Thursday, March 2, 2017


Full disclosure – the original title of this article was AUTHOR VISITS ARE AWESOME AND HERE IS HOW YOU CAN PLAN ONE FOR YOUR FABULOUS SELF AND YOUR AMAZING BOOK, YEA! But that seemed a tad a wordy. 

Fortunately I have plenty of space down here in the roomy “article” section to share tips that I learned about organizing and executing author visits. So let’s begin with the what – what is an author visit?

An author visit is when an author meets with a group of people to talk about their books, the craft of writing, the world of publishing, and/or related issues like literacy. 

A critical part of planning a visit is figuring out what you are comfortable doing. Singing songs to Pre K kids about a character from your book? Putting on a PowerPoint presentation for 400 third graders about revisions? Speaking at a charity auction about the importance of reading? 

It can evolve over time but knowing what you can talk about comfortably will define your audience. Visits can include all sort of activities but mine usually fall into this pattern: a reading, some sort of presentation, then a signing. 

So with that in mind, the next question is where – where do authors visit?

The most common answer is schools and public libraries. School visits can include small sessions at a daycare, large assemblies at an elementary school, and even creative writing courses at a local college. A book’s target audience is not a limit – you have a lot of knowledge about the craft of writing that you can share with older teens and adults. 

Libraries host story hours and adult-education groups that you can also address. The same is true for children’s museums and other attractions that tie into the theme of your book. For example my third book, LUCY LOVES SHERMAN, is about a lobster so I am working with our local Oceanographic Center to organize a presentation about, well, lobsters! 

Book stores and children’s shops are great places to visit as well. After contacting the store (more on that later), you can plan an event for just your book – or you can find existing events you can join. I’ve been lucky enough to have all three of my book launches at a local Barnes and Noble. But, as an author of a monster-themed picture book, I also enjoyed being part of a Halloween celebration at one of my favorite gift shops. 

Authors are also welcomed speakers at charity events for literacy and youth issues, as well as book fairs and conferences. Children’s hospitals are a wonderful feel-good place to do readings. I promise your heart will swell three sizes if you do that one. One of my favorite “out of the box” visits was at an awards ceremony for young writers. Bottom line, there are dozens of places an author can visit. 

That begs the question – how? How do authors get invited to present, speak, read, and sign their books? 

Assuming you are fairly new to publishing, the first step is introducing yourself via an in person visit, promotional email, or some combination of both. You need to get your name out there as a person who does this sort of thing.

You can use services like Mail Chimp to draft and send out emails to media specialists, school administrators, etc. These emails should include information about your qualifications, what you can present/provide for their audience, your fee (at least a range), and your contact information. The key is to be informative, but also brief. And also hilarious. But professional. And clever. Let’s just say it takes a few drafts.

I prefer to save my in-person introductions for libraries and bookstores. I bring a copy of my book, and a “marketing” packet that I can leave behind. It included a press release from the publisher, a color print out of one of the pages from inside the book, a big sticker (thank you Vista Print!), and my business card (Vista Print strikes again). When I arrive I introduce myself to the most senior person I can find, show them my book, give them the packet, and I get their contact information. I explain that I am local, and excited to do events such as readings, signings, and so on. 

Now that you have an idea of what you could present, a list of places to visit, and some local contacts – it’s a good idea to remember these tips

  • LOGISTICS: Find out where to park. Bring a photo ID, hand sanitizer, umbrella, and back up USB of your power point. If you are visiting a school, at some point you will squat, so dress accordingly. Get a ballpark headcount if you plan to provide giveaways. Track your mileage and keep all your receipts for taxes.
  • GIVEAWAYS: Bookmarks are great because you can sign them and they work for all ages. Black and white coloring sheets of your characters are good freebies too. Or you can raffle off one of your signed books. 
  • PROMOTION: If it is a public event, help to promote the event. The store/charity/organizers will appreciate it and there’s a lot you can do for free / almost free to advertise the visit. Make posts on social media, create a few simple flyers and post at the gym / coffee shop. It goes a long way!
  • COMMUNICATION: Check in twice before the event to confirm times, dates and expectations. Send a thank you note when it’s over, even if it’s by email. And if you don’t anything recorded, tell them ahead of time. 

So there you have it. Everything thing you could possibly need to plan and execute a successful author visit. Ha ha! Just kidding! There are more tips and tricks to learn of course, but many of them come with experience. I hope to see you out there.

Rate Your Story Members may enter the rafflecopter below for a chance to win a 20 Minute Skype Session with author Catherine Bailey. This is your chance to ask questions about the industry, writing, publishing, school visits, agents, you name it! All you have to do is comment on the blog below and be a 2017 RYS member! NOTE: This is not a manuscript critique session. 

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About the Author: 

Catherine Bailey is a children’s author and presenter from sunny Florida. Her current books include MIND YOUR MONSTERS (Sterling Publishing, 2015), HYPNOSIS HARRY (Sky Pony Press, 2016), and LUCY LOVES SHERMAN (Sky Pony Press, 2017) – with more on the way! She is a popular speaker and has visited with hundreds (and hundreds, and hundreds!) of kids at schools, libraries, stores, and special events. When Catherine is not writing, or editing, or swatting at mosquitos, she looks after her husband and two children. All three of them are quite sticky, and none like bedtime, but she loves them anyway

Catherine is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. For more, visit Catherine at

Monday, February 6, 2017


My path to publication was neither quick, nor easy. I had studied the art and craft of writing for children since 1999, after having majored in English in college many years before. I was not a frequent submitter, for which I’m thankful. There’s much to learn in this business (and much to read), so until you’ve “got it,” there’s no point in wasting chances by sending out manuscripts that aren’t ready. Unless it’s for a critique – I am an advocate of critique groups and paid feedback and critiques. 

As I practiced my craft, I tended to write punny animal stories. Still, from time to time, I would write inspired stories that fell in my lap. My picture book manuscript, School Bus Buddies, now entitled Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, was one. The premise was based on school experiences my son had encountered (emotion), scenes I had witnessed (plot) and the nervous personality trait of my pet hedgehog, Apollo Nike [Spike] (character). When three important story elements intersect like this, my advice is: Write the story – you never know where it might lead, perhaps even to a sequel or series. 

I rotated School Bus Buddies through my critique group many times in between working on other projects. I ordered over 50 comp titles from the library (on riding the bus, dealing with fear, school days, hedgehogs, etc.) to make sure it was new and different. After reading, I revised accordingly.  I ultimately did fifteen revisions before my critique groups mentioned sending it out. I had done some publisher research while writing it over the years, but I re-approached this necessary step again. After reading information and interviews and checking their current catalog, I knew which publisher to send it to – Scholastic. Four weeks later, I got a telephone call from Scholastic Editor Jenne Abramowitz and I had a sale.  Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten was born! 

I mention all this backstory for a few reasons. One, to show that I did not write this book to have a sequel or be a series. I did not even have a sequel in mind. I just wrote the best story I possibly could. 

When Spike’s book did well, my editor asked if I had any other Hedgehog stories. I said “Certainly!” To be truthful, I did not. However, I had learned from Guideposts Editor/Author Mary Lou Carney at my first Highlights Foundation Workshop at Chautuaqua, to, when approached with a challenge, always say, “Certainly!” I was not afraid to say this, either. After fifteen thorough revisions, I had gotten to know my character pretty well, and I had pages of children’s magazine clips in my resume, so I was able to write to spec. Do not underestimate the experience of writing for magazines. 

I read 100s of books (again) on going to school and celebrating school events, and the one area which seemed to have both not a lot of titles and not anything I particularly loved, was the 100th Day of School. I pondered the “what ifs?” And all the possibilities.  I realized this was the topic I wanted to approach, but more importantly, I learned something else. Do your topic research before investing too much time writing. You will learn if the topic is relevant, needed and if there is a hole you can fill with your book, and if your idea might beat anything already out there. I found a hole that would fit my market and three drafts later, I got the go ahead from my Mentor Joyce Sweeney and my critique groups that it was ready! This time, it got accepted right away (and officially contracted 1 ½ years later due to red tape and staff changes), and when I finally settled in with my newest editor, I was asked, again, “What related manuscripts did I have?” 

By this time, I had a few, so my agent shot another off to my editor. As long as Spike’s 100th Day Celebration is as big as we hope, he will star in yet another story, with his best friend Sheldon the Turtle from the 1st book. And at that time, I have another Spike story ready to submit. 

There are a few obvious and not-so-obvious take away values from my personal story. 
  1. Read and Learn, Read and Read, Learn and Read. Repeat. Never stop. 
  2. Research your titles and ideas to determine whether a particular idea is something marketable that you should pursue. 
  3. (Is it new, fresh or unique? Does it fill a hole in the current market? Is it better than anything out there?) 
  4. Write out of your usual zone or comfort zone. Try different topics or styles. You may surprise yourself. 
  5. This is a business. Writing what sells is a part of that. So write what you love AND what will sell. 
  6. Research markets. Research markets. Research markets. Repeat. 
  7. Do not underestimate the experience gained by writing for magazines. 
  8. Join critique groups and groups like RYS and pay for valuable feedback. Think of it as investing in your talent and your work. 
  9. When writing, take any notes you may have about where the story may lead, or a possible sequel. Weave potential for a possible sequel subtly into your story. Sometimes, this is just by tapping into a necessary hole, or creating a character that readers will care about and want to see again. 
  10. When you start getting comments like “send it out,” send it out!
  11. When asked if you have another related story to offer, always say, “Certainly!” 
  12. Write anything and everything that YOU can. Sometimes the stories that you least expect will get the SEQUELS. 

Wishing you all the best in your writing journeys. I hope my path and my sequels will inspire you!

About the Author: 

Lynne Marie
Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, Scholastic 2011
Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School, Scholastic 2017

TWITTER: @Literally_Lynne

Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011) and Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017). Her stories, poems, and folk tales have appeared in many magazine markets, including Family Fun, Highlights, High Five, Spider, Baby Bug and more. She is an on-staff writer for Jon and Laura Bard's Children's Book Insider, a 2017 Rate Your Story Judge, a 2016 Cybils Panelist for the picture book/board book category, a mentor for picture book writers and a book reviewer. She is a former New Yorker who now lives a simpler life on a lake in South Florida with her family and several resident water birds. You can learn more about her at

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fractured Fairy Tales, Fairies & Fae by Henry Herz

A fractured fairy tale is an adaptation of a fairy tale, in which the author changes the characters, setting, theme, and/or other elements of the story. Examples of fractured fairy tales include Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz, and Little Red Cuttlefish by me. But before an author can adapt a fairy tale, it is worth understanding the definition of fairy tales. 

Writing picture books is fraught with philosophical questions. Are fairies synonymous with Fae? Do fairy characters in a story make it a fairy tale? Must a fairy tale feature fairies? Wikipedia artfully states, “The characters and motifs of fairy tales are simple and archetypal: princesses and goose-girls; youngest sons and gallant princes; ogres, giants, dragons, and trolls; wicked stepmothers and false heroes; fairy godmothers and other magical helpers, often talking horses, or foxes, or birds; glass mountains; and prohibitions and breaking of prohibitions.” The fairy tale is such a ubiquitous literary form, that it even has more than one classification system*.

Elves and Fairies by Ida Rental Outhwaite, 1916
Thomas Keightley indicated that the word 'fairy' derived from the Old French faerie, denoting enchantment. Fae is not related to the Germanic fey, or fated to die. Some authors don't distinguish between Fae and fairies. Other authors define Fae as any inhabitants of Faërie, be they large or small, good or evil. For them, Fae is the broader term encompassing not only fairies, but elves, dwarves, ogres, imps, and all other fantasy creatures. They consider fairies to be Fae who are diminutive and often ethereal, magic-wielding, and/or winged.

Fairies of either flavor have been flitting about literature for centuries. Consider Morgan le Fay in Le Morte d'Arthur, Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Oberon and Titania in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Tinker Bell in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Holly Short in Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, all the way up to Bloom in Doreen Cronin's eponymously titled picture book and Mabel and the Queen of Dreams (inspired by the fairy Queen Mab in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet).

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others established fantasy as the subgenre of speculative fiction that employs magical elements set in an alternative world. Tolkien wrote in his essay “On Fairy-Stories” that fairy tales are distinct from traveller's tales (e.g., Gulliver's Travels), science fiction, beast tales (e.g., Aesop's Fables), and dream stories (e.g., Alice in Wonderland). He felt that fairies themselves were not an integral part of the definition of fairy tales. Rather, fairy tales were stories about the adventures of men and fantastic creatures in Faërie, a marvel-filled magical otherworld. By that definition, The Lord of the Rings is a fairy tale.

Urban fantasy** is a subgenre of fantasy set in an urban setting, typically in contemporary times. This setting violates Tolkien's definition of a fairy tale, since the story takes place in the “real” world, rather than in Faërie. Thus, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, though featuring a fairy, is an urban fantasy rather than a fairy tale, or as Tolkien preferred, Märchen (wonder tale).

The Boy and the Trolls by John Bauer, 1915
Regardless of subgenre, I hope readers will find in my stories what Tolkien posited for Märchen generally. “Far more powerful and poignant is the effect [of joy] in a serious tale of Faërie. In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”

*Two major fairy tale classification systems are Aarne-Thompson and Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folk Tale.

**Some notable urban fantasy includes the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, Modern Faerie Tales series by Holly Black, Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, Weather Warden series by Rachel Caine, Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Southern Vampire Mysteries series by Charlaine Harris, The Hollows series by Kim Harrison, The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne, Feral series by Cynthia Leitich Smith, The Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr, October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, Marla Mason series by Tim Pratt, Simon Canderous series by Anton Stout, and Borderlands series by Terri Windling.

About the Author: 

Henry Herz

Henry Herz writes fantasy and science fiction for children. He is represented by Deborah Warren of East/West Literary Agency. He and his sons wrote MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES (Pelican, 2015), WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY (Pelican, 2016), MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS (Schiffer, 2016), LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH (Pelican, 2016), and CAP'N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW (Sterling, 2017).
Henry and his sons have also indie-published four children's books. NIMPENTOAD reached #1 in Kindle Best Sellers large print sci-fi & fantasy, and was featured in Young Entrepreneur, Wired GeekDad, and CNN. BEYOND THE PALE featured short stories by award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors Saladin Ahmed, Peter S. Beagle, Heather Brewer, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder, Gillian Philip & Jane Yolen, and reached #2 in Amazon Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Anthologies.
Henry is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Henry participates in literature panels at a variety of conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon. Henry created KidLit Creature Week, an annual online gallery of monsters, creatures, and other imaginary beasts from children's books. He reviews children's books for the San Francisco Book Review and the San Diego Book Review. Discover more at

Monday, December 5, 2016

Recycle That Rejection! by Deborah Holt Williams

A rug from crocheted plastic bags, a wind chime from mismatched spoons—recycling turns trash into treasure. Our rejections can be recycled, too, sometimes into a form quite different than we first imagined.
I wasn’t laughing when my picture book “One Funny Day” got thumbs down from an agent, then got “liked” by a Twitter pitch agent, then got rejected again! But I still loved it. With a few adjustments, I sold it to Bumples, where it was recycled into a fun interactive story that appeared on-line this June.  Another story, “Baseball Buns,” got rejected by magazine after magazine.  But it sold to Knowonder, an on-line site that features a new story every day.
I was certain my story “Artist in the Woods” was perfect for Highlights. Somehow, they disagreed. Rejected! So I tweaked it and added a repeating refrain (“But the artist would not wake up!”), and submitted it to an educational publisher. There it got recycled--into an easy reader book! It’s still in their catalog years later. Although my goal is to have a beautiful, glossy picture book published one day, I’m proud that my little books are helping kids learn to read.
Since you’re here on RYS, I’m guessing you’ve been writing for years, and that some of your work may be hibernating in a file or languishing at the bottom of a drawer. Just like turning an old t-shirt into a throw pillow, you may be able to recycle these pieces or ideas. Did you write an article for your church newsletter? Rework it and send it to a religious magazine for children. Did you come up with a great art project for your Girl Scout Troup? Turn it into a craft article.       
I once wrote for a small town newspaper, and I recycled two articles into non-fiction pieces for an on-line magazine for kids, called Young Bucks Outdoors. I made lilac prints with toddlers in my home daycare, and later sold the idea to Turtle magazine. Years after I worked as children’s librarian, I reworked a little puppet play I wrote for my Storytime into a rebus, a 100-word story with pictures for some of the words. Sold! “The Egg All Alone” appeared in the September 2013 issue of Highlights. 
The Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market lists places to submit your work that you may never have considered. Evelyn Christiansen’s site,, is a great source to learn which publications are looking for what. The SCBWI Blue Boards, Children’s Book Insider, and the numerous Facebook groups for writers are also wonderful resources.  
So the next time a rejection darkens your inbox, or you come across an old manuscript that’s still got some life in it, see if you can recycle it into something entirely new!

About the author: Deborah Holt Williams is a full member of SCBWI and the author of five easy readers for Continental Press. Her work has appeared in Highlights, Jack and Jill, Appleseeds, Spellbound and other magazines for children. She’s still submitting her picture book manuscripts and hoping to find an agent. She lives in the mountains of Colorado and takes her recycling to the center every week. You can find Deborah on Facebook as Lucky Williams or follow her blog at, where she chronicles her writing adventures. 


Thursday, November 3, 2016

2017 Rate Your Story Registration!

We'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who submitted for our first annual Rate Your Story Scholarship. Our judges were impressed with the caliber and the diversity of the submissions. We are now pleased to announce our two winners: Ashley Franklin and Vanessa Marcus. Congratulations!

2017 Membership Registration Opens This Month! 

Rate Your Story opens once a year to new members and memberships are limited. Be sure to reserve your space and take advantage of our discounts for early registration. Details are below:

Early Registration - November 16th-30th
New members receive a 25% discount off the annual membership fee 
Use the "Early Registration" button by clicking HERE

Regular Registration - December 1st-January 15th
New members may sign up anytime during regular registration
click HERE

Returning Members - November 16th - January 15th
Returning members receive a 35% discount off the annual membership fee
and may sign up anytime during all registration windows 
click HERE

**Please be aware that we have had to close registration early in the past due to limited space and we reserve the right to do so again should our memberships sell out. We limit the amount of memberships in order to allow our judges the ability to better focus on each member submission**

Want to know more? Check out our "About" page and you'll find answers to often asked questions: About Rate Your Story

Click HERE for all registration and membership details. 
We look forward to joining you on your writing journey in 2017!

Monday, October 3, 2016

NEVER SAY NEVER: How to KEEP getting WFH jobs and keep the money rolling in!

Here is part two of author and RYS judge Jennifer Swanson's Work-For-Hire series. If you missed the first post, click HERE to read it. 

Okay, so who has followed the steps I outlined in the first post and has a completed resume package?  Raise your hand.  (I’m hoping you are all doing this at home—and not feeling silly about raising your hand in the house by yourself)

Have you sent your resume package out yet? The answer is hopefully a resounding YES. As they say, You can’t win if you don’t “play”. No editor will come knocking on your door asking you to write for them. (It would be cool if they did, though, wouldn’t it?)

After you send out your resume package – via snail mail or email, then you get to do what every good author does. Wait! (cue the song “Waiting is the hardest part…”)

The email comes. You are HIRED! You go through the process of learning how to work with an editor, writing to specific guidelines, and turning everything in on time. Whew! And YAY!

You have written your first book and someone PAID you to do it!!
Now comes the hard part, how do you keep this going? You’re fresh off your first manuscript and anxious to do more. How do you find another contract? 

Have you heard the saying “Beat the pavement” That’s what you do. Keep sending out resume packages. I try to do it in batches of 5’s every 4 months or more. Make sure to update your resume to reflect what you’ve done.

*Important Note:  Be sure to check your contract for rules about how you can talk about your books. Typically, you can’t give the name of the books you’ve written until they’ve been released. Sometimes you can’t even refer to the company you wrote for until then. *

The most important tip I can give you about this WFH business is: NEVER SAY NEVER!!

What does that mean? It means if an editor reads your resume package and sends you an email asking you to write a book about a topic you know nothing about, SAY YES!

You get one shot with some companies/editors. My response is always: “Why yes, I’ve always wanted to write a book about how pigs fly. Thank you for asking.”

Of course, after you get the contract, you may be seized by a “WHAT did I just do? Aaahhh! I can’t possibly write a book about how pigs fly.” But you know what, you can. You just figure it out.

The more YES’s you give editors, the more likely you are to keep getting contracts and making money. Putting restrictions on what you are willing to write is a sure way to end up on the bottom of the editor’s list. Remember, you are going against hundreds of other writers who are out trying to get the same WFH jobs. Your motto is “NEVER SAY NEVER!”

Now go out there and Start Submitting!! Good luck and Happy Writing!

Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 20 fiction and nonfiction books for children. When she is not writing, she loves to read, walk on the beach with her family, and play with her two dogs. You can learn more about her at

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Please—will somebody pinch me? I can hardly believe I am here, guest posting on Rate Your Story. Ever since I started writing, I’ve relied on their feedback to help me improve my manuscripts. The book that is under contract was only one of many of my manuscripts that passed through the Rate Your Story portals. So when they asked if I would share some thoughts, I was thrilled.

Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books: Spring 2017), is about a young woman’s journey. Former slave, Sarah Goode, has a golden nugget of an idea and she follows through, becoming the first African-American woman to own a U.S. patent. Wait a minute...a golden nugget of an idea? That’s how my story about Sarah Goode started! Let me share how that golden nugget of an idea became a manuscript under contract. 

In June of 2014, I took Kristen Fulton’s Nonfiction Archaeology class. It was a life-changing experience. I discovered I LOVED writing nonfiction picture books. And I learned that the first thing I needed to do was to find that golden nugget, that moment that had been forgotten, that incident in history that I could help bring alive for young children.
  • Find the golden nugget
So I turned to the internet and googled lots of firsts...1st woman in various sports events, 1st woman in the political arena, 1st black woman patent holder. Here is the link that started me on my journey. Hmmm…the first name on the list was Sarah E. Goode who got a patent for a cabinet bed. That sounded interesting. We can write a story about anything we want. But to get editors to acquire it, you’ve got to have a story that children can relate to. And it also has to be a story that stands out for some reason. Every child has a bed or shares a bed. Being the first black woman to receive a U.S. patent certainly stands out. So I looked more closely at Sarah’s story.
  • Do the research
I discovered there was almost nothing about her in books or on the internet. That was good because you don’t want a topic that everyone has already written about. On the other hand, you don’t want something that no one is interested in…and if you can’t find any information, it is almost impossible to write a nonfiction story about it. So I dug deeper, connected with my local library, reached out to other sources that might be helpful. I even contacted the cemetery where Sarah is buried and received a list of all of the people who are buried in her family plot, as well as the age, cause of death, and last known address of each of them. Information can be found in many different places…never give up.
  • Write the story
After I had gotten as much information as I could, I thought about what direction my story needed to take. I wanted to convey how incredible Sarah was. A woman…and a black woman at that, living in an era when women did not have any rights. They couldn’t vote, couldn’t own property, couldn’t even keep any wages they might earn. Yet she owned a furniture store in Chicago, designed an innovative cabinet bed that would help her customers save space, and followed through with tenacity to apply for a patent. Sarah’s tenacity fueled my determination. I became invested in seeing Sarah honored with a book. I knew it was an important story for children to read. I wanted to help make that moment in history come alive for them. So I wrote the story…trying to give the reader a sense of Sarah’s background, tying to relay her dreams, and trying to show how she struggled to build the cabinet bed and get the patent for it.
  • Ask for feedback
One of the most important steps in my writing process is to give my manuscripts to critique partners. And I did. Over and over again. Fortunately, I have quite a few of them. I sent it out to one group and would revise based on their suggestions and then I sent it out to the next. Rate Your Story saw the manuscript twice. I wrote the story in July of 2014 and sent it to Rate Your Story in August. It got a rating of ‘8’. Back to the drawing board.
  • Embrace revision
So Sarah’s Disappearing Bed (that was the title at the time) needed a lot of work. I revised it again and again. I sent it to critique groups again and again. In October, I submitted it to Rate Your Story again. This time, it got a rating of ‘3’. YES! I was making progress. I continued to revise. I continued to give the story to my critique buddies. A word here, a phrase there…I was always open to trying a different approach with the story. 
  • Get your story out there
After I received the rating of ‘3’ and had revised it based on the additional feedback, I began to submit the manuscript. I was a 12x12 Gold member, so I submitted it in October of 2014. I didn’t hear back from that agent, but I continued to submit the story to others. In 2015, I entered it into the Rate Your Story contest…it won second place!!! A kid lit acquaintance had just signed with an agent. When I visited that agent’s website, I fell in love with her and sent her the story in March. She emailed me within the hour to tell me how much she loved it. In May, I got an email from the agent who had received the story more than seven months before. (NEVER GIVE UP HOPE) She loved it and wanted to see more of my work. Then I participated in the June 2015 #pitmad challenge and it received a ‘favorite’ so I sent it to the #pitmad agent. That agent loved it also. In August, I noticed on #MSWL that another agent was looking for a nonfiction picture book about a strong woman, so I sent the manuscript to her. And she responded immediately. I was thrilled to have so many quality professionals recognize the importance of this story…and I was overjoyed that they were interested in seeing more of my work.  In the end, I went with the agent who had been passionate about it from the moment she received it because I believe that an agent MUST be passionate about your work in order to represent you successfully.
  • After the contract
With the process of submitting to editors in the hands of my agent, Essie White, I sat back and continued writing new stories. Fortunately, unbelievably…I think I need another pinch…the manuscript was picked up almost immediately. When I heard I was to work with Creston editor Marissa Moss, I couldn’t have been happier. We signed the contract and Marissa sent me the manuscript with a few revision notes and requests. I revised and returned it to her. She sent it back with one additional revision request. I reached out again to my critique buddies who had been part of the process from the very beginning. With their feedback, I was able to construct the perfect ending and the editor was very pleased.

Now the manuscript is in the hands of the illustrator and I can’t wait to see how the book turns out. It’s been an amazing adventure and, at times, a wild ride. But I am ready, willing, and able to grab a seat on that roller coaster again with another manuscript. We do have another story in acquisitions (but that is no guarantee of a contract) and two other manuscripts out on submission. Plus, I’ve got a folder filled with manuscripts in various stages of readiness and a head full of stories waiting to be written. And what do I do for relaxation, you might ask? I read manuscripts from my many critique buddies and try to give them feedback that will strengthen their stories. After all, turn-around is fair play and for me, there is no greater joy than helping another writer.


Vivian Kirkfield
Although Vivian Kirkfield is not a fan of heights, she is constantly taking leaps of faith. In 2010, she self-published an award-winning parent-teacher resource book, Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking. On her 65th birthday, she went skydiving with her son, jumping out of a perfectly good plane, which caused her husband to question her sanity. And when a fellow author and blogging buddy invited her to fly half-way around the globe to speak at the 2013 AFCC/SCBWI conference in Singapore, she couldn’t say yes fast enough. 
Vivian is a proud member of the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators, an active participant in an insane number of critique groups, is up for just about every picture book writing challenge, and considers playing an epic game of Monopoly with her seven-year old grandson to be one of the best ways to spend the day. She currently lives in the idyllic New England village of Amherst, New Hampshire with her husband. Vivian is passionate about helping kids become lovers of books and reading and hopes that the stories she writes will have kids asking their parents, “Read this one again, please!”. You can find her on Twitter: @viviankirkfield and Facebook:, or visit her blog at Picture Books Help Kids Soar:

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Author Kathleen Doherty is the self-proclaimed "Grandma Moses of picture book writing. I’m a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race kind of writer." She kept piling up rejection letters until she finally had her first two picture book sales in June, 2015--congratulations, Kathleen! We've asked Kathleen to share a few tips for writing a better picture book and she's compiled an excellent list of picture book tools below, just for our RYS blog readers. Enjoy!


At first I’d get rejected because the language I used wasn’t special enough. So I read poetry and picture books studying how authors put words together. Now I try harder to make my words dance across the page and let my personality shine through [voice].

When writing humor, I use words that contain these consonants:  p, b, t, d, k, and hard g as in goat. Notice how these letters explode off your tongue and produce funny sounds. That’s why the word underpants is funnier than underwear.

I make sure every sentence I write can be illustrated. I think of my story as an escalator, always moving and changing with each line. My words only tell half the story because I have to leave room for the illustrator.

I loved how Roahl Dahl used made-up words in THE BFG like whizzpoppers, frobscottle, and snozzcumbers. I borrowed that idea and made up words in the first two picture books I sold. Borrowing an idea or concept from another author and reworking it to make it your own is called intertextuality.

Stepping Stones
Rejection letters happen. Eileen Spinelli got 27 rejections on SOMEBODY LOVES YOU MR. HATCH. Jerry Spinelli never sold his first novel. Rejection letters are steppingstones to something bigger and better. After my first sale to Highlights in 2006, the magazine’s submissions editor sent me 10 rejection letters in a row before she bought a second story.  

I use personalized stationery with my name, address, phone number, and email printed at the top so I can submit professional-looking cover letters. I paper clip my letter to my story. I never fold or staple my submission.

When I think my manuscript is ready to submit, I tape record it. Then I play it back over and over listening for rough and boring spots. Then it’s revision time!

Page Turns
I make a dummy and read my story aloud. I emphasize the page turns as I read. I ask myself:  Do I have 14 different scenes? Will readers care about my main character? Did I rush the beginning? Is my ending satisfying?

I’m always looking for feedback and ways to take my writing to the next level. I attend SCBWI conferences, take workshops, belong to a critique group, and I’ve subscribed to RateYourStory for years. I read books on craft. And I type out my favorite picture books to study them. 

Perseverance is more important than talent. I’m living proof. Writing doesn’t come easy for me. Most writers let a rough draft flow off their fingertips. Not me. I agonize over every word and revise as I write. Every author is different. Candace Fleming writes in longhand before she gets out of bed in the morning. Beverly Cleary never reads other children’s books because she doesn’t want them to influence her. Eve Bunting likes to know the last line of her picture book before she begins. And Jane Yolen writes to find out how her story will end.

We picture book writers are important people. Be proud! We start children on the wonderful path of reading. Visualize a dad reading your book to his daughter at bedtime, or a grandmother buying your book for her grandson’s birthday. My dream has always been to read my picture book aloud to the children at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. I’M GETTING CLOSER! 


Kathleen Doherty
I’m a retired elementary school reading specialist / educational specialist. I enjoy presenting at state reading conferences. I’ve written standardized test questions that align with the Common Core for Pearson, Inc.

In June, 2015, I sold my first two picture books [Sterling and Peachtree] all in one week! My work has appeared in The Mailbox, Highlights for Children, Highlights High Five, Highlights HELLO, and Spider Magazine. I’ve won the Highlights Pewter Plate Award, the Highlights Celebrate National Poetry Contest, and a letter of merit from SCBWI’s Magazine Merit Competition.