Turbo Monkey Tales is a group blog focusing on the craft, production, marketing and consumption of Children's Literature. We are illustrators, writers, animators and media mongrels. We are readers! We are published, unpublished and self-published; agented and searching, and 100% dedicated to our Kid Lit journey, no matter where we are on the path. Join our Tribe and grab a vine. The more the merrier!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

When Synopsis Comes to Visit

by Ellen

When Synopsis comes to call, I bite my nails in angst. If Query is in tow, I bolt the door and hide.

But not for long . . .

I reluctantly invite Synopsis to come for a visit. Even though I dread it, I know Synopsis needs to come. I tell myself that if it weren’t for Synopsis, I’d never know the bare bones of what I’ve created. Does my plot work? Is the conflict solved? Is the progression of my protagonist, antagonist, and other characters satisfactory throughout the story?

When Synopsis pays a visit, I’m taken down into the basement of my novel. It’s like putting a vacuum cleaner hose to a Space Bag . . . all that fluffy stuff is sucked out. What’s important is all that’s left. My questions are answered.

Below are a few important points according to Synopsis . . .   

THINGS to DO . . .   
     Write in an active voice, not passive.
     Summarize your novel from beginning to END. Tell the entire story.         
     Plot points, include exciting twists!
     Give a clear idea of your book’s central conflict.
     Focus on the main character, their emotions and struggles.
     Make sure the sentences in your synopsis “flow” from one idea to the next.

THINGS NOT to do . . .
     Stay away from adverbs, adjectives and too many transitions. Focus on essential details.
     Don’t mention every character, only the important ones.
     Forget about all those subplots. You don’t need them.
     No dialogue.
     Don’t write a synopsis as if it were an instructional manual for assembling a BBQ grill. 
  So . . .  how do we arrive at a finished synopsis? Here are a few helpful strategies.

     Outline-outlining is a helpful process. Some authors outline their novel first, and from this information, draft a synopsis. The synopsis becomes a roadmap to guide them along in the writing process.

     Storyboard-storyboarding can be used by both illustrators and authors. As a teacher, to help my students understand plot progression, we did the following.  Divide a piece of drawing paper, any size you like, into boxes. In each box, in sequence, jot a sentence about the plot and sketch a picture. In this way, you can visually see how things are working. Some authors do the same with note cards.

     Characterization-as you write your novel, chart you character’s personality traits. Make sure their actions fit their personalities.  

     Clustering- clustering is grouping your story by creating a free-flowing chart. Groupings might include plot, character, scene, chapters . . . anything you want. If you use clustering for plot, subplots are revealed, which aren’t necessarily needed when writing a synopsis.

     Your novel is finished. Now what?

     Revisions are done. You’ve sent a query letter out to an agent and they’ve requested the first few chapters and a two page, double-spaced synopsis. Your novel is 300 pages. Here’s where the vacuum cleaner hose to the Space Bag comes in. Shrink a novel down to two pages? It’s not easy. Below are some things you can do.

     First-if you are a writer that has outlined your work, or kept note cards, review them. Shrink things down to what’s important. Your synopsis is a miniature version of your work.   

     Second- focus on your pitch. Be sure you can express your book in a sentence. The pitch can be used as the first sentence of your synopsis, if you like.  

     Third- my favorite strategy takes time, but I find it the most helpful. I print out my finished novel and then, ignoring chapters, type out the major scenes in the order they occur. This helps me with plot points and my characters. If things aren’t working, I revise. From the scenes I’ve typed, I write a quick summary of the book. Finally, I par the summary down, down, and down until it becomes the synopsis.

     Fourth- polish your work. Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. If you are in a critique group, share your synopsis. If not, share it with a friend. It’s always better for someone with a fresh view to take a look.  Also, since there is no set way to write a synopsis, be sure and check the agent or editor’s guidelines.

     Fifth- hit send!!  Good Luck!!

Here are some resources I’ve found helpful:

Marshall, Evan.Producing a Knockout Novel Synopsis.”The Complete Handbook of Novel
     Writing. Writer’s Digest. 2010: 370-375.

The synopsis: what it is, what it isn’t, how to write it. http://www.caroclarke.com/synopsis.html

Vilardi, Debbie. “Navigating the Synopsis Maze.” SCBWI Bulletin. Jan-Feb 2013: 19

 SO . . . I would love to know what works best for you when Synopsis comes to visit! Please share!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Never give up! An interview with Stephanie Blake

by Amy

We've had a bit of a theme working here in the Tubro Monkey Treehouse lately. Motivation, healing, aiming for the stars...all of these resonate with my "Never, never, never give up" magnet. In the same vein, I'd like to share a success story.

Today, I’m pleased to welcome my long-time virtual friend Stephanie Blake. Steph’s truly awesome middle-grade novel, The Marble Queen, has been climbing charts all over the place. I just read it and LOVED it, but what I love even more is the story behind the book. And here's Steph...

 Thank you for the warm welcome. Yes, the book has been well received, much to my relief. The first two weeks of its release were kind of fun. It was neck and neck on the Hot New Release list with the new James Patterson book, I FUNNY. It was also up and down on the top 100 of the Best Selling Children's books for a couple of weeks. My family had fun checking on the numbers every few hours. We were #1 on the Children's Hot New Releases on New Year's Eve. I got a screen capture of that.

So, when did you write The Marble Queen of Idaho Falls (which is what it was originally called, right?)

The long title was a mouthful, but I loved it! My editor thought it would be better shortened. She won. I started writing it in 2006. The manuscript came together quickly, but it needed a lot of work, especially the plot.

Am I right in remembering that you had a lot of 'near misses' with this -- agent interest, publisher interest—early on? Did you have other books on submission at the same time?

TMQ wasn't my first book, it was my 4th manuscript. I had a funny, heartwarming boy book about three friends who start a summer business together--picking up dog poop. I submitted that thing everywhere. Got some close calls, but no offers. I landed an agent with my second manuscript, another funny boy book about a kid who gets into all kinds of trouble when he acts out after finding out he is expecting a new sibling. The agent and I parted ways when that ms didn't sell. I wrote a manuscript about a tween witch and revised with an agent for a year. The, I revised again for another agent. I wrote TMQ and garnered a handful of "too quiet" agent rejections before working on it with an editor at FSG. She helped me through two revisions, but in the end, no offer. I was so discouraged.

Ah, yes. The ‘too quiet’rejections. You and I must have a monopoly on those…

Actually, your writing life mirrors mine so much. We had our ‘no query pact’…I think that lasted about 6 months. And before that, when I went on my soul-searching Year Of Lamentation And Whining, you actually quit writing and became a phlebotomist. How did you come to the decision to step away, and what brought you back?

That No-Query pact was awesome! I think more writers need to do that when they start to feel desperate. And desperate I was! Honestly, I went to a dark obsessive place. I was spending all of my time on the internet. I got sick of the whole thing. Sick of submitting to black holes of nothingness. Sick of spending money on conferences. Revising over and over for agents, only to have them decline to represent me. Sick and tired of being jealous of my writer friends who were breaking in.

Oh man, I so get you on the jealousy. Not that I’m not thrilled for my friends, but sometimes I can’t help wondering, “When’s it gonna be my turn?”

Finally, when The Marble Queen was picked up by Marshall Cavendish, it turned out there were a few more surprises in store, right?

I subbed the manuscript to Marshall Cavendish as a last ditch effort. And when I didn't hear a peep, that was it for me! I went back to school and got a certificate in phlebotomy. I was working in a hospital and out of the blue, a year after mailing off that manuscript, an editor emailed to ask it if was still available. My short answer was "Hell yes!" I quit that job about two weeks later. Good thing, too because I didn't realize that revisions were going to take eighteen months! Then came the announcement that all of the Marshall Cavendish titles were bought by Amazon. That was scary. I worried that the book wouldn't be reviewed, that it wouldn't be on shelves in physical stores, and mostly that I wouldn't sell another one! (That last worry is still alive and well).

Argh...proof that the grass is never completely green.

Now that your first book is out and doing SO WELL…was it all worth it? Was there any one thing you wish YOU had done differently?

I wish I wouldn't have deleted my blog.

Oh, me too! I loved your blog!

I had a great following and some really useful and memorable posts, but when I quit writing, I quit blogging and deleted it one day without saving any of the posts. I also kind of wish I wouldn't have spent so much money on conferences!

What are you working on now?

I am waiting to hear from my editor on a proposal for a companion to The Marble Queen. I have also been revising a contemporary middle grade, and have clogged up a couple of slush piles with a picture book that I wrote on a whim.

Last thing...what's the one thing you cannot write without?

I need complete silence when I'm writing! My husband just started working from home, so that's been tough.

Someday we’ll meet in person! Margaritas on me!

It's a deal. I'll bring the chips and salsa!


To learn more about Steph and The Marble Queen, visit her website and check out her book.

And also...

Never, never, NEVER give up!
-Winston Churchill



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Charles Dickens and the Last Round of Revisions

by Sarah

It is a truth universally acknowledged that teachers cannot expect to teach anything the day before Christmas break.

So… this past December 21, I challenged the students in my math classes to pull out their smart phones and see if they could get points in a holiday scavenger hunt. Questions included: 

  • Why do snowflakes never, ever have 4 or 8 sides? (Followed by a lesson in how to make proper, six-sided paper snowflakes.)
  • What do Mary Shelley's masterpiece and How the Grinch Stole Christmas have in common? 
  • What does the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" have to do with the second Star Trek* movie and/or the summer Olympics?
(December 15, 2016:
Dear students of mine who are Googling these questions, this is a blog post I wrote three years ago. It mentions the questions but NOT the answers. Keep searching. Good luck, Ms. McGuire :) )

Finally, I explained that I love Dickens' A Christmas Carol and that I read it almost every year. I challenged them to find the book online and read any two consecutive sentences to me. Then I'd tell them what was happening in that scene. 

Here's the crazy thing: about 80% of the time, I could. 

Granted, it helps that the book is novella length– and that I've read it for years and years. But what struck me was that Dickens made it so darn easy for me to orient myself in the story. His language is that distinct, even in the 'throwaway' portions of scenes (you know, where someone is moving across the room). 

Donald Maass, in his book Writing the Breakout Novel, suggested that we writers shuffle the pages of a manuscript. Then we're supposed to pick random pages and see if there's tension on each page. Excellent advice. 

However, I had an epiphany while I stood in my classroom, surrounded by students reading Dickens off their smart phones. I should also look at my pages and ask if the language is unique. Does it spark? Does the narration sing? Does it make each scene distinct from the others? (All without sounding pretentious, overblown, or as if I'm trying to be amazing.)

I've been thinking about A Christmas Carol as I continue to revise Valiant. I've got the overall story straight. Now it's time to go back and pay attention to the words. That means making sure my own voice is clear. It means never assuming that I can settle for flat language in a scene– or even a paragraph– because I'm getting to the good stuff.

And maybe, if I work really, really hard, I can give my readers a Dickens of a tale. 

*No, the YouTube video of Kirk and Spock singing the song does not count! 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Motivating Ourselves - Just Try!

by Marilyn Hilton

"The aim, if reached or not, makes great the life." -Robert Browning

In a writers' workshop a few years ago, the leader asked us to stand up and twist around as far as we could, and then note how far we had turned. Then we did it again, but this time before we twisted we chose a spot farther than we'd reached the first time. You know what? The second time, everyone reached their farther point. The difference was that for the second time, we set a goal and were motivated to reach it.

Chances are, many of us have set goals for 2013. Now here we are, nearing the end of January, and we may be having trouble reaching those goals--or we're wondering how to go about reaching them. 

A few years ago I read a story about Beverly Cleary that inspired me to try new things. When Beverly Cleary was a young girl, she entered an essay contest because her mother had always encouraged her to try new things. She won the contest, and learned from that experience always to try, regardless of the certainty of the outcome.

After reading that, I adopted the "Just Try" method for doing many things that seemed impossible to accomplish. And it worked! I found that just trying frees me from the paralysis of fear and self-doubt; it allows me to explore, to play with ideas and directions, and to go beyond what makes me feel comfortable. "Just Try" includes the possibility--and acceptance--of failure and looking foolish, thereby dissolving their power over me. I've danced more, sketched more, sung more, traveled more, written more, explored more, experienced more--accomplished more--than I would have by wishing or dreaming about it.

Here are 4 simple steps for trying anything:

1. Write down what you want to try.
2. Imagine yourself doing it. What does that look like? How will you feel?
3. Imagine yourself accomplishing it. What does that look like? What rewards come with it? How will you feel?
4. Try doing it. You don't have to do it perfectly or be the best at it, or even finish it--you just have to try doing it.

You'll find that whether or not #3 comes true, you will have done #2--which has its own rewards and is a lot further than #1.

I asked our turbo monkeys for their motivation tips, and here's what they told me:

If I get a really devastating rejection or something equally demoralizing, I stew on it for a while then send out a bunch of new subs.

I sometimes just tell folks that I've had a bad day and need encouragement. Other times, I'll go back and read something good that I've written to remind myself that I CAN write. But I think the biggest solution is, like Amy, to do something. Most of the time, that means I keep writing.

- Make a schedule for each (working!!) day and meet those goals ... ticking off is my best motivation
- Have a treat at the end, or to work towards. For me it's usually the next writing retreat/conference.
- Always have chocolate on hand.
- Read other folks' blogs and a good book - both morale boosters.

Hazel's tips for illustrators:
- Visit an art gallery or museum to feed the soul.
- Create a fun project that is totally personal to you, that you don't care if anyone ever sees, and forget about impressing people.
- Try a new medium, or sign up for an art or craft class that you have never tried before.
- Check out bios of your fav major illustrators and be inspired by the journey we are all on.

I set a small goal I know I can reach and once I reach it I set a bigger goal and build from there. 

When I'm down I think. I mostly go back inside my book and think about new scenes that might make the story better. I also like to wander the bookstore and read new releases. Sometime I put my nose into the pages because new books smell delicious, and I dream about smelling the pages of my own published work!

Normally I'm a pretty buoyant soul, which might have come from my bike racing days of climbing up an impossible mountain, only to find....another mountain. When I get hammered down, I dream about extreme success...not just monetarily. I dream of romance and love, a fun car, a horse named Rowie, admiration from my mentors, firmer abs and possibly the ability to sing and play the guitar like Brad Paisley. I believe you gravitate towards your dreams, and the endorphins that are released when you dream a great thing is addicting, and your entire body will naturally gravitate to capture that feeling again. And often without knowing it, you will find a way to overcome the thing that brought you down, or hurt your feelings, or made you sad. So I dream of happiness...I don't sing that Julie Andrews song but it's sort of the same thing--"I simply remember my favorite things."

Now it's your turn: What do you do to motivate or inspire yourself?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Writer, Heal Thyself: First Aid for Creative Types from Julie Dillard

So many of life’s worthwhile adventures include RISK.  We might suffer scrapes and bruises on the journey, whether it’s climbing a mountain, falling in love, parenting, or choosing the life of a writer/artist… 

A Cautionary Tale about a Girl Who Stood on a Chair to Hang Art
While I haven’t scaled Kilimanjaro and I’m hopeless when it comes to matters of the heart (running for one's passport is apparently not "a healthy choice"), I do have experience with effective first-aid for kid ouches. I have ice packs shaped like frogs and bunnies, bandages of every size, ointments, sticky sweet pink, purple, and red concoctions, thermometers, and a slew of books about what to do with that seal cough or goose egg.

Surely we risk-taking creative types deserve a toolbox full of comforts and cures, too, but what to put in it? Ice packs in the shape of character arcs? Bottles of fantasy-inducing potions?

I got a referral to some creative specialists and asked what they would put in a first-aid kit for various writer injuries and ailments.  There were a number of references to the healing properties of whiskey and pale ale, of course. Heather Petty touted the magical properties of Swedish Fish candies (and having read her work, I do not doubt their powers).
Gummy Muse?

In the course of my research, Kristen Crowley Held shared her experience with a writer's "first aid kit made by her husband:

Dan once made me a writer's kit when I went off to a cabin in the woods to write by myself. He checked out a bunch of books on writing/books on the subject I was writing about from the library and included them in a box with some chocolate and a note that I keep in my wallet to this day.
Mustache + Glare= Impact

(Swoon, huh? I know I wasn't the only one who made a point of leaving THAT up on the screen for a horribly neglectful spouse to "happen upon." Cough.)

Presuming you are not married to Kristen’s winner of a husband either, we just might need to (sigh) stock our own writer/illustrator first aid kits.

Next time you face

·         waiting-induced rashes of the psyche,

·         “we just bought a book exactly like it” scalds

·         conflicting rejection vertigo (I love the plot, but not so much the  character/I love the character but not so much the plot),

·         sluggish plot movement (plotstipation), 

·         or the common cold of the writing soul—self doubt,

 see if one of these cures just might deserve a place in your “artist’s first aid kit”:


Editor/Mentor extraordinaire Harold Underdown shows how it's done
  • Snack break (posting pictures of it on Facebook optional)
  • Walk it off (Nature + Escape)
  • Clean or organize (bonus points if you beautify your working space). Charlene Ellen swears by a broom and a yard full of leaves to brush off the mental cobwebs.
  • Change  (Abandon your laptop for a giant sheet of butcher paper, etc.)
  • Meditation (I've been wanting to do this forever for presence of mind and stress relief--anyone use meditation to good effect? I'd love to hear about it!) Om.

My Biggest Fan

Fill Your Habitat with Creativity-Inducing Things:

Craig Lew's Muse

Favorite pens/tools (Craig Lew vows nothing inspires like a fountain pen)

Pets (because they know how AWESOME you truly are) 

Writer’s notebook or a sketchbook (No censorship—just brainstorming. Let go of the pressure to produce and just play.)

Kristen Held told me of a friend who lights a scented candle whenever she writes, so now when the smell of cinnamon-infused wax wafts through the air, a Pavlovian response kicks in and the muse shows up. (I’m so adopting this. Where is that coconut cream pie candle?)

Nathalie Mvondo (Multiculturalism Rocks!)  agreed that the candle thing works, and she reminded me of the healing/helping nature of music. Work on a playlist or station for that project to get your groove on. Tried Pandora yet? I actually have a station called "emotional writing music." Yep. 

All these things remind me of the importance of a happy habitat for writing. What would help make your working space more inviting and productive?

Second Opinions:

When the writing or drawing life has you under the weather, get a second opinion. Phone a friend, set up a writing evening, enter a contest, or sign up for that conference you're on the fence about--artist friends are the ultimate first responders.  Take that risk of reaching out and branching out. It'll be good for you--and your work.
With a little collaboration, you, too, can feel, well--

First Aid Manuals: As creative types, we're naturally drawn to books, right? 

Here are a few books you might take a look at for your first aid kit:
The Artist’s Way  by Julia Cameron (Thanks for the recommendation, Marilyn Hilton!)

Steal Like An Artist : 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon 

How Not to Write a Novel :200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--a Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

What acts, rituals, items, or books have you found helpful for writer comfort and mental health?   I'm stocking up!

Monday, January 14, 2013

[Insert Perfect Name Here]: Character Naming Resources for Writers.

by Kristen Crowley Held

I am really, really, really good at obsessing over character names. So good, in fact, that I've assembled quite a collection of books and websites that I use to seek out the PERFECT name. The name has to sound right both out loud and inside my head, has to fit the character without being too obvious and, if I'm really on my game, should have an extra layer of meaning known only to me (and readers well versed in name origins).
Occasionally, if it's not my protagonist who remains nameless, I can get away with writing things like [insert perfect name here] but usually I spend hours/days/weeks searching through my favorite character naming resources before I can move on.

Since I'm big on hidden meanings, one of my favorite resources is a book called Baby Names Made Easy: The Complete Reverse Dictionary of Baby Names by Amanda Elizabeth Barden. 

"Baby Names Made Easy offers selections organized into categories of meaning, making it easier than ever to choose a name that is significant to you."
Some sample categories: Animals & Insects, Hardworking, Magic, and Protector. Have a character trait in mind? Pick a category and you'll find a list of associated names.

Does your character have siblings? The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg includes potential names for sisters and brothers with each listing. The Baby Name Wizard also has an awesome website that lets you track the popularity of a name over time and figure out in which part of the country your name is most often used. For a small fee you can also sign up for the Baby Name Wizard Expert Edition which uses Flash tools like the Name MatchMaker to find a name based on "your unique tastes and style."

Writing a Fantasy? Check out The New Book of Magical Names by Phoenix McFarland.
Need a surname?
The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon has names and surnames from more than 45 countries.

Some of my favorite online character naming resources include:

Nameberry.com which lists names by every conceivable category. Looking for a Hipster name? Or maybe an Old Lady name? They've got you covered.

ParentsConnect.com allows you to search for names by meaning. Enter a word and they'll provide a list of names.

Nymbler.com helps you find the perfect name by having you choose names you like, but that aren't quite right, and extrapolates from there.
Looking for a cool nickname? Check out:

Or maybe you just want a randomly generated name?
If you use Scrivener you've got a name generator built right in. 
If not, here are a couple of online name generators to check out:

That ought to keep you busy for a few hours/days/weeks!
And now that I've shown you some places to look for them, how do YOU choose the perfect name for your character?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why illustrating and writing aren't so very different - from Hazel Mitchell

It seems like the job of an illustrator and a writer are very different. In reality I'm finding they're not so far apart. The more books I illustrate the more the crossover becomes apparent. In my 'spare time' I'm writing stories. The more I write, (and the more I illustrate) I realize the tools and techniques are much the same - it's just what I do with my hands that's different.

In the beginning is the story. As an illustrator usually when I get the m/s the writer and editor have finished their work. Then I begin all over again, creating another story to weave with the words. The pictures are words in another form. For what are visual marks on the paper except another type of language?

As the writer begins with notes and jottings and outlines and character sketches - so does the illustrator. The first visualization of a character or a setting may be extremely rough. In fact I usually begin by writing a whole series of notes on the m/s before I sketch anything. When I begin to find the way into the book, there's a lot of notes and doodles happening that make no sense - except to me. Scribbled around drawings, or just writings. It's my visual thought chatter.

First draft = thumbnails. When the writer gets those first words down they are rough and clumsy like turned earth in a ploughed field before the elements break down the clods for springtime sowing. So it is with the illustrator. Everyone works differently, but usually there is some sort of system where the pages are broken down into little squares or rectangles. A rough feeling for flow and composition and placement happens. Mood and shape enter into it, a feel for the second story that will help bring the words to life for the reader. It's a time for not over thinking, but for playing - for getting it down. Just as the writer did.
Second draft. Where it gets more detailed. Time to go back and edit and expand those thumbnails. To see what's moving the story along and what's not necessary. Personally at this stage I work at 75% size and begin to flesh things out. I'm thinking about flow at this stage and page turns. How to create tension and check the story arc. Are the illustrations working with the plot? Are they moving the story forward? Are the illustrations coherent with the style of the story and the genre - or are they inappropriate? If so, why? Do I need to get rid of them? Is there an illustration in there that is purely indulgent or can I cut it? Have I missed anything? Do I need a different illustration or point of view? Who is telling this story? Who are the secondary characters? Do I need characters and information that are not in the m/s? Why? Will they enhance the book or distract? Do they help to move the story along, emotionally strengthen the main character's feelings (often in a book for very young children a sidekick can evoke what the m/c cannot).

At this point I will pin the roughs on a wall and consider them. Look at them all together to see progression. There's something intangible that lets you know if it's working or not, personal to the artist, just as to the writer when they make up a spreadsheet or chart of their book and are able to see at a glance where the story is going. I'll be looking for rhythm and consistency, variety and any needless repetition. If I don't like a spread I can pull it and redo. (Sometimes there's a lot of redoing). Have I left room for the text? In picture books the chunks of text and where they're set on the page is as an important visual element as the pictures. Young eyes must be able to read easily and connect the text with the visuals and vice-versa. You don't want them jolted out of the story. In effect I'm storyboarding the book.
 Now is when the layout would most often go back to the art director for a look see and edit. It's like the first time a writer's editor sees the story. Here's where illustrators will get the first edit. The AD may send you written notes, there may be telephone discussions. There will be revision. Just as it is with the writer.

When the revision's are given the okay it's on to the final draft. Of course this is entirely dependent on how the illustrator works. Digital or by hand, careful pencil or more loosely straight onto the paper. Everyone is different, just as writers are different. Some illustrators may work chronologically through a book, others work on different parts of the book all at once, or start in the middle or at the end. It's what feels right.

As the illustrations progress I like to replace the rough drafts on the wall with the finished pieces or print outs. That way I can see how it's coming together. I'm check for consistency of style - voice - flow - and making sure I'm not straying from the story. Am I loving the characters? Is the colour consistent, the mood, theme? Are there areas I need to work on? Or do over? I'll know when I hate something. It's like grit under the finger nails. You may have a lot of contact with the publisher - or you may prefer to work right through before you show the work. Just as an editor is there to talk to the writer when they get stuck or blocked, so it is with an art director and the illustrator.

Finally, it's finished - 'the final draft'. Polished as far as you are able. Knowing when to stop. It's time to send the proofs to the AD. There may be final tweaks, things to adjust and give more thought to. The final page - the cover - the end pages. Until - that's it. Final art is delivered and the next thing you know, it's book delivery day and your job is done!

 Whatever we're creating, the process of draws on essentially the same treasure chest of skills. What makes them special is YOU.

Thanks for dropping by Turbo Monkey Tales! Call back next time to visit with the lovely writer Julie Dillard.

The illustrations are from my new book from Kane Miller '1,2,3 by the Sea' by Dianne Moritz pub Spring 2013. The book is available online and soon from all good book stores.

It is also available as an ebook

Watch the book trailer here ...

Thanks for visiting!


all images © Hazel Mitchell 2013

Monday, January 7, 2013

To Infinity and Beyond!

It’s the New Year.  A great time to take stock in how far you’ve come and plot how far you might go with your writing career.

Many monkeys aim at the low hanging bananas, fruit they can easily grab for immediate self satisfaction.  Often though, that easy satisfaction masks the effects of contentment and is the first step towards complacency.  With easy resolutions met, a nap quickly follows.  
NO!  Wake up!  Be an astronaut of success!

If you are a writer or illustrator, you fantasize.  I'm not talking about bare chested men in kilts.  You fantasize about making a living as an author or illustrator.  And if you already have a book published then you fantasize about it winning awards and topping a best sellers list.  

If any of this is true, why would you aim your rocket at the nearest ant hill?  Pretty sure that trajectory will not get you to the moon and that’s where the cheese is, Grommit!

Embrace your fantasy!

Fantasies are important.  Not what Google would have you believe: “the act of imagining things that are impossible.” (You can’t trust Google.)  Fantasies are dreams you have yet to take serious.


Cinderella sang “Dreams are a wish your heart makes....” She knows nothing!  Dreams are goals you have not scheduled.  Take your dream and drive a stake into the ground.  I will achieve this dream by xx/xx/xxxx! Now it’s a goal.

What next?

Well, goals are simply tasks you’ve yet to complete.  Break down your goals into achievable tasks.  Make these your low hanging bananas.  Big successes are built upon small achievements.  

Quick summary for the ADD:
  1. Embrace your fantasies 
  2. Take your dreams seriously
  3. Turn them into goals by assigning a target date
  4. Break down each goal into tasks

Nice list...but you’re still on the sofa in front of the TV.  So, take action.

One thing that is common to the astronauts of success, they all surround themselves with like-minded people.  Build your own team of like-minded peeps.  Join the SCBWI (duh.) Form a crit group.  Seek out other writers in your town.  Talk to your agent, editor, Intellectual Property Attorney or your life partner.  Don’t have those?  Then shouldn’t that be one of your goals?

To keep from straying off path, refer back to your nice list and review.  Check off those tasks you’ve completed.  Get a true sense of satisfaction from progressing towards your goals.

Lastly, state it publicly.  Say outloud “{XXXX} is my Dream!  {XXXX is my Goal}.”  Don’t be afraid to let others know.  How else will you know if they share the same set of goals?  Sure, you might fail the first time out but then you’d be in good company.  

Notable Astronauts of Success:

James Joyce: 20 plus publishers said NO to “Dubliners”
Richard Adams: more than 17 publishers said NO for “Watership Down”
Madeline L’Engle: 26 publishers said NO to “A Wrinkle in Time”
William Golding: more than 20 said NO to “Lord of the Flies”
J.K. Rowling: 12 publishers said NO to “Harry Potter”
Canfield and Hansen received 140 NO’s for “Chicken Soup for the Soul”    

So, be an astronaut of success.  Aim high, dream big, work hard and be kind.  Hit the launch button and go to Infinity and beyond...
I only ask that you remember me in your acceptance speech.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Developments in Self-Publishing

by Amy

As a self-published monkey, I’ve been following the recent tossings and turnings of the industry with great interest. Back when I launched my book in 2010 (which is something like the Neolithic period with regard to self-publishing) things were pretty cut and dried. If you had a good manuscript, a publisher bought it and turned it into a book. Publishing something yourself seemed to indicate that your book wasn’t ‘good enough’ and that you were taking the easy way out.
Things have changed. Publishers, scrambling to make sense of a new landscape, seem hesitant to take risks on new books. Self-publishing has lost its stigma, thanks to some great authors putting out some more-than-good-enough books. (Self-published titles accounted for more of the year's best-selling eBooks than either Hyperion's or Harper Collins, and for the first time ever, a New York Times book critic put a self-published title on her best-of-2012 list.) And while the do-it-yourself route still has significant road blocks, there are technologies and services rushing to knock them down. Consider some of these new products and developments, and how they may affect self-publishing (click to Tweet!)…and by extent, the entire publishing industry.
Software:  One of biggest hurdles to successful self-publishing has been marketing – how do you get your book in front of buyers. Booklamp, which calls itself the Pandora of books, and Booksai, a program that uses Artificial Intelligence to recommend books similar to ones a reader likes, could open up that playing field. Booklamp’s engine isn't influenced by advertising budgets or popularity biases. Likewise, Booksai analyzes only a book's content, ignoring sales rank and purchase history. These recommendation engines provide great opportunities for self-published projects, which often don’t have the sales numbers to get recommended on Amazon or other large bookseller websites.
Self-Publishing Forums: Now that self-publishing has been around a few years, the trials and errors made by early authors can be avoided…provided you know about them. That’s the beauty of self-publishing forums. You’ll find everything from pros and cons on the various self-publishing platforms to information on how to format your manuscript to recommendations for professional editors. Self-publishing is a lonely road and these forums can help independent author/publishers feel less alone. For a list of recommended forums, see this great post at The Book Designer.
Big Six (er, Five) Self-Publishing Arms: Even the traditional publishers are starting to get in on the action. Simon & Shuster’s Archway and Author Solutions (owned by Penguin…House) offer varying levels of publishing packages to suit each individual author’s needs. I haven’t studied these in too much depth, but from my narrow perspective, they seem to take the “self” out of self-publishing and replace it with authors paying big bucks to a company to publish their work. Um...I think there used to be a term for that....varity press? vanishy? vanipy?
Mergers: With the Random House/Penguin merger a done deal and rumors of a Harper Collins/S&S mashup flying around, the traditional publishing jungle is starting to look a lot different…and a lot smaller. How self-publishing fits into that jungle remains to be seen, but it certainly does seem like there’s a lot more room on the battlefield.
So this is all great news for self-publishers.
…before you go bananas and publish every last word you’ve ever written, keep in mind that publishing your own book is a tremendous responsibility and, even with these new developments, a LOT of work! I tapped two of our fairy God-Mentors, EmmaDryden and Harold Underdown, to give us their thoughts on self-publishing and what it takes to do it well. Read these brilliant words of wisdom with care before heading down that do-it-yourself path.

One issue I see happening is that because the technical aspects of self publishing are SO easy— in other words, it's easier than ever to get something up on the web for all to see—too many authors are doing so without thought and without following what to my mind are necessary best practices in the way of editing, design, and marketing, at the very least. To self publish well, one must think and act like a publisher, but most authors don't have any idea what that means, and it takes time and practice to find out. My concern is that someone's name is on a book- and that should mean the same thing as someone's reputation being attached to that book, so if a book is sloppy, unprofessional, and poorly executed, this will reflect on that author. So I feel it's essential for someone who is self-publishing to take care with the process, not rush, and be clear as to what the goals are by self-publishing. To self-publish something meant to be shared by friends and family is one thing; to self-publish with the expectation of being reviewed and to sell books, that's something entirely different. An author needs to think this through clearly and professionally, in my opinion.


A pitfall: I see a lot of writers (not folks who just want to get a book out—writers who see themselves as building a career as writers) who choose self-publishing as a shortcut. They see how much work it is to find an agent, then find a publisher, and they see that there are no guarantees that they will get published that way. Even if they find a publisher, they may then work with the publisher for years. So self-publishing looks like less work. You can get published faster and more dependably. The problem is that to self-publish successfully, as Emma notes, you have to do the things that publishers do. And those things are a lot of work. The experience of Amanda Hocking is a case in point—she self-published very successfully but, as she said at the time, this required so much work that she signed with St. Martin's so she could concentrate on writing. And there are no guarantees, even with all that work, that someone will succeed in self-publishing. A brief summary of what's involved in publishing is in this article: http://www.underdown.org/publisher-expertise.htm

Emma and Harold raise very important issues. The website Harold lists gives a rundown of all the jobs you'll be taking on as a self-publisher. It's clear that, to do a good job publishing your own book, you need either lots of skills and/or a lot of money to pay people to do the jobs you can't. And keep in mind Emma's point about your book being 'out there.' It won't go away if, three years down the road, you realize it's not that good. Trust me--that happens.
The bottom line...self-publishing may be easier than ever, but doing it right will never be easy.
Here's a big bunch of bananas for our guests, the amazing Emma and most excellent Harold! You guys are welcome in the Turbo Monkey Tree anytime!

Emma D Dryden is the founder of the children’s book editorial and publishing consulting firm, drydenbks, through which she provides editorial and consultancy support to authors, illustrators, agents, foreign and domestic publishers, and eBook and app publishers. An editor and publishing for over twenty-five years, Emma has edited hundreds of books for children and young readers, and has worked at Viking, Random House, and as VP, Publisher of Atheneum and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon& Schuster. She is on the SCBWI Board of Advisors and she totally rocked as a mentor for the Nevada SCBWI Mentorship program, where she inspired Turbo Monkeys Kristen and Marilyn.

Harold Underdown is best known for his wonderful children’s writing, illustrating and publishing website, The PurpleCrayon, and for his indispensible book, The Complete Idiot's Guide toPublishing Children's Books, now in its third edition. He provides editorial and publishing consulting services through PC Editorial Services and does workshops and retreats via Kids Book Revisions. Previously, he served as Vice President and Editorial Director at ipicturebooks and prior to that, was editorial director of the Charlesbridge trade program. He has also worked at Orchard Books and Macmillan. Turbo Monkey Sarah was the lucky monkey who benefitted from Harold’s awesome advice and mad editing skills during the 2010-2011 Nevada Mentorship Program.