Publishing #kidlit in a Pandemic, part 3: 10 Qs for Lauren Kerstein and 10+ excellent tips on craft!

Happy September pandemic Book Birthday to Lauren Kerstein and ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOOD NIGHT (Two Lions/ Illus. Nate Wragg) We first talked to Lauren Kerstein last year about her debut picture book, ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE MAKE WAVES, so I’m very curious to see how this pandemic book birthday compares.

But FIRST, let’s celebrate this adorable new bedtime Rosie & Charlie title and ask Lauren a few questions about craft:

Rosie the dragon’s bedtime routine has been a little bumpy lately. But not to worry! Charlie is prepared with everything he needs to help guide his pet dragon (and best friend) to a peaceful night’s sleep… How hard could tucking your pet dragon into bed be…?

Q 1. Hooray for your second Rosie the Dragon and Charlie title! Writing the sequel often adds more pressure than writing the first book. Did you lose any SLEEP over this manuscript? (See what I did there?)

Lauren Kerstein: HAHA! You are a punny, punny woman and I LOVE it!

I didn’t actually lose sleep over this one because in a strange, round-about way, it was already written. The Good Night book was actually the first book I wrote in this series. I had to SIGNIFICANTLY revise it, which was a tad daunting, but I really felt like Rosie and Charlie’s voices and reactions were so much a part of me by the time I revised it, that it went pretty smoothly overall (as far as revisions go).

What would Rosie do?

Lauren Kerstein: Creating bedtime-vocabulary word banks, and lists of expressions that Charlie might use really helped. I also kept asking myself, “What would Rosie really do in this situation?” Finally, I dug into my memories of bedtime with my children, and with children with whom I’d worked (I’m a child and family psychotherapist). And let me tell you, those memories were gold!

Q 2. What was the inspiration for ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOOD NIGHT?

Lauren Kerstein: In 2016, I read a fabulous post about structure by Tammi Sauer during ReFoReMo. Then, during NAPIBOWRIWEE, I challenged myself to write books in different structures. So… Good Night began as a “how to” book and was about putting your mommy to bed. I thought it would be hilarious if the tables were turned and a child had to tackle the bedtime bumps we tackle as parents. With fabulous feedback from critique partners, Rate Your Story, my agent, and my editor, this book evolved into the character-focused series it is today. I let my Jersey-girl humor fly free, included actual tips and skills, and named my beloved characters. Through it all, the heart and voice remained the same.

Check out the book trailer here! 

Q 3. When do you know a manuscript is ready to submit? How do you know when to say, “Good night”? ; )

Lauren Kerstein: What a dreamy question, Erin! I don’t have a clear-cut answer because this varies from manuscript to manuscript. In general, I use the following criteria to determine whether or not a manuscript is ready to submit:

  1. Have three or more of my trusted and amazing critique partners given it a yay?
  2. Does it flow smoothly when I read it outloud?
  3. Have I let it “rest” for at least 24-36 hours (and usually longer) so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes one last time?
  4. Did I comb through every single word? Did each word earn its right to remain in the manuscript? Did I choose the BEST words possible?
  5. Did I have someone (usually one of my daughters) read it out loud to me? As Jane Yolen says, “The eye and the ear are different listeners.”

       If all of those questions receive a resounding, “yes,” then it is ready!

Q 4. Since you’re in the middle of #RevisionWeek, are there some tips you might share with those in revisions right now?

Lauren Kerstein: Ooooh, I am bursting with tips right now.

You can check them out at: https://laurenkerstein.wordpress.com/

Here are a few of Lauren Kerstein’s

current favorite

revision strategies:

  1. Print out the manuscript, find fun colored pens, and write all over it. What’s working? What’s not? Circle verbs that can be stronger. Underline lines that can be funnier or more emotionally resonant.
  2. Save a new draft each time you revise. That will give you the freedom to “kill more darlings” since you know the old words are still there.
  3. If you are second-guessing something in your manuscript, then an agent or editor will too. Revisit and revise those moments that leave you wondering.
  4. Create a “juicy word wheel” with synonyms that might come in handy for your manuscript.
  5. Check each spread to be sure you left LOTS of “white space” for the illustrator.

Publishing #kidlit in a pandemic:

Q 5. Congrats on your successful virtual book launch with Second Star to the Right! Any tips for other authors who are launching books this year? 

Lauren Kerstein: I highly recommend partnering with a local bookstore for your launch. I reached out to one of my local Indies, Second Star to the Right Books, and I loved working with them. They were terrific behind the scenes as Nate Wragg (my illustrator) and I prepared for Rosie and Charlie’s Big Bedtime Birthday Bash.

ED: Note the catchy book release name, friends…

Lauren Kerstein: There are definitely pros and cons for each virtual platform. A secure platform is MOST important. Second Star uses Google Meet and I loved the fact that I could see some of my audience. This helped me gauge interest and engagement, which was really helpful. I think it also enabled me to more effectively interact with everyone.

No matter the platform you use, I suggest sending out tech tips specific to your platform in case people have trouble and need something to reference.

Q 6. How does launching a book in the Pandemic compare to the debut of your first book in June 2019?

Lauren Kerstein: In June 2019, Nate and I launched Rosie the Dragon and Charlie Make Waves in-person at a local bookstore. While that was INCREDIBLE, I must admit that in some ways, I liked launching virtually better than launching in person. I mean, nothing can take the place of face-to-face interactions, but the fact that people were able to join from all over was really wonderful. I was also thrilled Nate and I could launch together again despite the pandemic.

I planned activities and ways to interact, just like I did for the in-person launch. I also tried to use the virtual platform to my advantage and share slides and graphics that I may not have been able to as effectively share in person. I suppose the biggest missing piece—besides hugs—was face painting… (OH, and candy). I’ll have to ponder that for my February launch. Perhaps the first 20 people to register will receive a swag bag (with treats) before the big launch party.

Pondering…

Pondering…

Q 7. How can readers and fans help spread the book love during these crazy times?

Lauren Kerstein: What a wonderful question! There are so many ways to spread book love during this time (without spending money).

  • Goodreads: If you have a Goodreads account, you can mark books as “want to read.”
  • You can also “vote” to add books to lists in Listopia on Goodreads. I happened to notice there’s a list called “Picture Books About Dragons.”

Hmmm… I might know a book for that list! https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/84854.Picture_Books_About_Dragons

And, here’s another great list: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/111973.Picture_Books_of_2020. I might know a few books for that list! (Hint: One of them might have the word EARTH in the title!)

  • Reviews: Leaving reviews for books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc is SUPER helpful!
  • Social Media/Build Buzz: Sharing book love on social media is always a wonderful thing! Include pictures and #hashtags. Pictures can help your post break through social media noise. For example: I might tweet about DEAR EARTH…FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN ROOM 5. OH wait! I did! Yay! Check it out here: https://twitter.com/LaurenKerstein/status/1304494012837949441
  • Library: Check books out of your library (and pick them up curbside). You can also fill out the online form at your local library requesting they purchase books.

There are so many ways to help without spending money. And of course, if you want to buy the books (ALL THE BOOKS), that’s excellent too.

Q 8. Tell us a bit about your next book, HOME FOR AWHILE.

I am so excited to talk about HOME FOR A WHILE (Illustrated by Natalia Moore/Magination Press). This book is straight from my therapist’s heart. I can’t wait for you to meet Calvin!

Calvin wants to trust, but is afraid to open his heart. HOME FOR A WHILE is a book about a little boy in foster care who wants to find a place he can call home, for a while. It’s a book about seeing your strengths, increasing self esteem, and building emotion regulation skills.

Calvin will move into bookshelves on February 2, 2021. It is available for preorder at your local Indie bookstores or on Amazon.

Dear pre-published Lauren…

Q 9. Now that you have THREE titles in the queue—and more on the way—what advice would you give to pre-published Lauren that you didn’t know before?

Lauren Kerstein: I’d say:

“Hey you– yes, YOU, the one typing out words without receiving critiques and thinking they are surely going to grab an editor and… Go! Go! Go! Straight to bookshelves.

NO!

Writing is NOT a solo journey! You cannot write in a vacuum!”

(“P.S. If you want to continue writing in rhyme, you better study how to do it well. This stinks!”)

Then I’d say:

“Okay, now join SCBWI, Julie Hedlund’s 12x12PB Challenge, and a critique group immediately! Hone your craft with writing classes, read TONS of recent books in your genre, and put manuscripts away for a while before you send them out.

Patience and persistence will propel you forward, NOT nearly-ready submissions.

And finally, I’d say:

“Not every manuscript will make it out of your computer and onto bookshelves. But every book will make you a better writer!”

(This one is tough to accept, but SO true!)

You can learn more about Lauren and her books on LaurenKerstein.net 

and follow her on Twitter: @LaurenKerstein and Instagram: laurenkerstein

Lauren Kerstein: Thank you! And thank you for having me on your blog! I absolutely cannot wait for your latest book, Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5, to come out in December!

ED: Aw, Thank YOU Lauren! And since you mentioned it…

Q 10.  If Rosie and Charlie could write a letter to the Earth, what would they say?

Dear Earth,

Rosie and I are so sad people haven’t been more careful. I’ve written a list of all of the ways we can help you, and Rosie and I are up for the challenge! Rosie’s even promised to use less water in her baths, and to recycle all of her gummy skunk wrappers.

We want to help you heal!

We love you.

Sincerely,

Rosie and Charlie

Excellent.

They can join the Earth Heroes club any time!

Stay safe, friends.

Next week we’ll talk to Ann Marie Stephens about picture books + Math and publishing #kidlit in a pandemic. part 4. 

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