Featured Interview in Huffington Post

I was interviewed by The Book Doctors in the Huffington Post today in an article entitled “Josh Funk on the War Between Pancakes & French Toast, SCBWI & Getting Published” – it’s probably the most in depth interview I’ve done to date, with some seriously awesome questions, such as:

  • How did you go about getting a book contract not only for Lady Pancake, but also for your next two books which are coming out?
  • Hasn’t anyone told you that rhyming books don’t sell? How did you overcome this ridiculous idea, and why do you think people keep saying that?
  • What are some of the most horrifying things about being a professional author?
  • How has being a member of SCBWI helped you in your career and as a person?
  • Why in the name of all that’s good and holy would you choose to get into the publishing business? Have you had your head examined recently? Been checked for brain parasites?
  • How do you keep it so funky?
  • and more …

And I got to share the #TeamKrush logo designed by Jessie Devine.

Team Krush Logo TeamKrush

Check out the entire interview here.

Two for You

(two books I highly recommend)

1. Backhoe Joe written by Lori Alexander and illustrated by Craig Cameron

Backhoe Joe

Want a backhoe for a pet? Of course you do!

2. There Was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie written by Rebecca Colby and illustrated by Kate McLelland

there was a wee lassie

A Scottish twist on this much-loved rhyme!

Josh Funk’s Guide to Writing Picture Books (in 12 easy steps)

Yesterday I updated my official website (joshfunkbooks.com) to include a new Resources for Writers section.

Josh Funk's 12 Step Guide to Writing Picture Books

For those of you that have been following this blog for a while, those 12 lessons may look familiar. I took my Tips for Writing Picture Books series and reorganized it a bit to make it a little cleaner and available all in one place.

See all of Josh Funk’s 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books

Lesson #1: So, You Wrote a Book. Now What?
Lesson #2: Picture Books Are Short
Lesson #3: Every Word Counts
Lesson #4: The Illustrator Is Your Partner
Lesson #5: Show Don’t Tell
Lesson #6: Write with Active Emotion
Lesson #7: Story Arc Components
Lesson #8: Don’t Write In Rhyme
Lesson #9: Rhyming Is All About Rhythm
Lesson #10: Some Ideas Don’t Work
Lesson #11: Keep Learning
Lesson #12: Now You’re Ready! Dive In!

I hope that these lessons help any prospective picture book authors, as it’s basically a massive brain dump of things I’ve learned in the last ~4 years.

Feel free to share – and enjoy!

My First Review: May the Syrup Be Ever in Your Flavor!

The last several years have been filled with firsts … and there are certainly more on the way. But my first official review for LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST appeared today on the Kirkus website. I’ve pasted the review below, but you can see it in its entirety here.

Brace yourself for descriptions of acrobatic rhymes, trippy wonders, illustrations that kick butter, and a comparison to the Hunger Games! (not a joke – I definitely didn’t see that one coming)

LP_Kirkus

I hope you enjoy digging in to the book as much as this Kirkus reviewer did!

My Official Picture Book Idea Month Post Is Now Available!

Just a quick note to the four of you who read my blog. My Official PiBoIdMo post is up at Tara Lazar’s website. I even snuck in two new previously unreleased sketches from Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast (by illustrator Brendan Kearney). Or is it sneaked? Is snuck even a word? It has that dastardly red jagged line underneath it! The word snuck/sneaked definitely causes problems for a rhymer.

joshfunk_pibo_prize

Also, I’m giving away FIVE signed books from my critique family over at my post: THE RAINDROP WHO COULDN’T FALL by Kirsti Call, REX WRECKS IT! by Ben Clanton, MONSTER NEEDS A CHRISTMAS TREE by Paul Czajak, RUTH THE SLEUTH AND THE MESSY ROOM by Carol Gordon Ekster, and ESTHER’S HANUKKAH DISASTER by Jane Sutton.

Happy PiBoIdMo Day #12.

Tips for Writing Picture Books: Rhyming Picture Books Are All About Rhythm

Expanding on my last post, today I explain why rhyming is not about rhyming.

Rhyming Picture Books Are All About Rhythm

I could spend all day (every day) talking about my thoughts on rhyming picture books. But rather than one or two or ten blog posts about it, I started a Tumblr called Victimless Rhyme. I plan on posting little quick hits on all aspects of rhyming, usually related to rhyming picture books. Check it out if you’d like.

Victimless Rhyme

But today, it’s rhythm. To re-emphasize a point I made earlier, there are three critical factors that must be addressed when writing a rhyming picture book. In order of importance, they are:

  1. Story (and characters, plot, arc, etc)
  2. Rhythm
  3. Rhyme

Story is most important. Rhyme comes last. But more important than rhyme is Rhythm. You may be able to find the most amazing pair of rhyming words in the world. But if the meter doesn’t work, then the entire picture book will go up in smoke.

What is rhythm (or meter). I’m not going to go into a scientific description of Iambic Pentameter (or Anapestic Heptameter and so on), but on a high level rhythm is the sequence of stressed and unstressed syllables. Think of a famous limerick about Nantucket. Once, Man, and tuck all have the same stressed emphasis on them, while the rest of the syllables aren’t stressed.

Map of Nantucket

But I’m not going to teach you rhythm. That would take more than a blog post (and there are already great resources out there … I personally like Rhyme Weaver if you really want to learn). I am going to stress (pun intended) the importance of rhythm. Just know that getting the meter right is much harder and takes significantly more time and effort than putting together a single pair of words that rhyme.

Although it’s hard to do, I find that the best rhyming picture books force the reader to speak with the correct rhythm. They’re carefully crafted with words that must be pronounced with the correct emphasis and stress. Rhythm can be subjective and the intended meter can easily be misinterpreted. And this is not something writers often think about. When the you write a rhyming picture book, you know which words to emphasize – but when someone else reads it, they won’t. And books are ALWAYS intended to be read by someone else.

I might say the word fire with 2 syllables. You might say it with 1 syllable. Put that fire in the middle of a line in your manuscript, and the whole text might come burning down.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image20761815

There’s no easy road to writing quality rhyming picture books. It takes practice, study, and hard work (and maybe some talent). And not every book should be written in rhyme. I’ve tried and failed with some and next time I’ll share my thoughts on why …

Some Ideas Just Don’t Work

… next time. Whenever that is.

 

See all of Josh Funk’s 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books

Lesson #1: So, You Wrote a Book. Now What?
Lesson #2: Picture Books Are Short
Lesson #3: Every Word Counts
Lesson #4: The Illustrator Is Your Partner
Lesson #5: Show Don’t Tell
Lesson #6: Write with Active Emotion
Lesson #7: Story Arc Components
Lesson #8: Don’t Write In Rhyme
Lesson #9: Rhyming Is All About Rhythm
Lesson #10: Some Ideas Don’t Work
Lesson #11: Keep Learning
Lesson #12: Now You’re Ready! Dive In!

Tips for Writing Picture Books: Don’t Write in Rhyme

Today I share the reasons I’ve been told:

Don’t Write in Rhyme

“Why not?” you ask.

“But publishers are constantly printing new rhyming picture books.”

“I’ve heard librarians like reading rhyming books at story time.”

“Children love rhyme, don’t they?”

“But Dr. Seuss was amazing and he only wrote in rhyme.”

and so on …

Here are the two simple reasons you should not write rhyming picture books:

  1. The Business Reason: Rhyming picture books cannot be easily translated into other languages. Therefore, rhyming picture books are immediately less valuable to agents and publishers.
  2. The Artistic Reason: It’s very easy to write bad rhymes. Lots of people do it. Therefore, there is a stigma associated with rhyming picture books – a cringe-worthy stain on the entire genre (I’m not kidding – I got a very painful looking cringe from a highly respected and successful agent when I told her I wrote picture books in rhyme – a look you might give someone when they tell you their dog died … a horrific death).

The Business Reason is pretty obvious. Yes, it’s possible a loose translation might work in some languages. And maybe (hopefully) your story and characters are good enough to be satisfyingly told without rhyme. But … maybe not.

The Artistic Reason is more layered. Even if your rhyming picture book is flawlessly superb both in content and execution, there is an excellent chance that agents will choose not to read it because, in fairness, most of the rhyme they receive is bad rhyme. If they have to read 99 bad rhyming manuscripts to get to your good one, was it really worth their time?

(hint: the answer is no)

What is bad rhyme, anyway? Well, there a lots of types of rhyme crime:

  • Simple, everyday, cliche rhyme: “My cat ate my hat, well look at that.”
  • Near rhyme: “I see a staple, it’s right on the table.”
  • Forced rhyme: “I opened my giant umbrella. It’s raining, I said to that fella.”
  • Regional rhyme: “In England, you see lots of rain. But I’m in the U.S. again.”
  • Seussian rhyme: “Dr. Seuss was Dr. Seuss, and nobody else can do that shlamboose.”
  • Yoda rhyme: “It’s raining and wet. In the car, I must get.”

But the worst bad rhyme has nothing to do with rhyme. Rhyme is the 3rd most important aspect of a rhyming picture book.

The #1 most important aspect of a rhyming picture book is that it has to be a good story. It must have characters, emotion, plot, arc, and all the other aspects that make up picture books (see parts 1-6 of this series).

The 2nd most important aspect of a rhyming picture book is the rhythm. Rhythm is way more important than rhyme.  Any preschooler can rhyme. Rhyming is easy. That’s why I say writing a rhyming picture isn’t about rhyming …

Rhyming Picture Books Are All About Rhythm

More on that later, I’ve got to shlamboose!

 

See all of Josh Funk’s 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books

Lesson #1: So, You Wrote a Book. Now What?
Lesson #2: Picture Books Are Short
Lesson #3: Every Word Counts
Lesson #4: The Illustrator Is Your Partner
Lesson #5: Show Don’t Tell
Lesson #6: Write with Active Emotion
Lesson #7: Story Arc Components
Lesson #8: Don’t Write In Rhyme
Lesson #9: Rhyming Is All About Rhythm
Lesson #10: Some Ideas Don’t Work
Lesson #11: Keep Learning
Lesson #12: Now You’re Ready! Dive In!

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!