It’s that time again.
Time to have my work scrutinized and criticized until I feel like crying.
Just kidding! Portfolio critiques are extremely helpful if you know what to look for amongst the sometimes harsh reality check. And past mistakes can mean future successes… and sometimes realizing further mistakes you never knew existed.
Amongst the things to do and look for in a critique:
- Wait, hold up, GET A CRITIQUE GROUP. Do it… okay now we can move on to the professional critiques…
- If a problem is repeatedly mentioned. Everyone is going to have their own opinions, but if a similar opinion reoccurs it’s time to take advice. For example, I had two critiques last year. Both of the illustrators were quite different and gave me almost vastly different advice EXCEPT for two things, practice my line work and practice drawing. That’s what I did. I think my art is better for it too.
- If some advice REALLY doesn’t sit with you, listen but go with your gut. I know, this also seems pretty obvious, but I have to remind myself that the person critiquing me doesn’t know me or my work inside and out. They just met me! Therefore I’ll take all advice with a grain of salt. For example, last year both critiques told me to stop writing and focus on illustrating. I obviously didn’t take that advice because to draw I must write and to write I must draw. I DID however take down the claim that I’m an aspiring author/illustrator on all social media to erase further criticisms of this claim lol.
- BE AS PROFESSIONAL AS POSSIBLE. Meaning…dress nicely, act nicely, have a clean presentation. It sounds silly and shouldn’t your work speak for itself? No. Someone is always a better artist than you are, so it’s time to not just rely on that. My first ever critique told me to throw my whole portfolio away because it looked bad. I took that advice, threw everything away and got a new portfolio. I had several compliments on my portfolio presentation. I also dressed a bit better than last time and actually had conversations with the illustrators. The whole experience went better than the first.
- LOOK AT THE WORK OF THE OTHER ILLUSTRATOR. Seriously, get to know your critique, even if it’s just a quick google search. Half of the reason why I think I got such a bad critique the first time is because E.B. Lewis is a fantastic drawer/water colorist and he looked at my work like a child drew it. If you’re into color, try to get a critique from someone who does color. If you like digital, go for a digital artist that doesn’t have a prejudice against it. If you are a mixed media artist, then go for mixed media. Sometimes it’s good to have someone who does completely different art from you, but you might not get the advice you want from them. Fair warning.
- Don’t cry. Don’t do it. DO. NOT. CRY. Unless you are by yourself in the shower.
- And last, just be happy that you have the nerve to show your work. If you’re someone like me who is very self critical and thinks you’ll never be good enough, this is an important thing to remember. At the end of the critique, no matter how good or bad, at least you got that far and now you can get better.
It’s difficult to present your work in confidence, but it must be done. There are tons of resources from the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) online about how to build a portfolio. Just takes some time and research.
Every now and then I have to remind myself of all the ways that I can be creatively productive throughout the day, even when I have to have a day job.
Now I don’t mind my day job at all. It’s just… when I have several manuscripts, book dummies, illustration prompts, commissions, and blog posts to make, spending 40 + hours a week at a job that has nothing to do with any of this can seem like a complete waste of time.
IT’S NOT A WASTE OF TIME. I NEED MONEY ;_;
But there are also small ways to be creative with a piece of paper (or paper towel or tissue or cardboard piece or…) and a writing utensil.
Things I can do:
- Write random ideas down on anything. Good sentences, concepts, character ideas. I got most of my PiBoIdMo and STORYSTORM ideas at my various day jobs.
- Write whole first draft manuscripts. I wrote two manuscripts this year during lunch and one during a slow day. They were horrible but most first drafts are.
- Draw quick thumbnail compositions without much thought. Actually I do better with first drafts and ideas when I work on something else. That’s why illustrating and writing go hand in hand for me.
- List blog ideas/begin writing blog posts. This is actually harder to do than manuscripts.
- Play out stories in my head while walking around. I do a lot of moving at work. They say that creativity works when you aren’t actively trying to be creative or something like that, this article says so.
Things I shouldn’t do at the day job:
- Edit manuscript. Writing firsts drafts is fine, editing them is not. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have to read my manuscripts out loud and that can get awkward.
- Act out manuscript. I mean anyone could do this but…
- Don’t get too invested. The whole point of creative thinking while doing other things is to not concentrate so hard. Hard concentration most likely leads to doubt and frustration and it’s incredibly difficult to get ideas with these two demons showing their ugly faces. This is why day jobs can be useful.
Some days I just do my job because it gets pretty busy being Quality Control. This is why I need this reminder of the little things I can do to continue this journey to one day illustrating and writing children’s books.
Image below, always accurate!
I’ve had four commissions this month! Yippee!
However not all of them were children’s book related, actually most of them were NOT so I won’t post them on here. I will however post the ones that I do think might relate to children’s books.
This one unfortunately didn’t work out, but I did like working on the image.
This is a WIP and wasn’t intended for a PB, however it looks very middle grade I believe. Who knows! I could illustrate a middle grade one day.
Last month AND this month were both pretty busy! I should start writing reviews again, I did read just about fifty picture books last month haha. Plenty to write about!
I’m ending with the beginning. The Keynote Speaker Bruce Coville was fantastic despite the microphone issues. And besides, I don’t REALLY think he needed a microphone anyway as his presence, his CHARACTER, filled the room and got the audience’s attention immediately.
Speaking of character, that was the topic he chose to open the conference with. Character is ultimately what keeps the readers and listeners coming back for more. Even if you’ve read all the blogs with all the tips on how to make a good story, even if the concept is intriguing or the art phenomenal, a good main character is the key ingredient to the children’s book creation.
Below I will section off the notes in bullet points. Anything quoted is directly from him, or my attempt to quote the fabulous things this man says haha.
Take that character you love and give them trouble:
- Make a “scary” story. “What is a scary story? A scary story is when a character you love is in trouble.”
- “A perfect ending has both a surprise and the inevitable. It’s not a coincidence.”
- Coincidence can be used to get them into trouble, NOT OUT OF TROUBLE.
- Make the audience HA (laugh), WAH (sorrow, relief, personal connection) and YIP! (GASP! The “scary” situation.)
- Make your character face a tough choice.
- Throw in what the character doesn’t want.
- Make the character “need” as the need drives the action.
- Character MUST solve the problem.
Coville said something similar to “A great story is well told.”
- Female type of storytelling is the beauty of language and character.
- Male type of storytelling is the action and energy, the tension.
- A story needs BOTH types to become a great story.
- Character IS plot.
- Every payoff must be a set up, every set up must have a pay off.
- Tell the stories clear to get the attention it needs.
- Fold a piece of paper into 6 sections, or 12 sections if you’re writing for an older audience.
- Write 1-6/1-12 in the boxes.
- Write most potent memories in grades 1-6/1-12.
- Write opposite point of view/varying different point of views.
He said something like this, “The right story at the right moment is like an arrow to the heart” and that sentence itself sent an arrow to my heart.
And that’s it! That’s all the notes I’m typing up on this blog. I hope they were even a little helpful to whoever reads this post.
Take a gander at one of my note spreads…
Veronica Bartles, author of The Princess and the Frogs, gave an informative presentation Saturday at the From Dreaming to Doing 2017 MD/DE/WV conference about the differences between publishing your work at a small press vs a large press.
She began by listing a few things to the audience that I think every writer (and illustrator!) should think about:
- Figure out where you want to go.
- If you do not know where you want to go then it doesn’t matter what path you take (just think about the cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland when Alice asks what path she should take)
- WHAT DOES SUCCESS MEAN TO YOU?
She then went on to listing the differences between the two types of presses.
- Niche market or specific audience. This is good if you have a VERY specific type of book that may not work in a Large Press.
- Individualized attention.
- “Family” feel. Basically everyone knows you in that small company and you have like a sibling rival feel with the other published authors there.
- Innovative marketing. You’ll be pretty much marketing yourself.
- No agent required.
- Advance and royalties. Some have a higher royalty rate, some don’t even have them.
- Also, make sure to know your contract inside and out because the small press could own your rights one day and then they might go under the next day and STILL have the rights to your book despite not existing anymore.
- Expanded market, which is great for a wider distributer.
- Perceived status.
- “One of the gang” feel, like you are now with the “big kids.”
- Powerful marketing.
- Agent required.
- Advance and royalties.
- Again, pay attention to contracts. Every press is different!
As for picture books, a bigger press would be a better option so for me I would not go with a small press.
Bartles ends on this note, “Whatever path you’re taking, make it YOUR path, not someone else’s.”
This month is the month of STORYSTORM, a whirlwind of idea generating madness.
To try to gain some inspiration for the next month, I will be adding a list of favorite picture books and reviewing them. Some old, some new, but all good stuff.
Writing reviews for my favorite picture books will give me a closer look into how they make me love them and will hopefully inspire new ideas. Unfortunately I’ve already reviewed Pete the Cat and Dragons Love Tacos, because they would totally be on my list, but I still have plenty to go!
Here is the lineup:
- A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, ill. by Erin E. Stead (2010)
- Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, ill. by Jon Klassen (2012)
- Ramble of one of childhood favorite Author/illustrator Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are, because I have to. (I have the 50th anniversary copy 2013)
- The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock, ill. by Mary Grandpre (2014)
- The Bear Ate your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach (2015)
- Thank you, Octopus by Darren Farrell (2014)
- The Dark by Lemony Snicket, ill. by Jon Klassen (2013)
- Bloom by Doreen Cronin, ill. David Small (2016)
- One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, ill. by David Small
- Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk, ill. by Brendan Kearney
- How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? by Jane Yolen, ill. by Mark Teague (2000)
- Firefly Mountain by Patricia Thomas, ill. by Peter Sylvada (2007)
- Ramble about another childhood favorite The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka, ill. by Lane Smith and more (25th anniversary addition)
- Please, Louise by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison, ill. by Shadra Strickland (2014)
- There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight by Penny Parker Klostermann, ill. by Ben Mantle (2015)
- Ramble about Wanda Gag’s Millions of Cats and why she inspired me to illustrate/write children’s books in the first place.
- Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light (2014)
- Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty, ill. by David Roberts (2013)
- The Grudge Keeper by Mara Rockliff, ill. by Eliza Wheeler
- I Don’t Want to be a Frog by Dev Petty, ill. by Mike Boldt (2015)
- Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (but more just Shaun Tan work in general)
Okay! That’s a pretty big line up, but I’m ready to get to writing~
In the 1950’s the world thought that only a man could gain a powerful position with his career. Only a man could have the strength, intelligence, and ambition to make his mark in history… or so the world thought.
And then, along came Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Balzer & Bray/ Harper Collins Publishers, Ages 4 to 8, 2016, $17.99($13.49 on amazon)
With her wit and love for public service, Clinton was pulled into politics at a young age. Throughout her years she fought for social justice and continues to do so today. With Pham’s charming and fairly accurate illustrations, Markel tells a story of an ambitious women to inspire girls everywhere with the message that some girls really are born to lead. A time line is included for more information on Clinton’s achievements near the end for research material. Though Markel’s work could potentially be used as a research tool for a beginning look at important people in history, Clinton’s tale might be a little too long to keep the younger readers attentive. Markel’s work is labeled for ages 4 to 8, however with the political tone and length, the age range of 6 to 8 might be more accurate. If the reader wanted more early research picture books on Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight by Kathleen Krull might be a good option.
The Good/Bad List!
- Good: The illustrations seem fairly accurate and are charming enough to continue to the next page.
- Good: The illustration in the back of the book of other powerful women makes this seem like it could potentially be apart of a series. However at this time I couldn’t find any other book related to this one.
- Bad: Too long. 42 pages of text that I’m really not sure will keep the attention of a 4 or 5 year old.
- Bad: Political tone close to propaganda. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it is, but some reviews on amazon say it is. As you can see the reviews are clearly split between the 5 stars and the 1 stars haha. Some on there are saying they received this book as a political gag gift and I must admit that I did as well, along with a Make America Great Again hat.
- Bad: The focus on this book being for girls is a negative. Boys need to learn about powerful women too without being excluded which I thought Markel unfortunately did. If the book was for both boys and girls I would recommend it.
- Good: Can be a fairly good early research book.
And that’s all for today! Good night~