Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Analyzing Picture Books—GOOD LUCK BABY OWLS

GOOD LUCK BABY OWLS by Giles (writer) and Alexandra (illustrator) Milton, published by Boxer Books, 2012, is spread over 25 pages, 17 with third-person text (and illus.) and nine with pictures only. There are approximately 240 words, with a handful of them hyphenated. The first two pages are narration, setting up the scene. The remaining pages of text are composed of dialogue, except for three. So, nearly two-thirds of the text is dialogue.

Picture books cannot afford to waste a single word, and the words should not do the work that will be revealed in the illustrations. In other words, you must separate words and pictures in your mind, and write only what can’t be shown in the illustrations. Thoughts, sounds, and dialogue won’t work as pictures and therefore make up most of the picture book text.
This story is about two baby owls in a hurry to grow up, wanting to learn to fly, and a patient daddy guiding them along the journey.
The story opens with a strong sense of setting: a chilly winter, silent night. In addition to telling us about the “frost-coated silence,” the author reemphasizes the stillness by stating that all is “quiet,” in the “big dark barn,” and then surprises us with a squeakity-squeak. Children always enjoy funny or interesting noises when someone reads aloud to them. That, coupled with a good dose of dialogue, is a good recipe for a picture book. But that’s not all a new writer needs.
After the opening, the author delivers many exchanges of dialogue to set up the characters (two baby owls – the source of the squeaks – and their daddy), and the problem (baby owls want to fly right now). Through the lively  voices, we can hear the earnest longing of the baby owls and Daddy’s loving patience.
How else does Giles Milton bring this story to life?
He uses a simple plot structure: (1) Baby owls want to learn to fly (2) Daddy tells them they have to wait until they are stronger (3) They eventually succeed in their goal.
While revealing the story problem, the author leads us to bond with the characters by using specific voices of the baby owls begging, saying please, and trying to convince Dad that they are ready. Hearing a child beg is something all children can relate to, because they’ve done it, and that all adults will smile about (or shake their heads) because it is so familiar. In this way, the author establishes a universal familiarity, and realistic family dynamics.
At this point, the reader and listener(s) are anxious to see if or when Daddy will let his feathered little babies fly. Unlike in stories for older children, where the child must figure out a solution on his or her own, this picture book allows for Daddy giving advice. He tells the baby owls that they must wait until they are stronger, and then they can fly.
Now the baby owls have a goal, something to work toward. With carefully selected words – “after days and days and weeks and weeks” – the author shows time passing. During this period, the baby owls are determinedly working toward their goal. They are eating, stretching, and flapping their wings, a great form of exercise for baby owls, I imagine. This time of planning and exercising to grow stronger is the journey of the story.
So we see the baby owls taking Daddy’s advice and put their own effort into achieving their goal. Then the time the baby owls have been working toward comes. Daddy announces that they are ready. In a single sentence, the author tells us the babies are suddenly afraid. But they do proceed. They’ve done the work; now comes the reward. Daddy basically tells his children that they can now go anywhere; they are ready to see the world. A sort of graduation is sensed by the reader, a satisfaction that a goal has been achieved.
For the ending, Daddy wishes the baby owls good luck, but reminds them to come back soon – a gratifying and hopeful ending, because we all want our children to come back and visit after they’ve moved from home.
(*Note – I haven’t yet figured out why there is no comma in the title, and yet there is a comma following “Good Luck” on the last page. There must be a reason, but it evades me.)
The plot structure is simple, but the specific way the author has brought these characters to life with distinct voices and familiar but uniquely drawn characteristics (anxious children and loving, patient father/instructor) is one that will stay in the hearts of listeners, readers, and writers alike. The dialogue gives a personal feel to the members in this owl family, and sympathetic, practical and wholesome insights into the human condition.
Utilizing fun sounds and a bulk of dialogue when you craft your picture book will give you a good start. Having a specific dilemma and method for the characters to attain a goal will add to it. Now you just have to give your story the kind of huggable personality that the Miltons did in theirs. Good luck, Newbie Writers.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guest Blogger Mona Vanek on Electronic Publishing in 2013

For young and new writers who write and publish –

Electronic submission requirements differ with each e-zine, but a few general rules (and some experience) will help you master writing for them. Get e-zine guides, or query the editor of an e-zine, electronically. (*see below)

If the magazine's website doesn't offer writers guidelines, find the editor's e-mail address (on the e-zine site) and send an e-mail asking for guidelines. By following them to the letter you'll learn how the editor wants your story submitted.
It often takes perseverance to locate an editor's email address, and by continuing to search you'll locate other publishing opportunities. Be sure to always check the links at the top of the home webpage first.

KidWorld is a good example. In the first column, you'll see What's New? Click 'Read the Rules'. You may find their contest is closed, but see links to e-zines that publish children's writing.
For example, I found Amazing Kids.   Be sure you're on Amazing Kids magazine site, not the Main page.

Click the tab at the top of the page to find out about contests. At Amazing Kids Main page you can find the submission email address by scrolling to the bottom, on the left side. "Submit them to us at: submissions@amazing-kids.org."
At the very bottom of the Main page, you'll also find the editor's e-mail address: Amazing Kids! Magazine inquiries – editor@amazing-kids.org.

Some editors will say what goes in bold, never to use italics, etc. Some want the story sent in the body of a regular e-mail, no italics or bold of any kind. Straight text all the way. Other magazines want the story sent as an RTF attachment to an e-mail.

Write your e-query letters and e-articles in your word processor where it's easy to edit and polish them until they're impressive. Single space your story, double space between paragraphs.

Remember that nothing on the web is underscored except a web link (URL). So those are the only things in your manuscript that should ever be underscored.


Let the editor know you envision certain words emphasized; you can use an asterick (*) before a word. The editor will decide whether to print it bold or italic.

Generally, if it's a title, or something you want underlined, here's how I do it: _Kids Master E-Zine Writing Quickly_.
You can make sure the editor knows you're using italics by writing it like the following example: my laughline . Another way to indicate that is by using the HTML marks for Italics. Example: "I am thrilled to share with you what I know about writing for e-zines." (*see sidebar for more about html.)
If you are uncertain about how the editor wants it, send an e-mail asking how to do it; editors never mind answering those kinds of questions.

When writing your e-query, don't think like a writer; think like an editor. Make your idea fully complete. As you write your e-query, have a strong visual image in mind of the article already published.
  • What is its title?
  • Does it have a blurb?
  • On the e-zine cover, will there be cover lines announcing its appearance inside?

  • Is a sidebar included at the end?

In general, readers of online e-zines tend to scan while reading so keep to your point, use short sentences, and be brief.

Follow these simple steps to get query letters and articles from the wordprocessor to the e-mail program, and not have them arrive the way you sent them, Rich T and not all scrambled.

  • Open the file. Go File\SaveAs. In the drop down box that lets you choose how to save your file, select Rich Text Format (plain text or ASCII text).

  • Next, highlight the entire file contents. Right mouse click and copy.

  • *Before closing your wordprocessor file, use SaveAs again and select your usual file style. When it says 'this file exists shall I overwrite it?' Answer Yes. Then close your word processor.

Open  a new message in your e-mail program and paste the copy from your clipboard. (Use your mouse or press ctrl+v.)

Address it to the editor who asked to see it. Before you click Send, read it through carefully. Correct anything that needs correction.

WYSIWEG! (whatyousee is whateditorgets.)
Have at least a good outline of your article handy.

Faster than you can zip up your backpack, the editor might reply, asking for more information, or maybe even for the whole article if he\she thinks your proposed story or article is already written.
Editors are too busy to fiddle around with half baked cookies. All you'll get is a bad reputation by offering something you can't produce in a timely manner.

If your idea is only an idea, say so in your query. Say, "I propose to write [your story idea]."

If the editor is interested he may ask you to write it, and may even give you tips on what he wants in it.

Your published story will get wide exposure. Other editors may see it and contact you to write for them, too. Sometimes your online story can still be submit elsewhere. Be aware though, publishers that buy your story generally want exclusive 'rights'. Some editors won't let you send it to anyone else for 90 days, others ask for a year.

Each e-publication differs according to their editorial policy.

Writing for e-zines is fun and can be profitable, but *never, ever send off a story that you've had published to another magazine without first asking the original publisher for permission!


Sidebar: Go to the magazine's website online and read the magazine. Read the archived (back) issues, too. Save a few into your word processor to dissect and study. Run your grammar check and word count on them. Use Find function to search out repeated words and buzz words -- those colorful ones editors love.

To learn more about HTML marks, buy "HTML For Dummies" at any bookstore. Be sure to get the first one, not the one that says "More HTML .... "

Here are interesting sites for children's writers:

Inkspots. You'll need to set up a free account.)

Cobblestones, & Guidelines, and other good links. (Contact: editorialguidelines@cobblestonepub.com.)
Mona Leeson Vanek's skills in the broad field of publishing include freelance writer, profiler, news correspondent, photojournalist, writing consultant, script writer, videographer, photographer and author. A member of Internet Writing Workshop since 1996, Mona critiques a wide spectrum of non-fiction, and mentors beginning writers and colleagues. Her current work in progress is editing, revising and epublishing her out-of-print trilogy, "Behind These Mountains." In 2010, to preserve the stories of Montana's homesteader's lives, she made the three-volume series available at, http://www.behindthesemountains.com/. To make free online writing resources avail, she also published her 10th edition of "Access The World and Write Your Way To $$$," http://writersresourcesonline.blogspot.com/.

Mona, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, lives with her husband, Art, and their cat, Mimi. She publishes, "The North Palouse Washington e-Newscast," www.palousenewscast.com, to promote the rural Washington region where they've made their home since leaving Montana, in 2005.

(copyright 2012, Mona Vanek)