8 Writing Tips in 8 Minutes: Bitsy’s tips for the newbie picture book writer

Thinking of writing a children’s book? Have you written one but not sure what to do with it? Well a-looky here, I’ve got some slick tips for you, dear beginner. It’ll be the best eight minutes of your day! (Unless you won the lottery, in which case may I say how beautiful you look today?)

Feel free to share the video on your own blog or website. Just please give a link back to me here, okay? Thanks, doll.

If you have tips or tricks that you’d like to share with fellow newbies, please let me know! You may be featured in a future video :-)

Presenting at SCBWI Conference, April 2014


Oh the joys of being part of a tribe. I had a great time presenting “Marketing the @#&! out of Yourself with Twitter” at the Northern CA SCBWI Spring Spirit conference (#SpSp14) on April 5, 2014, held in the Sacramento area. I was surrounded by greatness and the common love of writing children’s books. Being “on faculty” had its privileges too…allow me to show, not tell:

Here I am signing books right next to NYT best-selling YA author Jay Asher (@JayAsherGuy), as he enjoys a laugh with a conference attendee that just bought his book:


Here I am next to author & illustrator extraordinaire Dan Yaccarino (of Oswald, Backyardigans fame as well as lots and lots of picture books) as he shakes hands with one of his many fans:


Here I am in front of Chad W. Beckerman (Creative director and cover designer for Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books, as well as Mishaps and Adventures blogger) (@chadwbecks and @abramskids) and Louise May (Vice President/Editorial Director of Lee & Low Books) (@LEEandLOW) as they talk shop, with Dan Yaccarino and Northern CA SCBWI Regional Advisor Patti Newman (@PatriciaNewman) recapping conference success in the background:


Here I am as Tricia Lawrence (@authorblogger), associate agent at the revered Erin Murphy Literary Agency, has a conversation with someone else at the after party:


Here I am next to with the amazing, multiple award-winning, NYT best-selling author & poet Nikki Grimes (it’s almost like she doesn’t know I’m there):


Here I am as Deirdre Jones (assistant editor and rising star at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) (@DeirdreEJones) talks to BMOC Jay Asher (@jasasherguy) about his success with the hot selling Thirteen Reasons Why YA novel:


As you can see in my rear-view mirror, here are art director Chad Beckerman (@chadwbecks), author Jay Asher (@jayasherguy), and associate editor Deirdre Jones (@DeirdreEJones) as they get ready to head to the airport:


This may or may not be Chad approaching my car asking me to leave them all alone already:


Ah, good times.


“Not all treasu…

“Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.” -Captain Jack Sparrow

Besides giving me an excuse to picture Johnny Depp (hubba hubba), that quote is relevant because this Saturday is the annual Spring Spirit conference for the Northern California Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (try saying that three times fast…). [Man, there is just no easy way get those words out. Does "@NorthCalSCBWI #SpSp14 conf" sound any better? No? I'll stick with conference then.]  If you’re a budding writer or illustrator of children’s books and you haven’t heard of the event or the group or the conference, write it down and pay attention next year! The 2014 April conference in Sacramento is sold out, as were pretty much all past conferences. There are a variety of events in the area year round, though, so check the group out soon, either on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/221623931231668/) or Twitter (@NorthCalSCBWI) or http://canorthcentral.scbwi.org/ (local website) SCBWI.org (the national website with local chapters all around the world). I think you’ll find us to be good peeps (well, most of us…).

Anyhoo, there is bound to be a bevy of golden nuggets shared at this weekend’s conference. I say that not just as a proud conference presenter, but as an active SCBWI member in continued awe of all the great ways this group helps make our industry better. I’ll be presenting on “How to Market the @&$! out of Yourself with Twitter,” humbly amid greats like NYTimes best-selling author Jay Asher, award-winning and best selling poet/author Nikki Grimes, plus nationally-recognized editors, agents, artists and writers. Topics range from query writing to book proposals to multiculturalism and diversity in children’s books. (I’d list more but if you’re not attending it’ll just make you bitter to miss it.) It’s going to be a great day.

Captain Sparrow is right, all treasure is not silver and gold. 

April Kidlit Writing Contests



Do you work best under pressure? I do. (Don’t judge) Sometimes a writing contest is just the kick in the butt I need to get moving on a manuscript that’s been getting all dusty and lonely. I’ve scraped up a few contests that all have April or May deadlines, so consider this your official kick in the pants to start working on that in-need-of-attention manuscript that you haven’t have a reason to work on–until now. Yeah, you’re welcome.


I can’t personally vouch for the hosts’ honor or intentions of these upcoming contests, but they look pretty good. And it’s hard to find middle grade (MG) contests. I know most people that put these contests on are volunteers and work really hard, and it all takes time away from their own work, so please read and follow guidelines closely.

Please note I rarely advocate for any contest that charges a fee; to me that’s a flag that it’s not legit. I realize some large contests charge money just to keep the riff raff out, but enter with your eyes open. Also check the fine print to see what you win and whether they assume all rights to your work once you submit it. Some of these might have any of those flags, I haven’t checked, so be careful.

This April contest is like the show “Shark Tank.”  Wining entries are posted where editors and agents can “bid” on seeing more of the manuscript. (No guarantee they’ll love it, of course.) It has grown-up books competing too so make sure your submission really stands out: http://scwrite.blogspot.com/2014/03/announcing-writers-tank-contest.html:

This is a Twitter pitch party just for #MiddleGrade and #NonFiction: http://www.jessicaschmeidler.com/?p=1037

Writer’s Digest 22nd Annual Self-Published Book Awards. Categories include Children’s/Picture books, Middle-Grade/Young Adult books, poetry, and lots of adult book caegoriess. Awards: $3,000 in cash, national exposure for your work, the attention of prospective editors and publishers, a paid trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference. Early-Bird Deadline: April 1st, otherwise May 1, 2014: www.writersdigest.com/competitions/selfpublished

These three have May deadlines, with thanks to http://www.writers-editors.com/Writers/Contests/contests.htm for all the deets:

32nd Annual SouthWest Writers International Competition – 10 categories for novels, creative nonfiction, essay, short stories, children’s picture books, and poetry. Awards: $300, $200, $150 in each of the 10 categories. other entries ($20 for SWW members, $30 non-members). Deadline: May 1, 2014 and may be submitted after May 1 until May 15 with payment of a late fee. Info:www.swwcontest.com2014 Leapfrog Fiction Contest – for Adult Fiction and Children’s Fiction (middle grade and YA only). Any novella- or novel-length work of fiction, including short-story collections, not previously published is eligible. The minimum length is 22,000 words; there is no maximum length. Awards: First Prize: publication contract offer from Leapfrog Press, with an advance payment, plus the finalist awards. Finalists: $150 and two critiques of the manuscript from contest judges; permanent listing on the Leapfrog Press contest page as a contest finalist, along with short author bio and description of the book. Semi-Finalist: Choice of a free Leapfrog book; permanent listing on the website. Entry fee: $30. Deadline: May 1, 2014. Info:www.leapfrogpress.com/contest.htm83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition – 10 categories. Awards: $3,000, $1,000, $500, $250 plus more. Entry fees: Poems $15, $10; other entries $25, $20. Early Bird Entry Deadline: May 5, 2014. Info: www.writersdigest.com/competitions/writers-digest-annual-competition




http://www.freecontestsforkids.com/writing-contests-for-kids.html: I found this website that lists a slew of writing contests FOR KIDS, so if you’ve got a budding Hemingway in da house, take a look here — like with contests for adults, please note I rarely advocate for any contest that charges a fee; to me that’s a flag that it’s not legit. I realize some large contests charge money just to keep the riff raff out, but enter with your eyes open. Also check the fine print to see what you win and whether they assume all rights to your work once you submit it. Some of these might have any of those flags, I haven’t checked, so be careful.

http://www.willamettewriters.com/1/guidelines.php *I know this one charges a small fee

http://www.wipb.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/WIPB-PBS-KIDS-WC-Entry-Form-2014.pdf  *Hurry, deadline is April 4


Do you know of any others? Hook me up, man, I love these things.

Exceptions to Top 12 Tips for Writing a (Good) Picture Book

Writing a picture book is easy.

Writing a good picture book is hard.

Exceptions to the top twelve newbie tips for writing a picture book, plus one bonus thought*

(which okay technically makes it 13 but who’s counting?)

A refute to “The top twelve newbie tips for writing a picture book, plus one bonus thought*” which was also written by Bitsy Kemper and posted just moments before this one–so read that one first, then this one

By Bitsy Kemper


There are plenty of exceptions to the rules mentioned in my last post. (If you haven’t read it yet, please do so now, or this post won’t make any sense)

(Seriously, scroll down and read that last post to put this one in perspective)

(I am not warning you again)

  1. “How do you find an illustrator?” The answer to this was “YOU DON’T.” But if you are a professional artist and happen to also be a stellar writer, oh how lucky you are. (Also: I hate you. It’s so hard to master both skill sets. Sooo jealous.) If you are a member of this very small minority, you might consider submitting your manuscript complete with illustrations. But know the editor might love the art and not the words, or love the text and not the illustrations. I still suggest you pick one, especially early on, and work repeatedly to hone that chosen skill. You can dabble (or excel) in the other one once your foot is in the door. The DON’T answer still applies to having your niece illustrate, hiring an artist, submitting with clip art or photos, overdoing it with art notes, etc. You only have one chance to make a first impression! Show the editor or agent that you’ve done your homework and know enough not to submit artwork with text.
  2. “A story has a beginning, middle, and end. A series of anecdotes, no matter how charming, isn’t a book.” The exceptions here are concept books: something that teaches a certain skill such as ABCs, counting, or colors. In those cases you’ll still want to make it unique and compelling as you’re competing against hundreds and hundreds of these long-shelf-life books already in stores. What makes yours different or better? (If you find a way to create a beginning, middle, and end with a concept book, you get bonus points but also I hate you because that’s pretty hard to do well too.)
  3. “Good writing is rewriting.”  No exception to this one. Sorry.
  4.  “Do your homework.” There is no exception to this one, either. Sorry.
  5.  “Take it out of rhyme.” If you’re a learned poet and know what you’re doing, and others can give a cold reading of your manuscript aloud without a single falter, yes of course I hate you. YOU, my friend, are allowed to keep your manuscript as written. If your rhyme works, stick with it. Just make sure the story doesn’t suffer because of it…that you’re not rewriting sentences to force a rhyme or using obscure words to make the meter work (only Yoda can get away with that), or that the plotline jumps all over the place.
  6. “NO alliteration and anthropomorphisms (giving human qualities to something non living, like a talking mop).” Peter picking a peck of pickled peppers might work as a nursery rhyme, but not as a title or when constant within the text of a picture book. First off: you may think your alliteration is clever and cute, but most editors find it annoying as heck. It shows a newbie is at work, because so many new writers think if you use alliteration, kids will be drawn to the story. Not so. The story needs to stand on its own. Alliterations sprinkled in here and there, sure. But not in the title and not every three words. Friends don’t let friends use alliteration.                                                                                                                                                                   There are a ton of exceptions to the no talking objects rule too. Talking animals you can usually get away with. But talking objects just doesn’t work. Exceptions include Veggie Tales and Cars and very few other others—but remember they are cartoons, not books. It’s not that your story about a talking flying carpet will never get picked up. It’s just that kind of story has to fall WAY to the extreme thumbs-up end of the lame-to-awesome scale. If a kid can’t find a universal truth or common ground with the main characters, you’ve lost them by page one. The easier you make it for them to find themselves somewhere in the main character and story, the faster you’ve found an enthusiastic reader.
  7. “Speaking of editors/agents, they DON’T CARE if it’s a true story, or if your grandkids love it, or if getting a book published is something you’ve always wanted to do. All they care about is the story.” Exceptions here fall ONLY under “true story.” Non-fiction stories, biographies of famous people, or an average person overcoming a huge obstacle in a unique way are good ideas. But writing about the swell dog you had when you were a kid, well, not so much. Everyone has a great pet story from childhood. You have to tell a good story, nay, a greater-than-life story that’s well written. It being true doesn’t tip the scale, and may work against you because newbies assume true stories are better jut because they’re true. It’s not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it. As for mentioning how much your grandkids like it, well, of COURSE your grandkids love it! They love everything you do. Same goes for neighbors/friends. Let the editor/agent decide if THEY like it. They have years of experience in spotting talent. Your posse doesn’t count. Sorry.
  8. “Don’t moralize. No one wants to be talked down to or lectured.” No exceptions here. Kids enjoy coming to conclusions on their own.
  9. “Join SCBWI!”  No exceptions here either. In fact, I’ll even add to it. Join a critique group. Take a class. Attend a workshop. Read blogs by other children authors. Come join our tribe! You’re gonna love us.
  10. “You don’t have to have an agent—but it usually helps.” I don’t have one. Many kidlit writers/illustrators don’t. Surprised? It can be just as hard to land an agent as it is to land a contract deal with an editor/publisher. Where do you want to spend your time? Many writers get an agent AFTER they’ve had publishing success. Many prolific authors don’t have or want and agent at all. I have a friend that’s authored >25 children’s books; not one of them was sold by her agent. That’s not to say her agent isn’t working hard; but my friend is working harder. She trusts her agent and they work well together. But it hasn’t resulted in sales yet. You can put your future in the hands of someone else, or you can boldly storm some doors on your own. This is one of the few industries that give you a choice.
  11. “Plan on getting rich? AHHAHAHAHAHAH! Contracts can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.” The only exception here comes with experience and popularity. The more books you sell or have sold in the past, the higher the contract amount will probably be…it’s akin to paying extra for the master hair cutter vs someone that started yesterday. Experience is respected for a reason! Some publishers shy away from new writers, or offer them a lower amount to start, because new writers have no track record. One hit wonders can prove expensive.
  12. “If you don’t have patience, find some.” The only exception here is ebooks—which are not to be confused with book apps. An ebook is formatted for instant download, bypassing the long time spent at the printers and the transportation and set up time it takes to get on store shelves. An ebook has minimal illustrations so it’s rare to find a new ebook; most take what’s already out there and format it for a computer or handheld screen without any additional features. Book apps need to not only be illustrated but enhanced for reader interaction, which if done right, can take many many man hours of work. Book apps might take just as long as if it was sent to the printers, or even longer to perfect and beta test, but they skip the time-to-store-shelf line. Nothing worth it is ever easy, kid.
  13. “The good news? Even if you never get published, I bet you’ll enjoy the process.” The exception here is a person that whines and complains and only does the minimal amount of effort, with the thinking that the end justifies the means. “I’m only doing this crud to get published.” Don’t be that guy. Enjoy yourself as much as you can. Sure, there’ll be times when you’re bombarded with tedium and distractions and all kinds of unexpected stuff flying at you that you can’t control. Please see earlier reference to nothing worth it being easy. Doesn’t mean it can’t be fun at the same time. Lighten up, have some fun, sneak in a glass of champagne now and again. You’re the only one who can make you happy.

*There are probably exceptions to these exceptions. There may be reasons why none of this applies to you. Take it all into consideration regardless. Hit the road untraveled if you feel so inclined, but do so with your eyes open. Knowing what challenges await will prepare you for that bumpy road ahead.

Now get out there and start creating something wonderful! (Unless you want to hang out for a minute and comment on this blog, which is a great idea, I’m so glad you thought of it…go ahead…hit the comment button…)