Sunday, October 23, 2011

Does your little girl or someone you know play the violin?

Please consider my newly released picture book, The Doll Violinist, as a gift for her this Christmas!

Here's a short blurb:

Five days before Christmas, Emma is captivated by a doll in a shop window. Each day, she sneaks out of the orphanage to check if it’s been sold, but the shop owner, Madame Dubois, sends her away. Will the magic of Christmas bring Emma, Madame Dubois, and the doll violinist together?

*ABC's Children's Picture Book Finalist!
*Honorable Mention Award in the 75th Annual Writers Digest Writing Competition!

The book is available in paperback, hardcover, ebook and soon as an Apple app with audio!

The publisher's link is:



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review: The Adventures of Zeppi: New Friends (book 1)

The Adventures of Zeppi: New Friends (book 1)

By C.K. Omillin

Children’s picture book, 24 pages, $15.55

In the middle of the night, a mysterious red truck races down Happy Town. Its cargo? Cages filled with penguins on their way to be shipped to another country. Suddenly the doors fling open and one cage rolls down the street and lands in a garden. From it, a little penguin steps out fearfully, awed at the world around him. Up until now, he has only known the constraints of the zoo.

In the morning, a boy named Alesdor discovers him and decides to keep him. Naturally, they immediately click and become the best of friends. Though the little penguin, Zeppi, is heartbroken from being separated from the rest of his family, he finds warmth and affection in Alesdor, who is as anxious for a friend as his new companion.

This children’s book by first-time Belgian author C.K. Omillin put a smile on my face throughout; not only because it’s about a penguin (and who doesn’t love penguins?), but because the story is sweet and weaves elements of friendship, family and ecological, planet-friendly values. This is the first instalment in The Adventures of Zeppi series and the beginning of their escapades. The adorable illustrations in soft pastel colors complement the story perfectly. This isn’t the standard picture book for 3-7 year olds that has short text and includes artwork on almost every page, but rather a picture book for slighter older kids (ages 6-9), who can handle longer stories. Still, there are 13 illustrations in this book, many of them spot illustrations.

I’m really looking forward to reading the next book in the series. The Adventures of Zeppi is sure to become a favourite of children, especially those who love penguins. C.K. Omillin is definitely an author to keep your eye on.

Find out more at

Read my interview with author C.K. Omillin on Blogcritics.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How to Get Started as a Picture Book Author

10 Tips on How to Get Started as a Picture Book Author

By Mayra Calvani

I love writing picture books. They’re like quick candy. I love the rush of finishing a complete first draft in one sitting. For this reason, I’m always writing new picture books while I work on a long novel. However, writing picture books and getting them published take a lot of hard work, persistence and determination. It isn’t only about talent—though that is important, too.

In this article, I’ll give you ten tips on how to get started as a picture book author.

1. Dream big.

It starts with a dream. When you dream, you set your intention. This makes the wheel of the universe start turning in your direction.

Imagine yourself receiving the call from an agent or editor. Imagine yourself signing your first contract, your hand trembling with excitement over the page. Imagine yourself as a published author, doing a signing at your local Barnes & Noble, the line of fans reaching all the way out to the street. Imagine yourself accepting a prestigious literary award in front of a huge, clapping audience.

Never stop dreaming.

2. Read critically.

A lot. I’m not talking about 2 or 3 picture books a month. I’m talking about going to the library each week and reading at least a dozen books. I’m talking about planning a 2-3 hour reading marathon each month and gobbling up 30 books in one sitting. How much do you want to become a published author? That’s how much you’ll have to read.

Pay special attention to the techniques and formats of published picture book authors. What is the point of view of the story? How soon is the conflict introduced? How bad does it get for the character? What strong verbs does the author use? How does the character solve the problem? How is the message or theme of the story presented to the reader? Is there a twist at the end?

Great writing is always great writing, but keep in mind that styles and trends change and this applies to picture books. Older picture books written twenty or thirty years ago will usually have a lot more ‘telling’ and exposition than what is accepted today. If you want to know what editors want these days, focus on those books written within the last five years or so.

3. Study the craft.

Writing great picture books isn’t only a skill. It’s an art form. How do you expect to write a publishable story if you don’t know its elements, if you’ve never studied the craft? Can you drive a car blindfolded? Can you pass a calculus exam if you’ve never studied the subject? Just being a mother or grandmother doesn’t qualify you as a children’s writer.

· Study books on the subject. Writing Picture Books, Ann Whitford Paul, and Picture Writing, by Anastasia Suen, are two books you should thoroughly dissect and keep on your shelf. There are others, but in my opinion, these two are the best.

· Take an online class or a course. Anastasia Suen, author of over 100 children’s books, offers an intensive picture book workshop on her website, Another great place to check out for courses is the Institute of Children’s Literature at

The art of writing picture books, or any type of books, for that matter, is an ongoing process. Be prepared to keep learning, improving and evolving as a writer all your life.

4. Write.

Preferably everyday, but if that’s not possible, strive for a minimum of 2-3 writing sessions a week. Make a habit. The more you write, the easier it becomes and the better it gets. Can a violinist get better at playing by practicing only a few times a year? Can a runner win the gold medal by running only a few miles a month? (And yes, getting published by a top NY house IS like winning a gold medal!)

Writing isn’t any different. Don’t obsess over one single story. I’ve known aspiring authors who’ve been working on the same story for years without writing any new ones. Editing is essential, but so is producing new work if you want to succeed as a published author. Besides, editors and agents don’t like one-work authors. If an editor or agent becomes interested in your manuscript, then asks “So what else do you have,” what are you going to say: “Hmm, nothing” or “I have completed and polished 5 other stories.”

5. Edit.

We all know the saying, “Great work isn’t written. It’s rewritten.” It’s absolutely true. After writing a first draft, put it aside for a while (at least 3 weeks) so you can distant yourself from it. Then go back to it and edit it.

As a writer, you’re your own worst editor, which is why it is so important to have a set of objective eyes look over your manuscript—but, please, not your mother or sister or best friend (unless they’re published authors and knowledgeable in the craft). Join a critique group especially for picture books. A middle-grade or YA writer may not be familiar with the elements that make a great picture book (more about critique groups below).

Always strive for great. Don’t settle for good or very good. That’s not enough in the competitive field of picture book publishing.

6. Submit.

If you don’t submit, your manuscript will never see publication. Don’t be afraid of rejection. Most published writers get a lot of rejections. I’ve probably gotten 1,000 rejections in the last ten years. Let rejections empower you and make you stronger as a writer. Use rejections as a motivational tool and let them infuse you with positive anger. Every time you get a rejection, slam your fist on the table and say, “I’ll show them!”

7. Plan.

Okay, so you have set your goal: to become a picture book author. Now, work out a plan to make it work and stick to it. Design what your writing, editing and submitting schedule will be like. Having a plan will help keep you focused. Start your writing week without having a clear picture of what you’ll be working on and you’ll find yourself wasting precious time and wondering about the million other things you should be doing instead of writing.

Not planning ahead is the perfect ingredient for low productivity, procrastination and writer’s block. I write on weekdays and take a break on weekends, so every Sunday I plan in advance what I’ll be doing that week. When Monday morning arrives, I know exactly where to start. I don’t have to waste time wondering about it.

8. Cut Off the Internet.

The Internet (including emailing) is one of the most—of not the most—distracting things for an author. Be sure to switch it off during your writing sessions. Use the Internet as a reward, after you’ve finished working. How do you expect to focus if you go online or check emails every few minutes while you write?

9. Join a support group.

· Join a club such as the Children’s Writers Coaching Club, You’ll not only profit from weekly critiques and audio classes, but also from a vastly supportive group of fellow children’s writers.

· Join children’s writing groups such as Childrens-Writers. You can interact with other children’s writers, share information and resources, and ask questions about the industry and all aspects of writing for children. Check it out here:

· Join a critique group that specializes in picture books. A picture book has its own set of ‘rules’ that writers of young adult or middle-grade fiction may not know about. These writers may give you the wrong advice and even hurt your writing. Also, if possible, try to find a critique group that has both beginners and more experience writers. Chances are you won’t get great feedback from total beginners because you’re all in the same boat, whereas more experienced writers will know exactly what to look for in your manuscript. If you join Childrens-Writers (see previous paragraph), you can post a message to the group asking if there are any critique group openings.

· Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This is the organization to join if you’re serious about becoming a children’s writer.

Benefits include local chapters and critique groups, conferences, an online forum, and The Bulletin, which comes out every two months and is packed with articles and submission information, among other things. Check it out here:

10. Subscribe to Newsletters.

There are two newsletters worth subscribing to. One is Children’s Writer,, put out by the Institute of Children’s Literature. The other one is Children’s Book Insider,

These publications will keep you up to date about the world of children’s publishing, current trends, submission calls, as well as offer writing tips.

Yes, it takes a lot of hard work to become a children’s picture book author, but the rewards are immense. If you’re committed enough and determined enough, you can do it.

15 Benefits of Reviewing for Aspiring Children’s Authors

If you’re an aspiring children’s author, the benefits of reviewing children’s books are enormous. If you already review books, you know how true this is.

When you review books…

1. You learn about the craft of writing because you get to identify both the weaknesses and strengths of a book. You learn what works and what doesn’t, and eventually you become more apt in avoiding amateurish mistakes when you write your own books. You can do this because you’re able to look at someone else’s book objectively, something that it’s hard to do with your own writing. In this sense, reviewing can make you a better writer and a better judge of literature.

2. Your writing becomes easier and better. Reviewing is writing, after all, and the more you write, the better it gets. Reviewing helps to hone your skills as a word builder. 

3. Your thinking skills become sharper because you have to ponder and reflect on why you liked or disliked a book. This sometimes takes keen perception.

4. You become familiar with publishers and the type of books they publish. This is especially helpful if you review in the genre that you write in and if you’re looking for places to submit your work. 

5. You become familiar with agents and the type of books they like to represent. How do you know this? Most authors thank their agents in the acknowledgements page. 

6. You network with other authors who in the future might help you promote your book. Authors are very thankful to reviewers for taking the time to review their books, especially if the reviews are positive.

7. You develop an online presence, a platform. If you have an attractive blog where you post honest, intelligently written reviews, eventually you’ll build a good reputation as a serious reviewer and readers, publishers, authors and publicists will want to become your followers. Having lots of followers will instantly make you more attractive in the eyes of a publisher when you submit your book for consideration.

8. You develop an identity as an expert, especially if you review in the same genre you write in. For example, if you review only young adult novels, and you write reviews often enough, soon you’ll acquire a thorough knowledge of the genre and what’s new out there, and your reviews will become more insightful because you’ll be able to compare works by different authors who write in the same genre. It’s difficult to become an expert in all genres, but this is doable in one genre if you’re dedicated enough. 

9. You may land a contract with a publisher. This happened recently to one of the reviewers at one of the sites I review for. Her reviews were so well and thoughtfully written, they caught the eye of a publisher. They asked if by any chance she had a manuscript around. Well, she did and the publisher ended up offering her a contract!

10. You can build yourself a pretty nice library if you’re one of those reviewers who read and review quickly. I know some reviewers who review several books a week.

11. You’ll discover authors you didn’t even know existed. Review blogs are especially attractive to small press authors and publishers because they usually have trouble getting reviewed by the big publications.

12. You build relationships with publicists who work at major publishing houses. Once they’ve come to trust you as a serious reviewer, you can request those books you’re most interested in. 

13. You get to feed your addiction—for free!

14. You can build a resume with publishing credits. They will come very handy when you start sending out those queries to agents and publishers.

15. You can eventually get paid by submitting your reviews to those sites and publications that pay their contributors.

As you can see, book reviewing can be extremely beneficial for aspiring authors. What are you waiting for? Take out your book, pen and paper, and start reviewing. All you need is a love of books and a passion for words!

Five Tips for a More Marketable Children's Book Manuscript

The world of children’s picture book publishing is extremely competitive. If you’re an aspiring children’s author, you need to make sure your manuscript is in excellent shape and has all the elements editors and agents look for before you begin the submission process.

Here are five tips to make your picture book manuscript more marketable:

Start right with the problem.

Many times beginner writers begin a picture book with back-story. It’s okay to have this back-story in the first draft, but be sure to get rid of it when you edit. Back-story is unnecessary 90% of the time and it only serves to slow down the beginning of a story, making it weaker. You want to grab the reader right from the start. So don’t be afraid to begin your story at the heart of the problem. It’s okay to set the stage with a sentence or two—but no more!

Have a protagonist readers can relate to.

Generally, children like to listen to stories about other children or animals with children’s characteristics. They don’t want to hear about a grandma or grandpa looking back to the time when they were young. Create characters kids can identify with. When readers can identify with the protagonist, they are drawn into the story and become emotionally involved with it.

Make sure the problem fits the age group.

Be sure your protagonist is facing a problem young readers can relate to. If they can’t relate to it, they won’t care. Losing a toy or losing mommy, being lost, having a tooth pulled out, going to the hairdresser for the first time, having too many freckles, planning a first party... these are all problems kids can identify with. Sure, these subjects have been done a million times. But so what? By creating a new angle about a familia topic, you can give the topic your own fresh and original slant.

Add rising action.

Rising action creates tension—the good stuff that keeps readers glued to the story, turning those pages. After you have created the first big problem for the protagonist, and as he tries to solve it, toss a couple more obstacles into his path to make readers wonder what’s going to happen next. The more readers care about the character’s predicament, the more compelling they’ll find the story.

Leave them with a punch.

Endings are always important, no matter what the genre. But they’re especially important in picture books. Once the protagonist solves the problem and everything falls into place, you must find a way to make the ending memorable. This can be achieved by adding an unexpected twist or by having the character say or do something witty. At the same time, it must feel natural, a perfect and logical progression that has evolved organically with the story. This can be hard to achieve. Try different possibilities until you get that “Aha!” feeling. Don’t be afraid to come up with crazy, over-the-top ideas while you brainstorm.

Keeping these tips in mind when creating your children’s stories will help you make them more marketable and appealing to editors and agents. Like with any craft, writing for children is a never ending learning process. I hope you’ll keep at it and enjoy the journey.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Meet Charlotte K. Omillin, author of The Adventures of Zeppi

After a career in the corporate world, Charlotte K. Omillin decided to dedicate her time to writing and illustrating stories for children. She’s the author of The Adventures of Zeppi series. A lover of nature and the environment, Omillin interweaves the ecological theme in her series. In it, Zeppi the penguin and his friends learn how to take care of our planet.

Over the years, Omillin has attended several Academies of Arts in Belgium for drawing, painting, and film animation courses. In addition, she’s been a member of several critique groups. She also writes for young adults. You may contact the author at Download free coloring pages of Zeppi at

Thanks for this interview, Charlotte! It’s a pleasure to have you here to talk about your new series for kids. What was your inspiration for Zeppi? How would you describe him?

I once knew a little boy who was crazy about penguins and I made up stories for him. After each tale he asked me, “What happens next?” That’s when I started structuring my ideas and writing down the tales.

Who is Zeppi? He’s a young Adelie penguin born in a zoo. That’s the only environment he knows, surrounded by his parents and his penguin buddies. Zeppi is good hearted and friendly but also curious, impulsive, and a little opinionated. As he tends to know everything, he gets easily entangled in complicated situations and then learns at his own expense. Young Zeppi is impatient to live and speak like humans. His ecological-minded friend, Alesdor, shows him how easy it is to respect planet Earth.

Zeppi also loves to sing and to eat desserts (anything with chocolate will do!).

Zeppi sounds adorable and I love the ‘green’ angle in your series. I understand the first two books in The Adventures of Zeppi have been published. Tell us a little about the stories and what ties them together.

Zeppi is rescued by a boy, Alesdor, who believes a miracle happened the day he found a penguin in his backyard. So he decides to keep his new friend and hides him in his tepee.

Zeppi and ecological-minded Alesdor will adopt each other and grow together. The stories are also about friendship and acceptance of others’ differences.

Throughout the adventure series, Zeppi becomes an eco-friendly-penguin. Young readers will understand how fun and easy it is having the ‘green attitude’. Children say they’re ready to change their habits but don’t like the negative way the environment issues are presented to them.

I agree with that last statement. What are the reading level and target audience for the series?

It would say children aged 5-8 years old. Parents and teachers, who are sensitive preserving our planet, will enjoy the books too.

How many books will there be in the series?

There are 24 adventure stories. The first two are already published, and I’m actually working on the illustrations of book number three.

Wow, you must be busy 24/7! That’s a lot of books. Let’s talk about books 1 & 2. I understand that, besides writing the stories, you also did the artwork. Can you describe what your creative process was like? Did you write the stories first or did you do the art as you wrote them?

Yes, I really wanted to do the artwork myself as I have a clear picture of Zeppi in my mind.

As I said before, I made up the stories for a little boy. Then, after seeing a documentary on Antarctica and penguins, I had a bad dream. A little penguin got captured and was separated from his buddies. He was honking, honking, honking in his cage trying to get out. I woke up, wrote the story, and made a few sketches of Zeppi. Then I had to invent the locations for the stories. I drew a huge map with all the towns Zeppi discovers during his stay with Alesdor. The map was a help to invent the 24 tales.

Where are the books available for purchase?

The books and notebooks are available on: and

Do you have a website where readers may learn more about you and Zeppi?

Yes, my website is and that’s also the blog where Zeppi publishes his green tips whenever he has time and isn’t gone somewhere on an adventure.

Why do you think most people love penguins?

There’s a mutual fascination between children and penguins. When I started drawing Zeppi, I made a visit to the zoo to observe and study the penguins’ postures and movements. I’d arrived early at the zoo to take pictures before the crowd arrived. But the penguins were sleeping and I just sat there drawing and hoping one of them would wake up and wobble around. A half hour later, I decided to leave when high pitched voices of a group of children woke up the penguins. The children glued their faces to the aquarium glass. And the magic happened! The penguins had their favorite audience. A few penguins jumped in the water showing off their swimming performances, making circles in the water, and jumping out again. Others waddled around ruffling their feathers. The more the children shouted the more the penguins showed off. The accompanying adults had as much fun as the children. I think penguins are so likeable.

That’s a cute story, Charlotte! It seems penguins love an audience. Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?

In fact, I would love your readers to share their thoughts on Zeppi and on his efforts to become an ecolo-friendly penguin. I’ll answer all e-mails sent to Zeppi’s site, or directly to my e-mail:

Thank you, Mayra for your interest in Zeppi.

Thank you, Charlotte, and best of luck with the series. Sounds like a winner!

Note to readers: Do you have or know a child who loves penguins? Don’t forget to download free coloring pages of Zeppi at