September Picture Book Writing Course

Fancy a new challenge this autumn?  My next online picture book writing course starts on 4 September, and there are still some places left.

“Your course is the first one I have taken and I have learned so much over the 6 weeks’ duration.  I now know exactly where I have been going wrong all these years.  It has now given me confidence to start submitting stories again.”  S Stokes, May 2019 course student

WRITING PICTURE BOOKS WITH LOU TRELEAVEN

A 6 week course starting on 4 September 2019

Price: £150

Objective

To research the market and practise picture book writing techniques in order to create an edited draft of a picture book.

Outline

Week 1 – Researching the market
Week 2 – Structure and characters
Week 3 – The importance of plot
Week 4 – Picture book language
Week 5 – Edit edit edit
Week 6 – Submitting to agents and publishers

Course materials and structure

The course takes the form of pdfs which contain the course information, handouts and exercises. These will be emailed once a week, but there is no time limit so you can take your time and fit the course in around work and family life.

Support from Lou throughout the course

As a published author of six picture books and another in production, I can help you work towards publication and will be with you every step of the way. I will give you feedback on each week’s assignment so you know you are on the right track before critiquing your final draft.

Finish the course with a completed picture book

Through the course you will research, plan, draft, redraft and ‘submit’ a complete picture book, which I will then critique so you will have the best possible work to go forward towards submitting to agents or publishers.

You will need:

An email address and access to the internet.

Time to do homework (roughly an hour a week minimum).

A passion for writing. That’s it!

How to enrol

Simply email me at lou.treleaven@sky.com to confirm your place, or use the form on my website. Payment should be made before the course starts either by PayPal to my email address, or please request bank transfer details. Payment by instalments welcome as long as the balance is paid before the start date.

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Brigita Orel’s success story

I’m really pleased to share the news that another of my critique customers, Brigita Orel, is having her picture book published very soon.  The Pirate Tree is due out on 5 September from Lantana Publishing.  Illustrated by Jennie Poh, it looks absolutely beautiful.  Brigita kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her publication journey below.

Brigita has also kindly offered a free copy of The Pirate Tree to one reader of this post, shipped to anywhere in the world!  To win, just comment below and I will draw out a winner at random on 26 August.  Good luck!

What was your inspiration for The Pirate Tree?

The idea of a multicultural friendship sort of stems from my interest in multilingualism and multiculturalism. I think it’s important to introduce children to these concepts early on, and what better way to do it than to get them engaged with a fun story about pirate friends?

How important was the critique process (no pressure!)?

Since English is not my mother tongue, feedback is vital for me, particularly when it is so honest and constructive as your suggestions for my manuscript. Your comments helped me see the text in a new light which is always a good thing and a good starting point for revisions.

What made you choose Lantana Publishing?

When I browsed their website and then read a couple of their picture books, I realised they would be the perfect publisher for my story. They want to see all children represented in literature so that every child can find a character to identify with. Since my manuscript celebrates diversity, too, I immediately decided to submit to them. That they are a small independent publisher was a bonus because I felt that would be ideal for my first solo trip into the publishing business.

You have already been published in various formats; how different did it feel to get a picture book accepted?

I’ve been gathering experience in the publishing world for more than a decade (as a translator and by being included in collections of short stories/poems), so that certainly helped when my picture book was accepted. However, having my first picture book published as a sole author is different – both frightening and exciting. But I suppose every project, every publisher, every stage of a writer’s career is different, so I hope to never lose the element of excitement and novelty. The frightening aspects, I could do without.

The illustrations are beautifully drawn by Jennie Poh.  How did you find the illustration process?  Did you get any input?

The illustrations are indeed beautiful! I was thrilled when I saw the spreads for the first time. I didn’t get any input, but I don’t think it was needed. When I write a story, I of course imagine how it would look when illustrated. But when an illustrator reads it, they interpret it differently and I think that gives a story another layer. The final, illustrated version is like a combination of two slightly different stories and I believe that gives the reader even more space for interpretation.

You write in a lot of different formats, from poetry to essays to picture books.  Which is your favourite?  Do you plan on writing more picture books in the future?

The funny thing is that my favourite genre (to write and to read) is probably MG and YA, but I haven’t published anything in it yet (not that I haven’t tried). But I’m already working on two more picture book texts, so hopefully those two will find a home with a publisher, too.

You are currently studying for a PhD in creative writing.  How important do you think it is for writers to learn the craft academically?

I don’t think writers need to learn the craft academically. The only way to learn to write is by writing. But I like to learn new things and challenge myself and that’s why I enrolled in a CW PhD. For me, it has been an amazing journey that has taught me a lot about my writing process and about myself as a writer/person. And I’ve had the best supervisor, so all in all, it’s been a great experience. In addition, the deadlines forced me to write even when I didn’t feel like it – it turned writing into a habit and that’s a good thing for every writer.

And finally… what was the best thing about doing a Masters on Harry Potter?  (So jealous!)

Ha, that was a great excuse for when people raised their eyebrows at me for reading Harry Potter for the tenth time! But I also think when you study a book so thoroughly and from a slightly different perspective (research vs. pure enjoyment), you discover things about it that you might otherwise miss. It’s like a treasure hunt, only you then have to put it all into a thesis form (not my favourite part!). This was to some extent the reason for my PhD, too – to dig deeper, to look at things through an academic lens.

Many thanks to Brigita.

The Pirate Tree is published by Lantana Publishing.  Order through their website and they will donate an additional copy to a charity working to promote reading in low income households.

Visit Brigita Orel’s website for more information about her writing.

Have a look at Jennie Poh’s wonderful illustration work.

Find out more about submitting to Lantana Publishing.

Fiona Barker’s success story

I love sharing a success story, so if you haven’t heard of Fiona Barker and her passion for picture books, please read on and enjoy!  Fiona’s book Danny and the Dream Dog came through my critique service and I was thrilled to learn it will be published by Tiny Tree in October.

danny and the dream dog

Welcome to the blog, Fiona, and congratulations on your forthcoming book.  You started off as a self published author.  Can you tell us a bit about what that was like?

Thank you for inviting me onto your fab blog! Yes, I self-published a picture book ‘Amelie and the Great Outdoors’ in 2016. I had submitted it as a text in the conventional way about 10 years previously. Looking back now, my submissions were cringeworthy! Unsurprisingly I didn’t get anywhere so I shelved it for about 7 years. Then I came back to the story, which I still liked. This time around I investigated self-publishing. I worked with a freelance book designer and together we commissioned lovely illustrations from Rosie Brooks. Then I approached Matador who took me through the process of printing and publication. By now I knew that I had the picture book bug and so I started to view Amelie as a ‘practice’ for trying to get traditionally published. I won’t lie, it was an expensive process! But once you have a book in your hands you can get experience with events in schools, bookshops and libraries. I’ve learned so many lessons and I think that would all have taken much longer if I hadn’t self-published and had to market my book myself. My current publishers, Tiny Tree, told me that they were impressed by the fact that I had some history and a track record in promoting my book and that was one of the reasons that they signed me. So although I haven’t broken even financially, nothing is ever wasted. The experience has been invaluable.

Why did you feel you wanted to pursued a traditional publishing contract?

Lots of reasons! I couldn’t really afford to self-publish again. Self-published picture book authors are at a disadvantage because they have to pay up-front illustrator costs and this puts it out of reach for many writers. Also, I had rediscovered a real passion for picture books and wanted to explore pursuing writing as a career. It’s hard to pull that off with self-publishing. I have massive respect for anyone who manages to do that. And, like it or not, there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing. Several bruising experiences when trying to market Amelie showed me that!

What attracted you to Tiny Tree?  How has the process been, working with them?

I found Tiny Tree through Twitter (which is my favourite and my best!). I saw a tweet by one of their authors and decided to look them up. The information on the website sounded great, they were quite new at that stage so I thought I might be in with more of a chance than with a more established publisher and they accepted unsolicited submissions! It felt like I might be in roughly the right place at roughly the right time for once but I wasn’t confident as I’d had so many rejections in the past! They have been brilliant right from the start. They agreed to work with the illustrator that I wanted and they’ve been very hands on in getting everything just right. It’s so different from self-publishing where absolutely everything is down to you. This feels much more collaborative and it’s great to have other people who are excited about your book!

Bit of a cheeky question coming up!  You had a critique done during the drafting process of Danny and the Dream Dog.  How do you think this helped you?

It was HUGE! I’d advise anyone to get independent professional advice on their texts. It helped me refine the style and voice. I also changed a couple of important aspects of the plot and one of the main characters names. So some quite major revisions! But I didn’t follow through with everything. There were a couple of times where edits were suggested but I decided to stick with the original, including the title! I’ll let everyone judge for themselves whether that was a good idea or not! But it was great to be forced to carefully consider and justify the things I kept. I’m sure the professional advice helped because no changes were made to the text by the publishers!

You are very active on the literary scene with Picture Book Club, school visits and adult events such as WI and U3A meetings.  Do you think this has helped your author profile?

Massively, especially Picture Book Club. That’s not why I did it though! I set up PBC as an affordable way for people (including me!) to meet and learn from established industry professionals. And it gives me something to tweet and blog about. The adult talks I do are just a chance to witter on about picture books for an hour or so. And I love doing school visits. That’s done a bit for my profile locally but I’m not famous enough to get many long distance school gigs (-; 

How did you find your agent Alice Williams?  Tell us a bit about what an agent does for you.

Alice was on my ‘hit list’ because she represents my SCBWI friend and fellow picture book author Clare Helen Welsh. I submitted to her and then met her in person at the SCBWI conference in 2017 and I signed with her shortly afterwards. She is awesome. She is responsive if I have any queries and takes quite an editorial role which I find very helpful (even if I cry into my laptop initially!). She also knows the industry and has the contacts that I will never have. Having spent years pressing the send button myself, it feels weird having someone else do that for you but she is getting my work seen by editors that I could only have dreamed of previously. 

As an audiologist, do you think your day job affects your writing life?

I only work as an audiologist 2 days a week so writing fits round that quite well. I also have incredibly supportive colleagues which helps enormously. I’m terrible at compartmentalising things though so I always have a notebook with me, even at work and I often have to break off from working on a story to take a call from a patient. I recognise that I’m very lucky to be able to maintain both though. Variety is the spice of life!

What are your ambitions?

Ooooo! In the short term, I have one or two texts that are very special to me which I would really, really like to see in print. In the longer term, I’d like to write something that has longevity. Something that might still be in print in 10 or 20 years time. It’s a bit of a pipedream but you might as well aim high! 

And finally, any words of advice to other writers?

My number one piece of advice would be to join SCBWI and find a local or online critique group. My own SCBWI crit group are, without exception, amazing writers who I continue to respect and learn from all the time. You will also meet so many other fantastic writers and illustrators as well as other industry professionals. I met Howard Gray, who has done a brilliant job illustrating Danny, at the SCBWI conference in 2016 and the rest is history!

Many thanks Fiona and the best of luck with your new book!

Danny and the Dream Dog by Fiona Barker and illustrated by Howard Gray is published by Tiny Tree in October.  You can pre-order here, or why not order at your local bookshop or library?

Visit Fiona at fionabarker.co.uk or on twitter at @Fi_BGB

Find out about Picture Book Club.

And check out the wonderful dog charity Cinnamon Trust.

 

The Picture Book Prize 2018

Competitions are a great way to get your work seen, so any competition that is aimed at debut picture book writers and is judged by picture book supremo Amy Sparkes and superagent Julia Churchill is a must.  It’s also sponsored by Writing Magazine which features regular articles by Amy on how to write for children.

Entries of up to 800 words can be in rhyme or prose, and you have plenty of time to hone your masterpieces before submission as the entry window doesn’t open until 1 September 2018 (and closes on 31 October).  Prizes include consultations, critiques and cash, but most importantly being a prize winner can be an valuable step towards publication.

Details are on Amy Sparkes’ site and I recommend following her on Twitter to get her Wednesday Writing Tips.  And if you need any help prior to submission, why not check out my critique service?

Short stories wanted for new children’s magazine Zizzle

zizzle logoThis is exciting – a new international children’s magazine offering a paying market for short fiction.  The magazine will be online and is called Zizzle.  It is aimed at 9-14 year olds and will have a literary bent so bear this in mind for submissions.  They are looking for short stories from 500-1200 words and will pay US $100 for each story accepted for the inaugural issue.  After that, contributors will be paid as much as funds will allow.

Find out more about the magazine here and send your submissions to Yeutting Cindy Lam via the submissions form.

An interview with Tiny Tree

Following blog subscriber and critique customer Fiona Barker’s picture book acceptance by Tiny Tree, I caught up with James Shaw from Matthew James Publishing to ask him about his new picture book imprint and what he might be looking for in a submission.

Tiny Tree logoWhat made you decide to launch a picture book imprint?  How many picture books are you planning on publishing each year?

Not only am I a big fan of literature in general, I am also a huge art fan and a very visual person. Since taking over MJP I was always excited by the prospect of working on picture books, and as a father of two small boys I am constantly surrounded by the wonderful possibilities so many other publishing companies had produced. For me it was an obvious step. Although it hasn’t been easy, it has been very worthwhile.

As a small independent we don’t have a quota for how many books we publish each year and can be quite picky. Next year though we already have about 10 titles on the way, with many more submissions still filtering through. We like to keep it to no more than 1 a month though.

What length picture book are you looking for?  And do you accept rhyme?

We like to have 32 page picture books, but we will stretch to 48 or drop down to 24 at a push. We have done much longer titles, but we prefer 32 pages as a rule. We accept rhyming and non-rhyming books, the story is the important thing, and as long as it is told well it doesn’t matter if it rhymes or not.  Honestly not always fussed about a particular word count but we do find that around 600 words works best for children’s picture books.

Are there any topics that you are particularly attracted to?  Do you like books with a message?  What about humour?

Humour is really important to us. As a parent it is easier to read a book to my kids 40 times if it is funny. However, we at Tiny Tree love to provide books with a message. Bullying, friendship, loneliness, change, anything that could affect the life of a child is perfect. We want to stand out amongst the crowd, but we also want to provide something to the children, and the parents, above and beyond a beautiful book.

How are your authors paid, eg flat fee or royalties?  Do you pay an advance?  Do you sell foreign rights?

Our contract states a royalty of 10% on print versions, 25% on electronic versions. We also discuss with the author incremental increases in royalties based on sales. We don’t usually pay an advance unless one is required for a piece we absolutely must have. As a small independent we want to focus all our budget on producing and marketing a great product, and we like authors who are focused on that goal as well.

We can and do sell foreign rights, although we haven’t had much opportunity to up to this point. We have done our own translations for titles, to work with the authors from other countries though. Like any traditional publisher we are always looking for new avenues of sales for books and to make sure they get as much exposure as possible.

How do you find illustrators for your picture books?  Is this something the author would get involved in as well?

A multitude of ways really. Sometimes an author/illustrator will come to us with a title they have already illustrated, like Binx the Jinx. Sometimes an author will know someone who they would like to use or they have worked with before, like Russ Brown and Jamie Cosley. Sometimes we get portfolio submissions from illustrators which we keep on file for possible work.

There have only been a couple of times where we have had to find an illustrator from nothing, but there are so many organisations and communities out there that it always very simple. The only problem comes with trying to match up the work and trawling through hundreds of possible illustrators when there so many talented people out there.

What attracted you to Fiona Barker’s book?

Fiona’s book attracted me in a number of ways. First, it was a simple and heart-warming story. There is a message there, but it is surrounded by just a simple, funny, inviting story that makes it easy to read and something I could certainly see myself and others coming back to. Fiona herself is also easy to sell; she provided a great deal of marketing information, she already has a great presence and she has an approachable persona that makes it simple to plan around her.

She also provided us with an illustrator that worked perfectly for her title. Although having something illustrated before submitting can sometimes be problematic, in this case it really worked in her favour.

 

Details on how to submit to Tiny Tree here

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A critical year!

It’s almost a year since I started my critique service and I can’t believe how many manuscripts I have read!  I have laughed, cried (well, almost) and been blown away by the talent out there.  And the really exciting news is that one of my critique customers, Fiona Barker, has had her critiqued picture book manuscript accepted by independent publisher Matthew James Publishing Ltd’s new imprint, Tiny Tree Books!  More about that very soon, including an interview with the publisher to find out exactly what they are looking for from authors.

In the meantime I want to thank everyone who has used the service, and also let you know that I will be changing the price structure slightly in order to reflect the time I am putting in and make it a fairer system.  At the moment, if you submit multiple picture books you get a much cheaper price than those who submit one at a time,  which is great for the customer but means that because I do a full report on each book, the payment per book gets much lower the more I receive in one go.  So for future submissions, the price will be a set £25 per book up to 1000 words, and a further £5 per 1000 words thereafter.  This will actually slightly reduce the price of longer works but will also mean that each book critique will cost the same per person per book.  I hope this is acceptable and I look forward to reading more amazing writing in the year to come!author pic lou treleaven daddy and i

Frequently asked questions #1: Do I need to find an illustrator?

I thought I’d use this blog to answer some frequently asked questions about the submission process, starting with one of the most common.  Do I need to find an illustrator for my book before I submit it?

jon writing letters with both handsThe simple answer: no.  There are various reasons for this.

  1. Publishers usually like to source their own illustrators.  They may even have artists in mind that they want to work with, and are waiting for the right manuscript to come along (as was the case with my own manuscript Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip and the illustrator Julia Patton).
  2. A publisher will often have a house style that makes their books stand out as theirs.  The type of illustrators they choose will reflect this.  Yours is unlikely to fit unless you are only ever targeting one publisher.
  3. Fashions change in children’s illustration as much as anywhere else.  Your publisher will have a much better idea of how your book should look and what will make it fit (or stand out) in the current market.
  4. The right illustrator takes your book to another level – it’s like having a co-author who comes up with brilliant ideas.  The publisher knows which illustrator will make the most out of your text.
  5. Your editor and designer have a wealth of experience in laying out books, not only in terms of pictures but in the way the text interacts with the pictures, the pacing of the text through the spreads, typography etc.  Rarely these days does text simply sit under a picture.  It’s more likely to be dancing across a page, growing and shrinking or even spiraling through a spread.  If you’ve already provided illustrations, this hampers the space the designer can use rather than allowing them to work with the illustrator.

Exceptions

If you are already an illustrator then of course you will want to provide your own illustrations.  (Picture book author-illustrators are amazing and, in my opinion, demi-gods!)  Another exception might be that you have already teamed up with an illustrator and you want to work as a partnership or not at all.  It will be harder to be published in this case as both words and pictures will have to be accepted.  And finally if you are self-publishing you may need to find your own illustrator.  Self publishing is not something I tend to cover in this blog but there is plenty of help on line if you do pursue this route.

What happens next?

So how does your publisher find an illustrator?  While you are going through the editing process and refining your text, the publisher will also be researching artists and asking for sample pages to be created.  They may approach the artist directly or through an agency.  You may see these samples and be asked for your opinion but you may not!  Rest assured, your publisher knows what’s best for your story.

After the illustrator has been commissioned they will produce sketches for each page which are put together into a dummy pdf together with the text.  Again you may be asked to comment on this.  Once the roughs have been agreed, the illustrator finalises them with colour and detail.  The whole process can take a few months, but when you see the detail that goes into a picture book it’s surprising it’s not a few years!  By this time your text is normally complete too and you will be asked to look over the finished pdf and check for typos etc.  The book then goes for printing which can take about three months if it’s being printed abroad.  Finally you and your illustrator have a bouncing baby book – and you may never even have met!

Picture book competition

I couldn’t wait to tell you about the exciting picture book competition in this month’s Writing Magazine!  It’s open to any unpublished and unagented writer and the prize is a lunch consultation with top children’s agent Julia Churchill (plus a subscription to Writing Magazine – oh, and £200 as well).  And who knows where that could lead?

From my critique pile I know loads of you have some fantastic picture books waiting for the right opportunity, and there’s no entry fee so I urge you to give it a go!

Your text should be no longer than 800 words and can be rhyming or prose.  You can present it in page spreads or as continuous text.  No illustrations, pop-ups etc.  Details here.

There’s also some great tips on picture book writing from prolific picture book writer Amy Sparkes in the accompanying article (August edition).

Closing date is 29 September.  Good luck!