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!