April Kidlit Writing Contests

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CONTEST TIME

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.

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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

 

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KIDDOS

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.

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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 🙂

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

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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…)

Top 12 Tips for Writing a (Good) Picture Book

DON'T BE A NEWBIE

DON’T BE A NEWBIE

Writing a picture book is easy.

Writing a good picture book is hard.

But how, you ask?

Top twelve newbie tips for writing a picture book, plus one bonus thought*

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

By Bitsy Kemper

  1. You’ve written a great story, and formatted it into standard picture book manuscript form. You’re getting ready to submit it to an editor or agent. How do you find an illustrator? TRICK QUESTION. You DON’T. [You don’t submit your manuscript with images or photos. Respectable publishers don’t want you to find an illustrator. Your job is to write so beautifully that it opens up illustration possibilities. Leave the actual artwork to professionals, just as they leave the writing to you.]
  2. A story has a beginning, middle, and end. A series of anecdotes, no matter how charming, isn’t a book.
  3. Pop quiz: Who said good writing is rewriting? It doesn’t matter. Just know that what you have now will go through MANY rounds of edits/changes before it’s ready for prime time. It’s not a sign of weakness to edit, change, rearrange, repeat. Working on your manuscript shows dedication and commitment to perfection. Don’t your readers deserve that?
  4. Do your homework. Research and study as many great picture books as you can. Why do they work? How? Notice how the book’s illustrations wouldn’t work without the words, or how the words wouldn’t come across without illustrations. You’ll soon see why both words and images are equally important. In picture books, you can’t have one without the other. The nomenclature “picture book” makes it clear: images (picture) and words/story (book) together. Read a hundred picture books, literally. Don’t just spend an hour in the kid section of the library. Spend days, weeks, months. The more you read from a content and format perspective, the more you’ll see  why good books work, and, odds are, the better your book will be.
  5. Take it out of rhyme. I haven’t read your manuscript, but I can assure you it’s not working. Sorry. Rhyme has to be PERFECT, not “close enough.” Perfection takes lots and lots of practice. (Pls see earlier reference to homework!)
  6.  “Fiona the Floormop”? “Becky’s BFF Bakes Biscuits”? NO. Alliteration and anthropomorphisms (giving human qualities to something non living, like a talking mop) are at the top of the DON’T list for most editors/agents.
  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. Is it good? Different? Compelling? Will an audience want to read it again and again?
  8. Don’t moralize. No one wants to be talked down to or lectured. (In a well-written book, the reader figures out the moral of the story without being told pointblank what it is. If you have to call it out, your story’s not written well enough.)
  9. Join SCBWI! Attend a conference – as many as you can in fact. The more you understand the industry, the better you’ll be able to serve it. Imagine wanting to gold medal in luge but you never watched a game or met any fellow and/or award-winning lugers. Your desire to succeed will be stalled by your lack of involvement, interaction, and experience. Conferences are a great way to make writer friends, too. We’re good peeps! (Well, for the most part—there’s always that one guy…)
  10. You don’t have to have an agent—but it usually helps.
  11. Plan on getting rich? AHHAHAHAHAHAH Contracts can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. To top it off, you split your +/- 10% cut of book sale price with the illustrator. You might only get 25¢ per book sold! You’d need to sell quite a few books before you even earn lunch money. And since books tend to go out of print in roughly two years, those books need to sell quickly.
  12. If you don’t have patience, find some. It can take YEARS for a manuscript to get accepted, and then another year—two or three isn’t unheard of—before it’s on the store shelf.
  13. The good news? Even if you never get published, I bet you’ll enjoy the process. My husband still plays soccer every Mon/Weds/Fri. Will he get drafted by a pro team? No. That’s not why he plays. He straps on his cleats and hits the field because he loves the game. If writing doesn’t make your heart sing, consider another career or hobby. You’re the only one who can make you happy.

*There are always exceptions to the rule. But not many. Swimming upstream is best left for after you’ve had several successful books under your belt. That’s not to say take the easy path. Know what you’re up against and arm yourself accordingly. Then the road won’t be as bumpy.