Monday, March 15, 2010

Westside Writers Schmooze Picture Book Critique Night

Over 40 of us gathered on Wednesday March 10th to share and critique each other's picture book manuscripts.

We started by laying out the ground rules for what makes a good critique:


And yes, it's an acronym:

Terrific (share what worked)
Author Questions
Constructive Comments
Talent (encourage the author to revise)

The idea is that you want a critique to be like a sandwich:

You want to start with good stuff and end with encouragement, let the author ask their questions, and couch your critique points in a way that expresses your subjective opinions tactfully. For example, if something is unclear, you might say "I was confused here" rather than "this was stupid and made no sense at all."

We reminded everyone that ultimately the author gets to make the decisions about their story, and that the best thing to do when receiving a critique is to listen and take notes rather than explain or argue or justify.

We shared some areas of craft to consider when thinking of constructive comments, a punch-list of sorts from this wonderful article by Linda Sue Park, "The Give and Take of Critique" (copyright 2000). Some of the items mentioned included:

· Page turnability: Is the story interesting? Does it make you want to read on? Do you ever feel impatient and wish things would 'get going'?
· Problem: Does the main character have a clearly delineated problem confronting him/her? Does each scene develop either impediments to a solution or progress toward a solution?
· Logic: Do the scenes connect in a logical manner? Is there something happening in the middle or at the end of the piece that simply doesn't make sense given the set-up?
· Ending: "Unexpected inevitability"--has the writer laid the groundwork for the ending, even if it's a twist or surprise?

· Believability: Do the characters seem real? Do they talk and act like people you might know--even if they're hedgehogs? Do they have flaws, or are they too perfect? Do they have characteristics, quirks, idiosyncrasies that increase their individuality, or are they 'generic' ?
· Empathy: Do you care about the character(s)? Do you feel anxious for them as they face their problem? Do you feel like cheering wildly or at least smiling if/when they finally solve it?
· Growth: Has the character grown or changed in some way by the end of the story?

We broke into 5 smaller groups, each group with 5 manuscripts to share and 3 or more authors who came to the evening without a manuscript of their own, but willing and able to share their insights and learn from the collective experience of critiquing.

The time flew by as each table read and laughed and shared and critiqued with TACT.

At the end of the evening, a great exercise we shared was to take a picture book you love or that you feel was really successful and type out the words, so you can see what it looks like and reads like as a manuscript.

The sample texts we shared were "All The World," written by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee, which won a Caldecott Honor Medal this year; and "A Visitor For Bear," written by Bonnie Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, which was last year's Golden Kite Award winner for picture book text. We encourage you to try this on your own at home! It's a great learning experience.

Resources Mentioned During the Schmooze:

Learn more about upcoming local SCBWI events at

For SCBWI members looking to join or start a critique group, SCBWI offers a listserv called Critique Connections Online. Email to receive easy instructions on how to sign up!

For those with questions on proper manuscript formatting, we provided copies of this handout from SCBWI: From Keyboard To Printed Page. (Find this and other great articles like it at the SCBWI main page, under the heading "Just Getting Started.")

A few more resources we wanted to share, but ran out of time before we could:

Local author Ann Whitford Paul, author of numerous picture books and "Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication" is teaching a series of picture book writing workshops (the next one is April 3rd, "Priming Your Inspiration Pump")

Picture book author and teacher Anastasia Suen has a "Picture Book Of The Day" blog where she uses different picture books to illustrate the 6 principles of writing that she teaches.

And two helpful articles by award-winning picture book author Mem Fox:
"So You Want To Write A Picture Book"
"20 Do's and 20 Don'ts"

Overall, the evening was a "no tears" event, where we acknowledged that bringing in your work for others to pass judgment on is a brave endeavor. Each table finished their critiquing with a round of applause, and the environment was supportive and encouraging.

And for the first time ever, we ate all the cookies.

We hope to see you at our next schmooze, which will be our Middle Grade and Young Adult Manuscript Critique Night on April 14, 2010, at 7 PM!

For this meeting, you are invited to bring six (6) copies of up to four (4) typed, double-spaced pages (or, for those who write in verse, a recommended 800-word limit) max of your Middle Grade or Young Adult manuscript on April 14.

Manuscripts are NOT required to attend. Critiquing and hearing others critique are some of the best way to learn how stories come together; the more the merrier!

For this special critique night Schmooze, we request that you please RSVP to and mention whether you will be bringing a manuscript or not.

We hope to see you there! Cheers,

Rita and Lee

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Westside Illustrators March Schmooze

LA Westside Illustrators Schmooze
Monday, March 15, 2010
7pm - 9pm
1624 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064

"Marketing and Self-Promotion"
By popular demand, a never-ending
topic is back!
Mailings, submissions, conferences,
portfolios, speaking engagements, websites, blogs,
Facebook, social networking...and more!
Join us... We have experts among us!
Check out some previous meetings...

Speaker Deborah Norse Lattimore

Speaker Kathryn Hewitt

Come prepared to participate, ask questions and be inspired!
Let's enjoy a fun creative evening together & move forward in our common pursuit
of making a contribution to the world of children's illustration and literature!

RSVP???... YES...if you can...

WHERE???... 11624 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064
This is a large gray building with ivy & bamboo on the facade.
The sign near the door reads - "Alliance Francaise."


... Street parking only. You don't have to feed meters after 6pm. Do NOT park in the electrical warehouse parking lot next door OR the parking lot behind the building on the corner of Federal Ave. You will be towed...FAST.

Looking forward to seeing you all!
cell... 818 389 1950

If you wish to be removed from this email list...just let me know.

come visit me at...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Westside Writers Schmooze Talks Self-Publishing: The Good, The Bad, and The Reality

Hi Everyone! We had a rollicking schmooze in February, when over 40 of us gathered to talk about the range of self-publishing and how the industry is changing. We hosted 4 self-published authors who shared their stories with us:

Marilyn Dalrymple and Joan Foor, who compiled and edited short stories from members of their schmooze and published the resulting anthology through tate publishing:

Author Eric Drachman, who started his own publishing company, Kidwick Books, and has published 5 of his own picturebooks, which to date have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Here are 3 of his titles:

(You can check out both visual and AUDIO samples of each of Eric's books--Bad Rats, A Frog Thing, Ellison the Elephant, It's Me!, and Leo the Lightning Bug--by clicking here)

Author James Otis Thach, who has had two books published through traditional publishers and is self-publishing his third through his own newly launched publishing company, an over 100 page full color illustrated chapter book in verse, “The Seal Pup”:

We also had a few members of the schmooze chime in and share their own self-publishing journeys:

Patricia Olson shared the story of self-publishing her picturebook, “Frumpy The Pumpkin Who Missed Halloween

Also at the schmooze was Sue Schmitt, who wrote and self-published “Even Superheroes Get Diabetes,” and is about to roll out “The Princess and the Peanut” for kids with peanut allergies. Sue shared with us her experience and successes with these more “niche” picture books.

And here are some more links, books, and resources mentioned during this night's discussion:

A reference book both Eric Drachman and James Otis Thach cited as helpful:
"The Self-Publishing Manual" by Dan Poynter:

(Plenty of free information as well as a free information kit are available at Dan's Web site. And yes, the guide is self-published!)

There's also the Independent Book Publishers Association Web site,

a resource which can provide guidance and help one sift through the potential vendors (printers, designers, etc.) out there.

Regarding the IBPA, Eric adds:
"Their "IBPA Publishing University" is coming up in May in New York City. For someone who really wants to get in the publishing game, I'd recommend checking out Book Expo America and attending IBPA Publishing University. Of course, that's quite a commitment..."

Technology is taking self-publishing in some fascinating directions, including these:

Lulu's Brew,

a picture book that author/illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba has chosen to put out as an iPhone application for $1.99

The Zen of Blogging,

a new e-book sold as a downloadable pdf file put out by Lee just this past January.

And the Espresso Book Machine, a sort of self-service book vending machine that can produce a library-quality book within minutes. Check out this video to see it in action!

As a followup to the discussion, Eric Drachman also provided us with the following links:

An interview with Terry Nathan, Executive Director of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), on WNZF's program "Cover to Cover", about the work his organization does and the changing state of independent publishing today. (Click to about one-fourth of the way through the program for the interview with Mr. Nathan.)

An update from Publisher's Weekly on a new partnership between Author Solutions--one of the nation's largest self-publishing operations (whose subsidiaries include iUniverse, Xlibris, and Trafford)--and print and digital wholesaler Baker & Taylor.

Throughout the evening, our many experts fielded questions and shared their experiences on the varying marketing gambles and decisions they have made, the ways in which those have paid off, their experiences working with and hiring their own editors, illustrators, and designers as well as working with those provided through some of their self-publisher services, and much more.

When 9PM came around, hands were still waving in the air with more comments, questions, and insights, and it was clear huge areas of this topic had only just been touched on. Everyone agreed that the night had been eye-opening, and that we could have talked about this subject for another five hours--or that a Schmooze could even meet once a month just to talk about this!

OUR Schmooze, alas, is not able to do that, because our next two topics--on March 10 and April 14--are two of the most popular nights every year for the Westside Writers Schmooze: Picture Book Manuscript Critique Night, and Middle Grade/YA Manuscript Critique Night!

That's Picture Book Manuscript Critique Night on March 10, 2010

and Middle Grade and Young Adult Manuscript Critique Night on April 14, 2010!

The "rules" for both are the same. You are invited to bring six (6) copies of up to four (4) typed, double-spaced pages (or, alternately, a recommended 1,000-word limit) max of your Picture Book manuscript on March 10th, and/or of your Middle Grade or Young Adult manuscript on April 14.

Manuscripts are NOT required to attend. Critiquing and hearing others critique are some of the best way to learn how stories come together; the more the merrier!

For both of these critique night Schmoozes, we request that you please RSVP to and mention whether you will be bringing a manuscript or not!

Many thanks, and cheers,

Rita and Lee