Welcome TARA LAZAR, our guest author for 2011 NaPiBoWriWee Day Four!
Tara Lazar is a children’s book author, mother, foodie and boogeyman assassin (currently booked at 3am nightly). Her first picture book, The Monstore, will be published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster in 2013. Tara hosts PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) in November–an alternative to NaNoWriMo for picture book writers. (See http://taralazar.wordpress.com/.) Tara is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. For more info on Tara, check out her website here: http://taralazar.wordpress.com/
Because Tara’s first published picture book will not be out until 2013 from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, Tara graciously agreed to provide one free picture book critique for this year’s prize giveaway. Thank you, Tara!
(Keep reading for the rest of our Q&A with Tara Lazar after the jump…)
Q&A WITH TARA LAZAR
– Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I was a competitive figure skater, not as a child, but as an adult. I won Eastern Sectionals one year and went onto Adult Nationals.
– OMG!!!! That is so cool! I am a huge Olympics ice skating fan! What inspired you to to go from skating to writing picture books?
When I discovered Roald Dahl in 2nd grade, I never wanted to be anything other than a children’s book writer. However, I didn’t make it a reality until recently, and did ya know, I’m old? I should have pursued it at a younger age, but I never felt like it was the right time, which was the wrong attitude. There’s never a right time for anything! If you want something, you have to MAKE time for it. Like Nike says, JUST DO IT.
– I agree! Now here’s the big serious question I’ve asked everyone – if we should JUST DO IT, how can we, given the changing book industry with the advent of e-books and the rollercoaster economy? Do you still think picture books have a place for tomorrow’s children? Will people still be reading traditional picture books in the future?
RIght now it appears that start-ups are taking advantage of the ebook format for children’s books while traditional publishers are trying to figure out where they stand. Of course publishers don’t want ebooks to cannibalize their current products, but ebooks can not be ignored. Many of the new, successful interactive titles available for iPad or nook color are being produced by new media companies and they’ll gain a market advantage in this area.
One of the smartest moves was by Sandra Boynton, the master of board books, who teamed up with LoudCrow Interactive to produce her books in ebook format. Popular authors like Boynton will lead parents to children’s ebooks, and there’s also a great opportunity for emerging authors to break into the market as start-ups seek new talent. I don’t think the traditional paper book will go away any time soon, but rather coexist with ebooks. There’s the right time and circumstance for both formats. Traditional picture books may dominate at bedtime when families want to snuggle up, while ebooks are highly portable and convenient, great for daily errands in the car. The bottom line is that things are moving fast; we need to keep up with the situation to understand our rights and opportunities as authors.
(P.S. Another thing people don’t know about me–I used to work in high-tech strategic analysis. Zzzzzzzzz.)
– Thanks for your great insights, Tara, on the industry! Finally, can you please tell us about how you wrote and sold your first picture book?
Back in 2008, I invented Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) as the picture book writer’s alternative to NaNoWriMo and did it on my own. That November I came up with a title: THE MONSTORE. What was it about? A store that sold monsters, of course! The idea sat dormant until the NJ-SCBWI 2009 conference in June. I had gotten to know an agent through her blog and Twitter, and when I met her in person, I asked if I could send her some of my book ideas to get her opinion on which might be the most marketable. She told me to email her.
So I’m writing the email and realized “a store that sells monsters” was not enough of a hook. I had to create a one-line description with punch. So I wrote, “A boy wants to return the monster he bought because it doesn’t scare his little sister.”
The agent told me to run with it.
I didn’t run.
The idea sat for a few months. I’d like to say it was marinating, but the truth is, I was scared to write it. I thought I might louse up a perfectly good idea.
Then, one day when the kids were both out of the house I sat down and wrote it. It felt effortless. The story was there all along, just waiting for me to capture it.
My critique partner Corey Rosen-Schwartz loved it immediately. She helped me polish it. I sent it around to many friends and got suggestions. I improved it, but it pretty much kept its original structure–the beginning and end never changed from the original.
I submitted to the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature conference. I had been accepted and attended in 2008, my first time trying, so I thought it would be no problem to get in again. I was rejected. I put THE MONSTORE aside because I thought it wasn’t as good as I had thought.
I resurrected it for a November conference that year. Once again, the professional who read it slowly pushed it back to me an called it a “practice manuscript.” She was a truly lovely lady, but I could tell the quirky humor was not her thing. She told me to write about something else we had discussed, something I though was boring. I chalked up the rejection to personal taste.
In the meantime, another writer friend loved it so much, she referred me to her editor. I was so hopeful. Unfortunately, it was rejected. I was losing hope.
Corey was still very enthusiastic about the manuscript. She told me she KNEW it would sell. Once again, I submitted it to a conference for a professional critique. But when the conference rolled around (January 2010), I was sick and couldn’t attend. The organizers said they would mail me the critique.
When the mail arrived, it sat on my kitchen counter for a week before I opened it. It felt thick and I was sure it was a list of everything that was wrong with the story. I opened the letter and saw a bunch of bullet points down the page. “Yeah,” I thought. “She hated it.”
Then I read the letter. The first bullet read, “What a clever title and premise. I was hooked on the first page.”
I had to read that over a few times before it sunk in.
Then I read the rest of the letter. All the bullet points were POSITIVE COMMENTS. She loved it! She asked me to submit after minor changes. Woo-hoo!
I made the changes the editor suggested and Corey told me to start sending it out to agents. The first agent rejected it, but he wrote, “But I think it will sell. Good luck!” That gave me more encouragement.
Then Corey did something really unexpected. She won Jean Reidy’s “Picture Book Peek Week” free critique and sent Jean MY MONSTORE! Jean read it and started tweeting about how much she liked it. Her friend, Ammi-Joan Paquette, asked about it. Corey also knew Joan. So Corey and Jean gave me a referral to Joan, an agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
Joan loved THE MONSTORE and asked to see my other work. I sent three other manuscripts (two picture books, first chapter of a MG) and waited patiently. She loved my other stories, too! She set up a time for a call and offered me representation. I was SHOCKED. But thrilled. Soon thereafter, I accepted Joan’s offer, and about 4 weeks after I signed the agency contract, Joan sold THE MONSTORE to Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. SUCCESS!
So, this is all to say, don’t give up on a story with a rejection or two. It could just be a matter of personal taste. This business is so subjective. You just have to seek out the right connections! Keep networking, keep writing, keep working toward your goal.
– Wow, that was incredibly inspiring. Thanks for the behind-the-scenes story of THE MONSTORE! I’ll definitely see you in November 2011 for PiBoIdMo!
Thank you so much Tara for your generosity in answering our questions. For NaPiBoWriWee participants, you might win a free picture book manuscript critique from Tara at this year’s drawing, too! We look forward to your comments on Tara. Until then… Happy Writing! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT!