Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Marathon Stats

The numbers are in! 126 people reported their final tallies for the February 2011 Picture Book Marathon. Forty people created 26 picture books in February, and another 10 ran the extra mile, creating a few more. Those 50 finishers represent 40% of the final tallies reported.
Also, from the final tallies reported:
  • 14% (17) created between 20 and 25
  • 20% completed between 13 and 19
  • 20% completed between 5 and 12
  • 6% completed between 1 and 4

Twelve percent of the original 425 people who signed up for the marathon “ran” the distance. Thirty percent ran all or part way (or at least, reported that they did).

If you’d like to know how that stacks up against last year’s marathon, 150 people originally signed up for the 2010 marathon, 45 reported final tallies, and 24 completed 26 or more picture books.
An evaluation of the 2011 marathon will be landing in your email inbox sometime today. We would truly appreciate your feedback, as we use it to try and improve the experience. When you finish the survey you’ll be given a link to print out a completion certificate. 
Some of you may also be interested in a “finisher’s” sweatshirt that was added to the marathon shop.

The winner of the travel mug was Linda Hoffman Kimball. Congratulations Linda, and thank you to all who sent in your final tallies!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Next Step

Congratulations!  Sure felt great to flip the calendar to March, didn't it?  But, now what? 

JUDGING and REVISING these new PBs seem impossibly daunting, right?  Here's what I did last year to transition from running the marathon to revising the marathon.  Perhaps it'll work for you also.

I revisited each manuscript and wrote a one or two-sentence synopsis.  This exercise helped me see if there truly was a coherent story within what I had written.  Some of the results surprised me.  Next I chose my top ten ideas and submitted the synopses to my critique group (and agent) for comments.  I then chose three to focus on for intense revisions.  Only after that did I consider the other manuscripts.  If this process sounds feasible, give it a go. 

BTW--Nathan Hale (the illustrator and PB author who designed our marathon logo) is inviting folks to "vote" for a favorite PB amongst the ones he created during this marathon.  Good luck limiting yourself to just one!  Check out his blog at

It's been a pleasure running with you.  Good luck with your gems! 

We hope you'll join us again next February.   


Monday, February 28, 2011

final day...HOORAY!

  A huge round of applause to all those writers and illustrators out there who are streaming across the finish line of the 2011 Picture Book Marathon. Whether you’ve got 26 manuscripts you like or one illustration that you’re in love with, congratulations on the effort you've invested.

  Don’t forget to fill out the tally survey that should have arrived in your email inbox on Saturday or early Sunday. The survey will close at noon (MST) on Tuesday, so be sure to get your final count in before then. Remember to add your email on the last question if you’d like to be eligible for a drawing for a marathon travel mug. We’ll post final results on Wednesday.

  Finally, looking for somewhere to start polishing those manuscripts? Take a look at the many excellent regional SCBWI conferences, or, check out the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference this June on Utah's Wasatch Front.  

  Look for more on the topic of revisions tomorrow. And, in the meantime, celebrate!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day 26 - Plan Your Celebration!

Counting today, we're only THREE days from the finish line!  Discipline, determination, and commitment can only keep you motivated for so long.  
So today take a few minutes to plan your end-of-marathon extravaganza.   How will you celebrate?  How will you indulge yourself?  
  • Gorge on chocolate?  
  • Sip champagne? 
  • Enjoy a writing-free “vacation?” 
  • Snub your computer for a day?
  • Buy a new CD?  
  • Nap?  
  • Read a grown-up book?
Now take that celebratory energy and write a wildly outlandish story.  Or wildly, outlandishly rewrite one of your previous stories.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Day 24 - Hoping for a "Pooper-Scooper"

Years ago when my family participated in the annual AIDS Walk, a “pooper-scooper” picked up walkers who were too pooped to continue.  This week I found myself looking over my shoulder to see if I could hitch a ride on a pooper-scooper. Alas, one never appeared. 
But then yesterday I stumbled upon a PB story idea while watching an outrageous stand-up comic with my daughter.  It turned into my favorite PB during this marathon. 
Today tap your friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, grocer (?), hairdresser, letter-carrier, etc. for their PB ideas.  Who knows, one of their stories may be a gem worth stealing. 
Or think big!  Take one of your previous stories and write a sequel. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 23

soar to new heights....
Here's hoping your picture books today:

celebrate whimsy....
invite exploration....

...and take pleasure in
peaceful moments.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day 22 -- Let's cheat!

Today let's "cheat" a little bit.  Instead of writing another completely new picture book, take one of your stories and change it up:

             If the main character is a dog, switch it to a cat.  If a boy, switch it to a girl.
             If the secondary character is the mom, switch it to the dad or a friendly monster.
             If it’s an urban story, switch the setting to the wild, wild West or futuristic outer space.
             Switch the time frame to an ancient time.
             Switch the season.
             Dramatically change the character’s age.
             For illustrators, if it's wordless add words or vice versa.  
             Create a completely new ending.
Chances are you'll end up with an entirely different story.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Week 3 Results (Day 21)

The end is in sight! But first, let’s take a look at last week’s numbers. We’re guessing that at least some of you got away to enjoy the holiday weekend. Here’s hoping that you come back with fresh ideas! We look forward to your surveys next week. 
There were 121 responses to this week’s survey. Of those responding, exactly half (rounded) are still in the running to complete a marathon February. And, thirty-two amazing writers/illustrators are still plugging away with a picture book each day. How many will finish the marathon (complete 26 picture book drafts/illustrations/or both) this coming Saturday?!
There are quite a few determined people (26%) running in the mid-range, with 10 to 16 picture books created. I’m guessing that a number of you will make it to 26 sometime in early March, though last year we had some sprinters at the end of the month making up time....
While 34% of last week’s respondents completed 7 picture books last week, the remaining 66% were quite evenly distributed between 0 and 6.  
We also asked what the shortest and longest amount of time you’ve spent creating your drafts has been. The most popular choice under shortest amount of time spent was “6 to 30 minutes” (54% -- another 26% choose 31 to 60 minutes). For the longest amount of time, 2 hours, which 28% of you chose, slightly edged out the other choices of 1 hour, 3 hours, or “more”, which were pretty evenly divided. 
Almost there! Whether it’s a sprint or a crawl, keep going - you can do it! You’ll be glad you did....

Friday, February 18, 2011

Picture Book Plots! Story Ideas! (Day 18)

Still looking for story ideas? Don’t sit there staring at a blank page! 
Bundle up (unless you’re lucky enough to have warmth and sunshine) and head outside for a walk, skip, or jog. If you don’t come back with some ideas, at least you got some exercise.
Or, head over to the list of Writer’s Digest writing prompts.
Having trouble with story plotting? Beginning, middle, AND end? Have some fun with the interactive plot diagram and story map in this lesson plan from the NCTE to help you analyze your story. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day 17 -- Recapturing Whimsy

My marathon has been an uphill trudge for many, many miles.  Yours, too?  I’m no longer bubbling with whimsical playfulness.  Time to recapture a child’s quizzical joy.   

Today remember as a kid what it felt like to—

          Sit in a fort made of cushions, blankets, and chairs.
          Eat watermelon and spit the seeds—far!
          Turn your face towards the rain.
          Discover a strawberry, ripe for picking.
          Sneak a cookie.
          Bash together two trucks.
          Blow a dandelion puff.
          Wait in the dentist’s office for your turn.
Hold a ladybug on your finger tip.
Make a baby laugh.

Now go write!

Also visit the illustrators’ websites.  They celebrate whimsical playfulness and do so delightfully!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day 16 - Pretty and Pink?

Some food for thought as you're working on picture books: Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, on the dark side of “pretty and pink.”  PW’s review said, “With insight and biting humor, the author explores her own conflicting feelings as a mother as she protects her offspring and probes the roots and tendrils of the girlie-girl movement.” The author was on the Diane Rehm show; listen to it (or download the podcast) at this link:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day 15 -- Story Starters -- Help!

When a kernel of a story idea strikes me I’m ready to “run,” but finding that spark can be tough.  The recent survey indicates others share this frustration.  What to do?

The most comprehensive, intriguing source I’ve found for brainstorming is the story-starter link created by PB author (over 70 books!) and writing professor, Rick Walton.  We mentioned him on the “Story Starter” page of our website, so maybe many of you have already wandered through his labyrinth.

If not, let me tempt you with some choices along the route:

10 choices under "Start with a . . . Character, Problem, Phrase, etc."

Lists galore like:
470 Issues in kids’ lives, 431 Locations, 651 Things Kids Do, 122 Kids’ Songs/First Lines, 855 Things, Life-Story Triggers.

WARNING:  Be sure to drop breadcrumbs along the route, so you can find your way back out.  Enjoy your journey!

Here’re ways stories have popped into my brain: 

A fully-formed rhyming couplet.
An engaging character.  Or an insistent character.
A perfect title.
An intriguing setting.
A dedication.  (“. . . to my pesky younger brother” or “to my oh-so-perfect older sister”)
A hilarious, appropriate, surprising ending. 
An impossible situation or dilemma.
A childhood memory.
A story from the newspaper.  (Today’s paper quoted a five-year old feeding bread to geese at the park.  “Mom, all the birds love me!”)

What sparks your stories? What triggers an idea? What pops into your brain?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Halfway there! (Day 14)

Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy Halfway Point! Let’s celebrate!
There were 145 responses to this week’s survey, and over a third of those responding not only wrote or illustrated a picture book every day last week, but have not taken one of their two “rest days” so far. As of Saturday, those people have 12 picture books under their belt. Wow!
Sherry Meidell's Day 7 Picture Book,
Hogs Wild
With another 25% who have taken one or both of their rest days, 58% of respondents (84 of us) are working on a marathon February.
And a third of us feel like we’re in a rhythm to keep it up!
There aren’t too many people (13%) who are in the mid-range - not quite keeping up with the marathon pace, but still getting a lot of picture book drafts done. Nine percent are on pace to complete a half marathon, and another 11% appear to be taking something like the 5K option.  
Wherever you fall on the scale, congratulations! You’ve made it this far. Coming this week, some ideas to energize and focus your picture books. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Day 11 -- "Write what you know" or not

“Write what you know,” is advice we commonly hear.  If you have an expertise, take advantage of that and share your passion.
As a twist, I’ve heard Newberry-winning author, Katherine Paterson, say she chooses to write about what she does NOT know, but would LIKE to know.  Her first step in writing is delicious research about the topic. (Granted she mostly writes mid-grade novels, but she does have a few picture books.)

As further twist, consider writing about “What you know, but wish you didn’t know.”  Did you experience divorce as a child or parent?  Were you ever the awkward new kid?  Were you embarrassed and scared to learn to ride a bike?  Has your family lost a pet?  Or a family member?  Conveying these difficult emotions in a picture book is tough, especially because you also need to offer realistic hope. 
My first picture book, ALWAYS MY BROTHER (Tilbury House, 2009), is about the death of a brother told from the perspective of the younger sister.   This story mirrors our family’s experience, so this was definitely a case of “What I know, but wish I didn’t.”  But sometimes writing about your difficult experience can lend support to someone else.  (Visit for the story behind the book.)

For today if you want to, write a picture book about--

What you know.  (Share your expertise and passion.)

What you do NOT know, but would like to know.  (Have fun researching!)

What you know, but wish you didn’t know.  (Perhaps your story will help someone.) 


Tomorrow watch for the email with the PB tally survey.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Feb 10th -- Stinkers and Duds

Some marathoners (including me) ask, “What’s the point of writing PBs that are stinkers or total duds?” 
Well the hope is:

Even stinkers can morph into something worthwhile--partially or wholly. 
A daily writing routine can help us access story ideas and create “muscle memory” for essential elements of a storyline.

Story ideas that clutter our brains can be “tested” to see if they work.  I waste a lot of creative energy stewing over the same ideas (sometimes for years) without putting them to the test.  So if the ideas turn out to be duds, at least we've cleared our brains for new ideas.

Mary Kole, an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, states that only one in ten PB ideas of her clients is saleable.  So the more ideas we try out, the greater our chance of creating a gem.  Here’s a link to her discussion:

We never know for sure whether an idea will turn out to be a dud or a gem until we try.  Just like in a box of assorted chocolates, we can’t tell for sure which are the sickly-sweet, pinkly-pink, marshmallow-gooey ones and which are the gems, until we take a bite!

Speaking of chocolates  . . . . gotta go.
Happy writing and chocolating!

PS  Be sure to check out the Story Starters link listed on the Homepage if you are struggling for ideas.