Friday, December 29, 2017

Challenge Yourself in 2018

Here are different writing and art events you can use to challenge yourself this year!
Challenges are Writers (W), Artists (A.), or both (B.) Start planning out your year now.

Did I miss any great challenges? Let me know in the comments below! I believe all these challenges are still running.


W. Storystorm by Tara Lazar starts (previously PiBoIdMo). Get 30 book ideas in 30 days. Sign up late December - early January).

A. #kidlitart on Twitter starts it's PB Dummy Challenge. Challenge lasts 6 months. Last year they mixed things up and did the Build a Portfolio Challenge instead (#BAPC) and also did an Kidlitart Art Challenge (#kidlitart28). Join #kidart on Twitter Thursday nights at 9pm EST for more information!

B. Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 sign up starts and runs through February. Finish 12 picture books in 12 months. Lots of great webinars, prizes and support. Gold members can submit their work directly to editors and agents.


A. Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 starts. Normally this challenge runs in January. This year it runs February 1st - March 2nd. 


W. Chapter Book Challenge (ChaBooCha) runs this month. Hosted by Becky Fyfe. Finish your chapter book in 30 days.

W. Janice Hardy's Revise Your Novel in 30 Days  Get your novel edited in 30 days.

B. Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo) Sign up starts February 15th. Read books to improve your own writing!

W. 50 Precious Words Runs March 2nd - 6th. Hosted by Vivian Kirkfield. Write a 50 word story with a beginning, middle and end.


W. Angie Karchers Rhyme Revolution For the month of April Angie posts a different writing challenge every day. Challenges must be completed daily and posts commented on to win prizes.


W. National Picture Book Writing Week: Write seven picture book manuscripts in one week. Hosted by Paula Yoo.


A. Daisy Yellow Index Card A Day Challenge. In this two month challenge your create one piece of
artwork every day for 61 days.


A. World Watercolor Month  Create 31 Watercolor Paintings in 31 Days. Hosted by the World Watercolor Group founded by Charlie O'Shields.


I couldn't find a challenge that's still running for this month!


A. Smart Dummies starts! Create a Picture Book Dummy in 30 days. Sign up in August 15th through the first week of September. Hosted by yours truly (Dani Duck).

A. Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 catch this one if you missed it in February!


A. Inktober starts (#inktober on Instagram and Twitter). Create 30 inked drawings in 30 days! Created by Jake Parker


W. National Novel Writing Month. Get your Novel written in 30 days!


A. December Watercolor Challenge Hosted by the World Watercolor Group founded by Charlie O'Shields.

Other Challenges

A. Doodle Day This is the challenge that never ends! Started in May 2013 this was meant to be a month long daily drawing challenge. Alison K. Hertz started this not knowing what it was. Now she'll continue hosting this forever just because!

A. Illustration Friday A weekly art challenge. No official sign up needed.

A. Draw This! A monthly challenge (due on the 20th of every month). Hosted by the SCBWI. Participants must be current SCBWI members to win.

B. Sub Six A challenge to submit 6 picture books in a year. Most people submit far more, so it's mostly a support group. Need permission from Alayne Kay Christian, Stacy Stenberg Jensen, or Debbie Bernstein LaCroix to join the Facebook group.

A. 52-Week Illustration Challenge by Nicky Johnston. Create 1 illustration a week for 52 weeks. Participants post their current week's illustrations in the facebook group.

W. Inky Girl's Daily Words Debbie Ridpath Ohi hosts. This is to help writers short on time come up with a regular regiment for writing. There are great badges you can put on your blog for writing as little as 100 or for 15 minutes a day. There is no formal sign up. 

A. Color Collective A weekly art challenge on Twitter based on color.

Want a reading or blogging challenge? Feed Your Fiction Addiction has a huge list of reading challenges as does I'm sure several of the challenges repeat on these, so if you can't find what you are looking for on one the other likely has it!

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Right Tools

I was getting my haircut the other day and my hairdresser (Diane) and I got into a discussion about the tools we use.  I was fascinated by her insight on this, because what we do is so different. Fundamentally hairdressing and art is the same in many ways. You need to have better tools for better results.

These are a few of my favorite brushes!
I generally just use the tallest one (angled)
and the big round brush on the left.
Buying Higher Quality Tools Can Cost Less Overall. This seems counter intuitive. How can I possibly justify spending $100 over $25 on the exact same colors of watercolor paint and paper? The paint tubes may have less in them, and the paper may be the exact same size, but they are not the same! Quality matters over quantity.

1. The Frustration Factor

In my conversation with Diane, I said it might be okay to buy cheaper supplies when starting out. Diane corrected me right there. She said that it doesn't make sense to start out with cheap supplies because if you become frustrated with the limitations of the tools then you won't continue creating art. I know that this is 100% true.

I had some older acrylics that I was attempting to paint with, but unfortunately I was just becoming frustrated with them because they were old and the binder had separated from the colors. I could not get the paints to move across the canvas like I knew they should. It wasn't until I bought new paints that I felt like I could paint. With the frustration gone I was able to create work faster and better.

2. Better Paints Paint Better
One of my paintings that I had trouble with. The darker colors just wouldn't stay on the paper. 

When I first started using Daniel Smith watercolors I just bought one tube of red paint. I didn't have the money to be messing around. What I found was not only did the color flow across the page better, but I was using less of it to cover the page. Since I'm using less paint I'm actually paying less to paint!

3. Substrate is Everything

Okay you get these fancy colors, but you are actually wasting money if you are putting them on cheap paper. I bought a brand that I thought was going to give me good results. I think there was a problem with the sizing on the paper, and this could have been a factory problem, so I'm not going to name the particular brand I used. The problem was the paper got to the point where the paint wasn't soaking into the paper anymore. I wasn't able to add any more color to certain areas! The company I bought it from was able to replace the paper (I paid for the upgrade), but this doesn't make up for the amount of work that went into paintings that aren't usable anymore!

4. Acid Free Isn't Archival

One thing that you might not think about when you're illustrating is how long is your work going to last. You may just want to make work that you create and you don't care what happens after that. If you are buying acid free, know that that it is likely a limited time deal. I've made the decision to use archival for most of my illustrations now because I want them to last a long time after I'm gone. Also the paper I'm going to use most often, because it works so well (Arches), is archival.
My favorite pens!

5. Time is Money

One thing that you need to remember is your time matters. When you are creating something to sell this is so important to consider. Say you paid $10 for your supplies, so selling your work at $20 may seem like a fair price. Well, what if that item took you five hours to create? You are making $2 an hour when you sell your item. I don't know about you, but my time is worth more than $2. Working retail at $7-12 an hour seems like a better deal to me. If your supplies cause you to spend 2-3 times the amount of time on a project than you should spend, then those cheap supplies could be costing you money!


I'm hoping this is something you will consider when buying art supplies! Buying more expensive supplies may just not work for you and that's okay. This is something I want people to consider because it will end up saving you money in the end.

I will make a post about where you can cut on expenses. There is so much in this post already I feel like I've got a lot in this one post. Please ask me questions and remember to enjoy making your art!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Smart Instagram Madness Dummies

If you missed it in the Smart Dummies group: I started an Instagram page for Smart Dummies! The name is @smart_dummies_challenge. If you are already connected through my personal page @dani_duck_art you can get to it there or go to:

I will be taking images from people who are following me on Instagram/have participated in the Smart Dummies Challenge. Use the tag #smartdummieschallenge so I can find you! To get it started I'm looking at all my followers/following to get things started, but hope to switch to the hastag later!  You do not have to be an artist to be featured. You will be tagged so people can find you.  

The main purpose of this is to spread awareness for Smart Dummies. I'm also hoping it can also be used as a way to share tips and techniques. More people are going to look at this than my personal profile because people can submit and get their artwork shared. 

I'm going to try to be very picky for art so everyone gets their best work out there. It has been a bit more than 24 hours and I've gotten 24 followers so far!  Maybe it's not a ton but It happened in a day, so not too bad! I hope we can grow the Smart Dummies event together. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

2018 For All it's Worth!

I know it's early to think about 2018 now, but really it's never to early to plan especially when it has to do with spending! I'm assuming you have a limited budget for what you can do in 2018 so consider these options carefully. Prices are subject to change and are in USD. Normally I wouldn't post prices, but these are to give you a chance to budget for 2018.

Mira Reisberg and the Children's Book Academy offers lots of different options for courses! It doesn't matter if you are a writer or illustrator there is a course here for you. Courses start at under $100! The bigger courses cost a bit more, but offer tons of extras to help you get published. Have you heard of the Chapter Book Alchemist course? It starts at under $250 and offers everything you need to get started writing chapter books. Also the Middle Grade Mastery (which also includes chapter books) course starts soon, so be sure to check that out! 

Mark G. Mitchell offers Group Guest Critiques! Every month you can get your illustration work critiqued by a professional and learn from their experience. Mark has a new person every month and it includes people like Giuseppe Castellano, Nichole Tugeau, and Mira Reisberg (where have I heard this name before? 😊)  These courses are under $30 each, but if you subscribe for the whole year, they are only about $9 a class!

Julie Hedlund offers the 12 x 12 Challenge every year. The challenge is to write 12 picture books in 12 months. This is open to both illustrators and writers. There are webinars and lots of interaction from the community. It's $167 to join. I've been a part of this community for 4 years and couldn't do without it. Want a free pass to get your work past the slush pile and into the hands of real agents and editors? Join the Gold for a bit more and get the opportunity to submit your work to some great professionals! Registration for new members starts in January. Julie also offers some great courses under "Shop" so you can check those out while you wait.

The Picture Book Summit happens every year in October. Miss it this year? Go to the website and sign up for updates: This conference was founded by Katie Davis, Julie Hedlund,  Laura Backes, Emma Walton Hamilton and Jon Bard. It's like a regular writing conference but with a few differences. 1. You do not have to pay for airfare. 2. You do not have to pay for a hotel. 3. You don't have to get dressed in the morning to attend. Otherwise it's just like a full scale writing conference. Last year they had Tomie Depaola, Carole Boston Weatherford and Adam Rex! This for the same price you would pay for a small writer's conference! Sign up now to receive updates for the course and other goodies!

Write On Con This started as a free online conference. It's a bit more than free, but still a wonderful event. Will Taylor, Kat Zhang and Clarissa Wong are a few of the kidlit people at this conference. It's a bit like the event above, but I find that it's not quite as cohesive. Sometimes it's just text on Facebook pages and many of the events are scheduled too close together. It's worth the money, but I'd pay a lot more if all the events were in one place. There is still great information here, and for $5 you can attend the live sessions which is not bad. The link is to the fundraiser page where there are a bunch of options for you to view!

These are just some ideas for you to look forward to next year. I wish I could post more, but it's just so many great things out there. I think I'll do a post later for a lot of challenges in 2018. 

Where are you going to invest your money this year? Anything that I haven't mentioned? Which Courses/Events above have you joined?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Today in the Life of Me

Today I'm scanning in a bunch of images. I've recently started an Instagram account -- or rather I've finally started posting to my Instagram account. You can visit it here: I have a giveaway there. Just need to look for the penguin and seal photo. This is the direct link to the givaway, but it seems to not be working for some people:

I recently did a ton of images for VCON. It's a Fantasy/Sci Fi convention.  Has wonderful information for writers as well as tons of cool things for fans. I highly recommend it for anyone in the Surrey, BC area.

Okay, back to the images. I was working on a ton of them for VCON. My goal was 30, but I knew I wasn't going to make it there. I did really well with all my drawings. I think I had maybe 25 of all different sizes. I only had so much time so that number came down to 20 and then 18.

I hit a huge snag. The watercolor paper I bought wasn't up to snuff, so many of the images ended up ruined. I was very upset. I kept going and worked on some of the lighter images (it was the dark images that were creating a fuss. In the end I only ended up with 12 new images to show and only 5 of them for the 11x14 frames I created. It was nice to display at the show, but sad that most of my images didn't make the trip.

Now: I've scanned all of the images. I had to also reformat them to make sure I can display the images on Instagram correctly. They will all be for sale soon!

I'm not sure how many of my new images will go into my portfolio. I like them all, but mostly just have one character in them all (which really doesn't show off my skills. I will either pick a couple from the series, or put them all in one picture in my portfolio (because series are always good). It's not about the art being good or bad, but the fact that I want more images with people interacting with one another.

I also have a ton of images that I didn't finish for the show that I want to finish. I will be getting the paper for these soon and working on painting them. It is awful that I wasn't able to finish some of my best images, but it's good that I have everything drawn up. That way I can quickly transfer the image onto the paper (I generally use my light table) and go from there. I have a lot of other things I want to share with you guys, but I have said too much for now!

How has your art been going? Have you had any problems in creating your artwork lately? 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Smart Dummies Needs You and a Winner's Badge

Hi Everyone!

I hope you enjoyed Smart Dummies this year! If you have any questions, comments or concerns about this event please contact me!

I could use some help with Smart Dummies next year. I particularly need someone who can help me with emails. If you are able to do this please let me know! I want to be able to keep giving you a great event to come back to next year, but I can't do it on my own.

I realize now that I didn't get the winner's badge up yet. Well here it is! Please make sure you link it to my blog:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Mira's Course Winners!

Here are the winner's for Mira's Courses! Thank you all for participating in Smart Dummies this year. 

Mira Reisberg - A free Photoshop course and a separate prize of a Hero's Art Journey course

1. Photoshop: C.L. Murphy

2. Hero's Art Journey: Heidi Yates

Monday, October 23, 2017

More Big Wins!

So sorry it's taken so long to get these up! Been strapped for time lately.  

1. Emmeline Forestal - Portfolio Review

Julia Maisen

2. Mark Mitchell -  1 Year Subscription to Guest Group Critiques

Suzanne Davis

Tune back in tomorrow to see who won Mira's prizes!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Start of the Big Wins!

I did not get to update on her post until recently, so I wanted to make sure people knew that Chiêu Anh Urban's"Quiet as a Mouse and Other Animal Idioms "will be released January 2018

1. Becky Fyfe Story Cubes 

Julia Maisen

For winners of Smart Dummies:

2. Sophia from Rate Your Story - A Free Speed Pass (1 Time Submission)

Lynette Oxley

3. Yvonne Mes - Picture Book Critique

Danette Byatt

Sunday, October 15, 2017

And More Prizes!

1. Bryony Supper - A copy of The Inventing Tubes

Geralyn Underwood
2. Juana Martinez-Neal a copy of "La Princesa and the Pea"written by Susan Middleton Elya.

Paul Weiner

3. Evelyn  B. Christensen Any one of Evelyn's Books from the Teachers Pay Teachers Resource Site

Kristen Wauson

4. Sharon Chriscoe - An Autographed Copy of "Race Car Dreams" and Swag

Louann Brown

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Prizes and Prizes!

1. Jennifer Adams - Books "My Little Cities London" and "My Little Cities NY"

Cortney Benvenuto
2. Chieu Ahn Urban - two copies of "Color Wonder Hooray for Spring!"

Copy 1: Laura Rackham

Copy 2: David McMullin

3.Shawna Tenney A copy of Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Suzanne Davis 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

More Winners!

More Prizes!

1. Teresa Robeson - Scripta Note Book  (Ruled and Blank Pages) and Fiber Castell Pitt Artist Pen

Louann Mattes Brown

2. Susan Eaddy "My Love for you is the Sun", by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Susan Eaddy and "Poppy’s Best Paper", written by Susan Eaddy and illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet

C.L. Murphy

3. Ben Clanton  - blank book from and copy of Narwhal 

Aijung Kim

I'll be contacting people on Sunday to get their information, but feel free to contact me first here or on social media. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Here are the first few winners!

1. Jennifer Thermes - "Charles Darwin Around the World" book
Phyllis Mignard

2. Leila Nabih An Adaptation of "Little Red Riding Hood"
Brittanny Handiboe

3. Arree Chung - A copy of "Out" by Aree Chung
Heidi Yates

I have not drawn all the names yet so there is still time to sign the oath and comment on posts. 
The list of prizes is here:

I'll be contacting people on Sunday to get their information, but feel free to contact me first here or on social media. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Gift Card Giveaway Winner!

Here is our Gift Card Giveaway Winner:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Keep tuning back here because there is going to be a lot more prizes!

I'll be contacting people on Sunday to get their information, but feel free to contact me first here or on social media. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Winners Coming Soon!

I will post the winner of the gift card tomorrow! Starting Tuesday (if possible) I will start posting the winners. If you have not commented on the prize posts you still have time. All the prizes are listed here: Also remember to sign that Oath before I start drawing prizes: I'll get that winner badge made as well!

Good luck everyone!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Smart Dummies Feedback Survey

How did you like Smart Dummies this year? Is there something we could improve? Is there anything that could be done better? I'd appreciate it if you could fill out this survey below.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Smart Dummies Critique Group Survey

If you have a minute I'd love if you could complete a short 6 question survey. I want to make sure that the critique groups are useful. If you were not put in a critique group this year, then you can skip to question 6 to give your thoughts on improving critique groups.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Smart Dummies Oath!

Here it is! The Smart Dummies oath. If you completed at least 24-30 pages (or 12-15 spreads) CONGRATULATIONS are in order. You have completed the Smart Dummies challenge! Your images just need to be black and white. The images can all be done in pencil. If you did more than good for you! 

Please do not try to send me your Dummies! We are on the honor's system. You MUST COMMENT on this oath in order to be eligible for the big prizes and have registered at the beginning of the event. You MUST comment on the posts of the prizes you want! I posted all the links yesterday. 

Edit: Your dummy does not have to be perfect. You can even say that you will be changing everything. You just need a reasonable draft. Reasonable draft = Clean and clear enough that you can give it to someone for feedback. You can interpret this however you want.

The Smart Dummies Oath: 

I do solemnly swear that I have completed the Smart Dummies challenge. I have completed at least 24 pages (or 12 spreads) for my Picture Book Dummy this month. I understand that lying about this will set my pants on fire. I will do my best get my dummy published.

I will give everyone about a week (Drawings will happen on October 8th and I will begin posting the winners on the 9th ) for people to comment on this and the prize posts. Thank you all for being a part of Smart Dummies this year!

Help out Smart Dummies:

Buy me a coffee from Kofi:

Smart Dummies Shop:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

One Last PRIZE from the Fairy Queen Becky Fyfe!

You have the whole day today to finish up your dummy! Make smart decisions, and clean up those messy lines. Honor system for this year, so be sure to sign the oath tomorrow!

One last prize today:

@%@%@%@%@% PRIZE

One lucky winner will win Story Cubes from Becky Fyfe! 

To win this prize comment on this post to thank Becky for her prize!

Becky Fife is the wonderful founder of the Chapter Book Challenge a challenge in March to help writers to write a Chapter Book in one month. This is a 30 day challenge in March and has a Jr. event that runs at the same time. Becky also is the editor/writer for Melusine Muse Press which creates anthologies such as the Teapot Tales and SuperHERo Tales


Here is a list of the posts with prizes. The guest's name -- prize. The prizes are from the guest unless otherwise noted. Please be sure to comment on posts that don't have prizes as well. This helps guests feel welcome and makes it easier for me to get great posts for next year's event!

1. Mira Reisberg -- A free Photoshop course and a separate prize of a Hero's Art Journey course

2. Mark Mitchell --1 Year Subscription to Guest Group Critiques

3. Susan Eaddy -- "My Love for you is the Sun", by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Susan Eaddy and "Poppy’s Best Paper", written by Susan Eaddy and illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet

4. Leila Nabih -- An Adaptation of "Little Red Riding Hood"

5. Jennifer Thermes -- "Charles Darwin Around the World" book

6. Teresa Robeson -- Scripta Note Book (Ruled and Blank Pages) and Fiber Castell Pitt Artist Pen

7. Emmeline Forestal -- Portfolio Review

8. Ben Clanton -- blank book from and copy of Narwhal 

9. Yvonne Mes -- Picture Book Critique

10. Don Tate -- A copy of "Out" by (and donated by) Aree Chung

11. Jennifer Adams -- Books "My Little Cities London" and "My Little Cities NY"

12. Chieu Ahn Urban -- two copies of "Color Wonder Hooray for Spring!"

13. Elizabeth Rose Stanton -- copies of Henny and Peddles, one each, signed (and will throw in a copy of Bub,too, if the winner is willing to wait until January).

14. Shawna Tenney --A copy of "Brunhilda's Backwards Day"

15.  Traci Van Wagoner -- A copy of The Inventing Tubes by (and donated by) Bryony Supper

16. Juana Martinez-Neal -- A copy of "La Princesa and the Pea"

17. Evelyn B. Christensen -- Any of Evelyn's  Books from the Teachers Pay Teachers Resource Site

18. Katie Davis -- "Race Car Dreams" by (and donated by) Sharon Chriscoe and swag

19. Sophia from Rate Your Story -- A Free Speed Pass (1 Time Submission)

20. Becky Fyfe -- Just scroll up to the top of this post to learn more!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Sophia Gholz's "The Importance of Style" and a Rate Your Story PRIZE!

Sophia Gholz works for the wonderful Rate Your Story! I know many of you reading this have tried out (or at least heard about) Rate Your Story. There is so much that a person needs to know before they are able to adequately judge a story. Sophia's journey lead her on a path that to help her understand style. This is a very important post for those working on your final images and your portfolios! Thank you so much for being here Sophia.

Look for a PRIZE at the end of this post!

The Importance of Style
by Sophia Gholz

I once owned and operated an artist’s agency out of Manhattan. As an agent, I represented fashion photographs, fashion stylists, creative directors and set designers. Though I didn’t work with writers or illustrators then, my experience within the photography industry taught me many things that I would later apply to the literary world. One of the most important tools I learned, was the importance of an artist’s style.

When I worked with my artists in developing and editing their portfolios, it was their style that we always sought to showcase. Not every image or page had to be the same, but there had to be a common thread that tied it all together: a favored color palette, a loved choice of composition, a preferred mood, and so on. I knew my artists could do anything and everything. But, as an agent, I needed a style to sell to editors and advertisers—something special to each artist that our clients would come to them for specifically. So, as we poured over pages of portfolios, we’d chuck aside anything that didn’t fit within that artist’s aesthetic. There were often disagreements—it’s hard to kill your darlings—but a cohesive portfolio was the most important goal.

Whether you’re a writer, an illustrator, or both, keeping your style in mind is essential as you develop your portfolio or package to approach agents and editors. Look at some of your favorite illustrators and writers. Do they have a style that you can pinpoint? Some strong illustrator examples might be: Dan Santat, Jon Klassen and Salina Yoon. As for authors, look at Tara Lazar, Mo Willems or Jane Yolen. As you read their books, you should be able to hear their style through their voice in each story.

When I first began writing for children, I didn’t think about the application of style as a picture book author. I assumed that I could writer anything in any style I chose and that it was only illustrators that had to worry about cohesiveness. But as I began submitting to agents, I quickly discovered how wrong I was. I would send in a manuscript, receive exciting feedback and a request to view more work…and then a rejection. This process happened over and over again. Agents loved my manuscripts separately, but not together. I could not understand it. Then one agent finally responded with: “Although I love your work, your manuscripts are a bit disparate”. It was like I’d been hit over the head with a bat. Of course! An agent liked the style of one manuscript, but disliked the style of the others. If an agent was requesting one type of work, they expected to see similar work. Now this might seem obvious to others, but to a newcomer (like I was then) I’d just assumed I could do it all.

I stopped submitting then and picked a manuscript that I felt best fit my natural voice—a style I wanted to use for other stories—and focused on writing new material. It took me an agonizing amount of time, but I did it. When I came out of my writing cave almost two years later, I had a stack of strong manuscripts at the ready. Within a few months, I was winning contests and a couple months after that, I was signed with an agent. Will my other stories ever see the light of day? Maybe. Maybe not. But you have to start somewhere and the best place to begin is with a strong voice or style that is unique and true to you.

Author bio:

Sophia Gholz is a 2017 recipient of a Florida SCBWI Rising Kite Award. She is the owner and managing editor for, an online service for writers. In addition, she works as a creative copywriter and has written and edited for television. Sophia is an active member of both the Florida Writer's Association and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

For more about Sophia, visit: or find her on Twitter @sophiagholz.

Rate Your Story is an online critique service where writers receive feedback from published authors. For more about Rate Your Story, visit their website, stop by the RYS Facebook page or find RYS on Twitter @rateyourstory.


Sophia is giving out a Rate Your Story Speed Pass to be used on or before December 31st, 2017.*

In order to win this prize you must:

1. Finish your dummy this month.
2. Comment on this post and let Sophia how much you liked her post!

*A RYS Speedpass includes a manuscript rating plus comments.
Note: Comments do not include line edits.
For more information on Rate Your Story, Speed Passes or Submission Guidelines, click here:

Friday, September 29, 2017

Writing Guru Katie Davis and a PRIZE from Sharon Chriscoe!

When I first met Katie Davis she bought me a coffee and a cookie. It was a wonderful cup of coffee but the cookie was plastic. Katie made the coffee shop owner apologize. I never did get a cookie that day. That's exactly what will happen the day I meet Katie Davis! (Look at Katie's picture--she obviously thinks it's funny).

Katie's Brain Burps Podcast was absolutely wonderful (I'm sorry to see it go!) You can listen to old podcasts here! Her new podcast Writing for Children is here! Katie and her husband have taken over the Institute for Writers and the Institute of Children's Literature! Her book Kindergarten Rocks is the book in the photo. Katie is one of the organizers of the Picture Book Summit and awesome at-home writer's conference. Today is the last day to sign up! Hopefully I've done a good job of sharing this elsewhere, so if you are joining you aren't doing this in a rush! You can also sign up for their free Top 10 Tips download here:

Look for a PRIZE at the end of this post!


Dani: What is the most important thing you learned from hosting the Brain Burps Podcast?

Katie: Maybe not surprisingly, the most important thing I learned is related to writing on a regular basis. How? Muscle memory. Sitting down week after week to record the show made me better and better. Same goes for writing. Keep at it, keep doing it, every day, week after week, and you'll improve. Gotta get that butt in the chair!

Dani: How did you get involved with the Institute of Writers/ Institute of Children's Literature?

Katie: I was on faculty at a Highlights Founders Workshop and heard it was closing after almost 50 years of teaching. I know so many writers who learned through the school and subsequently got published, I thought it was a tragedy for it to close! I talked to my husband about it, and we set out to learn more. The thing that pushed us over the edge into taking it over is that there is no other writing school like it out there, even though there are so many now. You get a one-to-one instructor (like having your own editor!), and the content-rich courses are approved by the Office of Higher Education, and you can get college credits.

Dani: What are some of the things that those involved in kidlit should know?

Katie: Take your craft seriously. Make sure that people from whom you're learning really know their stuff, and have legit street cred. Stick with it if you love it. Read, read, read traditionally published books, especially in the genre in which you want to publish - whether you plan on traditional or self-publishing.

Dani:  How have all the things you do inform your own work?

Katie: Everything gives me ideas. I read an article in the NYT about an Irish road crew who refused to take down a tree in order to build the road because the tree was rumored to be a fairy lair. I wrote The Curse of Addy McMahon, a middle grade novel about a girl who blames all her bad luck on an Irish grandad who may have done just that. When my daughter graduated kindergarten she said, "Kindergarten rocks!" And that sparked my biggest selling picture book, Kindergarten Rocks! I am a complete dentalphobe (!), so I wrote Mabel the Tooth Fairy and How She Got Her Job.You just need to keep your mind open to everything you do. What's in the world around you? What impassions you?

Dani: Tell us a little bit about the Picture Book Summit that's coming up.

Katie: If you want to write, or are writing picture books, you are not going to want to miss this. It's going to be amazing!

If you attend you'll get the opportunity to submit to a bunch of the agents and editors who have participated in our pre-recorded interviews. I love these sessions because although editors and agents have different questions from each other, we ask the same questions to each group, so you get to hear many different takes on the same issue.

We have the best of the best: legendary author/illustrator Tomie dePaola (talk about your life informing your work!), the New York Times best-selling author Carole Boston Weatherford, whose book's have received three Caldecott Honor Medals, multiple Coretta Scott King awards and honors, two NAACP Image Awards...I could go on. And for our wrap-up keynote, Adam Rex, whose bio sends me into giggles every time: "Adam Rex wrote and/or illustrated all the books you like including the New York Times bestselling Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, the New York Times bestselling School’s First Day of School, and also a number of titles about which the New York Times has been strangely coy."

We also have workshops, and our unique, oddball feature, we dance––it IS an all-day, online conference so we decided to make it fun and get everyone moving during breaks. Yes, it's all online! That's one of the key things about Picture Book Summit. It's a jam-packed, one day conference (always the first Saturday in October). No planes to take, hotel stays, and no rubber chicken meals in order to attend.

I feel so, so lucky to be in this business. You need to work hard, study, and not give up. Persistence is key, and a thick skin. Revision, passion, and love of the written word will take you through rejections and the harder days ... at least it has for me. (That, and those dark chocolate covered caramels with sea salt––but that's a whole other story.) Whether you come to Picture Book Summit, attend the Institute of Children's Literature, or learn on your own, study the craft. Work hard at it. It's worth it.

Dani: Do you have any other words of wisdom to share?

Katie: Whether you come to Picture Book Summit, attend the Institute of Children's Literature, or learn on your own, study the craft. Work hard at it. It's worth it. Remember you've chosen a tough but lovely business to be in. Oh, yes. It's a business, please do remember that, too-lots of folks seem to forget since it's so much fun.  

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One lucky winner will win An Autographed Copy of "Race Car Dreams" illustrated by Dave Mottram and written by Sharon Chriscoe and Swag! Sharon Chriscoe donated this prize!  Visit Sharon's Website here:

To win this prize you must have completed your dummy this month.

Let Katie know how much you liked her post below, and let Sharon Chriscoe know how much you love her prize!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Evelyn B. Christensen, Lady of Logic and a PRIZE!

I absolutely adore Evelyn B. Christensen's work. One thing you may not know about me is that I was homeschooled. Evelyn's books are the kind I wish I had to learn from when I was young. She has a wonderful gift in making learning fun! Be sure to check out Evelyn's webpage for sample puzzles you can print and solve also be sure to visit her store at this link: ( to see all of the lovely books Evelyn has created!

Be sure to check the end of this post for a PRIZE!


Hi to all you wonderful illustrators! I’ll admit I was a little intimidated by Dani’s request that I provide a post for Smart Dummies. I don’t claim to be an illustrator and am in awe of those of you who are.

A bit about my background. A former teacher, I love to create resources to make learning fun. I’ve authored, or co-authored, forty-four puzzle books published by educational publishers. I actually did create the drawings for eight of those. But my illustrations were just simple line drawings, without color or background, so I still don’t consider myself an illustrator. I also have created the covers, and any needed illustrations, for the puzzle books I’ve self-published on Teachers Pay Teachers.

I’ve had one picture book published, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Kentucky, by Sterling Children’s Books. Kent Culotta was the illustrator for it and I think he did a great job. I’m sure that illustrators appreciate the fact that, in general, authors don’t get to have any input in the illustration process. However, this book, although it’s fiction, is intended to provide information about Kentucky. Since Kent didn’t live in Kentucky, my editor wanted me to check his sketches and his final art for accuracy. I tried to stick to just factual feedback. I did say, in an aside to my editor, that I wasn’t a fan of Kent’s noses, but that I understood that was his artistic style and I wasn’t suggesting that they ask him to change it. I’m just saying this to remind you that, no matter how wonderful your art is, not everybody is going to like every aspect of it. People simply have different tastes. So if you’ve not gotten positive responses from agents or editors, don’t get discouraged. Maybe your style just isn’t the style for those particular agents and editors. Please keep trying.

I do want to mention a couple of publication avenues you may want to consider, if you haven’t already.

  • Educational publishers. Many authors and illustrators have found that it’s easier to break into publishing with the education market than with the trade market. These are usually work-for-hire contracts. Some pay better than others. Once you get in with a publisher, they may offer you repeat assignments. If you’re interested in this type of work, I maintain a list on my website of Educational Markets.
  • Children’s magazines. These will generally not pay as well as books, but if you’re unpublished, this can be a way to build your resume. Also, if you’re wanting to reach children with your work, some magazines have a bigger readership than you’ll get with some picture books. If you’re interested in illustrating for children’s magazines, I offer a free ezine, published quarterly, on my website and maintain a list of children’s magazines with links to their submission guidelines.

A bit more about my own illustration journey. Recently, I decided that I wanted to self-publish one of my picture books for my grandchildren. Since I obviously wanted to do more than simple black and white line drawings, I signed up for a graphics design course. (In Kentucky you can take free university courses when you reach 65. Yay!) It turned out my instructor was the grown-up kid who’d lived next door to us when my kids were little. Yay! Since I was auditing the course, he let me work on whatever project I wanted, which, of course, was illustrating my picture book. I’m not quite finished with my project, but what working on it has taught me is that illustrating picture books is not easy. My respect for all of you who do it has grown tremendously!

Dani asked if I could donate a prize. I’m offering to two lucky people the choice of any of my books on my Teachers Pay Teachers site. Many of the books posted there were originally published by traditional publishers, but had gone out of print. When the winners let me know their choice, I’ll email them a pdf file of the book. (So, you’ll need to have the ability to open a pdf file on your computer.)

Best wishes with your Smart Dummies challenge!


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Evelyn is giving away one (your choice) of the puzzle books and resources she have posted on Evelyn's Teachers Pay Teachers site! She'll send you a .pdf of the book of your choice --

To win this prize you must:

Comment below and tell Evelyn how much you like her post! 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Betsy Bird's "How My Jobs Have Influenced My Own Writing"

Betsy Bird is such a character. Her blog is a lot of fun and has so much great kidlit information. She also does everything with a bit of humor. And sometimes she You can visit her blog here:      If reading is too much for you (ha, ha) then you can watch her at fuse8 tv here: If you can't bother to watch something you can also listen to her podcast (with Kate) here: If you can't be bothered to even listen then go to bed. You are tired and I don't want any grumpy people to read my blog. 😜

Betsy also has books. "Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever." just came out back in May. It was written by various authors and edited by our very own Betsy Bird.  "Wild Things: Acts of Michief in Children's Literature" by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter D. Sieruta. "Giant Dance Party" Illustrated by Brandon Dorman

How My Jobs Have Influenced My Own Writing
By Betsy Bird

My daughter is six. She is wise in the ways of the world (or so she tells me). Still, I’m grateful that once in a while she’ll ask for some clarification on a point or two. The other day she sat me down and wanted to know precisely what my chosen profession was when I was her age.

“Honestly,” I said, “I wanted to be a writer.”

“And now you are,” she said with a smile. It was so strange how she put it, and something about the ease with which she summed up my life made me want to qualify everything.

“Yes . . . but I wasn’t for a long time.” I explained that I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid but when I got older I honestly thought it wasn’t a practical profession. How do you pay the water bill as a writer? The gas bill? The electric? It wasn’t that I didn’t know writers who made a living that way. My own aunt penned YA literature before there even was a YA literary market, after all. I just had a hard time conceiving it as a reality. So I put that dream aside. Buried it deep. Let it rest.

And to a certain extent, I credit my drive to hold onto the jobs I have now to that rest period. If I’d spent my college career obsessed with being the Next Great American Novelist I would have driven myself mad. Instead, by letting my dream slumber and snore, my desire to write had to emerge in other ways. I started blogging, sometimes daily, to get my voice out into the world. I modeled my reviews on those in the New York Times, later getting the chance to write a couple for the Times myself. I wrote blog posts for my workplaces and penned articles for periodicals.

But I still got a normal 9 to 5 job. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is probably the thing that influenced my writing the most. As a children’s librarian I found myself with a front row seat to the most fascinating show in the world: children’s opinions. Do enough preschool storytimes and work enough children’s reference desks and you’ll begin to understand children’s books in entirely new ways. There is no substitute for dealing directly with children.

I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if it weren’t for those jobs that actually make me money. I’ve been fantastically lucky in my chosen professions. Thanks to them, I’ll never run out of ideas, never run out of inspiration, never run out of new things to try. My answer when people ask me to explain how my jobs have influenced my writing? Without my jobs there wouldn’t be any writing. And that’s a pretty lucky thing to finally realize.


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Fuse TV:

Smart Tip: Use your remaining days to polish your drafts up a bit. Erase stray lines, or use a light board to re-draw the image.