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A little "frog-tongue in cheek" advice for aspiring children's book writers and illustrators.

Dear Miss Arty-Pants,

I’m the coordinator of events for my local school system and recently invited an author to visit several of our schools. My concern is that we would like to make the author as comfortable as possible, but don’t want a “laundry list” of unreasonable requests. I’ve heard stories about demanding authors who must have “new toilet seats” installed especially for them, bowls of “M&Ms” in special colors and even one occasion where the author requested that all children face east with their left eye closed and yellow crazy straws taped to their foreheads. Should we take a chance and ask the author or just do what we think is best?

Your fan,
Miss Peaty A.
Harper Valley, AR

Dear Miss A,

Being a veteran of school visits, I can tell you that most authors do indeed have demands that would make you pull your hair out. I’ve been back stage many times and I am always amazed at how teachers & librarians cater to their every whim. It’s pathetic! My advice would be to NOT ask the author! Don’t open that door! Instead, Miss AP will share with you her simple yet classy requests for her own visits. You can tailor this list to meet your school’s own budgetary needs:

  1. A tall tumbler of sparkling pink wine over ice (can be substituted with a cheaper variety like those fruity wines and just as tasty!) with a bendy straw and one of those cute little umbrellas. And of course, the Principal or head Librarian standing by to refresh the beverage in 5 minute intervals. We get very thirsty while reading!
  2. A nice chair with 100% cotton duck upholstery and a high thread count in a lovely shade of purple (to match my favorite “story reading” muumuu). Encrusted jewels on the chair are optional.
  3. A qualified Librarian nearby to turn the pages in a timely manner.
  4. The room should maintain a nice 72 degrees to keep Miss AP from sweating or freezing. Bad for my vocal chords!
  5. And last but not least, a bowl of crisp $20’s at hand’s reach to pick out one’s own payment, based on the success of the event.

Good luck!

[Some authors have special needs depending on their particular presentation. It’s always nice to ask in advance if they have any special requests and arrange for a contract to ensure both parties a successful visit. For some really excellent advice on making your author comfortable and your event a big success, check your author’s website or visit these really terrific sites below. There is also some good info on how to have the author’s visit pay for itself.]

Dear Miss Arty-Pants,

I have wanted to write and illustrate children’s books since I was a little girl. I joined SCBWI, and I have attended every illustration and writing event in a tri-state area for the past three years. This year I also went to the SCBWI conference in LA as well as the one in NY. I have schmoozed and networked with every editor, art director, agent, and published writer or illustrator I have ever encountered. I have read CWIM cover to cover, and created an extensive relational database of children’s publishers and agents. In short, I feel like I have done everything possible to achieve my goal, so where’s my book contract????

Missy LaPointe

Dear Missy,

You may want to check with the post office, as it is obvious that you should indeed have a contract by now. Perhaps your mail carrier is on strike? Once you’ve cleared up your postal issues, there is clearly nothing more you can do, so if I were you I would probably just take a relaxing bath or go to the mall — and rest easy, your book contract should be arriving any day now!

[ Miss AP loves going to conferences and she schmoozes with the best. But there's glaring omission in your list of activities! Have you written and/or illustrated a book? Are you a member of a serious critique and support group with like-minded people who have similar goals? In addition to attending networking events, are you consistently practicing your craft? In The Biz we call this ‘butt-in-chair time,’ and it is non-negotiable. ]

Dear Miss Arty-Pants,

What is the SECRET to getting published? I've done a lot of research, and written to children's book authors to ask them. Everyone seems to give me the run-around. All they say is that I have to write a great story and find the right editor at the right time. A needle in the haystack- blah blah blah. All I want is a straight answer. I've had a lot of free time these last couple of years and thought up some good stories and drew some funny pictures. I'll be out on parole in two months and want to get started in my new career right away. Please help!

Carl "The Snake" T.
Clark County Penitentiary

Dear Mr. Snake,

I know just what you mean about published authors and their so-called advice. I, Miss Arty Pants, am here to give it to you straight.

The big secret that no one will tell you is: Three white candles.

They must be pineapple scented, 6inches tall, and 4 inches around. You have to light them on the first full moon of the month as long as it's on a Tuesday, and the temperature is above 40 degrees. The pollen count must be low, and there absolutely must (this is the most important part) be a light wind from the east. Tuck your manuscript and sample art under a plain white paper towel with the words "publish me" written in green ink. Drink a large glass of water, put a stamp on your envelope and take it to the nearest post office (with the manuscript and art inside!). Then sit back and relax as the contracts and checks start rolling in!

[ While Miss AP might think that candles are the secret, the truth is there is no secret! Lighting candles might help you feel calmer when you send your package out, and many authors have their own rituals to give them "luck", but there is no guarantee it will get you published. For tips and tricks to present your work in the best light and better your chances, check out these sites: ]

Dear Miss Arty-Pants,

I just finished my 1st picture book, and I'm ready 2 send it off 2 my list of publishers. The only problem is I'm young! I heard that most writers R old retired house wives. My birthday is next month. Should I wait till then to send it, or do I have 2 wait till I'm really old?

Thank U!
Tina G. R.
Holiday, Florida

Dear Tina,

Ride your bike to the nearest department store and head straight for the "muumuu" section. You can tell you've found it when you see all the women wearing large purple hats and sequined shirts that match their sweatpants. Find a nice muumuu that fits your personality and have a professional portrait taken. You can submit this photo with your submissions so that the editors can tell that you're a real writer. While writing children's books is not limited to the retired housewife (and grandma), it doesn't hurt to give the impression that you are one. This will give you the best chance at getting your foot in the door! I've been to many Children's Book Writer and Illustrator conventions and found that the wackier and older you look, the more important you seem. Agents and editors will flock to you to see if you have any manuscripts to share. I even had an editor follow me into the bathroom one time and hand me his card under the stall!

[ There is no typical writer or illustrator type, and while mature folks seem to make up the majority of the published, it is definitely not limited to them. A terrific writer or illustrator can be published at any age, but time put in can make anyone better. Even the brilliant!

Visit the site below for a comprehensive list of links to publications, contests, conferences and clubs specifically for young aspiring writers. ]

Dear Miss Arty-Pants,

I just bought myself a new work desk. I plan on writing and illustrating a whole bunch of books in the New Year! My problem is this: I can't decide which side to put my coffee cup on. I'm right-handed and would like to place it on the right side, for ease of use, but then I'm too busy typing and drawing with my right hand. The next thing I know, my coffee is ice cold. If I use my left hand, I tend to spill it on everything. Please help! What do all the famous book artists do?

Star Bux

Dear Miss Bux,

I've struggled with this dilemma myself, so I contacted a few of my famous friends and they gave me tips on how they accessorize their desks for stylish ergonomics. One friend of mine simply keeps a brushed stainless steel insulated cup on his desk filled to the brim, yet safely secured with a sippy lid. Another friend of mine keeps a beautiful red Italian espresso machine in her studio! She said she takes a break every half hour to have a demitasse (laced with a twist of orange peel). Some friends swear they don't touch anything with caffeine unless they are going for technique (that shaky line art!) Whatever you do, make sure NOT to rest your cup on your work. Coffee rings might be mistaken for a character in your story!

[ For some stylish coffee drinker accessories and other fun things just for writers and illustrators, check out the links below. ]

Dear Miss Arty-Pants,

I've done a lot of research on the "do's" and "don'ts" of cover letters. It all sounds so formal. I would like to just use sticky notes. I think it would say to the editors or agents that I'm laid back and fun to work with. I went to my local stationary store and was overwhelmed with the array of sticky note pads. I really wanted to get the one that looks like the letter "M" for my last initial, but wondered if something crazy like neon colors would say more about me. What do you think would be the best presentation?

D. Mann

Dear Mr. Mann,

When I meet with my agent over tea, we chuckle about how cute it is that people fuss so much about the details! I don't know what all editors and agents like, so I'll just tell you what my agent said. He prefers erasable sticky notes,so he can recycle them into rejection or acceptance letters. Its always nice to throw in a few extra for good measure(editors and agents love freebies). I'm partial to glitter on anything, and I find that it really adds something special. Look for glitter pens to write your notes with or some of those cute sparkly stickers. Good luck!

[ Hey, Miss Arty-Pants is kidding!! Although the type of paper or font will not sell your work, a good cover letter might. If you don't know an editor's or agent's personal taste (and even if you do), it's always a better choice to put your professional foot forward and keep it simple. Standard fonts and nice white standard paper works fine. 20lb stock is richer and holds up well to most printer inks and copiers. ]

Dear Miss Arty-Pants,

I'm so excited! I just finished my first picture book dummy and I'm ready to send it out into the world. I wanted it to be really impressive, so I went ahead and completed all the art for the book. It took a very long time! I even picked out all the fonts, type set it, and had it bound by a professional. What I want to know is, should I send an itemized list for reimbursement with the dummy, or wait until I'm in negotiations?

Thank you!
O. Vera Cheever
Sudbury, MA

Dear Vera,

Your question is very timely! The current trend is to send the itemized list and video tape it for insurance purposes. (Be sure to keep a copy in your safe, so the publisher can't claim to have lost it). I would also like to address how to make a dummy. I bet your dummy is beautiful, but you may have put in a little more work than necessary to get your point across. I suggest doing some research on how to prepare a simple yet professional dummy, and spend your energy deciding what you're going to do with all the money you'll be making instead! Some writer/illustrators can make as much as $500 a year!

[ When preparing a package for submission, it's wise to spend your time on making sure your story is at its best and your dummy sketches are professional. Professional means finding that happy middle ground between clean and not over-the-top. Editors are simply looking for a great story and art that they love. An over-prepared dummy will not make a poor story better and is only a waste of your time. ]

Dear Miss Arty-Pants,

I live in a cabin deep in the woods with only forest animals as my friends. I find it very peaceful and inspiring. I’ve written and illustrated several picture books based on the adventures of my animal friends. I’ve read my stories to them and they all say I should get them published! Especially Rabbit, he said would help with the marketing. Where is the best place to start?

I appreciate any info you can provide.

Erica Carlisle
A Forest, USA

Dear Erica,

First of all, I must say how much I love animals myself! Secondly, do yourself a favor and get yourself on-line! You need some human friends. I’d suggest either getting a computer, or hopping on down to your local cyber café. You need to visit a website called Write 4 Kids. It’s an excellent resource for beginners and also has a great chat board where you can talk with other writers, both published and newbies, about writing and illustrating children’s books. Good luck!

[ Although not for everyone, we here at Yellapalooza strongly suggest finding a critique group either locally or cyberly. Not only is it helpful in getting feedback on your writing and illustration, but it can also be a wealth of support for all the bumps on the road to publication. Check out our links page for websites that advertise crit group openings.Also be sure to check out Agy Wilson's article in the 2004 CWIM on forming on-line critique groups. ]

Miss Arty-PantsĀ©2006 is a humorous monthly feature prepared especially for Yellapalooza and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the general public or all the members of Yellapalooza or Yellapalooza friends.