Prize Winners: Plus Still Time to Win Clip Studio EX!

A big congrats to the following winners:

Kids Comics Studio year-long membership: Annette Hashitate

Storyteller Academy’s Making Comics mini-course: Carrie Tillotson

The Great Chicago Fire: Rising From the Ashes: Erin Treacy Siska

Query and Synopsis Critique from Annette Hashitate: Alyssa Alessi

Query Critique from Ken Lamug: Talara Ruth.

Website Critique from Arp Laszlo: Teresa Robeson

There’s still time to enter to win a free, 12-month license to Clip Studio EX.

Please subscribe to our website to say updated with what’s coming up. We’ll have more to follow soon.

9 Things You Need to Break Into Kids Comics by Janna Morishima

A big thank you to literary agent and founder of Kids Comics Unite, Janna Morishima, for getting us to day two of our countdown (the pitch party starts in two days, people!) and for donating the generous prize of a year’s membership to Kids Comics Studio!

Find out about this amazing prize here: https://kidlitgn.com/kids-comics-studio-membership/, and enter the Rafflecopter below.


A few months ago, the organizers of KidLitGN asked if I could share some of my publishing contacts with them, to help promote the KidLitGN Twitter pitch event.

“Sure!” I said, and sent them a bunch of contact information.

Shortly thereafter, one of the organizers wrote back to me. 

“I must say, my stomach dropped to my knees sending an email out to a bunch of editors,” she said. “It makes me appreciate what you agents do even more.”  

Reading her words made me smile — in an empathetic way. I still feel a little queasy hitting the “Send” button on a submission to editors, or on an email newsletter to hundreds of people.

It’s that feeling that you have when you’re thinking, “OK, I’m about to share something important with the outside world, something on which I’ve been working hard and have invested a lot of myself. Argh, how are all these people going to react?”

Sending a query letter… submitting a manuscript… posting your work on a very public Twitter event — those things aren’t easy! 

As someone who interacts with authors and illustrators all the time, I talk to many people who are working toward getting a book deal. A lot of times, their questions for me are about tactical details like:

  • “How do you land a literary agent?” 
  • “How do you write a good book proposal?” 
  • “How do you promote yourself on social media effectively?”

I’ll let you in on a secret: although I answer those questions as best I can, I subtly try to help them ask different questions — better questions. These are the questions that help you do hard things (and, as we’ve established, building a career as an author or illustrator is hard). They’re questions like: 

  • “How can I develop a positive mindset?”
  • “How can I be more open and generous in my interactions with other people, both in person and online?” 
  • “How can I be more focused and intentional in my work?”

Getting published as an author or artist is totally possible. But, in my opinion, your efforts will be more effective if you’ve developed the following nine foundational elements for yourself before you move on to tactical details:

1. Start with baby steps.

Everyone starts as a beginner. In the beginning, our ambitions almost always far outstrip our abilities. You may aspire to write multi-volume epics like Bone or Amulet, but you’ll need to start with something simple. Maybe a mini-comic, a zine, or a short webcomic.

I remember the first time I saw Raina Telgemeier’s work. It was a 12-page comic in a group show sponsored by Friends of Lulu. It hinted at the elements that eventually helped make Raina a blockbuster success — the emotional sincerity; the down-to-earth, wry sense of humor; the simple and inviting visual style with obvious inspiration from Lynn Johnstone’s For Better or Worse.

And yet, it was just a 12-page comic. Raina didn’t start by writing Smile; she started with little xeroxed mini-comics.

2. Be part of a creative community.

It’s absolutely essential that you make connections with fellow writers and artists. Trying to figure out everything on your own is a dead end street.

After all, being a creative is already a lonely endeavor — in order to create, you must spend many hours alone with your thoughts, doing the hard work of translating your imagination onto the page. Spending time with other people who understand what you’re trying to do is critical to keeping yourself motivated and inspired.

Just as important, connecting with your peers is also a way to avoid “reinventing the wheel.” Perhaps you’re struggling with a particular plot twist in your script; or figuring out how to promote yourself with limited time and money. By talking these sorts of problems over with other artists, you’ll get fresh ideas and learn from people who’ve already done what you’re trying to do.

3. Put yourself out there.

When you’re just getting started, sharing your work publicly can be scary. That’s because your brain instinctively tries to protect you from unknown situations, which it interprets as “dangerous.” And it easily comes up with rationalizations that seem totally logical. Things like:

  • “I’m not ready. My work isn’t polished enough to share publicly yet.”
  • “I don’t want someone to steal my ideas. People can take your idea off the internet and sell it as their own.”
  • “If I post my work online, publishers aren’t going to be interested in publishing it as a book.”

I’d argue that all of these reasons for keeping your work under wraps until “the right time” are mainly justifications to avoid the real reason to avoid sharing it… FEAR.

Putting your work out there, inviting public scrutiny and critiques, is undeniably scary. Your creative work is a reflection of your innermost thoughts, your imagination, your artistic talent. Who wouldn’t feel vulnerable offering that up to the world?

However, your biggest challenge, when you’re getting started, is not your amateurishness, or getting your ideas poached, or ruining your chances for a publishing deal. Your biggest problem is being invisible.

You’ve got to make yourself part of the conversation, to invite feedback, to share your creative journey.

4. Build your online presence.

As one of my favorite writers on marketing for creatives, Austin Kleon, says, “It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.”

That doesn’t mean you must have a fancy website and thousands of followers on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Pinterest. A simple website and one social media account is enough to get started.

Here’s what you need, at a minimum:

  • A website.
    It can be simple, but you must have this “homebase” on the Internet. It’s your own little piece of real estate over which you have total and complete control. (Never forget, you have NO control over Instagram or Twitter or any other social media platforms! If they change their algorithms and suddenly you can’t reach 95% of your followers, you’ve got a problem.)
  • A “keep in touch” strategy.
    In other words, you must have a way that you’re keeping in touch with the people who already know and support you. In the beginning, this might be a simple email to 20 friends and family members, or a regular update on your social media channel. It doesn’t matter; what does matter is that you have a consistent routine of sharing your ideas, your work-in-progress, and your inspiration with people who care.
  • An “outreach” strategy.
    This means you’ve thought about how to find and reach more people who might like your work. I’m a big fan of the “slow and steady” approach (The Tortoise and the Hare is my favorite Aesop’s fable for a reason!). Maybe you have a table at a local comics festival every year, and slowly add to your mailing list. Maybe you organize a happy hour for artists, and grow your own circle by helping others. Maybe you teach comics in schools, and grow a fan base of teachers and librarians through word of mouth.

    Any of these strategies works. Notice that they all involve one-to-one, personal, genuine connections. These are the connections that make a difference when you’re running a Kickstarter campaign or launching your first book.

5. Understand your audience.

This is a truism in any industry: in order to succeed, you must have a very clear, specific, visceral sense of the audience you’re speaking to.

But in the case of creating work for children — whether it’s a toy or a book or a comic — you’re not only creating for a specific audience (ie, kids who like scatalogical humor or dark fantasy or monster trucks or anything with the color pink, etc.), you’re also creating for a specific age level.

This is a huge difference between the adult market and the kids market. 

As adults, our brains are fully developed. Children, on the other hand, have brains that are still developing. This means that their cognition, reading level, vocabulary, experiences, and sensibilities are constantly evolving. A book that is enthralling for a 5 year old will not be enthralling to that same child when she is 14 — or even when she is 8 or 9!

Most good children’s book and kids comics creators have a deep empathy for the kids they’re writing for. Mo Willems can get on the level of 4 and 5 year olds who are just beginning to grasp the mechanics of reading (and making jokes). Dav Pilkey can still inhabit the world from the perspective of an 8 year old boy. And Raina Telgemeier definitely remembers in vivid detail what it feels like to be a middle school girl.

So when you’re writing comics for kids, some part of your brain has to be accessing your story from a specific stage of development, and relating it in a verbal and visual language that is ideal for that age level. For many writers and artists, that comes intuitively.

Regardless of whether it’s intuitive or a skill that you have to work at, the following tip will help you hone that ability even better.

6. Know the market.

Read widely and deeply, as much as you can. You’ve got to become an expert in what’s currently being published in the genres and age levels that you’re most interested in writing for.

Once you’re ready to look for an agent or publisher, having a strong knowledge of recently published books will help you pinpoint the specific agents and specific editors who might be most likely to appreciate your work. You can narrow down a shortlist of books you like, and then google the author and title with the word “editor” or “agent.” You’ll almost always be able to find who edited and agented those books.

That way, when you approach those agents and editors, you won’t be one of the dreaded “spray and pray” creators who send their proposals indiscriminately to every industry email they can scrape up. Instead, you can write an intelligent query letter that explains why you are interested in that particular agent or editor.

As an added bonus, having a solid understanding of how your work fits into the wider publishing landscape makes you a more credible, appealing candidate for publishing. And once you have your book deal, it makes you a more sought-after panelist, podcast guest, or interview subject.

7. Invest in yourself.

Most kids comics creators don’t have a degree in “Kids Comics Creatorship,” but that doesn’t mean they haven’t invested in learning as much as they can about the field.

If you want to build a long-term career as a kids comics creator, it isn’t any different than any other profession: spending some money is often the fastest and most effective way to make progress and increase your opportunities. You’ve got to develop your skills, attend networking events, promote your work, and get professional feedback and advice.

Here are some of the specific ways you could be investing in yourself:

  • Joining industry associations such as SCBWI or The Society of Illustrators.
  • Hiring professionals like a developmental editor, web designer, or book publicist.
  • Taking a specialized workshop at an institution like the Highlights Foundation or the Center for Cartoon Studies.
  • Taking an online course to master a specific skill, on a platform like CreativeLive, CreativeBug, or SVSLearn.
  • Joining an online community/education platform like The Illustration Department, Storytellers Academy, Kids Comics Unite, etc.
  • Attending and exhibiting at comics shows and/or book festivals such as TCAF, MoCCA, SPX, The Brooklyn Book Festival, The Princeton Children’s Book Festival, or other local events.
  • Attending or exhibiting at library or education shows like ALA, TLA, AASL, or your local state library or education conference. (Schools and libraries are HUGELY important for the success of children’s graphic novels.)

8. Learn to Handle Rejection.

The publishing industry is crammed with best-selling authors who experienced years of discouragement and rejection before finally getting their work published. I remember hearing a keynote speech by Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Bryan Collier at an SCBWI conference a few years ago, where he recounted having spent 7 years carting his portfolio to every publishing house in NYC, over and over again, before finally getting his first book deal.

Publishing is competitive and it is highly likely that you’ll face your share of rejection. Rather than hope for the best, I think it’s wise to prepare yourself for it, and develop conscious, deliberate ways to recover from it.

Most importantly, remember that one agent’s or editor’s rejection is not a final reckoning on your talent. It could be that they didn’t have room on their list for another book in your specific genre. Or they don’t have time to offer you the developmental editing that your project requires (sadly, this is the norm nowadays.) Maybe they’re overloaded at the moment and simply can’t take you on, even if they love your work. Or they simply don’t share your vision.

Facing rejection is another reason why having a community of peers is so important — you need friends to cheer you up when external forces get you down.

Finally, remind yourself that it takes time to succeed in any craft. You’ve got to put in the hours, get critiqued, confront rejection, and just keep going back to the drawing board again and again.

In fact, the most important thing you can do is….

9. Persist.

When I was young, I thought that the most important factor in success was talent. Many battle-scarred years later, I now understand that the most important factor in success is definitely not talent.

It is persistence.

Keep writing, keep drawing, keep imagining, keep sharing, again and again. It’s a simple recipe, but it isn’t easy.

As Dr. Seuss said,

“And will you succeed? Yes! You will indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed!)”

And he should know…. After all, his first book was rejected 28 times before being published by Random House.

To win a free, year’s membership to Kids Comics Studio, enter the Rafflecopter below:

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It’s a Pitch-Eat-Pitch World by Urania Smith

Urania is KidLit writer and freelance editor.
Find Urania on Twitter And Facebook

Urania is kicking of day five of our countdown with pitch tips and a chance for a pitch critique before Oct. 5, see the details below:

If you’re a writer without illustrations to add to your pitch, you must work harder to capture the attention of an agent or editor. Graphic novels are a highly visual medium, so it’s natural for the eyes of agents and editors to gravitate toward posts that contain images. That doesn’t mean editors and agents aren’t reading posts without images, but it does mean you want to make sure your project has an strong concept and you’ve polished your pitch so it will stand out. Here are a few tips to help your pitch stand out in our Twitter pitch and Web pitch event.

• Use strong concise language and be a clear as possible. You will not grab the attention of agents and editors if your writing is poor and your concept is ambiguous. This is where critique groups and partners are really valuable. Yes. It’s helpful to get feedback on something as small as a pitch.

• Focus on the story’s major conflict and stakes. Your main character is going to go through some things, have wants, and desires (conflict). Hopefully, they will go through one big thing that your readers really care about that has consequences for your main character (stakes). Focus on these core issues in your pitch.

Example: Orphaned from his foster family in a zombie apocalypse, Jack teams up with other survivors, including the girl of his dreams, to fight the zombies and monsters invading his home town.

• Write three strong pitches. Our Twitter pitch allows you submit three pitches, three times throughout the event. Vary your pitches to highlight something new. 

Additional examples of pitches for the same book:

Left alone after the zombie apocalypse, Jack discovers he’s not the sole survivor and must team up with his friends if they want to survive the zombie apocalypse AND an alien monster invasion. Oh yeah, and they just may be the last humans on Earth.

In search of life on Earth after a zombie apocalypse wipes out his family, Jack takes notes on the monster that’s hunting him, a simple thing, really, but it just may save him and his friends, The Last Kids on Earth, from extinction.

• Take advantage of the website pitch’s extended 600 characters to show your writing chops. Graphics novels should be well written even if they do contain less word count than traditional novels. (This pitch has the freedom to read more like a book jacket).

Jack’s an ordinary kid, if you don’t count that he lives in a tree house, bashes monsters, and his foster parents were eaten by zombies. After receiving signs that his crush is alive, he embarks on a quest to save her from the alien monster invasion brought on by a zombie apocalypse. Only problem, June doesn’t need saving. She’s been kicking monster and zombie butt this whole time too. In fact, he needs her help, along with their other survivor friends to stay alive. This rag tag group must stick together long enough to discover any other signs of life, especially if they are really The Last Kids on Earth.

• Don’t leave open ended questions in your pitch to sound mysterious. Who doesn’t love a good mystery, but your Twitter and web pitch are not the places to make an agent or editor wonder what’s going on.

• Add comp titles. While comp titles are not a must in a pitch, they can show agents and editors you know the market and you didn’t roll out of bed yesterday, and decide to write a graphic novel. Trust me, someone on this planet did.

• Don’t forget to check spelling and grammar. We all make mistakes. Like, it would really be embarrassing if I misspelled words in a post warning you to check your spelling. You only have 280 characters for the Twitter post and 600 characters for the web post, so make an effort to impress. If you’re posting a picture with your bio, double check to make sure your name is spelled correctly. I can’t count how many times I’ve fired off an email with the name Uranus because spell check really, really hates me.

Urania will give feedback on any pitches posted on the comments section of this post until October 5 (all pitches will be deleted after that). If you’re on our Facebook page watch out for her Pitch Perfect post encouraging community feedback on your pitch. UPDATE: The comments section is closed and the pitches have been deleted. A big thank you to Urania for fielding so many requests and for all of you who participated. If you didn’t get your feedback, email us and we can send it to you.

Kate Hannigan Gives the Script Room to Breathe

It’s day 6 of our countdown! For those of you prepping your scripts to send to agents and editors, author Kate Hannigan’s advice will help you assess if your GN script has the right beats to carry the story. Thank you, Kate!

Kate Hannigan writes fiction and nonfiction for young readers. Her historical fantasy series CAPE, MASK, and BOOTS (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin) blends graphic novel elements with traditional novel format. Visit Kate online at KateHannigan.com

Graphic Novels and Room to Breathe
 
In my limited experience scripting graphic novels, I’ve had to change my thinking compared with traditional novel writing. With the latter, I might devote a paragraph to a scene and move along, hoping to keep the story trotting at a certain clip. But when working on a graphic novel, I have to change my mindset and really SEE the scene play out, beat by beat. 
 
That’s the joy and the essence of graphic novels: the sequence of images. 
 
So when I have a moment that I want readers to note, I can’t just present a panel and leave it at that. I need to stop, breathe, and let the medium have its moment. Here’s an example of what I mean. It’s from the nonfiction “History Comics” line published by First Second, THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE: RISING FROM THE ASHES.
As the fictive siblings make their way through a burning Chicago of October 8, 1871, they (and we, the readers) see the devastation firsthand. I wanted to note a big moment (among many big moments) when the gasworks went out and the city plunged into darkness. The first time I wrote the scene, it didn’t stand out from the rest of the chaos unfolding. So as I revised, I pushed other items to another page entirely and tried to stretch this scene out, giving it room to breathe.
 
From the perspective of a gaslight looking down on the packed street, we see the flame is on. A couple panels later, that light goes out, and we can imagine what it’s like for those now left to find their way in the darkness of this burning city.
 
I did the same with the ringing bell at City Hall. Leading up to this, across many pages, I layer in the “ding dong” of the bell, sounding a warning to the city. Then when the big moment comes, I devote the full five panels of a page to show that bell coming crashing down. Eyewitness accounts of the fire recorded this as a devastating image. So, I wanted to signal to readers that this was an emotional crisis point. It deserved a good amount of space, room to breathe.
This has been the biggest lesson I’ve learned in graphic novel scripting. And though it probably seems obvious to many writers already, for me, it took a while to understand how important it is to the storytelling. And as for us, the storytellers, giving scenes room to breathe is where the fun is! It’s an opportunity to revel in the sheer joy that comes with stretching out over a highlight or lingering over an emotional touchpoint. 
 
 
 

Don’t forget to check out the newest release in Kate’s historical fantasy series, BOOTS (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). Kate is giving away a signed copy of her graphic novel, THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE: RISING FROM THE ASHES (First Second Books) to one lucky winner. Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win:

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Great Things Are Coming Up

The annual KidLit GN pitch event starts in 11 days! To countdown to pitch day, we’ve invited guest bloggers to provide tips and insights, and some prizes, starting tomorrow until Oct. 6 when our Twitter pitch begins and when our website pitch opens for viewing.

Please note, the opportunity to load your pitches to the website opens at 8 a.m. on October 2 and ends at 11:59 on October 5–all pitches must be in by then to be viewed by agents and editors. 

And as an extra bonus, please don’t forget our Resources page. We’ve added a list of agents and publishers who are looking for graphic novel creators. We do not keep track of their submission policies, however, so do your homework before submitting. 

Keep checking back on the Prizes section, as we’ll be adding to that list. You’ll be able to enter to win prizes for graphic novel courses, critiques and more. 

To keep up to date with our blogposts, please subscribe to our website. And follow us on Twitter, @kidlitgn, and/or join our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/KidLitGN.

Thanks to all who have supported us this far. Good luck everyone!

KidLit GN Donation

We volunteer our time and use our personal funds to run the event, which we are happy to do, however, if you’d like to donate a small sum, it will go to offset the cost of the website and other technical expenses. Thanks.

$5.00