This is the blog home of #kidlitart, a live Twitter chat Thursdays at 9:00 pm Eastern, for children's book illustrators, picture book authors, author/illustrators and friends. Check back weekly to read transcripts, comment on previous chats and suggest topics for upcoming chats.

Monday, January 30, 2012

PBDummy Step 2: Halfway check

So, we’re two weeks into the four-week writing phase of creating a picture book dummy.

It’s hard work, isn’t it? Contrary to popular opinion (the people you meet at cocktail parties), writing picture books is not exactly an entry-level exercise into children’s publishing. In fact, it’s probably the most difficult genre in all of kidlit—so don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to find your way through a picture book manuscript.

For inspiration, we can’t do much better than directing you back to the resources listed in the Step 2 post: revisit the sites, flip back through the how-to books. Now that you’ve made a start, some piece of advice may jump out at you, or strike you in a different way.

If you’re lucky enough to have completed a viable draft already, use this remaining time to do one of two things: let the text rest unseen for a few days. Come back to it with fresh eyes after it’s marinated a bit. Or while you’re taking a break from your manuscript, put it in another reader’s hands—preferably someone who doesn’t have any idea what you were trying to say when you wrote it. Even better, have a third party read your story to a child in your target age group.

Things will change once you start developing the visual context of the story. Try thinking of it this way: your job as a writer is to prepare a foundation worthy of the beautiful artwork to come! :-)

Best of luck to all.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Transcript: 1/26/12

Topic: Who decides winners? ALA, NYTimes or the man on the street? #kidlitart 1-26-12

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Transcript: 1/19/12

TOPIC: How do you protect your art online? #kidlitart 1-19-12

Monday, January 16, 2012

#PBDummy Challenge Step 2

Note: You may sign up for the #kidlitart picture book dummy challenge through midnight, Eastern time, on January 16. You do not have to be registered to participate in the challenge--only to be eligible for the Agent Pitch Contest. Click here for sign-up and FAQs.

The following post is an edited version of last year's Step 2 post, which is also included in the #PBDummy ebook compiled by Wendy Martin.



Now that you have an idea for the picture book, the emphasis for the next four weeks will be on writing the story. For the challenge, we’ll assume most of you are creating original text, but those of you illustrating existing folk tales for your portfolios, working on nonfiction, or developing concept books, all need to be concerned with story—even a wordless picture book requires a script!

Some of you may be participating in Julie  Hedlund's #12x12in2012 challenge to draft one picture book a month during 2012. If so, consider this your February assignment!

How to write a story for children is beyond the scope of the picture book dummy challenge. There are excellent resources available, though—and the best advice is to READ, READ, READ! Read current picture books and classics. Read prize-winners and family favorites. Read aloud! Read to kids if you have ’em. Conventional wisdom says you must read at least 100 picture books before you attempt to write one.

Some things to keep in mind:

• Picture book plots are usually linear; they move forward through time (no flashbacks).

• Subplots may be implied (or carried through the illustrations), but the text adheres to a simple, single plot line.

• Picture books must have a child as the main character—a child or a child stand-in (a pet, furry woodland creature, etc.). An adult main character can work only if he/she exhibits childlike characteristics or behavior (Amelia Bedelia).

• Picture books address universal themes of childhood.

• Problems are solved by the main character, not by a wiser adult.

• Modern picture books are short: 500 words or less is not unusual.

• Beginning-middle-end structure results in a short story; a picture book plot contains tension that can be charted on a curve: rising action (exterior or interior) leading to a climax and quick resolution.

• Picture books most often use third-person point-of-view.

• Just as in a chapter book or novel, the main character should experience growth: change of attitude; newfound confidence; greater understanding, etc.

• Don’t be tempted to rhyme your text unless you’re willing to work to make the rhyme and meter perfect.

• There are exceptions to every “rule” about writing picture books!

Build your library:

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book: Vols. I, II & III , by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock
Volume I: Structure
Volume II: Word, Sentence, Scene, Story
Volume III: Figures of Speech
This series uses classic children’s books as examples to examine structure and grammatical building blocks.

How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published, by Barbara Seuling
Contains a useful section focused specifically on picture books.

How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books and Get Them Published, edited by Treld Pelkey Bicknell and Felicity Trotman
Though dated in regard to some business details (first published in 1988), this book contains valuable insights into genres and styles, as well as solid writing advice.

Writing for Children & Teens: A Crash Course, by Cynthea Liu
A breezy intro to the full spectrum of children’s books, with pithy comments on mistakes to avoid.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book, by Darcy Pattison
Ebook based on the popular series of posts, "30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book," from Darcy’s writing blog, Fiction Notes.

Picture Writing, by Anastasia Suen
A unique approach to writing visually.

Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books, by Uri Shulevitz
A classic and still one of the best introductions to picture book creation.

The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, by Nancy Lamb
Not specifically about picture books, but a fantastic reference for anyone writing for children.

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication, by Ann Whitford Paul
One of the newer entries in this category, and fast becoming a favorite.

Links to check out:











Thursday, January 12, 2012

Transcript: 1/12/12

If you're looking for the #PBDummy challenge, we're already underway, but there's still time to sign up! Click here for #PBDummy FAQs.

TOPIC: How do you get yourself started (and keep going)? Share strategies!
#kidlitart 1-12-12

Monday, January 9, 2012

#PBDummy Challenge Step 1

Remember to register by January 15 to be eligible for the Agent Pitch contest at the close of the challenge. To register, leave a comment at the sign-up post.


I suspect most of you who have signed on for this challenge have at least an idea in mind—something you’ve always thought would make a great picture book someday. If so, congratulations! Use this week to get yourself in picture book mode.

By that, I mean take your idea seriously. “Someday” is today. This is really happening. It’s commitment time. Prepare yourself mentally to give it all you’ve got.

The rest of you fall into one of two categories: 1) no idea; 2) too many ideas.

If you truly feel you have no viable picture idea, we can do no better than to point you toward the posts of Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo—that’s the Picture Book Idea Month challenge, in which participants aim to come up with one picture book idea a day for 30 days. It happens every November: Tara assembles an amazing group of authors, illustrators, booksellers and industry professionals whose sole focus is to provide inspiration for recognizing and capturing great picture book ideas.

Each guest post is a mini-tutorial on getting in touch with your muse. They’re all archived on Tara’s site . . . three years’ worth so far! (Hint: Go to the archives and click the month of November for 2009, 2010 and 2011.) If you immerse yourself in this material, there’s practically no way to avoid a picture book idea!

Now, suppose you have the opposite problem: you have file folders full of picture book ideas. You can’t walk down the street or turn on the radio without an idea popping out at you. Your task this week is to sift through until you find the handful that really speak to you on an emotional level. They may all be great ideas for someone: which are only for you?

Which ones could you be comfortable finding other homes for, and which one do you have to keep for yourself? Maybe it’s the runt of the litter—an idea only you can love. Maybe it’s the one that comes out wagging every time you visit the kennel. Creating a picture book is hard. You’ve got to love your idea even when it makes messes or needs to be walked in the rain.

By the way, this process of emotional investment applies equally those of you who are not particularly interested in developing an original story. A picture book dummy is a wonderful way to showcase your skills to an editor or art director who can give you someone else’s words to interpret. If that’s your goal, find a familiar fairy tale or fable in the public domain that you gives you that same emotional connection. In trying to establish a career, you’ll be up against hundreds of illustrators who draw or paint well: you must not only demonstrate competence with the format and with your chosen medium, you must be able to bring a unique sensibility to your interpretation of text. Pick a story that makes your sketching fingers itch!

Enough with the philosophy—it’s time to get this challenge started. We’re going to have a great time!

Ready? On your mark . . . get set . . . GO!

Join us this Thursday (January 12) at 9 pm EST for this week’s #kidlitart chat on beginnings and thresholds: why is that pencil sometimes just too heavy to pick up?

#PBDummy is now on Facebook!

Reminder: Wendy Martin has compiled the #PBDummy posts from the 2011 challenge into a handy ebook you can download for $5 here. You can also scroll back through and read the 2011 posts on this site: last year's challenge started in January of 2011. The first 25 participants who left a comment on the sign-up post will be receiving a link for a free download. 

Transcript: 1/5/12

Note: Click here for the #PBDummy sign-up and schedule. Register through January 15 to be eligible for the pitch contest at the close of the challenge.

TOPIC: Is there a dummy in your portfolio? Why or why not? #kidlitart 1-5-12

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Everything you need to know about the Second Annual Kidlitart #PBDummy Challenge

What is it?
A 25-week-long online group challenge to create and submit a picture book dummy.

Start date: January 9, 2012

End date: July 1, 2012

Who can join?Anyone! Though geared primarily toward author/illustrators, writers who are not artists can benefit from portions of the dummy exercise, and illustrators without an original manuscript can use the process to create a dummy portfolio piece.

Can I participate without attending kidlitart Twitter chats?
Yes, the challenge steps will be posted here on the blog--but we encourage you to take advantage of all avenues for joining in the discussion: leave comments here; drop by #kidlitart at 9 pm Eastern on Thursday nights; and check in with your Twitter colleagues any time via the challenge hashtag: #PBDummy. (Our thanks to illustrator Diandra Mae for again allowing us to use the clever twibbon she designed for the first Picture Book Dummy Challenge! Download yours here.)

Do I have to post my work online?
No! We will be discussing the steps in general terms. If you wish to receive feedback or critiques on specific ideas or artwork, you are free to exchange messages or post images with trusted partners in protected venues. DO NOT post original artwork in comments here: please be mindful of the nature of the internet and use caution when posting art ANYWHERE.

What if I don’t want to create a picture book dummy? Will I be left out of #kidlitart until July?Not at all! This year, most of the challenge activity will take place here on the blog or via the #PBDummy hashtag. We will schedule a progress chat to correspond with each of the nine steps, but the remainder of the chats will cover the entire range of topics of interest to picture book illustrators and friends of the genre.

Are there any rules for the challenge?
No rules at all for participating. The idea is to have a great time while accomplishing something useful. If you’ve ever taken part in a similar challenge, you know the value of community: checking in regularly, encouraging others, allowing yourself to be held accountable to a schedule—all this will help you get the most from the experience.

This year, we have added a sign-up procedure for those of you interested in the endgame (see below). If you want to be considered for the agent review at the close of the challenge, you must register by leaving a comment at the close of this post.

You will have until January 15 to decide if you want to make your participation “official.” This relates ONLY to the query contest outlined below. If you decide not to sign up publicly, or come to the challenge late, you can still participate and enjoy the reward of a finished dummy for your portfolio! Only those who have signed up by January 15, however, will be eligible for the Super Agent Query Review at the close of the challenge.

*STAY TUNED for a special offer for the first 25 participants to sign up!*

Tell me more about this Super Agent Query Review.
At the close of the challenge, you will be given an opportunity to post a query of your project. (This is entirely voluntary!) An agent will review the queries, pick the three most promising, and provide an in-depth critique of each of the corresponding dummies.

Professional feedback! Exciting, yes? And even if you opt out of the query contest, or don’t get picked for the professional critique, you still have the satisfaction of having conquered the picture book dummy challenge . . . plus a valuable addition to your portfolio. Win-win!

So pull out your #PiBoIdMo stash, dust off those concept sketches you’ve been hoarding since art school, and join us as we commit to getting it done!

Oh, one more thing! Remember we asked you to stay tuned for a special offer? Wendy has compiled the wit and wisdom of the challenge posts from the 2011 #PBDummy challenge into an attractive ebook, which she is offering FREE to the first 25 challenge participants to sign up. This pdf download includes transcripts of guest chats with picture book author Tara Lazar and illustrators Ward Jenkins, Dani Jones and Tara Larsen Chang, along with helpful links and suggestions for further research at each step in the dummy challenge.

Full disclosure: The original posts are still up, for those who don’t mind scrolling through the blog archives, but Wendy has distilled the information into a handy package that would make a great addition to your reference library. The pdf is available on Wendy’s site for a modest fee of $5. A portion of each sale will be donated to Brushes for Vincent, a charity providing art supplies to children who would otherwise be without any.

Each step in the challenge will be introduced* by a post here on the kidlitart blog. Greg Matusic has started things off with a great inspirational post on why you should consider joining the fun, and we will be hosting other talented folks from the picture book community at intervals throughout the challenge.

You are invited to check in via the comments section at any time to share your progress or ask questions . . . and there will be a “How’s it going?” chat scheduled at the close of each step in the process, to keep us on course.

*To avoid repeating ourselves, you will be directed to either the archived post from last year, or to the pdf compilation, for links and tips associated with each step.


STEP 1: Pick your project (1 week) Jan. 9-Jan. 15

STEP 2: Draft the story (4 weeks) Jan. 16-Feb. 12

STEP 3: Develop the characters (2 weeks) Feb. 13-Feb. 26

STEP 4: Storyboard text and art (2 weeks) Feb. 27-Mar. 11

STEP 5: Render tight, full-size sketches (8 weeks) Mar. 12-May 6

STEP 6: Produce final art of two spreads (4 weeks) May 7 - June 3

STEP 7: Assemble the dummy (2 weeks ) Jun. 4-Jun. 17

STEP 8: Research submissions; prepare dummy package (1 week) Jun. 18-Jun. 24

STEP 9: Submit (1 week) Jun. 25-Jul. 1

That’s it! Nine easy steps to dummy success. Ready to get started?Sign up in the comments section below and bookmark this site: Step 1 launches Monday, January 9.

Good luck!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Greg Matusic kicks off the Kidlitart Picture Book Dummy Challenge with a success story

So you have a story in mind and you’re thinking about creating a picture book dummy (PBDummy)? That’s awesome! You’ve definitely come to the right place. The KidLitArt Picture Book Dummy Challenge is a wonderful, hands-on, community-supported, 25-week online challenge to create and submit a rough, semi-complete version of your story.

Speaking of stories, here’s one you may relate to…

There once was (and still is) a guy who wanted to write and illustrate picture books. We’ll call him Greg, because that’s his name. Greg held a day job as a web and print designer. He was also a freelance illustrator when time and opportunity permitted. Greg also authored and illustrated picture books as gifts for his wife and son and was often told that his artwork and writing would be perfect for picture book industry.

He agreed, but he wasn’t sure how to get started. So Greg headed to the Internet and researched picture book authors and illustrators, publishers and agents, websites and blogs. He learned a great deal about writing and illustrating picture books, but he still wasn’t sure how to get started.

Then one dark and stormy late-December night Greg came across a tweet announcing the KidLitArt 2011 Picture Book Dummy Challenge. Picture Book? Cool! Challenge? Yes! Dummy? Hey!

Greg bookmarked the site, followed the organizers on Twitter and anxiously awaited the start of the Picture Book Dummy Challenge. And you know what happened 25 weeks later? He had written and illustrated a PBDummy.

The End? Not really…

Yes, that story is about me. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started the 2011 Picture Book Dummy Challenge, but I followed the schedule (for the most part) and put in a lot of effort and time.

Even though I haven’t been handed a fat stack of cash for the publishing rights (yet) I couldn’t be happier with the rewards:

• Completion of a submission-ready PBDummy titled “Pirates Go Shopping."

• I won a contest within the Challenge in which we were asked to write a “pitch” for our PB. The prize was a free picture book critique with Jennifer Mattson of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency who gave me some very positive feedback.

• I submitted my PBDummy and was accepted to the Eastern NY SCBWI’s Master Class Retreat on Picture Books (aka: Falling Leaves) where I schmoozed with a number of picture book authors, illustrators, publishing house Editors and an Art Director. I also received extremely positive, constructive critiques from my peers, the Editors and the AD. A few of the Editors wanted to see a revised version of “Pirates Go Shopping” and I was also asked to submit a few stories with illustrations for one of the publishing house’s “Young Reader’s” series.

The knowledge and experience that I gained from last year’s Picture Book Dummy Challenge has been invaluable. Here are some of the things I learned or discovered along the way that really stood out:

Your Story Idea: Love It or Leave It
I changed my story idea four times before finally returning to my original idea – “Pirates Go Shopping”. I thought I had found a better (more marketable) idea, followed by a few more that I thought were even better (and even more marketable). But the ideas felt a bit forced and the Challenge soon became too much like “work”. I still think they’re fine ideas, but I didn’t love them nearly as much as “Pirates Go Shopping."

25 Weeks is a Long Time
The Picture Book Dummy Challenge is set up with a number of goals and subchallenges that lead up to the completion of your PBDummy. I’m not very fond of the adage “life gets in the way”, but to be honest – it kind of does. If you haven’t reached a particular goal on the day it’s scheduled to be completed, no worries, you can finish it when time permits. And if things are going well, feel free to jump ahead. You can get a whole lot done in a 25-week period.

25 Weeks Flies By!
Like I said, you can get a whole lot done in a 25-week period. But week 25 creeps up on you pretty quickly. While it’s always nice to step away from a project for a little while, make sure you step back to it or you may find yourself too far behind to keep up with the rest of the group.

Join us for the Weekly Thursday Night #KidLitArt Twitter Chats
The #KidLitArt twitter chats are not only a lot of fun and informative, but they can help to keep you on track through the Challenge. Newcomers will be amazed by the sense of community and the eagerness of the participants to help one another. It’s an extremely close and very giving group of talented author/illustrators. Make sure you take full advantage of these chats.

Keep Your Eyes Open
Visit libraries and bookshops to check out new and classic picture books and note which publishers offer styles similar to yours. Surf the web to see what’s trending in popular culture. Browse through magazines to find a new color palette. Check the daily comics and discover a new way to draw a nose. In other words, keep your eyes open! You’ll never know where you’ll find the inspiration for your next great idea.

Be Social
Social settings, both real and virtual, provide terrific venues for you to spend time with and learn from your fellow picture book authors and illustrators. Join the SCBWI (or at least attend some of the fantastic SCBWI-sponsored events), read and comment on the blogs of your author/illustrator peers, friend them on Facebook, and of course follow them on Twitter – the unofficial Internet home of picture book news, advice and hilarious 140-character or less comments. (@matusic btw)

Stay Active
Write, write, write. Draw, draw, draw. Rinse and repeat.

Best of luck to everyone planning on participating in this year’s KidLitArt Picture Book Dummy Challenge. Wendy Martin, Bonnie Adamson and your fellow author/illustrator participants (including me) will provide you with all the direction and peer motivation that you’ll need to complete the task. Bring your talent, time, effort, and of course, your story, and you’ll reach that goal of creating a submission-ready PBDummy in only 25 exciting weeks.

Greg Matusic