you a visit link, some may prefer you to provide them with a link. Make sure you are ready and comfortable to work in different virtual meeting platforms. I defer to the school’s meeting platform of choice as many schools are required to use an approved system. But if the school wants me to set up the visit link, I use Zoom. I have found it helpful to create a separate Zoom meeting for each school. Some authors have a single Zoom link for the day, but I always worry that one school will sign in on top of another’s school’s visit.
Regardless of the platform for the visit, you'll want to make sure your computer has a functioning speaker and camera. Set up a practice visit with a trusted KidLit friend to make sure things are working well. Be careful, sometimes when you move away from your computer and hold a book up, it blocks your voice and kids will not be able to hear you reading your wonderful words! To combat this, I recommend using Air Pods or headphones.
Make sure you create a visually appealing and appropriate background for your visits. Consider the lighting in your space and make sure that as the sun travels across the hours of your WRAD visits that you are easy to see and not shadowed or sun shined out. You can place copies of your books in the background and opt to wear colorful clothes that compliment your book’s cover.
Book or Slides
Think about how you want to present your book. Some folks will prefer to read a copy of their book as they hold it up for kids to see. Be sure you frame your book on the screen, so it is easily viewed. The advantage of holding up the book as you read is that you can point to certain things on each page for emphasis and pull the book closer to the computer camera for a zoomed in effect.
I prefer using a PowerPoint slide show as I read. The benefit here is that my face becomes a small little screen-in-screen image for my audience and the pages of the book fill their classroom monitor. For this method, I start out on camera, and then after introductions, switch over to the slideshow. After reading the book, I close out the slideshow and do the Q&A portion without slides. To create your book slideshow, you can ask your publisher to provide you with a PDF file of the book then build your slide show by making each page its own slide. If your publisher cannot provide a PDF, you can take pictures of each page of your book and upload them into a slide show.
Create a WRAD Day Schedule Sheet
Even if you have smartly assessed your stamina, set up a sign-up form, and managed expectations, the day can still be a bit hectic. Make a cheat sheet of the day for yourself with each visit, the teacher’s name, email, and a clickable visit link. This will keep your entire day and all those visit links in one place rather than having to click around looking for emails from individual teachers and nervously trying to remember where exactly you saved the link for each visit.
It’s a good idea to make sure the name of the school, town and state is on this sheet as this information can be a wonderful way to make a connection with the students in your opening introduction.
Option to Allow Book Purchases
Although it is not required, you can try to team up with a local indie bookstore and offer classrooms the opportunity for signed copies. You can also offer to send signed book plates to a bookstore near the school so that students can purchase signed copies. Both options involve planning.
To offer signed copies, I work in tandem with my local indie bookstore. I create and provide the school with a flyer they can reproduce and send home with their students detailing directions for ordering an autographed book. The bookstore agrees to facilitate the ordering. The benefit here is that I am not collecting forms or money, nor is the teacher. Instead, we direct caregivers/parents to order online directly from the sponsoring bookstore. To make this easier and cost effective for the bookstore, the bookstore bulk ships the books to the teacher for distribution to the students. Not every bookstore will be willing to partner with you to make this process happen, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.
If you can find a bookstore partner and you want students to have the books in hand for WRAD, you will want to allow time for the teachers to distribute flyers, caregivers/parents to order books, and the bookstore to mail the books out. Set ordering deadlines and allow for the time the bookstore will need to assemble and ship the books before WRAD in February. If this is too complicated, it is also fine to tell students that books can be ordered up until the day of WRAD and books will be shipped out 2-3 weeks after WRAD. All these details can be worked out with the bookstore.
Getting book orders is not the point of WRAD. This is an option that I mention when I send out confirmation emails. Some teachers will love the idea and others will politely pass.
Finally, some authors send swag to the schools like bookmarks and stickers. This is not something I have the budget for and so I have not offered this perk. But if you want to send out a thank you note with swag, just be sure you know how many students are in the classroom so that you send the right amount.
World Read Aloud Day is a wonderful chance to share your book with students. Take some time to plan out the day so that you, and the classrooms you visit, have a fantastic WRAD experience!
~Guest blog by Janet Costa Bates
I call myself a writer, but I’m not sure why. I should call myself a ‘reviser,’ since, like most writers, I spend much more time revising manuscripts than I do writing the first draft. Writing the first draft is exciting, but the real magic happens during the revision process.
My first step in the revision process is to do absolutely nothing. I figuratively put the manuscript into a drawer and then work on something else. When it’s time to look back at it, I can do so with fresh eyes. Are there plot holes and how can they best be fixed? Are the characters true and consistent? If not, does something happen in the story to drive the change in their behavior? Is there fluff to be cut? Cuts can be as small as individual words or as big as characters, sub-plots, or description. I often pick a random number and make myself cut that number of words from a manuscript. There’s safety in knowing I can put any of the words back in, but I rarely do.
I also go through the manuscript for grammar - NOT my favorite part. After all, my rule for commas is ‘random.’ Although I try to get the manuscript into decent shape, I’ve learned not to obsess too much. I now know there are magical people called copy editors who have much more grammatical talent than I do.
Some revisions are routine and fairly quick. Other revisions are not at all routine, not at all quick, but totally worth it. Let me share a few examples with you.
Years ago, I started a manuscript as a picture book, but eventually realized, not only was it too long, it didn't have the visuals a picture book required. After revising, I tried it as a magazine story. It received some interest from a major children’s magazine but, even though I’m pretty good at accepting editorial suggestions, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around some of the changes they were requesting.
At a retreat, someone suggested it would be better as a middle grade, so I stretched it into a novel. With that story, I got an agent. My agent spent years - yes, years - trying to sell it. The phrase ‘raving rejections’ started to make sense to me. Editors gushed over the characters, expressed their love for the voice, but ultimately, they all said no to the story.
At a Whispering Pines Retreat, I had a critique with Christian Trimmer, then a Simon and Schuster editor. Similar to the others who had rejected the manuscript, he said the story had great characters, great voice, but the plot wasn’t working. He followed that up with ‘but you have a great set-up for a chapter book series.’ My then agent still wanted to try it as a middle grade, but eventually, after a friendly parting of the ways with that agent, I went with Christian’s advice. LLAMAS, IGUANAS, AND MY VERY BEST FRIEND, illustrated by Gladys Jose, is the first in the Rica Baptista chapter book series. It will be released by Candlewick Press on October 25 and is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. I’m looking forward to its November 9th launch at An Unlikely Story.
A process that took even longer was a picture book manuscript I started in 1999. I went to my first NESCBWI Conference, met an editor, and submitted the manuscript. She gently turned it down with a helpful note explaining why. That was the first of many rejections it received.
I spent a few more years revising it. Again. And again. More rejections. Finally, I put it in a drawer – for about ten years. (I don’t recommend putting a manuscript in a drawer for ten years, but, well, sometimes life happens and you don’t get a chance to open up that drawer for a while.) Eventually, I took that manuscript out, greatly revised it, and sent it to Andrea Tompa of Candlewick, whom I had met with at a conference. She said yes!
TIME FOR BED, OLD HOUSE, illustrated by AG Ford, was released in 2021 and has received several honors. It was well worth the wait and the revisions. (Side note: That first editor to whom I sent a very early version of TIME FOR BED, OLD HOUSE, was Mary Lee Donovan of Candlewick. As Andrea’s boss, she gave her the nod to acquire it. Publishing is a small world, my friends.)
So, look at your manuscript with fresh eyes. Find the plot holes, strengthen the characters, and cut the fluff. Putting time and effort into your revisions will make the magic happen.
Janet Costa Bates is the author of LLAMAS, IGUANAS, AND MY VERY BEST FRIEND (Candlewick), the first book in the Rica Baptista chapter book series and a Junior Library Guild selection. TIME FOR BED, OLD HOUSE (Candlewick), received four starred reviews, was listed on several 2021 best books lists, and was an NAACP Image Award nominee. SEASIDE DREAM (Lee and Low), received a Lee and Low New Voices Honor Award. Find her at janetcostabates.com or on Twitter/IG @jcostabates.
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