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Month: July 2017

WWTS Update: Sam Altmann

Sam Altmann was the lucky recipient of a mentorship with Stacy McAnulty in the Writing With the Stars contest.  Here is what Sam had to say about her experience. 


I am infinitely grateful to Tara and Becky for hosting this contest, and to the incredible Stacy McAnulty for choosing me and my work. We now have a dedicated Stacy bookshelf in our home library, and are eagerly awaiting the release of Brave.

Stacy and I connected immediately, and set up a plan for the next few months. Our goal was to have three polished manuscripts and a kick-ass query letter. Initially, I sent her my top manuscripts, and she weeded through and shared her thoughts on marketability. That was the first thing I learned; you can write a humorous, grammatically correct, well-paced picture book, but without that “hook”, it’s probably going to remain in your practice pile. And that’s okay.

Genius writing ability aside, one of the many other reasons I was so thrilled to work with Stacy was her approach to editing and revising. She pushed for big revisions when something wasn’t working, and, at times, we needed to completely overhaul a manuscript. I learned to look at character motivation, plot, and pacing from so many different angles. For certain manuscripts, I wrote three or four different endings before choosing the one that fit the best. Sometimes we would think something was working, but in the end, it just wasn’t right. So we’d start again.

I am happy to say that we met our goal of having three polished manuscripts and a strong query letter. But the most important thing I learned is to always keep writing. Again, some manuscripts might live in the practice pile, but others may just become “the one”.

I am so appreciative of Stacy’s infinite patience during this mentorship. Under her guidance, I feel as though the quality of my writing has improved, and I have a better knowledge of marketability and industry insight. It’s a tough industry, but I feel so lucky to have someone as brilliant as Stacy in my corner.

Stacy was the muse behind the contest and so I want to triple thank her for all she has done to pay it forward.  Be on the lookout for her next two books. Brave, the companion book to Beautiful, is out October 3, 2017 (illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vreithoff) and Earth on Jan. 23, 2018 (illustrated by David Litchfield).


WWTS update: Melanie Ellsworth

Melanie Ellsworth was the recipient of a free picture book writing mentorship with the amazing Beth Ferry in our Writing with the Stars contest.  Here is what Melanie had to say about the experience. 

Sometimes writers need a little kick in the pants.  Sometimes we need clarity. Sometimes we just need someone to believe in our work. With Beth Ferry, I got all three – and more. With help from her sharp editorial eyes, I now have three picture books I am happy to send out in the big, wide world. And I have a renewed desire to dig out all those old, shelved manuscripts. Maybe I can prod them into shape using Beth’s amazing editorial tips.


Here are some of my favorite Beth tips (paraphrased):

  • Make them care! Add heart! Ask yourself, “Why do we care about this friendship? Why do we want to read this book again?”
  • Imagine that you’re reading your story to a group of kids. How would they react?
  • Try reading already published books to groups of kids. Choose some picture books you love, and some you don’t. What do kids like about them?
  • Keep your sentences short. Try the no-wrap rule. If your sentence wraps onto the next line when you’re typing, break it into 2 or more sentences.
  • Remember that agents and editors may not read past your 2nd Make them want to! What are you writing that will knock their socks off? Agents will say NO unless they can’t say NO.
  • Write every idea you have. The writing will be good practice.
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone for one of your books. Give yourself some parameters. Try to write that 200-word book with a universal theme even if your happy spot is 700 words.
  • There are still lots of challenges after you are published! (See – there’s a plus side to being pre-published.) You might get harsh reviews; Barnes and Noble might not carry your book; an illustrator might not want to illustrate your work; etc. There are 100 ways to feel bad about yourself as a writer. So – enjoy this time of writing freedom. Rejections are a chance to develop that thick skin that you are going to need when you’re published. Sorry, folks. The self-doubt never ends!
  • When you’re reading a picture book, ask yourself, why does this satisfy me? This will give you insight into what works and what doesn’t. Which line in a story makes you happy?
  • Consider what librarians want. Write a story with them in mind.
  • Attack a different layer each time you revise. It could take 10 drafts just to get the story arc and plot right. Then make sure the heart is there. Finally, make sure each word is the just-right word.
  • Again – it’s all about heart! A reader has to care about at least one thing in your story – maybe a character, maybe something else.
  • You know you’re a writer when you see ideas and stories everywhere!

Working with Beth was like taking a university writing course. I still can’t believe it was free. As Beth says, it all comes down to heart. And Beth gave so much of hers! I can’t thank her enough for the enthusiastic coaching. And many thanks to Tara for offering this contest. “Writing with the Stars” is aptly named! Be sure to pick up Beth’s wonderful picture books. PIRATE’S PERFECT PET is a favorite in my house.

My heartfelt thanks,

Melanie Ellsworth


Thank you again to Beth for your amazing generosity. As always I ask that we support these authors! Give them reviews, buy their books, tell your librarians!  I am very excited to see her next book, A Small Blue Whale illustrated by Lisa Mundorff, due out October 24. 

WWTS Update: Lauren Soloy

Lauren Soloy won a mentorship with Lori Richmond in the Writing With the Stars contest. I asked Lauren to share some of her experience. 

The months I spent under Lori’s mentorship were some of the most productive, educational, and exciting weeks of my life. It was so incredible having someone to answer ALL of my many, many questions – someone who has been through it before, and who was completely willing to be honest and open (and also very, very patient!)

The format we decided on was to meet over Skype for an hour every other week, with lots of emails in between. We decided right off the bat that we would spend the first three sessions (over 6 weeks) going over my dummies and getting them ready for submission.  This was such a wonderful process, as Lori’s experience at thinking through page turns and pacing was invaluable. She was also open to reviewing some of my less-polished manuscripts, and gave me lots to think about as I go through the revisions (which I’ll be doing for a while!) 


The next three sessions we mainly focused on the submission process itself, so Lori helped me get organized, write query letters, and figure out how to navigate each agent’s submission processes. By the end of the mentorship, I was actually hitting send on my first-ever round of submissions. I would never have gotten there as quickly as I did without all of Lori’s help – I had originally been planning on beginning the submission process by the end of 2017, and I was full of apprehensions and questions about the whole process.  Lori not only had me submitting in April, but just knowing that she believed in me gave me a huge boost of confidence. Also, now that I’ve been through it, I am far less intimidated by the whole thing!


At the same time, we began the second track of sending out illustrated postcards to various publishers and art directors. Again, Lori helped me figure out how to organize these submissions, and also helped me figure out an image to use for my postcards, and cheered me on as I prepared to mail them out.


Now I feel much more confident, and have a pretty good idea of my next couple of steps.  Also, I have systems in place for submitting to both agents and publishers, which is an incredible feeling. I am so grateful to Tara and Becky for starting this contest, and to Lori, for everything! Maybe the best part of all is, I have a wonderful new friend!

You can see Lauren’s craft at https://www.meandmypencil.com/

Thank you again Lori for your generosity and participation. Lori’s next book, Bunny’s Staycation (Mama’s Business Trip) is due out in February 2018 and looks adorable.