It’s an exciting time to be a picture book writer! There are so many fun events and contests throughout the year. This week is the #50PreciousWords contest, run by author Vivian Kirkfield.
As you may have guessed, stories entered in this contest cannot exceed 50 words. It’s more challenging than it sounds to write a story with a true story arc in such a limited word count. But picture book writers know to make every word count, so this contest is great practice at cutting out all the unnecessary fluff.
Read more about the #50PreciousWords contest here.
My story is a simple mono-rhyme, inspired by my son’s love of kites. You can read my entry below:
Speaking of my critique partners, I’m constantly amazed by their creativity and writing skills. They come up with ideas and stories much faster than I do! In fact, their stories were complete and ready to go before I even had any clue what to write for Valentiny! I considered not even entering this contest because I had so much trouble coming up with an idea. And then, one day, the idea just hit me…and I ran with it! I’m so glad I did!
I joined Rate Your Story (rateyourstory.org) as a 2021 member.
Rate Your Story is a panel of agented, published authors who act as Judges. Members can submit manuscripts and queries and the Judges will award a rating from 1-10, showing how ready they feel your work is to submit to agents or publishers.
At the start of the year, I submitted a manuscript and my query letter that goes along with it. I’ve been anxiously waiting to hear back.
Last night, I finally did.
Y’all…I was blown away to see that I had received a rating of 1 on both my query and my manuscript! 🤩🙏🏻💃🙌🏻
1 is the highest rating!!!
That means, they feel that I should start querying this manuscript!!!
I was literally jumping for joy in my kitchen last night when I saw the email! 🥰
To be clear, I’m still unagented and unpublished. But this feels like a big step in the right direction.
If there is one thing I know about the #KidLit writing community, it’s that everyone is super supportive and loves to give back! And my critique group wants to get in on the fun! 🎉
I love these ladies and count myself so fortunate to be a part of this group. ❤️Each person brings something special to the table and each person is supportive, kind, honest, and constructive in their criticism. Follow these language-loving word-wizards on Twitter!
Lindsey “Pitch Perfector” Hobson @LindseyBHobson
Gennie “Comp Queen” Gorback @GennieGorback
Molly “Pun Princess” Ippolito @MollyIppolito
Now for the fun stuff! 🙌🏻 Could you use an extra set of eyes on your work-in-progress? What about FOUR extra sets of eyes? 👀 What about FOUR extra sets of eyes for FREE?!?
That’s right! 🤩 Our group is giving away a🌟FREE🌟picture book manuscript critique! Must be non-rhyming, can be up to 1000 words. All FOUR of us will read and critique your manuscript! All you have to do to enter is follow each of us on Twitter and retweet my pinned tweet.
The contest is open through Tuesday 1/19 at midnight ET.
And who knows? Depending on the response we get, maybe we’ll do it again soon!! 😉
Though I’ve been writing as a hobby for quite some time, 2020 was the year I really started to get serious about it. I’ve often heard that it takes years and many, many rejections to break into the publishing world, and my journey is proving this theory correct.
In 2020, I’ve received:
13 Picture Book manuscript rejections
1 magazine submission rejection
0 offers for agent representation
But…I feel like I’m further along than I ever have been! Here are all of the cool, amazing things that DID happen in 2020!
I met my dream critique group! The four of us clicked immediately and everyone is so supportive and encouraging, while always offering insightful, helpful critiques so that we each improve our writing. Follow these language-loving word-wizards on Twitter! @KindlingEducat1, @LindseyBHobson, @MollyIppolito
Speaking of Twitter – in 2020, I managed to grow from a nearly inactive Twitter account with under 20 followers to approaching 1000 followers. The #writingcommunity is huge on Twitter and I feel fortunate to have connected with so many wonderful peers.
I participated in 6 Twitter Pitch Parties (PitMad x2, PBPitch x2, FaithPitch, and WMPitch)
I won 3 Thursday Read-Through Giveaways, hosted by @MarynaDoughty and @SarahJWMeade. It’s a little surreal to hear your manuscripts read aloud. It really makes your stories seem like real books! And it’s been helpful to hear where revisions may still be needed. Follow these ladies on Twitter too and enter to win their weekly giveaway!
I won 3 picture book giveaways! Support these authors by giving them a follow on Twitter.
LET’S DANCE by Valerie Bolling (@valerie_bolling)
GOD BLESSES ME by Della Ross Ferreri (@DellaRF)
REX THE WE DON’T KNOW by Heather Macht (@AuthorHMacht)
I won a picture book critique of my work by author Lauren Kerstein (@LaurenKerstein).
I entered 2 writing contests
Fall Writing Frenzy Contest, hosted by Kaitlyn Sanchez (@KaitlynLeann17) and Lydia Lukidis (@LydiaLukidis)
2020 Holiday Contest for Children’s Writers, hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill (@SusannaLHill)
To my surprise, I received an Honorable Mention for my story in the Holiday contest! I earned a $10 Amazon gift card (my first “money” made writing!😄) and some very positive and helpful feedback from the contest host.
I’ve written many stories this year, both for the general market and the Christian market. Some may never see the light of day, but everything I write is strengthening my writing muscle and improving my writing overall.
I queried 3 picture book manuscripts and I submitted 5 short stories to children’s magazines.
I started this blog!
I learned to navigate MSWL and Query Tracker.
I joined SCBWI, Rate Your Story (@Literally_Lynne), and will be registering for 12×12 in January (@JulieFHedlund).
I’ve watched SCBWI webinars, PB Palooza panels, and various literary YouTube videos.
And I’ve participated in/signed up for a few freebies like PB Train (@MindyAlyseWeiss), Story Storm (@taralazar), and 12 Days of Christmas (@JulieFHedlund).
Somehow I’ve also found time to read a few books just for me. Because, as they say, you can’t be a writer without also being a reader.
Wow! Even though I haven’t “made it” yet, writing this all out really helps to see how far I’ve come this year. And let’s face it, I’ve always loved a good list! 😀 I encourage you to write out your accomplishments from the year too! It might just help salvage what has otherwise felt like a pretty tough year.
Now, Adios 2020! So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu.
The winners have been chosen! Y’all! I’m blown away to see my story listed among the Honorable Mentions!! 🙌🏻 That validation means so very much to me. AND…one of my talented critique partners won 3rd place overall!! Congrats Molly! 🎉 There were around 223 entries overall, so this is a big win! Check out Susanna’s blog post below! 😀
Well hi there, my little snowflakes! You’re just in time for some high jinx and shenanigans! I’m always on the lookout for those fun holiday quizzes,…
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me explain. Pitch parties take place on Twitter on set dates and within a set time frame. Unpublished authors can pitch their manuscripts, making sure to stay within Twitter’s 280 character limit (this includes the hashtags, so it can be challenging to write a catchy blurb within the limited character count). There are so many different pitch events, depending on genre, etc. Each event has its own rules and its own hashtags that must be used.
As an aspiring author, Twitter pitch events are a fun way to try to catch an agent’s or publisher’s eye. If an agent or editor “hearts” (or likes) your tweet, that is your invitation to query them for an “above the slush pile” look at your work. Nothing is guaranteed, but pitch events are a fun supplement to the usual querying process. And you just never know! I’ve heard some success stories where authors have connected with agents during these events!
At the very least, these events are FUN! And they offer opportunity for TONS of networking! I’ve connected with so many people in the writing community through pitch events. They are also good PRACTICE! We all have to be able to write a blurb about our manuscripts every time we send out a query, so why not write a pitch and at least TRY during a pitch party, right?!
Tomorrow, I’ll be participating in #FaithPitch for the first time. #FaithPitch is for authors of fiction and non-fiction written from a Christian worldview. I’ll be pitching 4 picture book manuscripts. Check out more about Faith Pitch here: https://www.faithpitch.com/
I’ve previously participated in these pitch events:
Some of you know my story. In 2018, I was launched headfirst into motherhood with precious little heads-up whatsoever. Zero notice really (more on this incredible story another time!). We were living in cold, wintry New York. And suddenly, I found myself in the unfortunate head space of juggling both winter blues and baby blues.
(I’m using these moderate euphemisms, but please know that I’m referring to the very real, very suffocating conditions Seasonal Affective Depression and Postpartum Depression).
As a first-time mama, I felt utterly overwhelmed. Although family visited as often as possible, we had no family and few friends in New York, so I felt lonely. I was in physical pain-recovering from a C-section, breastfeeding, pumping. My hormones were going haywire. And I was tired. Oh. So. Tired.
All the time.
Exhausted. Weary. Drained.
That almost covers it.
If you are a new mama in the trenches of the first year, I see you and I understand. It is hard.
So when my son, a notoriously poor napper prior to this, finally took a THREE hour nap one afternoon…I felt like a new woman. I’d had a small reprieve. And I now had hope. Hope that maybe it could happen again…and maybe again…and some of my sanity might return.
My mood was lifted and I bounced into the nursery when my son awakened. As I laid him on his changing table, I excitedly told him, “You took a long nap today! A super long nap! Samuel’s super long nap!” I paused. “Hey, that sounds like the title of a children’s book…Samuel’s Super Long Nap!”
And just like that, my first picture book manuscript was born-Samuel’s Super Long Nap. I loaded Samuel into his stroller and we went for a walk through the neighborhood. My head spun as the words and the rhymes formed. It took me only about 4 days and my first draft was written.
I joined Facebook groups for KidLit writers and I found a freelance editor who I hired for poetry coaching and developmental editing. I’d always loved to write. I’d gotten my degree in English and I’d kept journals for years. It had always been a, seemingly unattainable, dream to be a published author one day. But my sparkly new manuscript, and the thought of writing KidLit, had ignited a new fire under me. I wrote several more manuscript drafts over the coming months.
Then, life happened and I wasn’t spending as much time writing as I wished I could. I went back to work in a part-time capacity when my son was 8 months old. Someone said to me, “I bet it’s nice to use your brain again.” As if being a full-time mama of an infant wasn’t using my brain? That comment has stuck with me and rubs me the wrong way every time I remember it. In fact, I would argue the exact opposite. The day I started back to work, my creativity for writing began to subside.
Add to that, a major cross-country move from New York to Florida, and my writing took a backseat for a few months.
When my son turned two, I left my job for good. And, the creative energy in my brain was once again free!
Now, I am spending every waking moment pouring myself into my writing, in one way or another. I’ve independently researched and studied meter and rhyme. I have several picture book manuscripts I’m working on now. I’m also writing a memoir about the birth of our son (remember I mentioned that it’s an incredible story?! Stay tuned.). I’m regularly interacting with the writing community on Twitter and Facebook, and maintaining my shiny new blog. I’m a member of SCBWI, and I participate in an active online critique group, as well as additional ad hoc manuscript swaps from time to time.
Samuel’s Super Long Nap has been re-titled and has changed almost entirely from where it first started. But, over the course of the last two years, it’s gotten so much better! In fact, I’m now querying literary agents and hoping to sign with one eventually. Have I received rejections? Yes! It takes some people years, and hundreds of rejections, before breaking into the publishing world. But I’m here for the ride!
My critique partners call me a rhyming wizard (Ha! Love y’all!). I wouldn’t go that far, but I will say that there’s more to rhyme than meets the eye! If you want to write in rhyme, it’s essential that you learn meter. Let’s explore 4 types of meter below.
IAMBIC-An iamb is a metrical foot that starts on one soft beat and is followed by one hard beat.
TROCHAIC-A trochee is a metrical foot that starts on one hard beat and is followed by one soft beat.
ANAPESTIC-An anapest is a metrical foot that starts on two soft beats and is followed by one hard beat.
DACTYLIC-A dactyl is a metrical foot that starts on one hard beat and is followed by two soft beats.
It’s a common mistake to think that you need to count syllables in each line of your poem. It’s not necessarily syllables that matter though. It’s the STRESSED and unstressed syllables (in other words, the HARD and soft beats) that matter. It is possible to have varying numbers of syllables, but the same number of hard beats per line. It’s also possible (if meter is off) to have the same number of syllables, but an inconsistent pattern of hard beats.
It’s so important to keep a consistent pattern of hard beats. A line with two metrical feet (two hard beats) is called dimeter. Three metrical feet (three hard beats) is trimeter. Four metrical feet (four hard beats) is tetrameter. Five metrical feet (five hard beats) is pentameter. And so on! A poem as a whole can alternate hard beats per line, but the pattern should stay consistent for readability.
When your meter is inconsistent, your readers will be tripped up and your poem won’t read the way you’ve intended. Conversely, when you nail that meter, readability is greatly improved and your poem will sing! Is there some wiggle room for a headless iamb or a truncated foot, for instance, or an extra soft beat here or there? Yes. But the more consistent you keep your meter, the better!
Let’s look at some examples of each type of meter. Here is a stanza from one of my own picture book manuscripts:
The moon, you say? He thought he’d go.
So into space, he zipped!
He wished upon a shooting star
Then moonwalked, danced, and skipped.
Can you tell which type of meter I’m using here? If you guessed IAMBIC meter, you are correct! Each line starts on one soft beat and is followed by one hard beat. I’m also alternating iambic tetrameter (4 hard beats per line) with iambic trimeter (3 hard beats per line). Let’s look at the same stanza with the HARD beats in CAPS. It always helps me to get a visual for understanding.
the MOON, you SAY? he THOUGHT he’d GO!
so INto SPACE, he ZIPPED!
he WISHED upON a SHOOTing STAR
then MOONwalked, DANCED, and SKIPPED.
Do you see it now? It’s not so hard after all! The other important thing to keep in mind here is that we want those hard beats to fall where we would naturally place the stress on the word. Meter doesn’t work well when words are forced for the sake of the rhyme. Take the word “into” from above, for example. We naturally say INto. We don’t naturally say inTO. For good meter, always aim to use natural language that isn’t forced. Now, let’s move on to another example.
Good Night, Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
Thunder crashing! Lightning flashing! Two good friends were homeward dashing.
Do you hear it? Let’s look at the same lines with the HARD beats in CAPS.
THUNder CRASHing! LIGHTning FLASHing! TWO good FRIENDS were HOMEward DASHing.
While you will find variation and mixed meter in much of Alice Schertle’s writing, these lines are written in TROCHAIC meter.
Ready to keep going? Take a look at this line:
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…
And now, with the HARD beats in CAPS:
’twas the NIGHT before CHRISTmas, when ALL through the HOUSE…
Do you have it figured out? This is ANAPESTIC meter. Author Clement Clark Moore’s classic Christmas tale is a beautiful example of anapestic tetrameter.
We’ll look at an old nursery rhyme line for our last example:
Hickory dickory dock
HICKory DICKory DOCK
This line is an example of DACTYLIC meter. We see two dactyl feet (hard beat followed by two soft beats) and one truncated dactyl foot at the end of the line. A truncated metrical foot occurs when the hard beat is there, but the foot is missing one or more of the soft beats (in this case, the hard beat DOCK is there, but the soft beats are not). It may even appear as if the meter has changed, at times. And sometimes it’s true that you may have (for instance) a dactyl foot followed by a trochee followed by another dactyl foot. But usually, in meter that’s written well, there will be one dominant meter throughout, despite some possible variations.
There is so much to study about meter and rhyme schemes! I am only scratching the surface with this blog. I am a big believer in sticking to a consistent meter and pattern throughout a poem, but I recognize that many authors make mixed meter work as well.
Do you have a favorite type of meter? What are your biggest challenges when writing in rhyme? Leave me some comments if you found this blog to be helpful!