Writing a Series: Picture Books

By Gloria G. Adams

If you have ever thought of writing a picture book series, here are some thoughts on building one.

1.       Have a theme that will tie them all together. 

2.       Have a purpose. If teaching something through non-fiction, is there enough material for multiple books? Do you offer kid-friendly activities in the back matter? If it’s fiction, what is the reason you think kids will benefit from getting to know your characters? 

3.       Setting: Is this a place to which kids will want to return in every book? 

4.       If it’s fiction, is your character the right age for your story and target audience? Do you have enough (very short) stories to make a whole series? Does your character learn things over the course of each book to which your readers can relate? 

5.       Will you self-publish or pitch to traditional publishers? There are pros and cons to both. Learn all you can about them before you decide. 

6.       Research the market; is there a similar series out there that’s been recently-published?* 

7.       Whatever you decide, make sure you read as much as you can so that you know your market and your competition.

The two picture book series I wrote this year are Boost My Reading Skills and Backyard Biomes.
Boost My Reading Skills is a color concept series with back matter that teaches how to use these books to help kids boost their pre-reading skills. It also includes a page of resources for parents about reading.

Backyard Biomes is about…biomes! It includes colorful pictures of plants, animals and geology for Forests, Oceans, and Deserts. Back matter includes information on the specific biome and a page with directions for children on how they can make a book about their own backyard ecology.

Both series are in rhyme and were vetted by a reading teacher. They are targeted at grades K and 1 but will also work well as library story hour books for 3 and 4-year-olds. They are published through Slanted Ink, www.slantedink.com, and are for sale on Amazon.

*I researched Backyard Biomes two years ago but failed to double check again; after my books were published, I discovered that a series with the same title had been published in 2017. Make sure to keep checking the market, especially if you are not publishing traditionally.

Photo Prompts for Writer’s Block

By Gloria G. Adams

I used to tell people I didn’t believe in writer’s block. I have too many ideas, more than I will ever be able to write about. But, writer’s block isn’t always about finding new ideas; it can manifest in struggling to make your story work, your characters become stronger and more relatable, your world-building more exciting and different. All of it can be really frustrating. 

But if you are struggling with finding a great inspiration for a story, images might be a good place to start. 

How can pictures inspire you? Think about going to an art museum or looking at paintings or photography in books. Images evoke feelings inside us that a short string of words (a word prompt) just can’t manage.

So, here are a few images to spark your imagination and hopefully inspire some new stories. As you look at each one, ask yourself questions. What has happened to this person and what will be the consequences for him/her? What kind of world is this and what different, scary, funny, etc. events could happen here? How can I describe this person, world, event? What sensory details can I bring to this picture?

Ready? Set? Get inspired!

"Peer Review"

By Lana Wayne Koehler

Squirrels. The bane of my existence! They have been a part of my life ever since we moved to our home over 20 years ago. Kent State University once did an experiment with black squirrels and, when they were done, set them loose on the community. Because of that, we are overrun with black squirrels, grey squirrels with black tails, and every combination you can think of. 
I love to sit and watch them play in my yard—until they dig up my flowers to plant their nuts or do some other destructive activity. Yet, somehow, they intrigue me enough to keep watching.
When Michelle Barnes asked Julie Fogliano for a May challenge on Today’s Little Ditty (https://michellehbarnes.blogspot.com), she suggested that we look out our window and write a poem about what we see.
So I wrote about squirrels.
By Lana Wayne Koehler
With their
Chattering, climbing, jumping,
The way they leave hickory nut shells
On the previously white railing
Scampering up to my window
To peer into my life
Like I peer into theirs
Waiting for me
To watch them
© 2018 Lana Wayne Koehler. All rights reserved.

Scarlet's Magic Paintbrush by Melissa Stoller

We're delighted to welcome Melissa Stoller to the Six Pens blog to share about the process of writing her new picture book, Scarlet's Magic Paintbrush, illustrated by Sandie Sonke. Read on to learn more about Melissa and her beautiful book!

By Melissa Stoller

I’m delighted to be here with you Lisa, to discuss my magical debut picture book, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (Clear Fork Publishing, August 2018). Illustrator Sandie Sonke (www.sandiesonkeillustration.com) is an incredible artist and I’m thrilled that we’re collaborating on this book.

Gathering the Idea and Writing the Manuscript:

Here’s a bit of background about the book’s journey. Although I’m not an artist, I love art history and spending time in museums. A few years ago, I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, gazing at paintings by my favorite artists, the French Impressionists. I wondered, what would it be like to paint like an Impressionist? And I thought to myself, I wish I had a magic paintbrush so I could paint like that. And the idea for SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH was born.

I remember brainstorming the idea. I asked myself many questions:

What if a little girl really did have a magic paintbrush? What would she paint? Would the paintings be perfect? How would she feel about that? And then, what would happen if she lost the magic paintbrush? Could she ever paint again? Would her creativity take over? And, what if she found the magic paintbrush?

In answering these questions, I wrote my first draft. Then I revised, revised, revised. I firmly believe that the true story is revealed during revisions. My critique partners were invaluable throughout the whole process. And several classes along the way were also truly helpful as I developed my craft, including The Children’s Book Academy “Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books,” “Making Picture Book Magic,” and “Inked Voices” workshops.

From Manuscript to Book:

Time passed, and I found myself in another museum, The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. I was enjoying a special day with Callie Metler-Smith, founder of Clear Fork Publishing, who published and illustrated my debut chapter book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND. I mentioned that I was working on a picture book inspired by my love of art and art history, and Callie liked the idea and ultimately the manuscript!

Enter the marvelous Mira Reisberg, founder of the Children’s Book Academy and Editor and Art Director at Clear Fork Publishing. Mira, aka the Picture Book Whisperer, is my incredible editor and art director for this project. And she brilliantly paired me with the very talented illustrator Sandie Sonke, who is bringing this story to life.

I’ve had several sneak peaks into Sandie’s process and I can’t wait to share the whole book. I just love the cover - it is truly enchanted! I hope children enjoy the story and the art and I know the book will sprinkle a bit of magical creativity throughout the world.

Thanks again Lisa, for allowing me the opportunity to showcase my debut book and Sandie’s beautiful cover!

Melissa’s Bio:

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and Summer 2018); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Summer and Fall, 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). 

Melissa is an Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees at The Hewitt School and at Temple Shaaray Tefila. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.

Connect with Melissa:

Writing: A Focus on Intent

By Gloria G. Adams

As a freelance editor, I find myself increasingly asking clients, “What is your intent for writing this book? What is it that you want to say and what do you want your main character to be like at the end?” 

For some books, it’s obvious. But I’ve edited a lot of them for which I was unsure of the intent. Enough to make me realize how important it is and how often it’s not been thought through.
Though there are many areas where intent is something to address, such as target audience or fitting into a niche market, I want to concentrate on two that I think are most important in the writing of the story. As a writer, I know that I want to answer these two questions for every story I write:

  • What is my intent for my main character?
  • What is my intent for my reader?

The main character travels on a journey through books and stories, whether it is physical or emotional. In order to make this journey meaningful, the writer needs to be aware of who his character is at the beginning of the book and who he wants him/her to be at the end of the book. Will he be more confident, empathetic, learn a lesson, make amends for mistakes? 

Create a picture of your character in your head; write it down in a notebook or on note cards or in Word or Scrivener…whatever works for you. The most important thing is to understand and maintain focus on the end goal for your characters and to make sure you fulfill that goal.

The other concern is that you know what you want your reader to take away from your story. Clarify this in your head and keep asking yourself, “Am I giving my reader what I planned? Is it enough to keep him reading?”

J. K. Rowling supposedly wrote the ending to the Harry Potter books long before the first one was published. She knew where she wanted to take the story.

When you are thinking about your intent for the reader, these should be the most important goals:

  • To keep the reader engaged in the story.
  • To make the reader care about your character and about your character’s journey or goals.
  • To deliver on promises you make. (Solve the mystery, resolve the love triangle, etc.)

Because it’s always about the reader. Without readers, we have no audience for our work. We must make sure we are writing with the intent to satisfy the reader and to give him or her a story worth reading and characters to whom he/she can relate.

Are you writing with intent?

In addition to writing for children and contributing to this blog, Gloria is co-founder with writer, Jean Daigneau, of Two-4-One KidCritiques, a critique editing service that offers two critiques for the price of one. www.two4onekidcritques.com.