April 2011

It’s been awhile since I’ve discussed picture books or books for early readers in my posts, but since I’m in the midst of developing one right now, it’s been on my mind. Today I’d like to look at a few of the more popular ways of structuring or organizing a picture book.

1. Letter or number sequencing–Letter sequencing most often takes the form of a standard alphabet book, whether the letters are from A-Z or from Z-A. Alphabet books can either be nonfiction or fiction, but nowadays there needs to be some form of story involved. Gone are the days of simply listing words in alphabetical order, even if those words all center on a certain theme. The alphabet books most liked by publishers are those that take the reader on an adventure where he just happens to encounter things that begin with letters in alphabetical order along the way.

Number sequencing can be straightforward counting or maybe counting in a pattern–by 2’s or by 5’s, for example. Again, it’s helpful to organize the book around a story. Maybe a child is packing a bag to go to the beach and is taking 1 towel, 2 buckets, 3 shovels, etc. Then, when he gets to the beach he meets a friend who has the same things but in different amounts. They add the items together one at a time to see how many they have altogether. Then when it’s time to go home, they count their things to put them back in their bags but discover that a couple of the items are missing (conflict). You can organize counting by counting up, down, or in patterns. You can have your character count just about anything or have him count things he discovers along his journey. In this case, the story is the journey, and the counting is an incidental by-product of it.

2. Time–PBs organized by time may include using hours, days of the week, months, or seasons. Again, tell a story–fiction or nonfiction–that focuses on events that may happen during the course of a day/night, week, etc. Have your reader walk with your character as he makes discoveries of the different things that happen each month (certain holidays, for example) or each season. Seasons in particular lend themselves well to writing about nature. You can discuss what happens to trees, plants, or animals as they grow and rest in each of the seasons. If you’re writing about hours, you can count down with time, having your character race against the clock to get something accomplished. There are a lot of fun ways to get creative with time-structured picture books.

3. Destination stories–These are stories where you take your reader on a journey via your main character, and your character ends up in a different place from where he started. To make your destination story successful, you must build anticipation for the journey, have your character (and reader) discover some really cool things along the way, get into and out of conflict, and successfully reach his destination in the end. These stories don’t have to be complex. The destination may be a play date with a friend, an overnight trip to Grandma’s, or an adventure through a neighborhood forest. These are especially effective if you use repetitive objects or phrases along the journey.

4. Full Circle–PBs that are organized using a full-circle structure also reach a destination–but the destination is the beginning. In these stories the character will ultimately end up where he started. So, using the above example of the overnight trip to Grandma’s, the story wouldn’t end until the character left Grandma’s the next day and returned home. In order for the full-circle effect to work, there has to be a compelling reason why you don’t just stop once you reach your destination. Another means of structuring in full-circle style has nothing to do with storyline, but rather the particular words and phrases used. Whatever phrasing you use to begin your story, bring it back around at the end so that you can finish your story with the exact same phrase–or perhaps a slightly different one because of something the character learned or discovered during the story.

5. Cause and Effect–When a story is organized by cause and effect, every action of your character results in a reaction, either by that same character or another character, producing a domino effect. A perfect example of this is the If You Give a Pig a Pancake book (and its counterparts). Each of the pig’s actions resulted in a different action having to be taken by the girl in the story. When the girl reacted to the pig’s actions, it caused yet a different reaction from the pig, and so forth throughout the story. The entire book was based on this cause-and-effect sequencing. Cause and effect stories can be great fun to write, mostly because you never know where exactly they may end up!

These are just a few of the many ways you can structure your picture book. Have fun and get creative deciding where you want your story to go! Stop back next week when I’ll take a look at some definite picture book must-haves and provide tips for making your PB the best it can be.

Instead of posting an article, I decided it was time to update the 2011 writers’ conferences throughout the country. Click on the Writers’ Resources tab for an updated look at conferences from California to New York in genres ranging from writing thrillers to writing poetry!

And, while you’re at it, please check out the Writing Opportunity tab. I still need a handful of stories from Christian grandparents. If you don’t qualify, please pass the opportunity on to someone who might!

Last week I discussed some general tips for developing your resume as a writer in order for you to submit it to potential publishers. Now, let’s talk about how to format that resume and what it should include.

The following are various headings your writing resume should contain. You should modify the order in which your sections are placed based on where you have the most (and the most relevant) experience and what particular writing assignment you are applying for. For instance, if a publisher is, for some reason, interested in your education and non-writing expertise more than your actual writing experience, then those areas of interest should be higher up on your resume than your writing credits section.

Objective: This is optional to have on your resume. If you are applying for a broader area, such as work-for-hire projects or children’s picture books, then you can state that as an objective. If , however, you are sending your resume in conjunction with a query for a magazine article, or something similarly specific, then you can safely omit section.

Skills Summary: While this may be titled in various ways, it is an important area to have front and center on any resume you send out. This is the “quick-n-dirty” recap of all the reasons the publisher should hire you. Here, you list your overall years of experience, a rough estimate of the number of writing credits you have and in what areas, or your expertise background that makes you a perfect fit for this writing assignment.  This is also a good place to put those intangibles that you may not mention specifically elsewhere: meeting deadlines, attention to detail, love of research, etc.

Key Words: This is also an optional section, although you may want to check with the publisher to see if they scan their resumes into and from a database. More than likely, your resume will be read by the publisher first and then put into a database, not immediately scanned into a database to be retrieved later, the way many corporations do. Because of this, the key word section isn’t as necessary. If you do use it, think of the most common terms possible and as many terms as possible that you can insert into this section: fiction, short stories, comedy, mystery, novels, etc.

Writing Experience (or, simply Experience if you don’t yet have writing experience): If you’re doing a chronological resume, list, in reverse order by date, any jobs you’ve had that include writing.  Or, if you freelance, list that as such with the year you began freelancing. If you only have non-writing experience, list only those jobs that will be most relevant to the writing assignment you’re applying for.

If you’re doing a functional resume, list, in bullet points, the type of writing experience, or other experience you have.  Order your experience from the most relevant to the least.

Writing Credits: If you have published work, list it as bullet points in this section. Be sure to include the publisher name, title of work, if it was a book, magazine article, poem, etc., and date. If you have a lot of writing credits, you can combine like credits under the same bullet, such as 3 children’s history books for Capstone Press, 2009-2010. Or, several parenting articles for Parents magazine, 2003-2007.

Education: List any degrees you have, along with the schools you attended. Dates are not always necessary under high school and college education listings. If you’ve taken continuing education classes in a writing-related field, however, you should include dates with these to show how recently you’ve taken the classes. Writing correspondence courses and online writing courses may also be included in this section. If you have a lot of this type of education, and you are still in process of taking continuing education classes, you may want to list it as a separate section entitled Continuing Education.

If you regularly attend writers’ workshops, conferences, or are a member of a critique group, you should also list this as part of your continuing education. Publishers like to see that you are taking the craft seriously enough to be active in writing groups and are learning all you can.

Writing Memberships and Organizations: Be sure to include any writing or editorial groups you may either be a member of or are somehow affiliated with.

Contests and Awards: If you’ve won any writing contests (even local) or have received any awards for your writing, don’t forget to brag about yourself a little and add this to your resume!

If, after reading about resume writing, you feel overwhelmed or not sure how to tackle your own resume, contact me at waywords@earthlink.net. I offer free consultations and resume reviews and will offer you a very competitive quote for helping develop a writer’s resume for your portfolio.