81 Words

I was idly checking writing contests yesterday and came across this rather innovative challenge: An attempt to set a World Record for the most contributing authors published in an anthology.

Submissions were free. I liked that part, too. The catch? Your story had to be exactly 81 words! And there were only 5 spots left out of 1000.

Could I? Yes! I decided.

I sifted through my archive of story ideas, some only snippets and bones, some more fully-fledged. One of them grabbed me, but was longer than 81 words. Refining and polishing took some time, but I loved it. These challenges are pure brain candy.

I’m thrilled to say I nabbed a spot! Story #999 (whew). Everything is up on the website, so you can read it for free! Just scroll down to #999. Then you’ll see why I chose that sinister picture for this post, muwahahaha.

The anthology will be published sometime this year.

I Wrote a Children’s Book! Now What?

Hush, Mouse!

You or someone you know has written a children’s book. It’s ready to show the world! What are your next steps?

I’ve done both self-publishing and traditional. There are pros and cons to each. In this post, I also talk about the joys of editing and illustrating.

My experience is by no means definitive or exhaustive, so I’ve included links to people who know more. I’ve put all the resources I mention at the end, too.

Eternal disclaimer: Please adapt the following to your own needs, and consult with other sources.

Get the pros and cons to self-publishing & traditional publishing, along with other tips! #writeradvice

Self-Publish or Traditional?

One of the first things to decide is if you want to go the self-publishing or traditional route with your book.

Your decision does NOT lock you into the same decision for each forthcoming book.

Your decision does NOT even lock you in with your current book! Here’s why:

Some people start with the traditional route, querying agents and publishers. You don’t have to keep doing this forever! You can choose at any time to pursue self-publishing instead.

>Self-Publishing (Independent)

This method gives you just about all of the control, but also all of the work, too, from formatting to marketing to building a readership.

You may be saying, “I just want to write! I don’t want to have to manage everything else, too!” (At least, that’s what I’ve said, and still say.)

Still, being independent has its rewards. You’re the CEO and president of making your dream reality. You decide where and how to allocate your time–to research, to building an author presence, to connecting with others. You set your budget. You decide the exact date and time you’re going to launch. You retain the copyright.

Plus, it’s relatively easy to get your book out there on a site like Amazon with their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) service, which allows for a paperback imprint as well. (There are other avenues than Amazon, of course, but that’s the one I use.) If you’re longing for hardcover, you’ll want to research among hardcover printers such as IngramSpark–but seek out reviews about product quality and availability.

And there’s a whole vibrant community of independent or indie authors who have all been exactly where you are right now. For example, Navigating Indieworld has groups on Facebook and on Goodreads. Twitter has people who use #indieauthors and similar hashtags.

The hardest thing about self-publishing could just be taking that first step.

Personal experience: After a year or so of querying and getting rejected (and dejected) for What’s At the End of Your Nose?, and then doing nothing at all, I finally decided it was time to stop dithering and self-publish. Dr. Guinea Pig George quickly followed. This post tells how I got from just thinking about it to doing it.

>Traditional Publishing

This method means research, writing about your writing, and a thick skin. You have to believe that any rejection isn’t personal–and to keep trying!

To get your work in front of an agent and publisher, you have to do a lot of work up front. First, you have to find them. AgentQuery.com and QueryTracker.net are great places to discover who’s open for your genre.

You also want to determine if the publishing house is not simply a vanity press. You should not be paying the publisher to have your work published.

Agents and publishers require any combination of the following:

  • Query letter. AgentQuery.com includes tips on how to write one.
  • Bio. Keep it short! Include other publications and book awards.
  • Synopsis. Sometimes you’ll have to write a second one in addition to the one in your letter.
  • One or two-sentence pitch. Your elevator speech about your book.
  • Web presence. Your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
  • Names of books similar to yours. You have to do this research.
  • Manuscript. This varies, but often your entire picture book manuscript is accepted versus “the first 10 pages” that you’ll see in query forms.

Depending on the agent or publisher, you can expect to put all this and more in an online form, in an email, or even snail mail (yes, still!). Some want attachments. Some want it all inline. Whatever they want, if you want to query them, follow their instructions exactly.

And then you wait. Sometimes you never hear back. Sometimes you’ll get a form letter rejection. Sometimes you’ll receive a more personal rejection–I still treasure a couple of the ones I got for the Squeezor.

People talk about getting a hundred or more rejections before finally getting interest. Others never get any bites and decide to go the self-publishing route instead. So don’t give up too soon, but know that it’s okay to give up when you really want to, and to start again when you want to. There’s no limit on re-entering the race here.

So, what are the benefits? Theoretically, once you land a contract, you’ll have a team working for you to help with formatting, marketing, and launching. Distribution and getting your book into stores is easier. You’ll be eligible for industry awards only open to PAL (Published & Listed) authors. You may feel more prestigious, or at least more wanted. You may have to give up some creative control, but you can also focus on your writing versus all the other stuff.

Looking for a community of writers who go the traditional route? Consider investing in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Personal experience: I decided to put my third book, The Squeezor is Coming!, on the query circuit. I got busy doing other things and actually forgot it was out there! I still remember how my brain took a few seconds to catch up to my eyes when I realized that the RE: Query subject line in my inbox did not, in fact, yield another rejection, but had an attachment with it, and that that attachment was a contract.

Traditional vs Self-Publishing: Which should you pick?


If you’ve already had your book edited, skip this step. Otherwise: It is imperative to have your story edited by someone who isn’t you.

All writers need editors. This is because our brains like to correct our own stuff for us without always telling us they saw something to correct.

You can find marvelous editors on Fiverr and similar sites who’ll do everything from line editing to copy editing. Some go above and beyond and really get into your story to help make it the best it can be.

Personal experience: I have been entirely happy with qdmerit. It was she who told me I could expand my Squeezor story and to consider adding a child character to my Hush, Mouse! story. Both those stories went on to find a publisher.

If you have an editor friend who is willing to take on your book, do consider arranging a contract of sorts, too. Editing can take a lot of time, effort, and back-and-forthing. It’s real work and people deserve to be compensated for it, even if it’s someone in your personal life.

I definitely recommend editing before querying an agent, even if the agency/publishing house has their own editors. You want to put your best work forward at all times.

“All writers need editors.” #writeradvice


The Squeezor is Coming!

If you’ve already had your book illustrated, skip this step.

If you haven’t had your book illustrated and are now panicking that you should have, please don’t! You’ll find different bits of advice for this, and indeed, the industry is subject to change, but:

  • If you’re self-publishing a children’s book, yes, you most likely will need to get it illustrated. I can’t think of a children’s book that doesn’t have illustrations, though anything is possible. Anyway, illustrators are out there!
    • You may have an artist among your friends.
    • Look on Fiverr or ask in a forum or group such as KidLit411 on Facebook.
    • Instagram has tons of illustrators sharing their work, and you can ask if they are interested in collaborating on your book.
    • Whoever you choose, expect to have a contract and to pay money for their services. Just because someone makes it look easy or you know them personally doesn’t mean it’s not an actual job.
  • If you’re choosing to go the traditional route, you’ll want to research agents and publishers for preferences. Some want to see the book already illustrated, or favor author-illustrators. Others just want the text and will pick the illustrator themselves. Still others will let you find an artist and then bring them under a contract.
    • If your book is already illustrated, you may still choose to send it for consideration without mentioning that it is. That’s a personal choice and may also be terrible advice, so examine your options.

Personal experience: When I self-published my first two books (What’s At the End of Your Nose? and Dr. Guinea Pig George), a friend illustrated them. She’s a fantastic artist! When a publisher found my next two books (The Squeezor is Coming! and Hush, Mouse!), both the timing of the projects and the scope led me to find two different illustrators: I worked with one of them at my day job, and the other I found on Instagram. The publisher then brought each of them under contract.

Writers: Is a friend illustrating your book? That’s real work being done! Talk to them about a contract. #writeradvice

Resources & Related Questions

The more I wrote this, the more I thought of things to add. I think I’ve reached the end of my thoughts for now. If I’ve left anything out or gotten something glaringly wrong, please do drop a note in the comments. And please also let me know if any of this helped!

“I wrote a children’s book! Now what?”

The Library Books I Read in 2020

I may have bookshelves, double-stacked rows, and book piles next to my bed and other places, but I still crave the rapport you can fall into at the library. There you are, wrapped in a cocoon of happy browsing, perhaps idly brushing your fingertips along the bindings, when suddenly out of the corner of your eye, perhaps a shelf or two below or above, perhaps one off to your right, a book will say, “Pick me!”

Thank goodness for Libby! That library app kept me sane in this past year of not-going to libraries.

Here’s what it served up for me in 2020. Some are brand new to me and others are beloved re-reads. I tried to keep a list of non-library books as well, but gave that up around February. I know where that list is, at least; it’s next to a book pile.

The full list is below. I particularly loved these (links lead to Amazon, not Libby):

Elinor Lipman, On Turpentine Lane and Good Riddance. Both of these books are delightful with oodles of realistic quirk and characters. I loved them and I felt good reading them.

Ernest Cline, Ready Player One. Enticing Gen X pop culture references and a stunning virtual world juxtaposed against a ten-minutes-into-the-future breakdown of society and humanity. I had such a great time reading this.

Fiona Davis, The Masterpiece. Art, creativity, elegance, strength, and dirty dealings. Revolving around the Grand Central School of Art that exists within New York’s Grand Central Terminal, we’re taken into both the late 1920s and the mid 1970s. What’s not to love?

Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth. Vibrant short stories of family life that span India, Cambridge, Thailand, and Seattle. To say any more would spoil it for sure, so suffice it to say that I wanted to learn more about some of the characters!

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84. Toyko, 1984. “A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s 1984.” I really enjoyed this world that brings together two narratives over a year within a parallel existence.

This is either a slight spoiler or I’m just pointing out a known characteristic, so read this next line with care (or skip): I have found with Murakami’s books that I’ve read so far that he has unfinished endings that jar me.

I make a tiny affiliate commission if you use the Amazon links above.

The List of Library Books Read in 2020

  • Benjamin Franklin
    • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • Brittney Cooper
    • Eloquent Rage
  • Candace Fleming
    • The Family Romanov
  • Carrie Fisher
    • The Princess Diarist
  • Celeste Ng
    • Little Fires Everywhere
  • Cixin Liu
    • The Three-Body Problem
  • Dave Eggers
    • The Circle
  • Deborah Moggach
    • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Diana Wynne Jones
    • House of Many Ways
    • Howl’s Moving Castle
  • Donna Tartt
    • The Goldfinch
  • Elinor Lipman
    • Good Riddance
    • On Turpentine Lane
  • Elizabeth Strout
    • Olive, Again
  • Eloisa James
    • Paris in Love
  • Emily Henry
    • Beach Read
  • Ernest Cline
    • Armada
    • Ready Player One
    • Ready Player Two
  • Fiona Davis
    • The Masterpiece
  • George Eliot
    • Middlemarch
  • Glenn Dakin
    • Star Trek Cocktails
  • Haruki Murakami
    • 1Q84
    • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
    • Men Without Women
  • J. Courtney Sullivan
    • Saints for All Occasions
  • Jane Smiley
    • Moo
    • Some Luck
  • Janie Chang
    • The Library of Legends
  • Jennifer Chiaverini
    • The Aloha Quilt
    • The Christmas Boutique
    • The Wedding Quilt
  • Jennifer Close
    • Girls in White Dresses
    • The Hopefuls
    • The Smart One
  • Jessica Simpson
    • Open Book
  • Jhumpa Lahiri
    • Interpreter of Maladies
    • The Namesake
    • Unaccustomed Earth
  • Jill Lepore
    • Book of Ages
  • John Green, Lauren Myracle, Maureen Johnson
    • Let It Snow
  • Kerry Greenwood
    • Cocaine Blues
    • Death at Victoria Dock
    • Devil’s Food
    • Flying Too High
    • Forbidden Fruit
    • Murder and Mendelssohn
    • Murder on the Ballarat Train
    • The Castlemaine Murders
    • The Green Mill Murder
    • Trick or Treat
    • Unnatural Habits
    • Urn Burial
  • Kevin Kwan
    • China Rich Girlfriend
    • Crazy Rich Asians
    • Rich People Problems
  • L. M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery
    • Anne of Avonlea
    • Anne of the Island
    • Anne’s House of Dreams
  • Lauren Francis-Sharma
    • Book of the Little Axe
  • Lauren Graham
    • Someday, Someday, Maybe
    • Talking as Fast as I Can
  • Leah Johnson
    • You Should See Me in a Crown
  • Liane Moriarty
    • Big Little Lies
  • Lily King
    • Euphoria
  • Lindy West
    • Shrill
  • Lois Lowry
    • Anastasia Again!
    • Anastasia Has the Answers
    • Anastasia on Her Own
    • Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst
    • The Giver Quartet Omnibus
  • Lorrie Moore
    • A Gate at the Stairs
  • Lucy Worsley
    • Jane Austen at Home
  • Maeve Binchy
    • A Few of the Girls
    • A Week in Winter
    • Chestnut Street
    • Heart and Soul
    • Nights of Rain and Stars
    • The Builders
    • The Copper Beech
    • The Glass Lake
    • The Return Journey
    • Whitethorn Woods
  • Malcolm Gladwell
    • Talking to Strangers
  • Margarita Montimore
    • Oona Out of Order
  • Margot Lee Shetterly
    • Hidden Figures
  • Marie Benedict
    • The Only Woman in the Room
  • Marie Kondo
    • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
  • Martha Hall Kelly
    • Lilac Girls
  • Mary Balogh
    • Someone to Love
  • Maureen Johnson
    • The Hand on the Wall
    • The Vanishing Stair
    • Truly Devious
  • Maxwell King
    • The Good Neighbor
  • Maya Van Wagenen
    • Popular
  • Mercedes Lackey
    • Beauty and the Werewolf
  • Nancy Young
    • Strum
  • Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett
    • Good Omens
  • Nora Ephron
    • I Feel Bad About My Neck
  • Pamela Druckerman
    • There Are No Grown-ups
  • Paula Hawkins
    • The Girl on the Train
  • Rachel DeLoache Williams
    • My Friend Anna
  • Ran Walker
    • Bessie, Bop, or Bach
  • Ransom Riggs
    • Hollow City
  • Rhys Bowen
    • Love and Death Among the Cheetahs
    • Masked Ball at Broxley Manor
  • Roald Dahl
    • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Rosamunde Pilcher
    • The Day of the Storm
  • Sally Rooney
    • Normal People
  • Sarah M. Broom
    • The Yellow House
  • Shirley Abbott
    • The Future of Love
    • Shirley Jackson
    • The Haunting of Hill House
    • We Have Always Lived in the Castle
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia
    • Mexican Gothic
  • Stassi Schroeder
    • Next Level Basic
  • Susan Mallery
    • Before We Kiss
    • Secrets of the Tulip Sisters
    • Sisters by Choice
    • Three Sisters
  • Terry Pratchett
    • Hogfather
    • The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld
    • The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories
    • Tiffany Aching Complete Collection
    • Witches Abroad
    • Wyrd Sisters
  • Todd McCaffrey
    • Dragonwriter
  • Ursula K. Le Guin
    • A Wizard of Earthsea
    • Tehanu
    • The Farthest Shore
    • The Telling
    • The Tombs of Atuan