Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Advice For Young Writers and IllustratorsWriter's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my poetry for young readers, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives,  and comics for writers (including Keiko and Will Write For Chocolate). Also check out my Print-Ready Archives for Teachers, Librarians, Booksellers and Young Readers.

I tweet about the craft and business of writing and illustrating at @inkyelbows. If you're interested in my art or other projects, please do visit DebbieOhi.com. Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Entries in justinchanda (9)

Friday
Jun092017

Common mistake by new picture book writers: assuming that short = easy or quick.

I once asked my editor at Simon & Schuster Children's, Justin Chanda, what he finds is the biggest mistake that aspiring picture book writers tend to make. His answer:

"The one that I see most often, and it covers a multitude of sins, is they do not take the time to really hone their project. Writers have so many ideas they want to work on one, move on to the next, flood an editor with a bunch of projects… Thing is, picture books take time. There is craft, there is fine tuning, there is CUTTING OF TEXT. All of this takes time. A book needs to be read aloud. It needs to be tweaked and made sure that every word is there for a reason — a good reason. Rushing to get through, or assuming that short = easy or quick is a recipe for disaster.

"That and thinking rhyming solves everything are the biggest mistakes."

Thursday
Nov132014

A Happy Birthday (and THANK YOU) to my Simon & Schuster Children's editor, Justin Chanda, who helped me find my books


My dedication at the front of my VERY FIRST solo picture book, WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? (comes out from Simon & Schuster Children's in May 2015)

Since Justin Chanda "discovered" me at the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles (and after many, many years of rejections), my children's book career has taken off. Every so often I still pause in the middle of whatever I'm doing and think to myself OH MY GOSH I'M ACTUALLY MAKING A LIVING WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING CHILDREN'S BOOKS and hyperventilate a bit but then calm down because I have upcoming deadlines and need to get back to work.

For you, @inkygirl!! (Also for me, because, well, it's @judyblume!)

A photo posted by Jpchanda (@jpchanda) on Jun 6, 2014 at 4:37pm PDT

This past year has been especially crazygood, with my illustrations appearing in JUDY BLUME reissues from Atheneum (JUDY BLUUUUUUUUUME!!!!!!) as well as NAKED!, a second picture book with Michael Ian Black and Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. And then S&S sent me on my very first book tour!

 

So @michaelianblack and @inkygirl popped by to celebrate #Naked!!

A photo posted by Jpchanda (@jpchanda) on Apr 4, 2014 at 1:24pm PDT

Do you see that wand that Justin is holding in one of the photos above? A while back, I was posting about the Judy Blume illustration project as well as NAKED! coming out in 2014, and someone asked me if I had a fairy godmother. Yes, I told them, and my fairy godmother's name is JUSTIN CHANDA. I presented Justin with a labelled Fairy Godmother wand at the Simon & Schuster Children's meet & greeting with Michael Ian Black and me. Here's a photo that my husband Jeff took, just after I gave Justin the wand and was about to give him a big hug:

Photo: Jeff Ridpath.

Apparently Justin has taken the Wand to several Simon & Schuster Children's meetings since. :-)

And just recently, I got to see the color proofs for WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, which is going to be my very first solo children's book. I think it really didn't hit me that I'm actually going to be a children's book AUTHOR as well as illustrator until I saw those proofs. The book comes out from Simon & Schuster in May 2015, woohoo!

Now that I've been working with Justin for four years, I feel even more lucky. He's a brilliant editor. I'm learning so much from him about the craft and business of making children's books. Justin has the ability to bring out the best in those who work with him, pushing them hard but also trusting their creative instincts.

I'm grateful to SO many people who have encouraged me along the way and could not be where I am now without them. Justin Chanda was the first editor to give me my Big Break, to believe in me enough to offer me that first book contract, and mere words cannot express how much I appreciate what he did and continues to do for my career.

Happy birthday, Justin, and THANK YOU FOR HELPING ME FIND MY BOOKS!

 Also see my Thank You To Justin Chanda and Simon & Schuster Children's.

Me hanging with the incomparable @inkygirl at #la14scbwi

A photo posted by Jpchanda (@jpchanda) on Aug 8, 2014 at 10:33pm PDT

Wednesday
Aug132014

Simon & Schuster publisher Justin Chanda on why you shouldn't write to trends

 

Love this quote.

Debbie

Tuesday
Jul092013

Mini-interview: Simon & Schuster Children's publisher and editor Justin Chanda advice for aspiring picture book writers

Photo: Sonya Sones.Justin Chanda is my amazing editor at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

 I will always be grateful to Justin for being the first editor to believe in me and my work enough to offer a book contract (see this post for Justin's explanation of why he chose me to illustrate I'M BORED). Justin is also publisher of three flagship children's imprints at Simon & Schuster Children's: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, S&S Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, where he is responsible for the publication of 150 - 200 Trade titles per year ranging from picture books to young adult.

Q. In your experience as a children's book editor, what do you find is the biggest mistake that aspiring picture book writers tend to make?

The one that I see most often, and it covers a multitude of sins, is they do not take the time to really hone their project. Writers have so many ideas they want to work on one, move on to the next, flood an editor with a bunch of projects… Thing is, picture books take time. There is craft, there is fine tuning, there is CUTTING OF TEXT. All of this takes time. A book needs to be read aloud. It needs to be tweaked and made sure that every word is there for a reason — a good reason. Rushing to get through, or assuming that short = easy or quick is a recipe for disaster.

That and thinking rhyming solves everything are the biggest mistakes.

Q. What upcoming book releases are you especially excited about?

As an editor: there is this hilarious book NAKED! coming out that I think you might have heard of.

As a publisher, Oh, my there are SO MANY things coming out this year that I am dying over. But I have to say that Brian Floca's LOCOMOTIVE is a freakin' masterpiece.

You can find Justin on Twitter and on Facebook.

TWEETABLES:

Common mistake by new picture bk writers: assuming short is easy/quick. More @jpchanda @SimonKIDS: bit.ly/171ZkMR (Tweet this)

Aspiring picture bk writers: Rhyming does NOT solve everything. More @jpchanda @SimonKIDS: bit.ly/171ZkMR (Tweet this)

------------------

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Friday
Jun282013

Writing & Illustrating A Picture Book For Simon & Schuster Children's, Part 3: Back To The Manuscript

 

POSTS SO FAR: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

Part 1: Intro

Part 2: Brainstorming, Story Pitch, Thumbnail Sketches

(Note: This series of blog posts is NOT meant to The Definitive Guide of how a picture book is created. Your own publishing experience may differ, depending on your situation and people involved. Thanks for following along! -- Debbie)

I haven't posted in this series for a while because my editor and I decided to put the project on hold while I worked on illustrations for NAKED!, a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black. Entertainment Weekly posted the announcement in January, and I received the final version of the manuscript at the beginning of the year. Have been working very hard (but having sooooo much fun!) on the illustrations since then, and handed in the final art earlier this month. I'll be posting more sample pics on the NAKED! FB Page soon.

Now it's back to my own project, the very first picture book that I'm writing AND illustrating. Since my last post, I'm delighted to have exciting news:

- It's been confirmed that Laurent Linn is going to be my art director (YAYYYY!! Laurent was my art director for I'M BORED and NAKED!). 

- Justin Chanda (my editor) and I have picked a title: WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? I know it shouldn't matter that much, but I have to admit that I screamed a little bit on the phone, I was SO EXCITED.


And though the book isn't coming out until Spring/2015, I felt compelled (yes, COMPELLED) to create a Facebook Page in celebration of my very first children's book with writing and illustration credit: https://www.facebook.com/DebbieOhiBooks. If you're on Facebook, I'd be grateful if you'd Like it. :-)

Anyway, Justin and I had a phone meeting last week about the mss and thumbnails. Next step for me: go back and revise the mss. Justin says that the picture book dummy I sent him is in good shape, but that there are some awkward bits in the text here and there that don't read well out loud, plus the ending seems rushed.

He advised me to always read the text out loud ("It changes everything") to help find places where it doesn't flow well. If there are sections of the text that are not fun to read out loud, then there's a problem that needs to be fixed.

Aside: Justin said that the "read aloud" test is good for novels for older readers as well, not just picture books.

So...I've gone through the mss many times now, reading it aloud and tweaking. Justin's asked me to try writing in third-person instead of first-person, and getting rid of some of the dialog that was slowing down parts of the story (and not fun to read out loud).

I am SO enjoying this process. I do not exaggerate when I say that by the end of the phonecall, I had a stupid-happy grin ear-to-ear. I lovelovelove this creative collab aspect.

Justin is a brilliant editor. He's able to see straight into the heart of what works and doesn't work in a picture book story, and (just as important) is able to communicate this. He doesn't micro-manage, but guides me in the right direction and trusts me to follow through. His enthusiasm is infectious and inspiring. 

And I'm learning SO MUCH. 

Here are a few things I've learned so far in this whole process:

Writing a picture book mss is easy. Writing a good picture book that is different from anything out there AND has commercial appeal is much more of a challenge.

Awareness of pacing and page-turn placement is vital.

Read the text of your picture story out loud. If there are parts that are not fun to read out loud, then those are problem areas that need to be fixed.

 

Now, back to work.

--------

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts about writing and illustrating a picture book for Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

Sunday
Dec022012

A Thank You To Justin Chanda and Simon & Schuster Children's

NYTimesNotableKids

Today's print issue of The New York Times Sunday Book Review has their list of Notable Children's Books Of 2012. There are six YA books, eleven middle grade books, and eight picture books….and I'M BORED (written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by me) is included!! I'm about to head out this morning to hunt down a copy of The New York Times  in Toronto but first, I wanted to write this post:

It's been a truly extraordinary year for me.

Not only did my very first children's book come out in bookstores, but Simon & Schuster also gave me contracts for two more books - one of which I'm also writing. I am grateful to so many people who have encouraged and supported me in the past as well as during the I'M BORED creation process, but today I'd like to mention one person in particular: Justin Chanda.

JustinChanda bySonyaSones credit

In 2010, Justin saw my portfolio in the SCBWI Summer Conference Showcase and decided that I'd be the perfect illustrator for Michael Ian Black's newest picture book. Later on (after it was too late for him to change his mind), I asked Justin more about why he picked me; you can read some of his answers in the I'M BORED Scrapbook.

S SKids

Justin had never heard of me when he first approached me at the conference. He didn't know anything about my "author platform" or the fact that I had been focusing on writing up to that point ... it was all about my art. From Justin, when I asked him:

There was a sense of whimsy and definite style. I loved the assorted cast of characters, but I loved your point of view just as much. I remember there was an illustration of a robot who had lost his arm and one of a little girl looking at these tiny monsters. In both instances I got a clear sense of character, a sense of humor, and a sense of style.

Over the years, I've had a wide range of rejection letters from a wide range of children's book publishers…from the bare form letter for my early efforts up to much more personalized "we like her writing but the story's not quite there" or "we love her mss but it doesn't quite fit our list right now". I've been appreciative of all feedback and I can tell by the quality of the rejections that I've been getting much closer…. but they're still rejections. :-)

Justin Chanda was the first children's book editor to believe in me enough to offer me a contract, and I will always be grateful to him and Simon & Schuster Children's. I'M BORED has opened up other opportunities at S&S, with two more picture book contracts. Justin says he'd also be happy to take a look at anything else I've done, including my middle grade and young adult writing (YAY), so I've  been working hard on some new projects.

2011 01 31 SS Sign

THANK YOU, JUSTIN AND S&S CHILDREN'S, FOR TAKING A CHANCE ON ME.

I'm going to be writing a series of short gratitude posts over the coming months, thanking some of the people in my life as well as those involved with the creation of I'M BORED, but for now... I'm going out to get a print version of The New York Times Sunday Review so I can get ink on my fingers and spend way too much time marvelling at the extraordinary fact that my name is included.

Photo below was taken by my husband Jeff, when The New York Times reviewed I'M BORED back in September. Below the photo, I've posted the comic I created after reading the review. 

DebbieNYTimes

NYTimesBoredComic 600

Tuesday
May152012

Writing & Illustrating A Picture Book For Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers (Part 2: Brainstorming, Story Pitch, Thumbnail Assignment)

Continuing my series on working with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers on two new books...

POSTS SO FAR: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

(Summary: After I finished illustrations for I'M BORED, Simon & Schuster BFYR offered me two blank contracts. This series is about my own experience working with S&S BFYR on my two new books; if you're interested in the process for I'M BORED, please see How I'M BORED Was Created: A Guide For Young Readers. Neither of these series are meant to The Definitive Guide of how a picture book is created. Your own publishing experience may differ, depending on your situation and people involved. Thanks for following along! -- Debbie)

And here is what has happened so far:

I brainstormed picture book ideas.

I've been compiling picture book ideas for a while now, inspired by Paula Yoo's NaPiBoWriWee, Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo and #KidLitArt's Picture Book Dummy Challenge. I've turned some of these into picture book manuscripts.

What I discovered: it's easy to come up with ideas for picture books. The challenge: to come up with picture book ideas that are different from anything else already out there.

This is one of the common misconceptions held by newbie picture book writers, I find: that their story is unique. I still consider myself a newbie picture book writer, by the way, so I speak from experience.

Child nervous about their first day at school but then finds out another child feels the same / makes new friends / discovers it's not so bad after all? Done.

Child has trouble making new friends because they are too shy / insecure / mean / stubborn / family just moved? Done.

Child loses a beloved object / pet / toy and is totally distraught but then formulates plan / enlists help / searches everywhere? Done.

Child having a horrible day where nothing goes right but then takes action & everything turns out ok? Done.

Child resents the fact that he is always overlooked / ignored and decides to do something about it? Done.

Child hates doing something that parents always want her to do so finds a way around it but then discovers why it was a good idea? Done.

Child resents older or younger sibling so decides to run away / get rid of sibling somehow but starts missing the sibling despite himself and reunites? Done.

Child...well, you get the idea.

The bottom line: It's very tough to come up with a story that is totally unique.

But still:

I tried to figure out how to make my story stand out in the marketplace.

At this point, I can already imagine some of you shaking your fingers at me and saying, "Just focus on making a good story. Worry about the marketing/publishing part later."

However, I'm already assuming that having a good story is an essential. My end goal, however, is to not only get the book published but to have the book sell well. If the story is too much like others already out there, a publisher is less likely to want to take a risk on it. And if the book doesn't sell well, then the publisher is less likely to offer me more contracts.

So yes, there needs to be a good story BUT  I also want to help an editor convince their sales team that the book should be published.

An aside: I've already gone through this several times with my novels for young people, in which various editors liked my story enough to take to the next step, but then the projects were nixed by sales/marketing. It's one reason I spent way more time in the plotting/outlining process for my current YA mss before starting to actually write it (and it got nominated for an SCBWI Sue Alexander "Most Promising For Publication Award"! It didn't win...but still! Now I just need to finish it).

So yes, I was discouraged. But then I thought, hold on. Surely I can't be the only one despairing about finding a unique story idea. And there are new picture books coming out all the time! 

And that brings to me to another essential part of my "newbie picture book writer/illustrator" self-education:

I read many, many picture books.

Since the career-changing events of 2010, I've been immersing myself in the world of picture books. I have no children and hadn't really read many picture books since my nephews and nieces grew past that stage.

Once Simon & Schuster BFYR offered me my first picture book illustration contract, that all changed. I started going to the library and local bookstores every week to read as many picture books as I could. I read everything I could get my hands on -- old and new.

I looked at both the text and the illustrations, and how they enhanced each other. I didn't always like the picture books I read, but tried to analyze exactly WHY I didn't like them. And when I really enjoyed a picture book, then I'd reread it and ask myself similar questions: WHY did I like it?

I needed to figure out a unique spin for my stories.

 I looked especially closely at new releases. Obviously these publishers had faith in these books, so what was it about the stories that made the publishers willing to invest money into these projects? The answer: a unique spin. In almost every case, the basic story was enhanced with a framework made unique in either the setting, characters, voice, format or other aspect.

Once I realized this, I went over my list of picture book stories and started working on expanding some of them into full manuscripts with the whole "unique spin" aspect in mind.

But still, I wasn't completely happy with any of them yet. 

I realized that I needed to get my head into "pitch" mode.

When I last visited Simon & Schuster BFYR in NYC to talk about I'M BORED promotion, Justin asked me if I had any picture book stories to show him. I hesitated, saying that I had written about 25 picture book manuscripts but wasn't yet happy with any of them.

Justin interrupted my babbling excuses and suggested that I needed to change my mindset. Having worked with S&S BFYR on I'm Bored, I already had my foot in the door. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers was my publisher. He was my editor. So how about I pick out 4-5 of what I considered my best stories and send them to him, even if I didn't think they were perfect yet?

Whoa. Really?!?

Ok, I admit I was pretty clueless. I had figured that even though I had illustrated a book for S&S BFYR, that I was still starting from scratch when it came to submitting my own stories. And that if they said no, that was it.

I was wrong.

Anyway, I promised Justin I'd send something very soon. Of course I was STILL paranoid about sending stories that I considered early drafts, so I enlisted the help of my MiG Writers critique group for some feedback and suggestions for tweaks.

Then...I took a deep breath and send my stories to Justin.

He picked one he thought had the most potential. I'm very happy he picked the idea that he did; of all the stories I sent him, this is going to be the most fun to draw!

We had a phone meeting about my story, with editorial assistant Dani Young sitting in. It was a TRULY EXCELLENT phone meeting. I was all "omigod, you're absolutely RIGHT" and "YES! I love that!!" and Justin was all "it's all right there in your story" (I just hadn't seen it).

What Justin was able to do, which I hadn't, was to identify the essence of my picture book as well as see the potential of what it could be. AND he was able to communicate that to me.

By the end of the phone call, I was incredibly inspired and eager to get started.

THE NEXT STEP: I need to show my story visually, in thumbnails.

 Justin asked me to forget about working on the text but just to focus on figuring out how to tell my story visually in very rough thumbnail sketches -- knowing that will help determine my text. I'm not going to worry about character sketches or detailed illustrations yet.

To do this, I've created a template which fits on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. In case any of you would like to use it for your own picture book planning, I've provided a print-ready PDF version (click thumbnail below):

 

There seem to be many different templates for book dummies out there, but I wanted to make sure I was using one that Justin approved since I'll be printing out quite a few copies for me to scribble on. Justin said the endpapers are separate for a 32-page book, so I'm not going to worry about those for now.

I've filled up nearly a dozen of these sheets with my scribbled thumbnails already. Working out a story this way is GREAT for exposing bad pacing and other storytelling problems; I've already discovered that the mss I sent Justin just doesn't work. I'm working non-digitally for these sketches using just a pile of printed sheets, a mechanical pencil and a big eraser. The eraser is getting a LOT of use. :-)

Even if you don't draw but are just writing a picture book story, I still recommend you try this method. Just use stick figures or a scribbled phrase (e.g. "Sam throws marmite at Emma" etc.).

Other resources you might find helpful:

Bob Staake's Picture Book Templates (though reader Michael Johnson had issues with that template and proposed a revision)

Tara Lazaar's Picture Book Layout Dummy

Sarah McIntyre's Book Dummy

How To Mock Up A Picture Book, by Darcy Pattison

FAQ: Making A Picture Book Dummy, by Tina Burke

How To Make A Storyboard, by Uri Shulevitz

If you know any other resources that could help picture book writer/illustrators in the early creation stages, feel free to post below!

There is no set schedule to this blog post series. I'll only post in the series if I have something useful or interesting to say. To make it easier to follow this particular thread, I'll tag related posts with "pbcreation."

Wednesday
May092012

Advice for illustrators entering their first SCBWI Portfolio Showcase

DebbieHoldPortfolio

 

 I tend to get the same sorts of questions in person and email over and over, so I've started compiling some of my answers in a FAQ, for those interested.

The latest is advice for those entering the SCBWI Illustration Portfolio Showcase. As some of you already know, doing this (with the help of my friend Beckett Gladney) resulted in my getting a book contract with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, second-place in the overall Showcase and an SCBWI Mentorship Award.

See my newest FAQ entry for portfolio showcase tips and a quote from S&S BFYR editor/publisher Justin Chanda about what he liked about my portfolio.

Tuesday
Feb142012

I'M BORED Scrapbook Blog Launched: how a picture book was created

****Update February 14, 2013: Please note that the Scrapbook and other bonus material have been moved to the I'M BORED Bonus Page.

I recently launched the I'M BORED Scrapbook, a place where I'll be pulling in everything I've been posting related to I'M BORED. Until the picture book launches this September, I'm mainly going to be focusing on a series of blog posts about how this picture book was creating, from start to finish.

Editor Justin Chanda, art director Laurent Linn and author Michael Ian Black have all been kind enough to answer some questions about the process for me.

The most recent post gave me a chance to ask Justin questions I've been wondering about, like whether he attended that 2010 SCBWI-LA conference with the goal of finding an illustrator for Michael's book, what exactly appealed to him about my portfolio, and what Michael's reaction was to my art.

Next up on the Scrapbook: Michael shares what inspired him to write I'M BORED.