Building Relationships with Editors

I was sharing in the Writing for Children Facebook Group (previously the Mentors for Rent Facebook Group) about some submissions I was making, and how some were to editors I have relationships with and others were to editors I’ve never had contact with. Several folks had questions, and I said I would share a bit more about these relationships–how they start and how they work–for me, anyway.

How Do They Start?

  • Often in-person meeting at conference or event. I have developed relationships with editors who critiqued my work or who I heard speak at conferences. An in-person meeting is a great place to start.
  • Speaking together at events. Being a speaker puts you on a professional level, so you’re slightly more on even ground. There are often speakers-only events at conferences, too—cocktail parties or whatnot. Those chance for conversation help you both get a feel for whether you might work together well.
  • One editor I submit to regularly was the judge for a writing fellowship—I didn’t win but got an honorable mention. Actually, now that I think about it, this was a few years after she critiqued a picture book manuscript for me at the annual L.A. SCBWI conference. Recently, I got another honorable mention for this same fellowship (different judge), so that opened up a new relationship.
  • Repeated personal feedback on your slushpile submissions. A few of my editorial relationships have come about simply from personal rejections. They reject my manuscript but say nice things and invite future submissions. Or they even take a manuscript to acquisitions. If the manuscript gets acquired, we clearly are building a relationship. But even the times a manuscript doesn’t get acquired, an editor has shown that he or she believes in your writing. This leads to more submissions.
  • Social media can also be a starting place—if you’re good on social media. I tend to be kind of awkward on it, so for me, it’s secondary. I do follow many editors on Twitter and such, but I’m not active (or interactive, really) enough to build relationships there. At least not at first. But if you’re skillful at social media, this is definitely an opportunity to stack the tiniest relationship building blocks.

Do This

  • Remind them of your previous contact—I never assume they will know who I am! I’ll say, “We met at NCTE last November when I stopped by ______’s signing at your booth.” Or, “We had a great conversation last month on Twitter about the pros and cons of glossaries in picture books, and I…”
  • Follow their lead in taking it to slightly more personal level (vacations, families, etc.). Wait until they mention anything outside of the strictly business/publishing realm before you share anything likewise.
  • Follow up an in-person meeting with an actual paper note. Not a submission—just a “so nice to meet you at…” I don’t do that frequently enough, but editors really appreciate it when I do. Who doesn’t love getting something other than a bill or a work task for a change?
  • Study what kinds of books they actually acquire! A ya publisher is not going to buy your nature poetry collection for preschoolers just because you enjoyed mojitos at ALA.
  • Submit your work through normal channels—email or snail mail. Not under a bathroom stall. Not during a cocktail party. Not as a dm on Twitter.
  • When awards are named, if you know the editor of an honored book, give them a shoutout, via social media or a brief email (if you are at the email stage).
  • Maybe send a holiday card if the relationship has progressed to the point where they’ve expressed the hope that you’ll find a project to work together on someday.
  • Be patient. Publishing moves slowly. Relationships take years to build.
  • Value the editors for who they are and the work they already do, not just for what you hope they might someday do with your own manuscript!

Don’t Do This

  • Don’t make them sorry they agreed to look at your work. Be polite, not stalkerish.
  • Don’t send more than one manuscript at a time unless they invite you to. It’s unprofessional, and it assumes way too much interest in your work.
  • Don’t send more than one manuscript every month or two, even if they reply more quickly. I have people I don’t answer emails from right away, because if I do, I get another email from them the next day. Pace yourself so they don’t dread seeing your name on an email or an envelope.

I’m sure I’m forgetting some things…who has something to add?

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New Editions of Writing for the Educational Market!

Whew! I am happy to announce that I have just finished an updated edition of Writing for the Educational Market: Informational Books for Kids (both the Kindle and paperback versions). Several readers had emailed me over the past year about links that no longer worked–which, of course, is the downside of including urls in a book. But this book is basically a textbook/workbook–the book version of the course I used to teach on writing for the educational market, and I wanted it to be as easy to use as possible. Click. Site. Etc.

I finally decided to update the book. The market itself and the way a writer breaks in and gets work really hasn’t changed. But in addition to taking care of links (by removing most of them and instead directing readers to a page on my website with all the links, which I can easily update/remove when necessary), I also wanted to update some examples to more current books and resources.

The bad news is that it was a pain! I thought it would just be a pretty quick and easy thing, but of course it ended up being more complex than I anticipated. I put my other book for writers (about making a living) on hold in order to take care of this update first.

The good news is that I’m finished! Yay!

I’ve asked Amazon to notify Kindle buyers of the book that they can download the updated version. Fingers crossed that they do that and let past buyers download the updated content for free!

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Showing Your Work

Hi, writers! One of the things I’m trying to figure out is how to show my work effectively online. Because sometimes, opportunities arise out of the blue because you do that. Listen to this episode of the fabulous All the Wonders podcast if you don’t believe me. Nepal to New York to have coffee with an editor who saw your work somewhere and loved it? I’d do it, too!

Of course, it’s easier for visual artists than for writers to be seen this way, but it happens for authors, too. I know several children’s/ya authors who had at least one book contract come about because of an ongoing project they shared online. In fact, Lisa and I talk about that some in Getting Published. I love Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work, and I’m really wrestling with how to share tidbits of my work in some fun and consistent way so that there’s a body of work out there that’s discoverable. I share tons of poems, and I often make them imagepoems so that they can be sort of eye-catching, too. But I’d like to share other writing that showcases my approach to life, my writing voice, and any skills that translate to picture books (not just poetry ones, but narrative ones, too).

This writing would need to be:

  • super-short
  • shared in a visual format (even if it’s just a solid colored background)
  • housed together (for like things, I mean, like my Wonderbreak poems being on a Pinterest board)
  • fresh and different
  • appealing to the age I most want to write for

I’ve been trying to crack this nut for a long time, and I still haven’t gotten there. One big problem is that you want to showcase good work, of course! But if you share it, then it’s published. So I’m trying to think of little pieces I might do that are not the actual narrative but that are related to it? Or around the same topic? Or are tiny snippets that are arresting but don’t give away too much? It’s tough!

Have any of you guys thought about this? Where do you share your work online? WHAT do you share online? Would love to hear any thoughts to jump-start my brain. I’ve literally wanted to do this for YEARS and have not come up with any kind of cohesive plan. Help! (Thank you:>)

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Working Around My Own Writer Weaknesses

This is a day I was not planning to go anywhere. My only workout is a yoga one at home, and I have no errands that need doing. Until 3:45, I just need to write. But.

There are several household projects calling my name. “Plant me,” whisper the annuals I just bought, as the deck planters glare emptily at me. “Paint me,” shout the upstairs bathroom walls. “Frame me,” call the photos I’m trying to organize for a family photo wall.

Usually, I’m pretty good at ignoring the voices. But our younger daughter, Maddie, comes home for a 5-week visit from Scotland in LESS THAN A WEEK! These projects need to be finished and cleaned up before then. Ugh.

Also, late this afternoon I have a two-hour session at a school, writing poetry with 5th graders! Yay! But I need to get organized for that. And I got feedback from my crit group yesterday on a brand new picture book draft, and I want to work on that while I’m feeling super energetic about it. And…well, lots of other work to do, as always, but those two things couldn’t wait.

So, I packed up my laptop and headed out. I walked at the gym for a bit and then went to McDonald’s. I fired up my trusty laptop and got completely ready for my school visit for two hours. And then I spent an hour on a new draft of my picture book. I feel wonderful!

Now, I’m back home and ready for the rest of my workday. On my 5-minute breaks, I might do a bit planting and such. And maybe my 5-minute breaks will stretch to 10 minutes (which happens too often, I admit, when I am doing something productive during the breaks). But I’ll know that I have at least done my two TOP priority writing tasks for the day.

I usually think I can write anywhere. And it’s true that I can write amid crowds and noise or all by myself in silence. But it’s taken me awhile to be perceptive enough to know that unfinished household projects–with deadlines–can occasionally wreak havoc on my writing plans. Maybe I would have gotten the same amount of work done at home this morning. But maybe not. So I’m not going to think of my outing as running away from responsibility but as running toward writing success.

Hope you’re all running in the same direction today!

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Using a Mentor Text to Figure Out Picture Book Plotting

All of my trade published picture books are either nonfiction, poetry, or a mash-up of the two. I want to write fiction picture books, too, but I struggle with plot/structure. Over the past year or so, I’ve analyzed many fiction picture books and typed out a bunch of my favorites, too, hoping to absorb their secrets to success. I was trying to use them as mentor texts by osmosis, I guess. (“Mentor text” is a term from the education world for a text that you use as an example for some element of writing that you ask your students to study and then incorporate. If you go to my website at and type in “mentor text” in the search box, you’ll find some other things I’ve said about using mentor texts in writing.) But osmosis just wasn’t working.

Recently, I tried something new. I literally used a picture book I loved as a template. I took a picture book that had a structure I loved–one that felt so neat and tidy and perfect I wished I had written it. I typed out the entire text. I entered it into my Picture Book Plot Analysis spread sheet, where I note things like Main Character’s Traits, Story Problem, MC Action #1, #2, etc.

Hmm…this is hard to explain. I’m going to show you with a different book! Let’s pretend the book I chose for a mentor text was Vera Brosgol’s Leave Me Alone! (another picture book that I love the structure of). I took the typed out text:

I thought about the basic problem. A character is trying to do something lovely and necessary for a group of people, but those very people are making it impossible for her to do that thing.

I looked through my looonnnnnng list of picture book ideas for an idea that could fit with the structure of the much loved mentor text. I found a character that I thought would be a good fit for this, even though the story problem would need to shift.

I spent some time that night hashing out what actions the main character would take that could sort of mirror the actions of the main character in my mentor text.

The next morning, I opened the document, renamed it, and started writing my own lines right in between the original lines. I tried to stick as close to that original structure and pacing as possible. Here’s an example of what it might have looked like:

As the story went along, it drifted a little further afield of the original mentor text because…well, because it was a different story. But I was careful to keep the pacing the same, with my character taking action and running into obstacles in the exact same spots as in the mentor text. And in consequent drafts, the voice, and phrasing changed a lot. Because I am a different writer than the author of the mentor text. The manuscript I sent off to a few publishers would not be immediately recognizable as being modeled after the mentor text. But it was. And I think it worked! My critique group gave it a big thumbs up, and after some more polishing, I sent it out to a few editors to see what would happen.

What’s also fun is that even while just making up this short example for this post, ideas started pouring into my head. Because of course the kids who are interested in the Science Fair and the cake would have all sorts of funny questions about the chemistry of baking, and maybe they’d want to do experiments and…well, you get the idea. So it’s not only a draft generator, it’s also an idea generator in some ways.

I plan to do this with several more stories. I’m hoping that this more active form of patterning my story after a story I love will help me finally improve my plotting/structuring skills. I just thought I’d share it here in case it’s something you might like to try. In fact, wouldn’t it be a blast to choose a picture book and have a bunch of people all creating their own manuscripts patterned after it, just as a craft exercise? Hmmm….

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The Happy Writer: Don’t Let This Industry Get You Down

Over the past two weeks, I have had a whirlwind of responses to writing projects. Here are some of them:

* a rhyming nonfiction picture book I wrote to send an editor I knew loved the topic was rejected by that editor

* a nonfiction passage was accepted without any revision requests

* another editor loves that rhyming nonfiction picture book and wants to take it to acquisitions

* a literary passage came back for revisions (that took about 30 minutes)

* another literary passage came back for major revisions–basically a complete rewrite–because of sensitivity issues that were clearly obvious in the proposal I had sent and they had approved

* I declined to do that revision–so I will not get paid anything for the work I already put into it

* I learned of a forthcoming nice review for IF YOU WERE THE MOON

* I received 2 personal rejections on other picture book projects

When you’re a writer, life can be an emotional roller coaster. It would be all too easy to let my mood swing wildly depending on the news of the day. But that would be a rotten way to live, in my opinion. I don’t want my happiness to be decided by other people’s actions. So here are a few of the ways I stay fairly even keel.

  1. Stay busy. As a working writer, I am usuallly juggling lots of assignments, love projects, and speaking engagements. I just do not have time to get into a funk, which is a good thing.
  1. Have a mantra. “That’s the writer’s life” or something like that. Something that acknowledges it’s a crazy, volatile industry that you accept being part of.
  1. Celebrate the small victories. When I got the acceptance of the passage with no revisions, I celebrated while walking Jack. I talk to myself a lot, and my self-talk went something like this: This is awesome. No revisions on this means I have more time to work on my kitten picture book manuscript. I’m so excited about that!
  1. Draw the line where you need to. I thought about it carefully before declining to revise the other passage. I sent a polite, professional email explaining my reasons. I had fallen into this once before with a modern retelling of a fable (which is what this was, too), and they kept asking for rewrite after rewrite. But it was very clear from my proposal what the basic plot was, and the elements they objected to were right there in the proposal. Bottom line: they never should have assigned the piece without clarifying or adjusting the story I had proposed. I heaved a sigh of relief after sending the email, so I knew it was the right thing to do. By remembering that I’m a professional and deserve to be treated like one, I can let the small annoyances go more easily.
  1. Surround yourself with good people. My writer friends sympathize with the foibles of the publishing industry, and that helps. And seeing their own high and low points reminds me we’re all in this together.
  1. Choose a thing. A physical thing to remind you of why you do this. An award, a published book, a letter or email (printed out!) from a reader. Having something to look at and touch can revive your energy when you’re feeling a bit beaten down.
  1. Take the long view. Any artist’s life will be full of highs and lows. Terrible reviews. Awards. Contract cancellations you did nothing to deserve. Wonderful publicity opportunites you did nothing to earn. I try to picture them all as just scenic stops along the way. Some views are better than others! But if my overall journey is to be a writer, and to be the best writer I can be, I know I need to travel this road–potholes and all.

Those are some of the things that work for me, anyway. I mean, I may be sad about a rejection (for a little bit) or irritated about a broken assignment, but I let it go pretty quickly. Your mileage using my advice may vary, but I hope you have found things that work for you. In fact, feel free to share your own favorite tactics in the comments! Meanwhile, happy writing!

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Survey for Published Trade Picture Book Authors

I saw on Facebook that someone is surveying writers who have a trade picture book out (or under contract). It’s all about length of time to get published, advances, agents, etc. It’s anonymous, and it’ll be fun to see the results. It’s pretty quick, and if you want to participate, just go to to answer the questions. I just finished:>)

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Studying Picture Books

I haven’t submitted any fiction picture books in a couple of months, which is unusual for me. I’ve posted here about some of my revision thoughts and efforts, and I also wanted to share a resource and an idea.

The resource is Linda Ashman’s book The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books. Linda is a wonderful picture book writer whose work I admire. Twice I’ve been told by editors my work reminded them too much of a certain other author whom they already published. Once it was Douglas Florian, and the other time it was Linda Ashman. I was flattered both times. Anyway, you might know that Lisa Bullard and I have a book called Picture Books the Write Way, which addresses 10 of the most common problems picture book writers have. I love that book and am proud of it! BUT if you’re wondering about picture books and how to get started writing one, Linda’s book is the one you want. It takes you through all the basics, as promised, in a friendly, unintimidating but informative way, using plenty of examples to demonstrate various qualities or aspects of picture books.

In fact, even if you are already writing picture books regularly, I recommend Linda’s book. It’s funny, because I did not learn any brand new information in the book, but Linda’s way of organizing her info and thinking about different aspects of picture books helped me see some of my own manuscripts in a new light. The Building a Story chapter was the one that I personally got the most out of. That’s always the way with good books or presentations. It might not be something new. But it helps you see something in a new WAY.

Combining this book with a spreadsheet analysis of plot structures of some of my favorite picture books helped me come to a better understanding of where my own manuscripts were falling short and, more importantly, how to fix it.

I’m excited to say I wrote a brand new picture book manuscript early this week and took it to my crit group on Tuesday. And they did not criticize the structure! The plot itself worked (though of course there’s plenty of work yet to do on characterization, word choice, etc. But the structure of the book is sound. I feel like this is a milestone in my journey to selling a fiction picture book. Thank you, Linda, and thank you to the authors whose picture books I’ve been analyzing!

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What Kind of Speaker Are You?

Hi, writers! I did a virtual writing workshop with Read Aloud Revival (a fantastic book-centered homeschooling membership group). It. Was. Awesome.

And something about what one of the organizers said afterward has helped me really identify, for myself, what kind of speaker I work toward being.

Some speakers are flashy or funny or simply mesmerizing. You sit there listening—knowing that you are lucky to be hearing what they are saying…to be witnessing the storytelling magic or the creation of art. But then you leave. You are still the same person, but you have this really cool memory. But…you are unchanged. Don’t get me wrong–these can be incredible, enjoyable, inspiring talks, and I have great memories of some of them from over the years.

I think my small gift is to not be flashy or particularly mesmerizing, but to show the audience that they can be writers, especially poets. Sarah (founder of Read Aloud Revival) sent me a note afterward in which she thanked me for making poetry unintimidating. She mentioned that the podcast manager was writing poems with her daughter and said, “I feel like Laura has helped discover a gift!”

THAT’s what I want to do. Make writers (kids or adults) know that THEY are the amazing ones, and that THEY can create poetry and other meaningful writing. My job, as I see it, is not to be some star performer (which is never gonna happen). It’s to unlock something inside of the people I present to or workshop with–to help them discover their own gift of creativity.

So, writers, if part of your career plan involves speaking to audiences, spend some time figuring out what kind of speaker you are or want to be. I’ve known in vague, amorphous shapes what my speaking was about for years. I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to just spell it out. And maybe it’s only something you can pinpoint and define after you speak for several years. But I think defining your approach and strength and celebrating it will help the speaking/teaching aspect of your career a lot. I’m already thinking of ways I need to tweak my materials on my website and such to help organizations know what to expect when they hire me.

Maybe your strength is as an entertainer. Or a storyteller. Or a connector of an audience to your specific books. All of these are worthwhile and meaningful! I’m not trying to say my style is what you should aspire to. Just that knowing WHAT your strength is, your purpose as a speaker, feels really powerful. I feel some changes bubbling inside me around speaking and how I present myself. Would love to hear your thoughts on your own speaking!

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When the Work Piles Up

ChronometerBoy, I haven’t had much time for working on trade books lately–which is, actually, a good and bad thing.

On the bad side:

  • I have lots of books I want to write!
  • What time I HAVE had for trade books has been spent on projects already in the publishing pipeline. In other words–projects that have already been acquired. I’ve been working on revisions on one project, title brainstorming (quite a lot of this) on another project, and reviewing of sketches on two different forthcoming projects–one that is going really well and I’m super excited about, and another that is not going really well and that I’m getting nervous about.
  • I took part in ReFoReMo, which I love every year, and I have read tons (well, OK, about 60) picture books in the past couple of weeks. And I’m so inspired! I’ve done some plot analysis (plot is what I really need to work on right now), and this weekend I typed out the texts of 10 or 11 of the ones that had plots that resonated most strongly with me. But the frustration is that I want more time to study these texts and really analyze them deeply.

On the good side:

The reasons I haven’t had much time for trade books recently are good ones:

  • I’ve got a lot of work-for-hire work right now, which is nice for the bills that need to be paid. That includes writing some ELA lesson plans and a whole bunch of passages this month.
  • As mentioned above, I’ve been working on books that will be coming out in the next couple of years–yay!
  • I’ve been launching a book with a launch party and various promotional tasks.
  • I’ve had several speaking events this past month and coming up, too, including a poetry workshop online Wednesday night.

The other small positive byproduct is that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or at least more eager! Not having the time to work on a couple projects somehow makes my brain even more eager to work on the storylines and plots and characters of the very books I can’t work on. It’s like a pressure cooker of motivation. That usually means that when I DO have the time to write, the words will spout out at an alarming rate. (Whether they are good or bad words remains to be seen, of course.)

It’s always, always a balancing act when you are trying to write for both love and money (almost always on different projects). It definitely helps me to step back and look at the long view. There’s almost always a positive side, even to the things that are so frustrating!

Happy writing!

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