Friday, July 31, 2009

The Itty-Bitty, Nitty-Gritty Information About Writing a Children’s Picture Book

When most people think of writing a children’s picture book, they think of the actual story writing process – the character development, the plot and resolution, etc. But what about the rest of the details? The significant, valuable, crucial, vital, key details?

Here is a list of some of the most important, yet most overlooked elements of writing a children’s book:

1. Of utmost importance – know the age of your target audience and write for that age level! Talk to teachers and librarians and know what is appropriate for your audience. This is the one item that I see overlooked on far too many children’s books.

2. Don’t have too many words on each page. This goes back to #1, knowing the reading level and attention span of your audience.

3. Choose your font carefully. Avoid hard-to-read fonts with curly-Q’s that may confuse young children. The easiest to read and most commonly used fonts are ones like Arial and Times New Roman, and they are almost always printed in black.

4. Be aware that the standard length of a children’s picture book is 32 pages.

5. Make the illustrations large, preferably full-page as opposed to tiny little pictures surrounded by large white areas.

5. Make sure the illustrations match the words. This is really crucial. If the page is about a boy on a swing, this must be shown in the picture.

6. Add some extra details to the pictures that will enhance your words. In my book about the Knot Fairy, the words tell you that she has tangled the children’s hair. The picture “tells” you that she has also tied a knot in the cat’s tail.

7. Make sure the colors are bright and appealing to young children.

8. Add a few elements to the pictures that can be repeated throughout the book. This adds to the continuity of the book. Also, young children like to look for things like the dog that can always be seen hiding someplace in the pictures.

9. Have the action in your left hand page moving toward the center of the book. Have the action in the right hand page leading the reader to turn to the next page.

10. Always keep in mind that on of the goals with a picture book is to strive for a perfect balance between the pictures and the written words.

One exercise that I highly recommend is to go to your local bookstore at least once a month and take a careful look at the best-selling, best-reviewed and award-winning children’s books. Be sure to take the above list with you and keep track of the itty-bitty, nitty-gritty, but oh-so-important details.

P.S. The picture above is from The Sock Fairy. The words on the page are simply, "He mixes up socks!"

Bobbie Hinman

Sunday, July 19, 2009

You Had A Booksigning WHERE?

I must admit - this was not my idea. It never occurred to me to schedule a booksigning in an airport. However, a very good friend (and talented author) suggested it. Think about it. Why not? There are bookstores in airports, and there are people in airports. Books+people=winning combination. The only missing element here is the promotion, and this did scare me in the beginning. I always send out press releases and use flyers and postcards to advertise my signings. This was a bit scary. I thought, "What if this is not successful?" Then I thought, "What if it is??????"

I contacted a bookstore at the nearest airport and found that the manager was excited about having me visit. He was even more excited when I told him I would be wearing fairy wings and bringing a sparkly purple tablecloth. (Take a peek at my previous blog about authors needing props). The result of the signing was just as I had hoped. We sold lots of books and I was invited to return. It was exciting to think that my books would be traveling all over the world. Many, many people purchase books before boarding their planes. Many people are looking for a last minute gift to take along. Others have children with them and are happy to find an autographed book to use as a happy diversion on their trip.

Since my initial airport signing, I have been a guest at a number of airport bookstores. I have learned a few things along the way. First, it works best to be in a location that is inside the secure area. After people have gone through security they are more relaxed and have more time to shop. Before going through security, they tend to be in a hurry. Second, wear or display something that will attract attention.(Be careful here. Airport security is tight and foolishness is not in order.)Third, set up one or 2 professional looking posters that can be seen in a crowded terminal. Fourth, don't just sit there hoping that people will come up to you. Don't look bored. Don't send text messages. Stand up. Talk to people. Engage them in conversation. Tell them about your book. Ask them where they are headed. Above all - SMILE. Oh, and by the way, it also helps to have your husband accompany you wearing a wizard hat!

I'd love to hear from other people who have hosted a signing in an unusual place. I would also love to hear from anyone who has purchased a book in an unusual place.

A special thanks to Cynthia Polansky for her wonderful suggestion.

Fairy wishes to all,
Bobbie Hinman

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Every Author Needs A Few Props

This may sound hokey, but it's true. If you are a presenting author, you need to have some props. This holds true for school and library presentations, book festival exhibitors, and even larger speaking engagements. We've all been to many events where the speaker, dressed in "business attire" takes the mike. You can often feel the drowsiness begin to creep into the room. Not so if he or she is carrying (or wearing) something unusual. For example, if your mystery takes place in Venice, wear a gondolier hat and a striped shirt. If your story takes place in a lighthouse, bring along a model of a lighthouse and maybe even a pile of shells. Long after your audience has forgotten your face, they will still remember the crazy hat you were wearing or the mismatched socks, or the glittery treasure chest or the strange Australian musical instrument.

This is especially true for children's authors. The props can be simple. "Gimmicky" is always good. The fairies in my books carry assorted items with them in their travels, so I always bring along my treasure chest filled with items that are identical to theirs. Kids become involved in the stories and pay closer attention while I read, always watching to see what I will pull out of the treasure chest next. Even the grown-ups in the room become entranced.

Don't be afraid to shine. People will love it. It's only embarrassing when you look in the mirror!

Bobbie Hinman

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Would you Like To Have 200 People Attend Your Book Launch Party?

After launching two new children's books during the past two years, it is almost time to launch #3. Since each of my launch parties resulted in the sale of over 200 books, I am really nervous. I want to be sure that this one is also a success. Right now I'm feeling that old familiar fear: What if I have a party and no one comes?? Yeeks!

As I organize the details for this event, I would like to share with you some of my hints for making sure that a launch party is a success:

Start early - Decide on the time and place at least 6 months ahead of the book release. A local bookstore is usually a great place for a book event.

Plan the event thoroughly - Meet with the store manager and plan everything. What will the store employees be able to do on that day? What would they like me to provide? With children's books, there need to be specific planned activities. For example, first I will read the new book and then provide coloring pages so the children will be occupied while their parents purchase the books. My store manager will have the tables set up and will provide crayons, glitter, glue, etc.

Feature something special - Make this a party, a happening! Since my books are fairy books, I call this event a Fairy Party. Children are invited to come in fairy costumes. We have a face painter, a craft, some raffle drawings and a huge cake. This year my illustrator will also be joining us and he will be demonstrating his sketching techniques.

Two months ahead - To promote the event, contact all of the nearby newspapers and news websites and make sure the information is in their calendars during the month of the event. Set up newspaper interviews and supply press releases for the week before the event.

One month ahead - Have postcard/invitations printed. I order from an online printer and always order at least 1000-1500 invitations. I make sure there is something on the invitation that will entice the youngsters. In my case, I think the promise of a piece of cake is often more important to them than the new book.

Also one month ahead - Order party favors. This year I decided to hand out plastic stadium cups imprinted with a picture of my new fairy character, and filled with an assortment of goodies - a little doll, a lollypop, etc. These items can be purchased very inexpensively at dollar stores and through online catalogs. Both kids and adults love party favors.

Three weeks ahead - Make sure the bookstore has received their order of books, including any backlist titles (very important).

Two weeks ahead - Time to distribute the invitations to daycares, preschools, libraries and children's stores. I also try to visit as many elementary schools as I can, to read one of my other books and distribute party invitations. I also distribute invitations in local coffee shops (with permission, of course), my athletic club, the grocery store, and wherever I can. This is also the time that I order a very large sheet cake decorated with a picture (in icing) of my newest fairy. I purchase lots of napkins. The bookstore will provide small cups of lemonade.

Email marketing - If you have an email list, be sure to send an email invitation to everyone you know, requesting that they forward the email to everyone they know. Be sure to invite local news media. Also, don't forget your friend and family.

Yes, it's very hard work. And, it takes a lot of planning. However, it works!

Now, please come to my party!

Bobbie Hinman