NESCBWI 14 Conference Recaps

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m pretty quiet, reserved, and shy. I don’t really like talking much, especially about myself. You’ll also know I’m pretty sarcastic.

Therefore, rather than talking about my experience at last weekend’s conference (May 2-4), I thought I’d share some of my friends’ recaps. So here they are:

If I missed your blog post, feel free to share it in the comments, or just post your own thoughts on the grand spectacle that was NESCBWI 2014.

Who’s ready for next year?

Think outside your

crayon box








So, You Wrote a Book?

In the past two days, I’ve been referred to twice as a gateway of sorts to the publishing world. Two friends each contacted me regarding friends of theirs who have written a book (or books) for children. These friends of mine asked if I would meet/advise/consult/critique/etc their friends’ work.

I have yet to speak to either of the two writers, just our mutual friends. But I’m relatively confident this is the first time either writer has stepped outside their circle of family and friends regarding their writing.

So what should I tell them? I’ve written posts before about where to begin, but I really don’t want to overwhelm anyone. I want to educate, give a dose of reality, but ultimately inspire them?

What if I could find 5 articles or websites they could go to as that starting place?

$200 is about what you'll get in an advance as a first time author
$200 is about what you’ll get in an advance as a first time author

Here are my five:

  1. Start with Jennifer Laughran’s Word Count Post. It’s not impossible to get a 3,000 word picture book published in today’s market … no, actually it is. Get the disappointment over with first. You’re 15,000 word Young Adult novel just isn’t long enough. Let’s rip off the band-aid and move on.
  2. If you’re still with me and haven’t cried yourself to oblivion (or your word count is actually in line with the genre for which you’re writing), then GREAT! Let’s make sure your craft is as good as possible. There is no single link that will help make this happen, but if you join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, you’ll be able to find workshops, critique groups, conferences, retreats, and more -> and that will help you hone your craft. So the second link is to Join SCBWI.
  3. If you’re confident your manuscript is the best it can possibly be, it’s time to find somewhere to send it! Whether you are sending directly to publishers or looking for an agent, try to find a copy of the most recent Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market and SCBWI The Book. These will help you find out about which publishers are looking for what, as well as the agents looking for whom.
  4. But don’t send yet. You still need to write your query. What’s a query, you ask? A query is the professional business letter you send to the agent or editor ‘asking’ if they would like to read your manuscript (oh, I get it? asking=querying). How do you write one? I suggest starting at There are links from there to other sites, which will link to others, which link to an unending list of others – all filled with help writing queries. Querying is hard. But you will survive.
  5. Now that you have some sense of what you’re in for, read Delilah S. Dawson’s 25 Steps to Being a Traditionally Published Author. First, it’s hilarious. Second, it gives an exciting account of a success story. Third, it truly goes through every step of the trail to publication – highs, lows, and in-betweens.

I think that’s enough to fill anyone’s brain for a little while. If you had just 5 links to give someone starting out in the writing business, what would they be?

Happy Old Year, 2013!

Before celebrating another year since the birth of the Earth (hey, that rhymes!), I’d like to congratulate 2013 for being pretty awesome to me. Here are some highlights:

I began 2013 with a little over a year’s experience, a single handful of decent manuscripts, very few contacts, and no online presence.

I adopted a pseudonym.

I wrote. I revised. I joined a new critique group and critiqued.

I dipped my toes into the pool of social networking.

Facebook LogoInstagram LogoTwitter LogoPinterest LogoWordpress Logo Google Plus LogoGoodreads LogoMammoth Logo  Tumblr Logo
(did I forget any? Probably…)

I ate lunch with at the same table as a Newbery Honor winner.

I made real and virtual friends with skillful sarcasm.

I attended 4 book launches and purchased more signed books than I can count.

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I started another critique group and became a board member.

I queried and submitted with a success rate higher than 0.0%.

Marsal Lyon Literary Agency Logo

I abandoned the pseudonym.

I end the year in the process of waiting.

Waiting for the phone to ring

The lessons of 2013? Don’t use a pseudonym. And get out there. And my wife is always right. Even if I crossed off the last five things from my list, it would still have been a pretty awesome year.

I wish all (both) of you a 2014 as ‘happy’ as my 2013.

Tea with Miss Jan

I made a new friend on Monday night. Her name is Jan and poetry is currently helping her through her mid-life crisis. As both readers of my blog are aware, I don’t consider myself a poet. But perhaps when I’m 93 I’ll start a new career as a poet just like Jan.

The Alfred Summer

Through a series of broken legs and critique groups, I (along with a handful of other writers) was invited to tea with Jan Slepian, author of dozens of books in a career spanning over half a century. She’s written everything from picture books to young adult novels and recently self-published a few titles before her recent turn to poetry. The Alfred Summer (1980) was nominated for the National Book Award and was noted as one of the 100 books that shaped the 20th century by the School Library Journal (although my many many many kids are more into The Hungry Thing series at the moment).

The Hungry Thing

I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up to tea. I know I didn’t expect to feel as energized and invigorated as I did when I left. Jan told us a few stories about her life as an author and a person, then listened excitedly to us tell her about our recent experiences writing for children. Jan’s sugary smile filled the room as her cookies filled my belly with sugar. It’s hard not to like someone who appreciates my sarcastic sassiness (she referred to it as ‘wit’). I look forward to more tea (and cookies) and swapping wit with Jan soon.

Tea and Cookies

In the words of Jan Slepian, poet: “Don’t join the crowd who wonders where the time went … toss the unanswerables … and lighten my load.” * Now I’m gonna go try to live every day as if I’m 93.

* copyright Jan Slepian 2013

The Mortimer Minute

I was asked by the soulfully poetic Matt Forrest to follow him in The Mortimer Minute, a children’s poetry blog hop. Thank you, Matt for the invite. One of the pictures below is Matt Forrest. If you click the correct one, it will take you to Matt Forrest’s Mortimer Minute entry!

Is this Matt Forrest? Is this Matt Forrest? Is this Matt Forrest? Is this Matt Forrest?

For the Mortimer Minute, I’ve been asked to answer some questions about my experiences with poetry. Now, I don’t really consider myself a ‘poet.’ I believe poets to be much more in tune with people’s emotions (and their own emotions) than I could claim to be (ask Mama Funk for examples). Some have described an occasional picture book manuscript of mine as ‘a poem’ in the past. So maybe I write poems. Maybe…

To the rabbit’s questions!

Question #1 from Mortimer: What projects are you working on now?

Answer from Papa J Funk: Well, Mortimer, as always, I’m working on multiple rhyming picture book manuscripts. Last week I was revising three different ones. One of them is awesome and ready. One of them is going to sit and stew on a shelf or in a drawer for a few weeks/months, and a third I’m still working on.

My Unpublished Manuscripts
My Unpublished Manuscript Shelves

Lately I’ve been participating in several critique groups, both in person and online. And as always, I’m working on the ‘craft’ of writing. Without giving too much (er.. anything) away, that’s what I’ve been up to.

Question #2 from Mortimer: How do you come up with ideas for your poetry?

Answer from Papa J Funk: Well, as I intend all of my poems to be illustrated … for children … in about 32 pages … and in about 500 words or less … I usually start by trying to come up with something I haven’t seen in that format. Have you seen any picture books about a little girl and her doll? Probably. Well, I’m not going to write that one.

Although I do have many many children to spy on, only some of my ideas are stolen from them. Sometimes I just like to spend hours acting as childishly and child-like as possible (again, ask Mama Funk for more details). These states of mind (and body) often produce wonderful rhyming picture book fodder.

Question #3 from Mortimer: What children’s poem to you wish you had written?

Answer from Papa J Funk: I am going to reinterpret this question as ‘what poetic or rhyming children’s picture book do you wish you had written?’ To that, I have lots of options. Do I go with a recent classic like Iggy Peck, Architect? Or do I go with a classic classic like The Lorax? Or maybe I’m gonna cheat and say I’m happy with those that I have written and don’t wish to take anything away from anyone else?

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No. The answer is Chicken Cheeks. Period.

Thanks for joining me for the Mortimer Minute. If I have poet friends, I’ll link to their blogs below. Until next time, Mr. Rabbit!

Four Questions from a Monster

Would I like to participate in a Blog Hop? This was the question posed to me by Paul Czajak (author of multiple picture books about a monster named Monster). Of course, I answered yes! Here’s a little more about Paul and don’t forget to check out his blog hop entry here:

Paul CzajakPaul Czajak got an ‘F’ with the words “get a tutor” on his college writing paper and after that, never thought he’d become a writer. But after spending twenty years as a chemist, he knew his creativity could no longer be contained. His first picture book, Monster Needs A Costume, illustrated by Wendy Grieb was recently released through Scarletta Kids.  This is the first picture book in the Monster & Me series (all of which will be illustrated by Wendy), with the second, Monster Needs His Sleep due April 2014 and then Monster Needs A Christmas Tree set for September 2014.  He has also recently signed a contract for Seaver the Weaver which will be illustrated by Ben Hilts of The Hilts Brothers and is planned for April 2015.

So let’s get right to the nitty-gritty.

Blog Hop Question #1: What are you working on right now?

Well, I am writing a post on my blog called Four Questions from a Monster. Wow, that was an easy one. Let’s go to question #2.

Blog Hop Question #2: How does it differ from other works in the genre?

What? Wait. I think I might have misunderstood question #1.

Oh, what ‘writing projects’ am I working on? I’m in the middle of lots of stuff, but it all involves picture book manuscripts and rhyming. You see, I have impeccable rhythm and rhyming ability (when I write). Mama Funk will tell you my rhythm outside of writing is (what’s the opposite of impeccable? blemished? I’ll go with that) blemished. Some of it involves alien caterpillars. Others involve megalomaniac grasshoppers. I’m really into insects. Or maybe all of that is a lie.

But how does it differ from other works? Well, first of all, it isn’t published. That’s one difference.

But seriously, what I’d like to say is different from some (not all) works in the genre, is that my writing is intended to entertain both parents and children. If it can’t entertain parents, then who is going to read it to the kids? I want to enjoy the books that my many many offspring bring to me at bed time(s). There are lots of books that entertain kids, and many that entertain me. Some entertain all of us. That’s what I’d like to see more of, so that’s one thing I’m trying to do.

Blog Hop Question #3: Why do you write what you write?

I really should have read through these questions before I started typing. I write what I write because I want children and parents to be entertained (as I said while answering question #2).

But I have other reasons. I think that children’s books should also educate. Picture books should push the boundaries of language and teach kids new words. Not always through definitions and glossaries. And not so that parents will have to stop and explain what a word means. Picture books have pictures, so kids can glean meanings from context, especially if the books are read multiple times. I’m not saying I want my five-year-old to speak like Charles Wallace, but I really don’t want to dumb it down for him.

I also try to be unique. I’m sure many people endeavor toward originality, and along the way, I’m sure agents, publishers, acquisition editors, etc. push to the mainstream.  But I’ve read enough books where a bear needs to learn how to get dressed (if you wrote a book like this, I apologize – I am not thinking of any book in particular).

There are lots of unique books being published today, but again, I want more!

Blog Hop Question #4: What is the hardest part about writing?

So many possible answers … which one do I pick?

  • Coming up with an idea?
  • Hammering out that first full draft?
  • Receiving discouraging critiques?
  • Revising?
  • Writing queries?
  • Submitting?
  • Receiving rejections?
  • Promoting?
  • Travel away from your family?
  • Paparazzi?

(many of those I haven’t yet experienced)

I’m going to go with waiting (I swear I wrote this before reading Paul’s answer to this question – although I’m not surprised we share the same one).

Tom Petty

Whether it’s

  • waiting for critiques
  • waiting for an answer from an agent
  • waiting for an answer from an editor
  • waiting for an answer from an acquisitions team
  • waiting to see your illustrator’s interpretation of your text
  • waiting to see your book in print
  • waiting for your release day
  • waiting for your launch party
  • waiting for your sales numbers
  • waiting for your royalty check
  • or waiting for the whole chain to start again …

(again, I have not experienced most of those)

Waiting is definitely the hardest part about writing. So what do I do while I’m waiting? I write more, of course!

And now, to pass this blog hop on to more willing participants. If you see links below, you know I have writer friends who are interested in sharing their lives with you. So click over to them. And be sure to click backward to Paul Czajak’s as well!


So, I don’t really have anything to blog about. Then why I am I writing a post, you ask? I don’t have an answer. Maybe one will come to me before I hit the Publish Button button.

Maybe I have nothing to post about. Maybe I’ve done nothing ‘blog-worthy’ since I last posted (on August 12th?).

Maybe I traveled through time and jumped from August 12th to September 23rd?

Maybe I’ve run out of sarcastic things to say? Or maybe I’m pouring my sarcasm down the avenues of Facebook, twitter, and my writing?

Maybe all of my computers and phones and pads have been broken.

Maybe I’ve partaken in so many exciting events that I simply haven’t had any time to blog about it? Maybe I’ve been book launches, craft chats, and critiquering groups.Maybe I was in a coma, suffered while on a jungle safari.

Maybe I’ve been so busy submitting manuscripts to agents and editors.

Maybe I’ve become so glum and depressed collecting rejections and the absence of rejections from said agents and editors.

Maybe I don’t need a reason. I just didn’t.

Or maybe …