Monday, September 16, 2019

I Have a Children's Book Idea--Now What?

I get this question A LOT. And I try to answer everyone who asks it. 

Why? Because we neeeeeed quality children's books out there. We need your voice--all of your voices! We are all better readers and better people because of them. 

So in this (somewhat selfish) attempt to answer you all at once, I'm going to tell you what I would do if I were you and had a children's book idea. This is not the only answer. In fact, ten different people will probably give you ten different opinions, so by all means, seek more information and choose the path that works for you. BUT if you feel like this is something you are supposed to be doing, something you are called to do, whatever you do, TAKE. THE. NEXT. STEP. Whatever you determine that step to be, through research and prayer, DO IT. 

Okay? Okay.

1. Write your manuscript. This may seem obvious, I know. But do you know how many ideas I have stuck in my head? Too many. And do you know how many of those will get published without this step? ZERO. Exactly zero. 

So open a Word doc, get out a piece of paper, open a voice recorder, and just put actual words to your idea. Once it's on paper, give it a title, divide it into spreads (if a picture book, think in scenes) or chapters, and just get all of those words out of your brain and into a format that you can see and touch and read out loud. 

Then (and only then), you are a writer. You don't have to get published. You don't have to sell a million copies. If you write, you are a writer. Period.

But, assuming you want to be a published writer, something magical happens when you put words on a page. When you finally release the words out of your mind and onto paper, your brain, using all of the experience you've had with books (see #1 below), starts to see what was once just an idea as a real book. As a result, you'll begin seeing holes in the plot, you'll begin hearing issues with the dialogue, and you'll begin to edit the manuscript in a different way, as if it's a real book (because it is).

2. Write a proposal. For me, this is the hard part. But think of it as a résumé for your book (and you). You will find hundreds of book proposal templates out there, but the main things you need to convey are 1) a summary, 2) a sample (if a picture book, include the entire manuscript), 3) why it will sell, 4) a plan to promote, and 5) who you are. Googling it will give you more info than you would ever want, but this is a pretty good explanation. (Also, see #2 below.)

3. Make an agent wish list. Back in the old days, you snail-mailed a paper proposal directly to the publisher to die a long-suffering death in the slush pile. But these days, submitting directly to the publisher is rare. (Rare exceptions: 1) If you have or make a direct contact with an editor and s/he requests your manuscript, or 2) a publishing house allows unsolicited manuscripts.) 

Enter the literary agent. This makes the process more efficient for everyone. A good agent is familiar with the preferences of publishing houses and has an established working relationship with them. Once it's in their capable hands, your chances for getting published increase exponentially.

But getting it into their hands takes some homework that is not for the faint of heart. You can find a pretty comprehensive list of agents and what types of work they represent in Writer's Market. You can also just do a search, go to each agent/firm's website, and review their submission guidelines.

Through this process, you'll learn so much and get a pretty good idea of which agents may be a good fit for you. Make a list (print out each agent's info, create a spreadsheet, write it on a whiteboard--whatever works best for you) of the agents you would love to work with.

4. Perfect your proposal. I use the word "perfect" with caution; some of us will never, ever send out our proposals because they never, ever will be perfect. Don't let that be you. But you do want your proposal to be the absolute best representation of you and your work that you could ever create. It is your one shot (insert Eminem or Hamilton here, whichever you prefer). Do not let a sloppy proposal stand in your way of success. You've learned a lot since step #1, so now it's time to look back through that proposal and make it the best it can be. Be yourself. Stand out. Show them what an amazing author you're going to be.

5. Submit your proposal. Go back to that list you made in #3. If it's been a while, check to make sure that the submission information is the same. Say a prayer. And start submitting--following their guidelines exactly

6. Buckle up. It is probably going to be a bumpy ride. Statistically speaking, you are probably going to wait a long time, get several robotic rejections and, if you're lucky, some rejections with feedback for improvement. Always, always, always respond to the feedback for improvement with gratitude and a teachable attitude. If you get nothing but rejections, take a break, step back, and when you're ready, start back at #1 with fresh eyes. When in doubt, see #7.

7. Just keep going. If you get published on the first try, awesome. Keep going. If you get 47 flat rejections, awesome. Just keep going. If this is what you were meant to do, JUST. KEEP. GOING.

Important things to do in the meantime: 

1. Read quality children's books. Read them in the library. Read them in bookstores. Read them out loud to kids. Don't read them with an agenda. Just read them and love them, and your brain will work out the ins and outs of why you love them, and those little wonderful methods will show up in your writing. Trust me. Do it.

2. Consider joining a writers' organization. SCBWI is pretty much everywhere, and they offer quality conferences and a wealth of information on their website and newsletter. There is a small annual fee to join, but I think you'll find it's well worth it. 

3. Go to writers' events. See if your library offers a writers' group or seminars. Look for writers' conferences in your area. Attend author visits at universities, bookstores, libraries, or book festivals. Find booky, writerly, authorly things to do, and DO THEM. Listen, take notes, practice, learn.

4. Keep an open mind. We need everyone's story, but everyone's story doesn't have to be in a book. Maybe you're supposed to do live speaking events or just tell it to your next-door neighbor. Maybe you'd make a greater impact as a librarian, or maybe you were meant to teach the next generation of writers. Maybe you'd reach the biggest audience as a blogger or podcaster. Keep an open mind, trust your instincts, and whatever you do, tell your story.

Okay, what did I get wrong? What did I forget? What questions do you still have? Leave it in the comments, and we'll work on it--together.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Children’s Book Scavenger Hunt: Stop #7

Welcome to the Christian Children’s Book Scavenger Hunt! 

If you are just joining us, please begin >>> HERE <<< to collect the clues in order, so you’ll be in the running to win one of three sets of books and a children’s Kindle Fire! The hunt runs from 9/13 at noon Mountain time until 9/15 at midnight Mountain. This contest is open to international entrants.

In this set of books, you'll find Night Night Devotions: 90 Devotions for Bedtime, with hundreds of pages of Virginia Allyn’s gorgeous illustrations and the sweet Night Night sentiments on which this series has been built. Night Night Bible Stories released in March, and in October, Night Night Devotions will release. BUT the winner will receive a signed copy before it even releases!

Pre-order here!

In each of these books, we hope you find the perfect way to send your littles off to sleep, feeling cozy and oh-so loved by the God who made them. Of course, you don’t have to use my books to teach your littles about God or to spend time with Him. If you’re one of those parents who knows the importance of daily time with God, but you’re not sure how to add one more thing into your day, here are:

7 Simple Ways to Spend Time Daily with God

1. Make your Bible a priority. I know the right answer is, “Of course, the Bible is a priority!” But if I rewind to when I had toddlers, there would have been little evidence of it. Over the years, however, I’ve formed a habit of starting my day with my Bible, and it has made all the difference.

2. Listen to Christian music. You can now find rap, reggae, R&B, southern rock, gospel, pop, rock, and metal—all sung by Christian artists. There are silly songs and straight Scripture set to wonderful melodies. And when you’re stuck in a situation that needs a little wisdom or a ray of light, you’ll be surprised by how often those lyrics will stream through your head (or your kiddo’s head!)—at precisely the right time.

3. Make prayer a habit. Meals and bedtime. Check. But are there other opportunities to make prayer a habit? For instance, we’ve started praying every morning on the way to school. It’s only three or four sentences, but it places the school day in God’s hands and sets our eyes on things above right from the get-go.

4. Have a mealtime devo. Whether you read from a devotional at the dining room table or a Bible verse on your phone at the ballpark, use this time with a captive audience to infuse Scripture into your family’s day. Jesus used mealtime as an opportunity to share and process biblical truths—we can too!

5. Pray over your home. When I worked at our church bookstore, I regularly saw my pastor’s mom walk through mumbling. She wasn’t lost—she was praying over our entire church! When it’s naptime or the kids are at school, walk through and pray over each room of your home. It will make a difference that everyone can feel!

6. Enjoy nature. Observe the design of a butterfly’s wing. Look for shapes in the clouds. Take all the photos of rainbows and sunsets. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” When you walk outside, you can marvel in worship without ever saying a word.

7. Be thankful. I know: it’s not always easy. But when we model this for our kids (“Thank You, God, for the money to fix this flat tire!”), we are equipping them with a powerful weapon against the doldrums of this world, a weapon of light that could quite literally save their lives.

Listen, I know your days are jam-packed with lessons and appointments and meals and laundry. But I have seen for myself how these simple little habits can transform lives. I have (shockingly) found myself quoting Scripture rather than nagging. I have felt overwhelming hope at the end of a draining day. And most importantly, I have seen the faith of my own family grow. Is there anything more worthwhile than that?

For a chance to win a BUNCH of resources to help your family spend time with God, HERE'S YOUR SCAVENGER HUNT CLUE: spell 

NEXT STOP: Head over to Pam Halter’s site to read her post and collect the next clue in the hunt!

As an added BONUS, anyone who comments on this post will be entered to win a copy of Night Night Bible Stories to go with your copy of Night Night Devotions that you ARE GOING TO WIN! Right? Right. Comment below and HAVE FUN! 
UPDATE: Sarah Taylor, you are the winner! Email your mailing address! 

Friday, May 19, 2017

LOOOOK! Personalized Plans!

Add YOUR child's name and photo to The Plans I Have for YOU!
I didn't think I could love this book any more, but now, they've gone and done it.

NOW, you can have your very own personalized The Plans I Have for YOU! with your very own name and photo throughout! 

Or maybe your child's name, if you must. ;) 

Or maybe BOTH!

And right now, FaithGateway has a $5 off coupon when you order one (code: 5OFFKIDS). Of course, they're offering this on other books, too, but you know which one is my favorite. ;)

The Plans I Have for You is absolutely perfect for graduation or milestones or really for any day or age at all. I personally believe that this is a message that we all need to hear!

Kids (and adults!) now more than ever need to hear that God has BIG plans for them. And now, with the personalized option, they can hear that message stronger than ever. 

Get your own personalized copy here! 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Happy Mother's Day! (Hold the glitter.)

I spent a good hour in the greeting card aisle yesterday. I'm fairly certain I read every. single. Mother's Day card there.

Some were funny. ("For all the times you could have smacked me, but didn't...) 

Some were flat. ("You're a good mother." Seriously. Save the six bucks.) 

Some were over-the-top. And most were covered in glitter and/or were in tribute to "the Queen." (What.) 

Exactly three of them expressed the appropriate sentiment (sans glitter). And I bought them.

It made me wonder if any of the people writing these cards were mothers--or even ever HAD mothers. (And if you treat your mother like the queen, please adopt me.) 

Motherhood is beautiful and painful and the most difficult and rewarding thing a woman will ever do. Ever. In all fairness, how could you encapsulate that in a poem (and still leave room for all the glitter)?

As I was wandering through my blog posts today, I found some pretty accurate portrayals of motherhood. So in celebration of Mother's Day--and every day on this journey--I thought I'd share them with you.

From a mama who's been there and survived (so far): Happy Mother's Day! 

Those three words will never be enough. <3

Monday, March 20, 2017

RELEASE DAY! Thank You, God, for Grandma & Grandpa

It's release day, friends! And some of you have been waiting for these two for a long, long time.

When Thank You, God, for Mommy and Thank You, God, for Daddy released in 2011, I expected sales around Mother's Day and Father's Day, with little attention in between. But you have been screaming, "WE LOVE THESE BOOKS," with your purchases all year long--year, after year, after year. 
You've also been screaming (at book signings, at conferences, at family get-togethers ;), "WE WANT GRANDPARENTS BOOKS TOO!"

So now--thanks to you and your screaming, dear readers--HERE. THEY. ARE.

And they are the cutest.
Early sketches from the amazing Rosalinda Kightley
When writing these books, when seeking out all of the amazing attributes of grandparents, I had so many real-life examples to choose from: my own parents and grandparents, my husband's parents and grandparents, and even summers spent with my great-grandparents while they were still here. These books are written just for them--for ALL of them--for the Nanas and Papas and Grandmommies and Granddaddies, with their legendary love for us and our own children. 

Some early scribblings from yours truly :)
We often buy books like this for the same reason that we buy greeting cards. They capture an emotion so precious, so sweet, so deep down in our hearts that we often can’t put the words in place to express it. And I hope that in these little board books, you'll find just that: precious illustrations paired with that message you’ve been longing to say. . . . 

“Thank You, God, for Grandma. Thank You, God, for Grandpa. Thank You, God, for the hours they spend with my children. Thank You for the long stories that Grandpa tells. Thank You for Grandma’s secret recipes. Thank You for the gift of their presence, their legacy. Thank You, God, for the memories that they leave behind."

You can find them all here:
Thank You, God, for Grandma
Thank You, God, for Grandpa
Thank You, God, for Mommy
Thank You, God, for Daddy

Friday, March 3, 2017

Review of the Week: "Super bible for kids!"

The Plans I Have for You Holy Bible released last month, and I've been tickled with the response it's received . . . 

Including this review from Meredith:

 Super bible for kids! March 1, 2017
I just gave this to my daughter (after being sent a copy for review) and she is thrilled to have a "big kid" bible [that] has pictures of kids and looks fun. I'm a huge fan of Zondervan for hitting this mark so well--still taking faith seriously while making the study of it engaging for kids. Super bible for kids as they grow and learn!

The Plans I Have for You Bible includes:
* 50 Big Plans pages 
* 25 Promise Prayers
* 100 highlighted verses
* And, of course, the full text of the New International Version

So, if you're looking for a gift for Easter, baptism, or just want to introduce your child to God's big plans for them, then this "super Bible" may just be the one for you!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Striving to Remember

The following post is a guest blog from Amy's intern--ME! I am thrilled to be spending time with her this semester, and grateful she is giving me a chance to occupy her blog for awhile. For those who are consistent readers, friends, and family, you KNOW she is a delight! I hope you harvest some truth from my stream of thoughts.
In Him,
Lauren Holley 

No, God, I can’t…I won’t.

In the depth of a prayer, have you ever uttered these defiant words? Have you felt that tug—the pull of what you know God is telling you that you need—but you tighten your grip around the thing that you want? We all have tendency to approach God with an attitude that is somewhat like: “Hi, God.  So, here is what I want. Your will be done…within reason.” Silly, right? How can we train our hearts to fully surrender our plans—not just in a pragmatic “God-is-good” way, but in a “I-have-joy-in-God’s-divine-intervention” sort of way?

When I was a sophomore in college, I encountered God’s intervention in my desires. As a budding undergraduate, I was eager to answer that looming question: “What’s your major?” I knew what I wanted. So, I chose: Leisure, Sport, and Tourism Studies.  


Yup. It was a major in outdoor recreation leadership: a dreamy prospect. For two summers, I had immersed myself in the realm of recreation leadership at a camp for girls in Alabama. I was smitten. I loved everything about camp: the relationships, challenges, teachable moments, being outside, the planning, and the teamwork involved. So, naturally, when faced with a decision to choose my major, I convinced my parents that this was it. The one. The only. Reluctantly, they gave me the reigns, and I cheerfully steered my educational trajectory onto the trail of outdoor education. This was what I wanted… but God had something else in mind.  

God whisked me away to work at another camp in Colorado. Prior to Colorado, a tiny acorn of doubt had seeded in my heart. For six months, it had been growing into a sapling of noticeable discomfort. A voice was breaking through the stubborn soil of my resolved decision. 

Change my major.
Change my major?  

Should I change my major? I couldn’t change my major. No, I thought. I’m halfway through, and if I switch degrees, I will be in school an extra year, which would mean a heaping helping of loans to compensate for ended scholarships. Nope. No, no, nope. It doesn’t make sense, God.  

I was counting fears, and they deafened my spiritual ears. One night before I left for Colorado, God and I had a little meeting. 

Okay, Lord, if you want me to change my major, you MUST push me. Flat out, full on, PUSH. You must give me peace, or I won’t do it. I can’t. I absolutely can’t. 

Three weeks passed, during which I completed my training in Colorado. One night after training, I was sitting outside of my cabin, reflecting on my fears and doubts. Then, in a single moment, God pushed me: a flat out, full on, PUSH. The sapling of discomfort in my heart had somehow morphed into an oak tree of peace: I needed…no, I wanted to change my major. Whaaaaaat? God had graciously prepared my heart to desire this change. I had no fear. I felt God pressing on my heart to be an English major. This had been suggested to me on multiple occasions by different people, but I had ignored them. It was obvious, really: I loved reading, thinking, and writing. Of course: God was leading me into something I enjoyed and had been gifted in. 

But He wasn’t done rerouting me. While I was in Colorado, I got a call from my best friend (and roommate), letting me know that the YMCA (where we worked, and which had so graciously allowed me to leave for the summer) was closing. “And there’s more,” she said. Uh oh.
Through a series of events, our housing situation had dissolved; following this dissolution, the Lord had called her to Washington state. 

Oh, okay God. Wait…no, not okay! What are you doing? 

So, not only was I potentially facing a new major with an extra year of college and student loans, I was facing unemployment and no housing. And the cherry on top? I wouldn’t be back to Tennessee until August, so all my searching would have to be done over the phone or internet. 
Through the miracle of Facebook and word-of-mouth, August greeted me with a nanny job, an adorable house, and two roommates (whom I hadn’t met). Things were looking decent.  Good, even. Close call, God. But he had one more curveball for me.  

The day I arrived home from Colorado—a Monday—I received a text from my anticipated employer saying she had willy-nilly hired someone else. My heart sank. I had to sign my new lease on Friday. 

Lord, we have four days. FOUR DAYS. GOOD GRIEF. Work a miracle. 

Tuesday, I walked into my favorite coffee shop to put in an application, mentioning that my nanny job had fallen through. The girl tilted her head and said, “I know someone looking for a nanny. Do you want me to give her your number?” And no sooner than I had walked out of the coffee shop,I received a text asking if I could interview for that very nanny job. 

I interviewed on Thursday. 

Holy cow, you are cutting it close, God.
Friday at 4:20 p.m., I received a text: “You’re our nanny if you want to be!” 

I called my new roommates. I had a job. I could sign the lease.

As it turned out, I thrived in my new home, fell in love with the children I nannied, adored my newfound roommates, and am graduating ON TIME with no extra loans. My diploma will note my English degree with a double minor: Theater, and… Leisure, Sport, and Tourism. God is so faithful, ya’ll. His provision exceeded my expectations. 

I still manage to forget God’s faithfulness, though. Like…everyday. Don’t we all? But I've learned that instead of pleading with God in uncertainty, stubbornness, and doubt, I must remember his past provisions: they are my signposts, like Passover's blood on the doorframe and the rainbow in the clouds. 

And what about the Sabbath? It is a blessed day—a sign from God for His children—to remember His strength and provision in their life, and to rest in His goodness. And don’t forget the Last Supper, when Jesus called his disciples and future believers to remember by breaking bread and saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22: 19). Each of these signs held physical and spiritual implications of deliverance, saving God’s people from Earthly destruction and pointing them toward a heavenly hope. 

There are things in my life I never would have chosen (or would have originally wanted); but God is bigger than our preferences. In fact, 1 John 3:20 says God is bigger than our hearts – “and he knows everything”!! He does not always fulfill desires in the sense that we would anticipate; that is, giving us what we want. Rather, in His sovereignty, He takes our hearts, listens to what we want, and gently replaces it with what we actually need. He is gracious to deliver us from our misguided desires and lead us into the Promised Land of His perfect will.  

So let us strive to remember—with our baskets full of “gimme gimme-s”—God’s hand full of blessings. Let us step stone-to-stone across the shallows of life’s uncertainties, asking for grace to accept when things don’t go our way, peace to embrace change, and joy in newfound, God-given desires. Stop counting fears. Open those clenched fists (and those baskets) so the Lord can put His gifts into them--and give you JOY in His divine intervention.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Psalm 37:4