Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Making a Book Trailer: Blackberry Banquet

I recently posted my book trailer for BLACKBERRY BANQUET (click here to view) and I was surprised at the response from other writers. Some wanted to know how I did it; some said they impressed because they could never do such a thing. Well, I’m here to say that YOU CAN! It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be—the main thing for me was to go into it with a learning attitude. Play around, tinker, and don’t pressure myself. I told myself it could take months to complete.

Here are some tips and tidbits of info, based on my own experience:
I used Windows Movie Maker. I didn’t realize I even had it on my computer, until someone pointed it out to me. I found it by clicking on the START button (lower-left corner), went to PROGRAMS then ACCESSORIES then voila! There it was. Because I'm generally one of those people who reads the instructions before starting something, I first read about the program from the HELP menu, just to get an overall sense of what I was in for .

Next, I did thumbnail sketches of what I wanted on a notepad. I knew I wanted to keep it around 60 seconds (like an average TV commercial) and I didn’t want to have more than 20 images, including the text-only images. Once I had my thumbnails (aka, roadmap), I used Adobe Photoshop to select and size my images (note: I had already contacted my publisher about the project and received permission to use the artwork—she was so happy about my doing this that she not only gave permission, she ultimately resent all of the art images in higher resolution images).

In WMM (Windows Movie Maker), I figured out (from the Help menu) what frame size the program uses, and I made my images conform to that size. I knew this would make the transition easier later, when I would import the images into WMM. In Photoshop, I also created the text-only frames. Note: Be sure to include a frame with your publisher’s website, your website and book ordering info. After all, you are trying to promote your book!

Next, I opened up WMM, and began importing my images. That was the easy part. Once they were all there, I had to determine the length of time on each frame (by clicking on the thumbnail image at the bottom and dragging it to the desired time), and what kind of transition effect I wanted from one frame to another (by right-clicking on the thumbnail image then clicking on “Video Effects”). This is where the real fun began—lots of tinkering and playing around!

Once I had the frames in place and was pleased with the overall look, I did a music search. There are all kinds of royalty-free music sites on the internet. I found mine on “The Music Bakery” but as I said, there are many out there. I should add too, that this was probably the lengthiest part of the entire process—finding the perfect music. I purchased the music (prices vary), but once I did, it was mine to use and I won’t have to worry about copyright issues.

Downloading the music to my computer then to WMM was a bit tricky for me, but some great websites on the internet guided me through. One of my favorites was the Papa John site. A couple of times, I also Googled my questions and was able to find the answers.

Once I had the music downloaded, I put it to the video clip, and then tinkered with the timing. I shortened some transitions or frame lengths, doing what was necessary to make it all fit.
Once I was finished, I saved the file to my computer (the file in WMM is a project file, so you have to save it separately onto your computer to be able to email or upload it to the internet). I sent it to my editor, for her opinion. With a tiny bit more tinkering, I was completely finished.

The entire process took me about four days, but as I said, it really was fun and gave me a chance to indulge in a whole new kind of creativity (plus, I saved myself about $300-400, what I had found was the fee for a professional to make one for me). So, don't sell yourself short--give it a try! Since I shared this with my fellow Sylvan Dell authors, another author, Sherry Rogers, has created her own (click here to view). And if you want to see a terrific sampling of many wonderful children's book trailers, click here.

Happy movie making!

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Ups and Downs of Writing

The writing business is like an emotional sea. It definitely has its peaks and troughs. Many things take us to the crest of a wave—
The feeling of satisfaction when you finish a long, hard project.
Getting a personalized rejection letter from a respected editor or agent who compliments your work.
Getting a contract offer.
Receiving a phone call from an agent wanting to represent you.
Receiving a surprisingly high royalty check in the mail.
Getting an email or letter from a child telling you how much they loved your story.
These are all good things that keep us going. They take us to the pinnacle of that wave and let us feel like Neptume, in control of the sea.

But we can’t always ride the crest now, can we? Call it yin and yang, the balancing of the universe, or in my case, sliding down into the trough of the wave, but whatever you call it, there are those things that don’t make us feel quite as uplifted—
Your computer goes bonkers and eats your story that you’ve worked on for eight months.
You get a form letter rejection from an editor for whom you felt a lot of optimism.
Your dream agent declines to represent you after requesting to read your full manuscript.
You hear from an editor that your manuscript had made it quite far in the editorial selection process, but was just shy of being accepted.
You eagerly anticipate your first royalty check, only to discover it will barely buy you a cup of coffee and an espresso brownie at Starbucks.
You get a bad review.

This list could go on, couldn’t it? We’ve all had our ups and downs. Now, before you start thinking this is a big old whine-fest, let me say there’s a point. I’m curious to hear how other writers handle the “troughs” of writing. I don’t mean writer’s block or writer’s blahs; I mean how you handle those disappointments that make you stop in your tracks and question things. Personally, I have a few different coping methods—sometimes I just shake it off within a few minutes, sometimes a long walk puts things into perspective, sometimes indulging in my favorite chocolate helps (well, it helps my mind, but not my hips).

What do YOU do to get out of the troughs and work through the disappointments in writing? Make a comment--I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

ALEXIS O'NEILL spends a good portion of the year visiting students in schools all around the country. She is the author of LOUD EMILY (Simon & Schuster), THE RECESS QUEEN (Scholastic), THE WORST BEST FRIEND (Scholastic), ESTELA'S SWAP (Lee & Low) and fiction and nonfiction for Cricket, Spider, Cobblestone, Calliope, Faces, and Odyssey. A writing teacher for UCLA Extension's Writers' Program, she is also a Regional Advisor for SCBWI in California. A popular presenter, she writes a column for the SCBWI Bulletin called, "The Truth About School Visits."

I was so pleased when Alexis--my SCBWI regional advisor, mentor and friend--agreed to share some of her expertise with us.

What piece of advice you would offer to an author who is preparing for his/her first school visit(s)?
First, identify the strongest ways your book and your presentation connect with current the educational standards. Make sure that your brochure and marketing materials spell out these connections. This helps schools see that your visit complements their efforts to achieve standards and is not just a frill.

Next, no matter the age of the audience – from kindergarten to high school, think “interactive” when planning your presentation. Audiences like to be engaged. Get them to respond in more ways than just through a question & answer session. Use lots of visuals. Switch your delivery modes within your session so that it’s not just Author-talking and Audience-listening. (For example, clapping, singing, chanting, figuring out a mystery or puzzle, acting in readers theater, being involved in demonstrations all engage audiences.) Leave the audience with advice or tips that empower them to do something better when they leave your assembly than when they came into your assembly.

What have you found is the most effective way to get bookings for school visits (besides writing a great book)?
Most people hate to hear this (because they think there is a simple, quick, magic formula), but almost all school visits come from word-of-mouth recommendations. To become known to audiences so that word can spread, beginners should first appear at as many local events as possible where they may come in contact with teachers, librarians and parents. It means getting to know – and observing – other authors & illustrators who do presentations to learn from them and network with them. (For more details, see my article, ”How to Get Gigs,” on page 7 in the July/August 2007 SCBWI Bulletin.)

What is your favorite children's joke?
Q: What happened to the pirate with the lame sense of humor?

A: He had to walk the prank.

Thanks so much, Alexis!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sound Advice for Writers from New Agent

I was recently doing some agent research and found this list of "Top Tips" from Sarah Davis of The Greenhouse Agency. Full of solid advice for beginning (and not so beginning) writers, I thought it was worth posting. Click here to read more.

Happy Writing!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Speaking of Rhyming

I've had a nice response to Kristin Daly's Mini-View and her advice on writing in rhyme (special thanks to those who emailed me :-). It seems that writing in rhyme, whether in the form of a poem or a story, is a longstanding love for many children's writers (this writer being one!). So, on that same line, pop on over to The Write Marbles for an interview with poet Greg Pincus. Greg gives a great writing tip, shares the benefits of working in library and of course, fills us in on some fibbery!

Monday, February 11, 2008


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

KRISTIN DALY discovered her love of children’s book in high school, when she worked at her local public library. In May 1999, she began working at Golden Books as an Editorial Assistant, working on picture books, series fiction and easy readers. In January 2002, she began working at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she now works as an editor. Her early work focused on mostly picture books and easy readers, but now she edits all levels of children’s books. Currently, she is especially excited to be working with best-selling author Gary Blackwood on his first I Can Read Book, The Just-So Woman and newcomer Sudipta Bardhan on her first HarperCollins picture books, Snoring Beauty and Hampire! I was delighted to have met Kristin at a recent SCBWI retreat.

You have a lot of experience editing picture books, easy readers and rhyming stories. What advice would you give to a writer who is contemplating writing a story in rhyme?
I actually have two pieces of advice! The first is to Make Every Line Count. In writing rhyme, it’s so tempting to make yourself and your story slaves to the rhyme and meter. There are two immediate signs that you’ve fallen into this trap: The first is if you find that you’ve been adding unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, and articles in an effort to meet the syllable count of your meter. The second is inverting the object and verb of a line to read something like, “His carrots he never ate in haste,” just because the line before ended with "taste." Writers of rhyme should always watch out for empty calories, or all of that “filler” material that may sound good, but doesn’t move a story along at all. If you find yourself writing lines and adding words simply to meet your meter or rhyme scheme, you are filling your story with empty calories.

My second piece of advice is to read your work aloud, because although the rhyme and meter may look fine on the page, when you read your verse aloud any forced rhyme or uneven meter will jump right out at you. I do this as an editor, too--whenever I'm editing a rhyming picture book text, I close my office door and read the text aloud to myself several times to make sure everything sounds perfect. It's the surest way to know whether or not a rhyme is really working.

It seems that a current trend amongst many easy reader publishers is toward featuring licensed characters. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to write ”non-licensed character” easy readers for the trade market?
While it's true that more and more licensed characters are popping up in easy-to-read books these days, this isn't necessarily a new trend. Licensed characters have been appearing in easy-to-read books for years; it just seems new because there are so many of licensed books right now. That said, not every easy-to-read line publishes books featuring licensed characters, and even those that do--such as Random House and Harper--generally do not exclusively do so. It's the same with nonfiction--some easy-to-read lines publish a ton of nonfiction, some publish a little, and others none at all.

And so my best advice to a writer of easy-to-reads is the same as it is for writers in any genre: Know your market. Go to bookstores and libraries and actually look at the different easy-to-read books out there. Look at titles individually, and look at the easy-to-read lines as a whole. Take the time to become familiar with the different lines, because each has its own distinct personality. And within each easy-to-read line, read some books at different levels. Which houses are publishing more original (as opposed to licensed) beginning readers? Which ones seem to publish more books at the same "level" as your own manuscripts? (For example, while Harper's I Can Read! line technically publishes up through Level 4, we tend to do more titles at the younger levels, from My First up through Level 2.) What types of stories are the different lines publishing--who seems to focus on Frog-and-Toad type friendship stories? Who does easy-to-read poetry or nonfiction? And so on. The more knowledge you have about the market, the more effectively you'll be able to target your submissions, and the greater the chance that your manuscript will find the best home.

What's your favorite children's joke?
Q: Why do elephants paint their toenails red?

A: So they can hide in a strawberry patch.

(Corny, I know, but it still makes me laugh!)

Thanks so much, Kristin!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Making It Easier for You

In case you hadn't noticed, I just added a cool little feature to my blog. See it? Over there--on the right. That little box that says, "Subscribe." For you busy, busy folks who enjoy visiting my blog (thank you :-), I'm trying to make things easier for you. Isn't that nice of me? ;-) I knew you'd appreciate that.

Here's how it works: If you sign up to subscribe, an email will automatically go to you that includes my most recent post. Isn't that grand? It's like having me show up at your home or office, but without the nasty embarrassment of catching you in your bathrobe or with curlers in your hair!

So go ahead, sign up now! And once again, thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Children's Book Trailer: Blackberry Banquet

Well, I did it! I plunged into the deep, dark waters of video promotion (where I'd never swum before) and made a book trailer for Blackberry Banquet. And it was really fun! I was surprised at how easy it was for me--it took about ten hours to create, plus another couple of hours to tinker with (it reminded me of writing a story~ how I "think" I'm finished but then I keep going back to tweak it here and there until I have it exactly like I want it).

So, here it is! Drum roll, please (drrrrrr...drrrrrr...drrrrrr)!

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

STACY CANTOR is an associate editor at Walker Books for Young Readers, a publisher known for creating fun, quirky picture books. I had the pleasure of meeting Stacy at a recent SCBWI Retreat where she graciously shared her expertise with us and gave us an inside look into Walker BYR. Stacy had previously worked at Bloomsbury Children’s Books and as a writer for a book packager in Chicago, Illinois. Her interests lie primarily in literary, contemporary young adult fiction and vibrant read-aloud picture books. Her favorite projects thus far have been two novels called Dragon Slippers and Notes From the Teenage Underground, an all-encompassing (but very rewarding) project called The Ultimate Teen Book Guide, and a forthcoming picture book about a little girl who has monsters move in next door. Stacy also spent a summer as an intern for Viking Children’s Books, where she honed her skills reading the slush pile.

You enjoy funny, quirky picture books. I've often wondered what constitutes funny/quirky versus over-the-top ridiculousness (pushing the silly envelope too far). Could you define this more specifically and give some examples?
It’s a tough question! I feel like it’s easier to explain what I think does work than what I think doesn’t. Maybe it’s because it’s rare to find a book that pushes silly too far—I mean, I grew up on Dr. Seuss! How much sillier can you get?

Of course, there are different brands of funny. I tend to love word play/pun books, like Walker’s Gimme Cracked Corn and I Will Share by Kevin O’Malley, which is just about the epitome of a groan-worthy pun book, but somehow amidst the chicken and egg puns, it just works! (It also just debuted on the NYT Bestseller list! Hurray!) I’ve also recently bought a picture book manuscript called Animal House by Candace Ryan, which combines really clever wordplay like living in a “kangaroom,” keeping food in a “refrigergator,” and putting dirty clothes in a “hamster.” These sorts of funny wordplay books make great read-alouds.

Then there are the silly character picture books. I loved Amelia Bedelia when I was growing up (you know, the very literal housekeeper, who actually dusted the drapes by putting dust on them?) and maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of silly characters now. Walker’s recurring character picture books by Matthew McElligott about Backbeard the Pirate (Backbeard and the Birthday Suit, Backbeard: Pirate for Hire) are just plain hilarious. I think kids really love “comedy of errors” type picture books.

Some picture books rely on the artwork for the real humor. Another character that we publish at Walker is Millie the Cow, in Millie Waits for the Mail and Millie in the Snow by Alexander Steffensmeier. Readers will love to pore through the artwork and find all the different little details that the artist has added in, like a pair of rowdy chickens who are sprinkled throughout the spreads with hilarious antics.

And then there’s Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, which may be my most favorite funny picture book out there today. It combines everything!

If you’re worried that your picture book manuscript might be pushing the silly envelope too far, see if it makes kids laugh or not. They’re a tougher audience than you might imagine. If they’re groaning or thinking that it’s stupid, odds are an editor will think so too.

We all know about the dreaded “slush pile.” What is the most common mistake you see in manuscripts that come from it?
Not enclosing a self-addressed stamped envelope! It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t include it. And we can’t respond unless we can do it via the USPS. There’s just not enough time or energy in the day to phone or email everyone.

A more helpful piece of advice for those of you who know better than to skip the SASE is that we get a ton of submissions for genres that we just don’t publish. Easy-to-reads, early chapter books, fantasy, even adult books. You will really never find these types of books on the Walker BFYR list, so asking us to consider them is really a waste of our time. It really makes it seem like the submitter didn’t do their research before sending it to us, too.

What's your favorite children's joke?
Q: What do you call cheese that isn’t yours?

A: Nacho cheese!

(Terrible, I know. Maybe it says something about my sense of humor after all…)

Thanks, Stacy!