Rejuvenating Rejections

By Kate Carroll

As writers, don’t we all strive to put our best work out there in hopes of it someday flying off bookshelves everywhere?

So, it’s a hit to the gut when a rejection appears in our inbox. After days, weeks, months, and maybe even years, a sterile rejection is all we have for our hard work.  Maybe we get lucky and get great news.  But maybe not. We may find a few words in the letter to soothe our bruised egos. But maybe not.                                                                                     

Now what?

One thing I’ve learned on my writing journey is that sometimes I need to find a different way to tell the same story. Not earth-shattering news for many of you, I know.  But it can be overwhelming when staring at a rejection without a plan. Let’s face it, our creative work is personal, and it is hard to look at a rejection through a different lens.

I finally learned that if I apply a “system” to reworking a rejection, I often come up with fresh eyes, new ideas and a better manuscript. Hard to believe that could even happen – I thought it was perfect already! LOL. Humility helps, too.

With each story, I apply changes to see if I can create the “wow” factor to woo the next agent or editor who will evaluate my work.

Here are a few things to try with a rejected picture book manuscript before you dump it into a drawer.

1.   Decide if you should rewrite it in a different person or tense. Sometimes changing from third to first person or past to present tense can open up your character to new imaginings that you missed before. This work sounded overwhelming to me when a critique specialist suggested it, but now, it’s one of my top “go-tos” when attempting to get more movement out of a piece.

2.   Go back to basics! Take some time to read successful authors again.  Study what they did. Remind yourself of the basic picture book formats and the elements of story. Do you think you nailed character, setting, motivation, theme, etc.?  Is your book fitting into the genre easily, or is it forced? How about word count? Read books on craft, follow blogs and take advantage of the many virtual events that can help raise your writing up. Did I mention go back to basics? 

3.   If you wrote your story in rhyme, try it in prose or vice versa. Is your rhyme, meter and rhythm spot on? Competition is stiff, so don’t scrimp on the time that it takes to perfect your manuscript.



4.   What can you do to make your manuscript stand alone? I recently had a rejection from an editor “who wanted something more interrupting to happen.” What exactly did that mean? After fooling around with it, I took it to my critique partners, and they had a wealth of ideas. NEVER underestimate the importance of a great and trusted critique group! 

5.  Don’t forget to consider curriculum standards in a revision. Is there a way to introduce them into your story? Finding a way to tie in concepts of geography, sight words or science into your story gives it another layer. And just like a cake – the more layers the better!

6.  Back matter matters. Adding an author’s note, an activity, a recipe or any pertinent information enhances the power of your piece. It gives your work authority.


Perhaps these ideas are repetitious. But when the rejection letters pile up, it often takes a little encouragement to get back in the game. We can’t apply bandages to our writing wounds, but we can bravely adopt a “never give up” attitude and get back on to revising the next best thing.              

Good luck on your rewrites!

Happy WRITING New Year!!!


            We Wish You...

                   A year filled with 







                                                               joy, and...


                                                              just a little bit of magic!

Happy Writing in the new year!


 The Six Pens




Interview by Laurie Knowlton with the author Mayhem 2020

By Laurie Knowlton

Well, Mayhem, you have had an astonishing year and you are still rolling. Can you tell us a little about 2020?

Oh yes, 2020 has been some of my finest work. I’ve changed the whole world’s outlook on, well just about everything. I’ve been in the news daily. There are hundreds of blogs, magazine articles, tabloids, tweets, snap chats, Facebook articles and even old fashioned newspapers that haven’t been able to go a day without mentioning Little-ole-Me, Mayhem 2020!

Yes, that is the undeniable truth. Mayhem I'd like to ask you specifically about the publishing world. How have you, Mayhem 2020, changed the world of publishing?
A better question is, what haven’t I done to the 2020 publishing world?

First of all, everything gets a little catawampus during an election year. And boy did I enjoy stirring the pot on this year's election, but that is a different story.

Then of course when I unleashed COVID-19, you got to see me, Mayhem 2020, in action! Publishing houses sent their people home to shelter in place, making contacting editors even more difficult. And the books that were in the pipe-line for contracts got put on hold because, well who knows  what else I have up my sleeve. WINK! WINK!   

And if that wasn’t enough books that were ready to be released were either postponed or dropped, just like that! It was a thing of beauty! If I do say so myself.

Then, just to tighten the noose around publishing's throat I closed all the book outlets! No libraries, no book stores, no national book conventions... books...

True, but you didn't stop the libraries, book stores, or conventions. They found a way through online orders from the libraries, online sales, and conferences.

Yeah, well... I still had them running around like chickens being chased by a fox! You should have seen the feathers fly trying to find a way around me! Ha!

Mayhem, I can’t help but notice you're laughing at that! What about all the people who worked so hard on writing, editing, and publishing all those beautiful stories? What about all the book sellers and our kind neighborhood librarians?

Don’t be a marshmallow! It’s me, Mayhem 2020!

Those people need to get a  real job! Something in the demolition field.   


What about dreams? Goals? Seeing God-given creativity come to life on the paper pages of a real book! Don’t people need books?   

Books-smooks! You’re behind the times. Who reads books anymore? I’ve done the world a favor!

Well, Mayhem, I need books. I love the smell of a freshly printed book. I love the feel of the pages on my fingers. I love the comfort of wrapping up in a blanket, and sitting in my reading chair. I love getting lost in the lives and events of a new character.   

And what about all the children? How are they going to fall asleep at night without curling up in their Mama or Papa's lap to hear a story?
Get out the violins... It’s me, Mayhem 2020, do you really think you can go back to all that after what I’ve accomplished? Things are NEVER going to be the same! I am Mayhem 2020!

Mayhem 2020, I think you've forgotten something.

Me? Impossible.

Yes, you. You have forgotten that humans have a certain je ne sais quoi, an unbreakable spirit. You might be able to destroy everything around them, but you cannot break their spirit. Writer's need to write. Illustrators need to create. And people need to connect.

The one and only place a person can connect with another person's imagination firsthand is in a book. You may not be able to travel outside your doors because of a pandemic, but you can go anywhere past, present, and future in a book. You can live a life very unlike your own, experience a different culture, live a different reality, all by reading a book.     

Mayhem, you may think that books are dead, but I think you are wrong. We are weathering a great storm of chaos right now, but it can't last forever. Remember after every storm there is a new day.   

The publishing world may look like it is dead, but it is only taking cover. When the sky clears people are going to be hungry for new books, and publishers are going to provide them.    

Wow! Who do you think you are, Pollyanna? You just wait and see!

That is exactly what I am going to do. In the meantime I have a book calling my name. You'll find me in my chair reading until Mayhem 2020 is over... by the way it's December and the days are tick-tocking away to a new year and new possibilities!


Children's Books to Give for the Holidays


     'Tis the look for great gift books for kids. Check out our short list of kid's books that make great holiday gifts!

     Brand new as of December 1st: Plants Fight Back by Lisa Amstutz.

     Botany for kids! Beautiful illustrations by Rebecca Evans in this nature book provide information on the clever adaptations that help plants survive.

      How do you survive when danger is near and you are rooted in the ground? Plants use their defenses and fight back!

      As readers turn the pages of this beautifully illustrated book, they will find fun and poetic language describing various situation where different plants find themselves under attack. This is followed by informative, science-based lessons about these plants and their survival methods. Back matter includes a glossary and a STEM challenge activity to use at home or in the classroom.

Back matter Includes:
  • Explore More for Kids: photos and information about the plants in this book.
  • Explore More for Teachers & Parents: Literacy and Science connections!
A perfect book for:
  • parents and teachers in search of homeschool supplies for kindergarten (or any grade!)
  • anyone looking for children's books to help instill an appreciation of our planet!

     A boy and his mom continue the family tradition of participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count. Since Gramps went South for the winter, the boy hopes to spot Gramps's favorite bird for him―a dove! But with so many different birds in the nature preserve, will he be able to spot one? This heart-warming family story about nature celebrates a holiday census that was first started in 1900 and takes place every year.
Illustrated by Maria Luisa Di Gravio

     Ah-Choo! by Lana Wayne Koehler and Gloria G. Adams
uses rhythm, rhyme and repetition to tell the story of a boy who
searches for just the right pet that won't make his sister sneeze.
Illustrated by Ken Min.

     Also from Gloria: Check out her series, Boost My Reading Skills, filled with beautiful photos, rhyming text, and ideas for parents for boosting pre-reading and reading skills in young children.


        A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards and G. Brian Karas, 
  a book about doing good for others.

       Don't miss award-winning book, Each Kindness 
                                                     by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis              

      A wintery scene captures the fun of maple sugar time in

 Maple Syrup from the Sugarhouse by Laurie Lazarro Knowlton and Kathryn Mitter.

We wish you all a safe and happy holiday season

Inspire Me, Please!

 By Kate Carroll

In this extraordinary year, have you struggled to find motivation and inspiration? The abrupt changes in the world, and its effects on the publishing industry drove me to a standstill for a while. And I don’t think I was alone.

Here are some ideas that may help you get back to doing what you love most – writing for kids.   

Thankfully, the kidlit industry rose up providing online content, which I took advantage of, but ultimately, I knew that I had to do my own heavy lifting. The old proverbial adage of “leading a horse to water…” rang true. This horse had to put its own head into the trough and drink.

And so, I began.

One morning, I grabbed a cafĂ© mocha and pulled out my old conference notebooks and dug in. OK, full disclosure. This activity didn’t start out that way. I was on an organizing binge in my office which led me to rereading all the great wisdom shared by so many valuable experts. For hours, I sifted through a cache of craft material that had been sitting idle. It felt like I had found some old friends. If you haven’t pulled out your conference notes in a while, I highly recommend it. Mine ignited a spark!  

Another idea grew out of boredom. Flipping channels one day, I landed on an old sitcom. Deputy Barney Fife is so goofy and hilarious. What makes him funny?  How do the characters play off each other? What about the dialogue? Not only did I belly laugh again, but I also thought about humorous picture books and soon studied several. Here are some I love:

Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf
This Book Just ate my Dog by Richard Byrne
We Don’t eat our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
Underwear! By Jenn Harney
Barnaby Never Forgets by Pierre Collet-Derby

One great exercise taken from my notes is Story Builder. It’s easy, fun and a good way to jump start your imagination. In a notebook or on a piece of paper, make three columns and head each one with basic story elements - Character, Problem, Setting. Now dream up ideas for each category. The zanier the better. Eventually you can choose an element from each section and mix the ingredients together for a unique story starter. And while you’re doing “life”, if a character, problem or setting comes to mind, be sure to add it to your own Story Builder.

If you aren’t ready to sit down at your computer or pick up a pen and paper, how about a nature walk? Better yet, a scavenger nature hunt.  Corny? A-corny, maybe. Give yourself a list of things to find as you explore. It’s such a simple activity, but it reminds us that we are meant to wonder, to discover. Unless you are craving some real peace and quiet, take along a small human whose curiosity will likely pique yours.                                   

Why not try on a new genre? While this may seem incongruous for someone who is searching for inspiration, sometimes the stretch is just what we need to get going again.  Creating free verse poetry or journaling may rekindle your creative juices. Maybe offer up an editorial for your local newspaper. Write a Parents’ Corner in your church bulletin or preschool parents email thread. The point is to stay in the game any way you can.

As I said at the beginning, the kid lit community offers endless opportunities to connect and grow one’s craft during this secluded time.  Follow a new blog.  See what your local SCBWI has to offer. Join an online critique group. Search online for websites devoted to your genre. I discovered author Carol Kim’s website, Many of her blog posts are about the “business” of children’s writing.  Check out this link on the relevance of Twitter and children’s publishing. Although many of us use Twitter and the like, they can contribute to the slump if you don’t navigate them well.

As a final thought, even in these uncertain times, the good news is that we can restart our creative engines. And above all, remember that small, curious humans are the reason we write our stories!     

Interview with author/illustrator Susan Kralovansky

By Lisa Amstutz

This week, we are excited to welcome author/illustrator Susan Kralovansky to the Six Pens blog. 


Susie, please tell us a little about yourself!

I am a former librarian who began writing picture books for my students. They had a terrible time understanding the difference between a dictionary and a thesaurus. The first book was What Would You Do with a Thesaurus? By the time I had written them a book about encyclopedias, I decided to submit my idea to a publisher. That submission ended up being a six-book series for ABDO Publishing.

I write both fiction and non-fiction picture books. In February 2021, I have two books being released. My first, WE REALLY, REALLY WANT A DOG, is a story about animal adoption. And THE BOOK THAT JAKE BORROWED, which was first released in 2108, will now be released in a bilingual edition: EL LIBRO QUE JAKE TOMO PRESTADO.

I love talking to kids at school visits and hanging out in libraries and bookstores. When I’m at home, you can find me discussing a new book idea with my two writing partners. 

What are some of your recent/upcoming books and what inspired you to write them?

My most recent book was inspired by a fire ant bite. I’m originally from Indiana, where ants are harmless. They march along in single file, and if disturbed, they simply get back in line. Then I moved to Texas. While planting flowers, I accidentally jabbed my trowel into a fire ant hill. No problem, right? Wrong! Tiny red ants swarmed up my arms and legs and began to sting. Ouch! I quickly discovered that fire ants are fierce! Those fiery ants gave me the idea for HOW FIRE ANTS GOT THEIR FIRE: A TEXAS TALE.



Do you always illustrate your own books? How did you get started doing that?

When writing my second picture book, TWELVE COWBOYS ROPIN’, I knew I wanted it to be both a counting book and a book about Texas symbols. Rather than trying to describe how I thought that might work, I sent the editor a couple of pieces of collage art to demonstrate the concept.

When my editor offered a contract, she asked if I would like to illustrate the book. In my head, I screamed, “WOULD I?!?!? YOU BET!!!!!” But, ever the professional, my answer to her was, “I would love to!”  Luckily, I have been able to illustrate my next four books with Pelican Publishing.


What type of media do you use in your work?

Normally, most of my illustrations are fiber art collage. But, due to Covid-19, and the fabric stores being closed, WE REALLY, REALLY WANT A DOG has a lot of watercolor.


What tips do you have for aspiring author/illustrators?

My best advice is to believe in your project and persevere. I knew librarians needed THE BOOK THAT JAKE BORROWED, and I was right. That book just sold out for the fourth time!


What kind of books do you like to read?

I love to read every type of picture book. Tuesdays are library day. Every Tuesday I have to force myself to give back the books I’ve checked out and then bring home a whole new stack to enjoy.


What work do you wish you had written/illustrated? Why? 

Just about everything I check out on Tuesdays!


Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter?  Pantser

Guilty Food Pleasure?  Lily’s Salted Almond Chocolate Bar

Favorite Hobby?  Reading

Dog or Cat person?  Don’t tell the cat, but the dog is my baby.

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)?   My father

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening?  Evening – after everyone is in bed.


Susan lives just north of Austin in Georgetown, Texas. Visit her online at