NAPIBOWRIWEE 2013: Day 6 – Guest Blogger Tania McCartney! (May 6, 2013)


Welcome to DAY SIX of NAPIBOWRIWEE! It’s National Picture Book Writing Week, blah blah blah, we’re trying to write 7 picture books in 7 days, etc. etc. Oh go here for all the FAQs:

Sorry. Do I sound cranky or grumpy? LOL! 🙂 😛 I’m just SUPER TIRED. I think I have had maybe three hours sleep in the past five days. How is everyone else doing?

The strange thing is that despite the lack of sleep, I’m still having fun. 🙂 I’m excited that I MIGHT have 7 drafts done by the final day. Who knows if ANY of these drafts will end up becoming a submission-ready picture book for my book agent, but at least I’ve got some pages to work with! It’s better than NOTHING. Which again is the WHOLE POINT of this event – it’s to encourage us all to KEEP WRITING and to actually FINISH DRAFTS. 🙂

For fun, I would suggest everyone who is a writer to try and create a picture book dummy for Day Six. See if you can write your Book No. 6 as a picture book dummy. It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw at all. Stick figures are fine. But see if you can create a picture book dummy. This might be a fun and fresh way to write your latest draft.

For more info on how to create a picture book dummy, go here:

I also recommend this link as well:

(PS. If you already ARE an illustrator/artist and you make picture book dummies all the time, I would suggest you do the opposite. Why not just WRITE a picture book manuscript with NO pictures and no layouts? Try a simple double-spaced Word document of text ONLY. (Which is what us only-writers do anyway.) Keep the word count to 1000 words or less.)

I’m curious to see what everyone comes up with today if you attempt the picture book dummy layout for Day 6! 🙂

And now some updates on my own progress…

MY DAY FIVE EXPERIENCEI woke up on Sunday and had absolutely NOTHING TO DO. For the first time in several weeks. No book deadlines. No TV meetings to prepare for. So what did I do?

This picture pretty much sums it up…

Sleepy Sunday for me & Oreo! :)
Sleepy Sunday for me & Oreo! 🙂


It was like a typical Sunday morning in college when I would sleep until noon and then shuffle over to the cafeteria for food. LOL! 🙂

But boy did I need that sleep. And you know what? Sometimes we HAVE to sleep in order for our subconscious to gestate all the ideas floating around in our heads. I’m being very serious here. I have learned that over the years. Sometimes, it’s best just to walk away from the computer and take a real nap. Get some serious REM sleep going. Let your subconscious gestate – it’s like putting your laptop to sleep mode. 😉 When you wake up, suddenly you might have a solution to a creative writing problem or a brand new idea might pop into your head.

Like the idea that popped into my head when I woke up after 10 AM. Okay, really, I woke up after 11 AM. 😛 But the thought that popped into my head was an idea for another non-fiction book. I realized no one has done a biography on this person, and realized… this could be a great idea for another LEE & LOW book! So I spent most of Sunday researching this historical figure and putting together a rough outline. Then I had to think about what would be a great opening scene. With children’s picture book biographies, which is my specialty, you usually try to start with an important incident or event that happens in the person’s childhood that is a turning point for him/her, something that inspires them to take those first steps on their journey to becoming an important person who contributes something to our society.

Once I came upon the perfect setting, I started writing. I wrote a very very VERY rough draft with a lot of notes to “get extra details here” etc. I still need to do more research, but by cobbling together this rough draft and finishing it, I realized this could definitely work as a future submission for publishers. But it’s going to take a LONG time to deepen this first draft and take it to the next level. But I was pleased with what I had done so far.

Again, I haven’t had time to respond individually to comments, but I’m reading them all and may write a few comments later this week, so stay tuned. I’m soooooo proud of everyone. You guys are doing a fantastic job. KEEP IT UP! And remember, we’re having a contest where lucky winners will receive autographed books from me and some of our guest authors plus souvenirs from our store (! (Winners will be posted on May 8th in a future blog.)


In the meantime, let’s welcome author TANIA MCCARTNEY ( for Day Six. She will answer our Q&A on The Future of the Picture Book in today’s guest blog. Please comment on her blog today and/or also update us on your progress for Day 6!

(Keep reading after the jump for our guest blog with TANIA MCCARTNEY!)


Tania McCartney

TANIA MCCARTNEY is an author of both children’s and adults books. An experienced magazine writer and editor, she has written for many online sites and hard copy magazines. She also founded Kids Book Review in 2009, one of the most respected children’s literature sites on the web. An ACT Ambassador for the National Year of Reading (2012), Tania is passionate about literacy and has spent many years, presenting and speaking to children and adults on reading, books and writing. Her latest books include BEIJING TAI TAI: LIFE, LAUGHTER AND MOTHERHOOD IN CHINA’S CAPITAL (Exisle Publishing) and RILEY AND THE GRUMPY WOMBAT: A JOURNEY AROUND MELBOURNE (Ford Street Publishing). In 2013, she has four new releases for children, including the next book in the Riley series, set in Canberra.

Tania adores books, travel, photography and marshmallows. She lives in Canberra with her husband and two kids, in a paper house at the base of a book mountain. For more info, please go here:


QUESTION: Do you think the rise in popularity for the eBook will help or hurt the future of the picture book? For writers, when you work on a new book, do you think about how it will “read” on an eBook reader as well? Does that affect how you write your book?

ANSWER: I don’t think ebooks stand a chance in affecting the future of the picture book. A recent study here in Australia showed what I’ve known all along – parents and children are simply not happy to curl up in bed at the end of a long day and flick through an ebook. Books are living, breathing entities with heart and soul – their weight in the hand, the feel of the page as it turns, the colour and vibrancy – it’s a joy. Ebooks are wonderful for sparkle and interactivity, but they lack the soul of real books. My own children have sensational books in both ebook and real book format – and I have to say they have never once re-read an ebook. The virtually endless repeat read rate for real books says it all.

QUESTION: There have been many “Boy Who Cried Wolf” articles in the media recently about how picture book sales have declined as anxious parents try to push their students into reading chapter books instead. Why is it important for children to read picture books? What makes a picture book special as well as important for a child’s educational growth?

ANSWER: Although I’m not a book retailer, I personally haven’t seen a decline in the picture book market, at least not in Australia. It seems more PBs than ever are being published. As founder of Kids Book Review, some of our favourite books are PBs and I can’t imagine parents abandoning them for early reader chapter books (many of which are illustrated, anyway). Picture books are vital for children (both younger and older children) because they harness and develop the imagination. They are filled with nuance. They intimate meaning and emotion in ways words never can. We all know a picture paints a thousand words – a picture book paints countless words. Picture books encourage children to dive in, to become part of the story, and to immerse themselves between the lines. They are also absolutely vital for anyone who struggles to read or who has processing issues. For these children, PBs may be the only way to have them fall in love with books (and therefore encourage later reading).

QUESTION: Many aspiring picture book writers are discouraged by the doom-n-gloom reports of the declining book industry (Big Six mergers, lower sales of picture books, more emphasis on the writer-illustrator as opposed to the solo writer). What words of encouragement would you give to these aspiring newbies to NOT give up?

ANSWER: I would say that the picture book market is never going to go away. I think this ‘blip’ is temporary. As we explore and welcome new, high-tech ways to publish and enjoy books, we will eventually hit a rhythm that feels true to us, and PBs will once again rise to the top (as does any type of cream). Just as the ‘demise’ of so many of life’s pleasures – going to the movies, barista coffee, magazines – never came to pass (good try, DVDs, instant coffee, the internet – oh, and let’s not forget the ‘paperless office’), PBs are not going anywhere – and someone will need to author them. So, PB authors should not give up – but they should also ensure they are up-to-date, market-savvy and writing in ways that explore new themes and forms. Like any oversaturated market, you’ll only stand out if you’re original.

QUESTION: What challenges do you face as a published author f picture books in these volatile times of the publishing industry? Have you noticed a change in your career in terms of what agents/editors/readers want?

ANSWER: I haven’t noticed a change in my career at all – in fact, I’ve achieved more contracts in the past three years (when the children’s market supposedly fell) than ever. I do feel the kids’ market has fared far better than the adult market because parents and schools will always buy books for children, but I’m confident it will continue to improve right across the board (especially if readers support independent books stores and stop buying books for pennies at wholesale sites). What I have noticed is that industry people have pulled closer together than ever before – we are there for each other, and it’s really helped buoy spirits and keep things afloat. I haven’t noticed a difference in what readers want – they just want great stories and books that inspire, but it’s always been like that. In terms of what publishers want – I think things have definitely changed. In order to (most understandably) keep companies afloat by making sales, marketing teams and book distributors now have a say in what’s published and I do believe market quality has suffered enormously for that. Great editors have also lost footing (cost-cutting) and that’s the greatest tragedy of all.

QUESTION: Any final words of advice or any epiphanies you would like to share with us about your own writing/art journey?

ANSWER: I have such passion for, and great confidence in, the children’s book industry, both here in Australia and overseas. I think great children’s books are the foundation for reading skills in the very young, as reading is a key to life. These past few years have been tough in the book industry overall but then perhaps that’s not such a bad thing, as it weeds out the stayers from the players. Because of the vital nature of PBs, having stayers (those who are in it for a deep love of children and literature) run the industry can only be a good thing. A very good thing, indeed.


Thanks again to Tania McCartney for answering our Q&A for Day Six!  

Tune in tomorrow by 6 AM (West Coast Time) for our Day Seven Blog featuring picture book author/illustrator ERIN EITTER KONO ( (Remember to visit here on May 8th as well for our Contest Winner blog plus one last author Q&A.)

In the meantime, good luck writing today. Please post any comments below for today’s blog with your thoughts, questions, and writing updates. You can follow me on Twitter @paulayoo. Please feel free to use this HASHTAG – #NaPiBoWriWee

I’m off to write! Until tomorrow’s blog, remember… HAPPY WRITING! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT! 🙂


  1. Gee, Paula, what an absolutely fantastic interview with Tania. This is well said and greatly encouraging, especially the answer to the question about the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” articles.
    Thanks, Tania.

    Also, I’m so glad you got to have a day of rest.

    For me, after two days of birthdays and rummaging I had to clean house. I set the timer for 20 minutes a room and found the house, which became the title and idea for s____y draft #4. I’m a tad behind but have two days to make up three. Not too bad.

  2. Thank you for the tip on making a dummy picture book. What a great idea. Great interview too.

    I started literally cutting and pasting my story. I think I have found a different way to do this. It is a little work but it will work.

    Go to insert, click the text box and pick the sample text box. It will be the first one. Type your lines for that page. At the green dot, turn your lines vertically. Move the story to the top of the page. In the drawing tab, click on shape outline click the no outline. This will remove the lines around the sentences. I also went to clip art to find pic. just to fill in.

    I started doing this on page 5 and thought it would be a good idea to put 2 pages on the same page. But the back of page 5 is page 28. Lots of figuring out to do yet but this is fun:). Thank you so much.

  3. I feel greatly encouraged by this blog entry today. Thanks Tania! Just when I was thinking about giving up your words jumped off the screen and gave back my spirit of creativity.

  4. Paula – I really enjoyed your intro to writing picture book biographies. All the authors this week have given the participants a lot of reason to be hopeful about picture books!

  5. “Books are living, breathing entities with heart and soul – their weight in the hand, the feel of the page as it turns, the colour and vibrancy – it’s a joy”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m not one to believe in the “doom and gloom” forecasts for the demise of the PB market. Everything has an ebb and flow, and I firmly believe that picture books will come back stronger than ever.

  6. I didn’t think that I’d have time for another draft, but while I was watching the Badminton coverage on FEI TV early this morning I went over the notes that I had made yesterday and can now say that my … 8th PB is in the bag!

    Hope everyone is writing up a storm!

  7. This challenge is challenging but I’m loving every minute. It’s unbelievable how one minute I’m moaning over how I don’t have an idea and the next minute I’ve come up with a whole story! It’s definitely hard to be creative when you don’t feel like it but this challenge has shown me that creativity can be inspired by the tiniest spark. Thanks Paula!

  8. Tania – I love this line: Books are living, breathing entities with heart and soul – their weight in the hand, the feel of the page as it turns, the colour and vibrancy – it’s a joy.

    I think kids are drawn to the physical book because they intuitively sense how manageable the size is. Does that make sense? When there are only 3-4 pages left, you know it will wrap up soon, to a happy ending, or a surprise twist. Isn’t that comforting to the new reader? I think that is the essence of the re-readability factor of a real book. Or just skip to your favorite page or part. Not as easy or obvious with an e-book.

  9. It’s nice to read such a thoughtful endorsement of the picture book. Tania, you make so many good points. Thanks for spreading your enthusiasm.

    DAY 6: The homestretch! I wrote a draft: it’s too long and probably too silly but it’s done. I didn’t do a dummy (it’s nighttime here and I’m running out of time) and I’m an illustrator! I’ll try to do that tomorrow (and get an earlier start).

    Paula, you’ve get me curious about writing pb biographies… who knows? Maybe tomorrow!
    Thanks, Tania and Paula.

  10. Love your positive PB attitude, Tania! And congrats to you, Paula, for your success on Sunday. For me, it’s harder to get writing time on the weekend. I had some snippets on Sunday, but there wasn’t enough meat on my idea to start a rough draft. But today I had the time to regroup and rethink. I finished a rough draft of a modified version of my Sunday idea and completed a non-fiction rough draft too. This has been such a useful experience, Paula. So happy I signed up.

  11. All the guest bloggers have been very inspirational!

    And the dummy book exercise has been an excellent one. It made me realize that I am often too wordy. Plus it helps me make sure that the story keeps going with lots of page turning action. Thanks!

    I am six for six, but not all of them will become PBs. Thanks for helping me keep writing.

  12. Wow – thank you for all the gorgeous comments, everyone! So fantastic to see so many who are impassioned and enthused by PBs and their vital role in the lives of children (and adults!). You are all inspiring ME!


  13. Thanks Tania. It’s always encouraging to hear a positive outlook on picture books.
    Paula, thanks for your insights into writing a PB biography. I started one a while back, it’s time I get back to it. I have finished 4 drafts, plus 1 rough one which I will finish tonight. I like your idea for finishing up with a dummy.

  14. This was the hardest day of all, but I finally got the 6th draft on paper (digital paper, but still . . .)

    I really appreciate reading these blog posts each day, and also Paula’s own experiences. It’s good to know that even a successful writer has to find ways to reinvigorate the creative process. And I got an idea for a PB biography, too!

  15. I am a big fan of KBR and really appreciate reading Tania’s insights.

    I am a bit behind — just now wrapping up a very rough 5th PB. Thanks for the great motivation.

  16. I didn’t see the suggestion to make a dummy until after I’d already written my PB draft today! I’ll try and do that tomorrow. Thanks Tania, it’s wonderful to learn from someone who is so passionate about PBs.

  17. Picture books are here to stay! Yay! (Tania, you are a terrific cheerleader!) I’ve been playing catch-up today. I finished a draft (which is for yesterday) and half of today’s. So another 1 1/2 tomorrow and I’ll be golden. But now, I need to sleep like Paula. Good night 🙂

  18. Thanks again Paula for a post to keep me going. Thanks Tania for reminding me why I love this and giving me the push to persevere.
    Today’s success makes up for yesterday’s slump. I wrote two drafts today, bringing my total up to 5. I still have a false start left over from day 1 so I’ll try to make that #6 before midnight.
    I absolutely could not be doing this without you. Thank-you.
    Paula, I hope someday you’ll write an e-book, or at least a few posts, on how to structure, research, write a pb biography. Most of my non-fiction ideas get shelved pretty quickly. Your guidance would be invaluable.

  19. Thank you, Tania! I agree that what readers want is truly timeless – “great stories and books that inspire.” As long as we just keep writing that will always happen. Doing great on Day 6- I wrote 2 today!

  20. Wow it seems like time is flying
    but I am still trying till it is all done.
    Plus I thought of two ideas today and not just one.
    I swear I always think of topics I need to research a bit.
    So now I will relax and have a sit.

    P.S. Wow I loved the links and the great interview =p.

  21. It is wonderful to be writing alongside such inspirational people! I’ve been feeling bad about how rough my drafts are but I worked with my kinders on “sloppy copies.” That’s exactly what I’m writing but, maybe one will turn out to be a gem.
    found a great quote:
    “Get it down on paper and then we’ll worry about it.”
    Max Perkins

  22. Tania’s analogy: picture books = SOUL
    Truly, what else needs to be said than that?

    Paula, SLEEP??? No one warned me that participating in NaPiBoWriWee meant that I’d be a walking zombie for a week. Thanks. But, I am a zombie with 2 drafts of crap (seriously following Anne Lamott’s advice about sh**** writing), 2 drafts with out-of-the-box ideas (yes!), and 1 draft close to my heart. On to #6 in dummy form!

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