|Rx for Writers|
May 26, 2005: "Visiting Schools While Writing a Sequel to a Picture Book"
with Toni Buzzeo
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Toni Buzzeois a children's picture book specialist author whose first picture book, The Sea Chest, appeared just three years ago, published by Dial Books for Young Readers. Since then, Toni has published Dawdle Duckling, Little Loon and Papa, and most recently, Ready or Not, Dawdle Duckling. Toni Buzzeo worked as a school district media specialist up until a year ago. At that time she left her position to devote full time to writing for children, and traveling across the country to make presentations at schools and conferences. Reviews of Toni Buzzeo's books say it all about her ability to connect with children: "Another fun read aloud from Toni Buzzeo!", "Little Loon and Papa, the second pairing of author Toni Buzzeo and illustrator Margaret Spengler, is another winner.", and "…lots of fun sound-words written in all capital letters ("HOO HOO HOO" "SQUEEZE TUCK ZIP")." We caught up in this chat with Toni in her busy schedule of writing and visiting schools. Toni has visited with children in schools and spoken at conferences from ocean to ocean. And in today's market with sluggish sales of children's picture books, Toni Buzzeo continues to sell her picture book manuscripts, and her picture books continue to sell well.
Melis Mel Boring, moderator of this interview with Toni Buzzeo and Web Editor of the ICL Web Site.
Green shows names or usernames of people and the questions they asked Toni Buzzeo.
Interviews are held every other Thursday evening for two hours, beginning at 9 CANADA/ Atlantic Time, 8 Eastern Time, 7 Central Time, 6 Mountain Time, and 5 Pacific Time.
Mel:I have invited Toni Buzzeo to our ICL Chat Room to chat for the third time tonight because she has been one of our favorite Chat Guests. Toni is not only a natural author for children, but a born teacher who is able to explain how to pursue a career in children's writing. Toni has developed a system for keeping up with what each children's editor is looking for, which she has explained on her other chats with us. We will ask her about that system again this evening, since so many have found it so USEFUL in writing for children. Toni Buzzeo, THANK YOU for coming tonight, after only a couple of days rest since coming off the road of making school visits and presentations. We are eager to hear all you have to say about "Visiting Schools While Writing a Sequel to a Picture Book"! Welcome, Toni!
Toni:Hi Mel and Chatters! I am so glad to be here with you tonight from my HOME office in Maine! :>
Mel:Toni, you must've traveled this country over a zillion times in the year since we've chatted with you here. Tell us where you've been in just the past few months.
Toni:In the past month alone, I've spoken in San Antonio, Texas, Collierville, Tennessee, Nashua, New Hampshire, Rumford, Maine, and a dozen other places I've forgotten!
Mel:This school year is about over—do you have school visiting dates set up already for 2005-2006?
Toni:Oh definitely. I also have many conference appearances upcoming. I'm working to find a flow and balance in my writing and speaking career. Unfortunately, I can only experiment with what works one YEAR at a time.
Mel:What do you say to groups of adults at conferences and other gatherings where you speak?
Toni:Sometimes I am speaking with my librarian hat on, and then I have many topics. Sometimes I am speaking with my author hat on. Then I talk about the path to publication, the interplay of text and art, marketing for children’s book authors, how to get published, tips for teaching kids to write, etc. I have a whole suitcase full of topics! :>
Mel:Can you remember any large cities where WE might be able to get to hear and see you, Toni? So we can try to see and hear you at one of your talks?
Toni:I'll be speaking at the school librarian's conference in Detroit (Michigan Association for Media in Education) and the school librarian's conference in Williamsburg, Virginia (Virginia Educational Media Association). I'll also be at VSRA—Virginia State Reading Association. I'm not sure that those are the sorts of conferences one can get into without registering, though.
Mel:THANKS! You've had as much a career in writing materials for ADULTS as you’ve had in writing books for children. Tell us about some of the books you've written for adults.
Toni:I have a passion for collaborative practice between teachers and library media specialists, so I have published two books on that topic and have two more in the works. I have also just begun work on a Reader's Theater book. And I've co-authored a book on fabulous novels to use to teach Social Studies in fourth through eighth grade.
t green: what sort of "fabulous novels" are recommended for teaching Social Studies in 4th-8th? Can you tell us some of the titles you recommend?
Toni:t Green, would you like to hop over and see for yourself? They are listed by region at: http://www.tonibuzzeo.com/books35bb.html New England: Junebug by Alice Mead, Becoming Felix by Nancy Hope Wilson, The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, Fire in the Wind by Betsy Levin, Lyddie by Katherine Paterson. There are five novels for each of the seven regions of the country with attention to the cultural diversity of each region, including both historical and contemporary books. There are also RICH standards-based learning activities for each.
Even if you're not a teacher or a librarian, though, one of my professional books is a must for all children's authors. It is called Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators, and Storytellers, and it's a bible for those of us who speak in schools and libraries. Professional books currently in print are as follows: Collaborating to Meet Standards: Teacher/Librarian Partnerships for K-6 (Linworth 2002), Collaborating to Meet Standards: Teacher/Librarian Partnerships for 7-12 (Linworth 2002), 35 Best Books For Teaching U.S. Regions (Scholastic Professional 2002). And Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators, and Storytellers (Libraries Unlimited 1999).
Mel:TERRIFIC title, Toni! Remind us, did your parents influence you to pursue a career in writing, eventually?
Toni:My parents didn't influence me as a writer at all, except insofar as my mother taught me to love reading and libraries. None of my siblings write. But my brother-in-law, who was my best friend, growing up, is also a writer.
Mel:Was your mother a librarian or teacher?
Toni:No, my mother was a stay-at-home mom who always had her nose in a book!
Mel:If I were a tiny mouse in the corner of one of your sessions with children, what might I hear in your presentation to them?
Toni:Oh, you'd hear so much about my childhood and the threads therein that led me to my stories. You'd also hear about my son Topher and how he makes his splashy appearance in my Dawdle books. If you were an older student, you'd hear about the interplay between text and art and get to see sketches from my illustrators. You'd hear about the opportunities I've had to respond to the early artwork too.
Mel:How has Ready or Not, Dawdle Duckling been doing since its January 2005 publishing?
Toni:You know, an author never actually knows. The first printing is still selling very well and I get lots of positive feedback on it wherever I speak, especially at conferences!
Mel:What are some good "rules of thumb" to gauge the success of a picture book?
Toni:First, sell out the first printing. Second, garner positive reviews. Third, win recognition, awards, or a place on state lists. Fourth, continue to sell many copies even when it’s been on the market for several years. Which results in: fifth, go on to multiple additional printings!
Mel:Tell us about your son, Topher. Where is he and what is he doing now?
Toni:Oh, my darling boy is off on his own now, living in Portland, Oregon and working for Intel. He's deeply political and the city suits him well. I miss him every minute of every day, but I'm glad to have given him wings. His motto is "I'm not too worried about it." Those of you who have read the Dawdle books know him well.
caq: In your bio on your Web page you said you learned to write by copying poems you liked. How does copying other poems teach you to write?
Toni:I believe that copying poetry taught me the cadences of poetic language and the interplay of ideas and language that underlies the form. I copied MANY poems! They began to fill me and course through my veins. The language of poetry still informs everything I write.
Mel:Are you CONSCIOUS of that "poetic language" coming into your picture books?
Toni:Certainly it does, and I am ACUTELY aware of it. I actually think that language is my deepest concern as I write my picture books. For me, picture books are so much like poems, especially my shorter works.
Mel:Is that acute awareness of the language because of the limited language skills of picture book readers/listeners?
Toni:No, for me it's more about the language PLAY. I want the words and sounds and structure to be delicious. I often use words my audience won't know. Through my books they will learn them.
Mel:Toni, for a SPECIFIC example, could you tell us of ONE word in one of your books you used that your audience wouldn't know, and how the context of that word/term will help them learn it?
Toni:The word "davenport." In The Sea Chest, the feed calendar hangs over the davenport that Maita curls up on to read. My Gram had a "davenport," not a couch. It's an old-fashioned word that is fun to say and it has a historic feel suitable to the story.
vettemom: Davenport—that brings back memories!
Mel:Toni, you are going on five years into your publishing-for-children career, since The Sea Chest in 2002. How do you feel your career is going, and what would you suggest to US in planning a career?
Toni:I think my career is going very well. My books are selling steadily and I’ve begun to establish a "name" in children’s books, largely because I do so much speaking. I was advised by another writer friend, Mary Casanova, that it’s really necessary to devote the first five years after one’s first book is published to establishing oneself. It’s working for me and that is, I think, my best advice.
Mel:What particular questions do children ask you when you speak to them? What is their most-often asked question, if there is one?
Toni:"Do you like to be a writer?"
Mel:And how do you answer that?
Toni:It's a simple question, I suppose, but for me, the answer is complex.
Mel:I would think so!
Toni:I DO like to be a writer. I CHOOSE to be a writer. I am also COMPELLED to be a writer. When I'm talking to older kids who can understand, I often discuss the frustrations as well.
vettemom: I think we all need to be compelled to write, thank you!
Toni:I suppose, vettemom, that if we're NOT compelled, we give up along the way and are never published, or at least don't make a career of it!
Mel:This is not too deep a question for you: WHAT compels you to be a writer, Toni?
Toni:Since I was a teenager, I've felt driven to express my SELF, my deepest thoughts and feelings, in writing. I am by my nature a COMMUNICATOR. I have two primary strengths in the multiple intelligences. Verbal-Linguistic and InterPersonal. Do you see how those come together to make me a writer and a speaker?
Mel:YES, I certainly do, friend! What are some of the frustrations about being a writer that you're able to tell older kids?
Toni:Writing is HARD. No, not even just hard. Sometimes it is terrifying. All of us know that when we get down to our real truths, the blank page is a scary thing.
Toni:And as in every creative endeavor, it's also so frightening to put oneself out there. There's the fear of being judged and found wanting. Then there is the frustrating work of trying to revise a piece to do the work YOU intend. And it doesn't always come easily.
lizziegirl: How long did it take to get your first book published?
Toni:lizzie, hi. I wrote children's books for five years to the day before my first sale.
dcbraymer: Did you get started with an agent or on your own?
Toni:I sold my first manuscript on my own and acquired an agent thereafter.
Mel:How did you go about finding an agent?
Toni:My dear friends and fellow writers, Jane Kurtz and Franny Billingsley, found me an agent. He spoke at a conference with them and they knew, after spending the weekend with him, that he would be perfect for me so they connected us. Before that, I'd submitted manuscripts to other agents on my own.
vettemom: Sharing our souls is hard. Why is that? We should be proud, shouldn’t we?
Toni:Vettemom, it's because we might be judged for their content--or for our means of expression, I think.
Mel:Toni, you hit on a LIVE nerve: The fear we feel. People who haven't published think it would be ANYthing but fearful--WONDERFUL. But once you've published as much as you have, tell us about the fear of submitting your NEXT book, wondering, waiting, to see if it will be accepted, to see if it will be read, bought. Will you tell us more about those deep fears, please?
Toni:Well, goodness! It never EVER changes! Of course, there is some confidence in having done it once, or twice, or thrice. But honestly, we continue to worry each time that it won't happen again, I think. It's both a strength and a fault of mine—I don't know how to be anything else.
Mel:THANKS for being SO honest, friend!
eggamy: Have you written poems of your own?
Toni:Oh, yes, eggamy. In fact, last year when I was going through a very difficult family time, it was all I COULD write, other than my picture books. Though I haven't published my children’s poetry yet. In the past, I published my adult poetry.
gladys1: Did you try to sell the same manuscript or different ones over the year you were getting started? How many books have you WRITTEN, as compared with the FOUR you've published?
Toni:I've written about 24 manuscripts and sold FIVE. I'm actively working on five and have hopes for five more someday. I tried to sell many different ones, gladys, and continue to write new ones.
daveg: Are there markets for picture books about moving? New kid?
Toni:Dave, any topic that is IMPORTANT to kids (moving is one!) is a good topic. However, the key for topics that have been written about often is to find a fresh way to tell your story, a fresh plot with a unique voice and style.
Mel:Your FIRST picture book is the only one that didn't really center on animals, Toni. Is there a reason you've used animals in most of your picture books?
Toni:Mel, the next book, A Lighthouse Christmas, is also about humans. The one I'm working on with my editor now features a child and an imaginary animal, so it's sort of a hybrid. I move around in my choice of main characters, you see! Of course, animals are ALWAYS stand-ins for humans in my fiction. :>
caq: Ms. Buzzeo, you have written read-aloud picture books and picture books for early readers. You have also written books (collaborating with Jane Kurtz) for authors, illustrators, storytellers, librarians, and teachers on "how to make the very best connections between kids and bookpeople" (taken from your website). Was it hard to switch gears from your children’s writing to adult "instructional" writing?
Toni:No, caq, it's not hard to move between them, but it IS hard to decide on the balance between them, that is, how much energy and time I will expend for each. I also publish MANY magazine and journal articles each year, mostly in the educational/library journals.
Mel:I want to follow up on the animals thread. How do animals "stand in for humans" in picture books?
Toni:Well, think about Dawdle Duckling. Here's this little duck who is a dawdler and a dreamer, and this very patient (and ultimately frustrated) Mama Duck. The truth is that the ducks are playing out a human relationship. Everything the ducks do, short of talking, is completely accurate to their duck natures (I do tons of research), but the basic conflict and "personalities" are human.
Mel:So did the character Dawdle Duck "grow out of" your son, Topher, Toni?
Toni:Oh boy, it SURE did. He's "not too worried about it" and I am the most detail-oriented person on the planet. :> Little Loon and Papa is based on TWO timid little ones—myself AND Topher, who were both afraid to dive.
caq: The statement you made about what makes a good young picture book (Web site) fascinated me. Ellen Yeomans and Suzanne Bloom said the same thing at a conference. One statement you made, "…words and phrases that will roll off the tongue and beg to be repeated…" was almost word for word. Is that a skill you learn by reading and rereading others’ writing as opposed to copying poems as you did earlier? To hear the words and feel the words being formed in your mouth?
Toni:caq, this is amazing! I honestly didn't quote them. :> I do think that my many, many years of reading children's books has seeped under my skin and into my brain the way copying all that poetry did. And as a children's librarian, I do absolutely know what delights children in language!
Mel:So is there a process of "osmosis" that goes on in us to produce our writing—the "copying" and "seeping" you mentioned?
Toni:I really do believe it's PART osmosis and part very intentional analysis. One thing that my mentor, Jane Kurtz, taught me when I first started to write for children was always to find models for what I was trying to do.
Mel:Children must have responded to you about Dawdle Duckling. Do you read it to them, or show them the pages, or any materials from the making of that book?
Toni:We re-enact the story using a flannel board. Other times we use puppets. We have a TON of fun with Dawdle.
Mel:What materials MIGHT an author get from the editor and/or publisher of their books to show kids?
Toni:I have always wanted a "press sheet"—the huge page with all of the pages printed on it before they are cut apart and I've never asked for one. I have initial sketches for all of my books too.
Mel:Did you MAKE the puppets you use in presenting Dawdle?
Toni:Nope, I bought them. I love Folkmanis puppets, so many of mine are by them (http://www.folkmanis.com/). Also, I've used Mimi's Motifs. Let me get her URL for you. She is fabulous: http://www.mimismotifs.com/ And I have a friend who is an art teacher who makes me a flannel board set for each of my "young" picture books.
Mel:What ASSETS for your presentations!
Toni:And it's so much FUN!
vettemom: I guess I feel it’s my expression in writing—only I can judge that, right?
Toni:vettemom, of course you can and should be the judge. But in terms of being PUBLISHED, you're also going to have to respond to the vision of an editor and his or her suggestions for deepening, clarifying, etc.
Mel:How extensive are your editor's suggestions for change, and do you find changes hard to make after you've finished a manuscript?
Toni:This varies from manuscript to manuscript. She sometimes gives me light revision notes and sometimes she challenges me in very difficult ways. But no matter how difficult, I don't mind because we're ALWAYS making the book better.
Mel:Can you give us an example in a particular book where she challenged you in one of those DIFFICULT ways?
Toni:Yes, in Dawdle Duckling, she became worried about the predator being "near the nest" because it felt scary to her.
Toni:But if I removed "near the nest" and created another prepositional phrase, it needed to make GEOGRAPHIC sense. It also couldn't employ any of the prepositions already used. It was quite a puzzle and I STILL remember the Saturday night when I felt the line of dominoes being tipped. :>
Mel:EXCELLENT example—THANK YOU, Toni!
carrieh: What poet did you find influential when you were a teenager?
Toni:LOL, carrieh. Leonard Cohen was hot then. :> But I loved many poets, including Denise Levertov, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Marianne Moore.
Mel:A regular "Poets Hall of Fame" there!
dcbraymer: Do you have a favorite software for writing?
Toni:I use Word to compose. Is that what you mean, Dcbraymer?
caq: About how many books have you written that were rejected?
Toni:About 18, caq. But I'm still working on several of those.
Mel:Toni, any heartening suggestions for handling rejection?
Toni:Yes, the advice my mentor gave me early on. If your heart is broken, then resolve to quit. If you can't quit, then keep writing and resign yourself to the pain. Also, every bit of rejection—if taken to heart—makes us better writers, if we improve our work as a result.
Mel:That sounds like Jane Kurtz! How did you first meet her?
Mel:WOW! Can you tell us more about that, please?
Toni:We met on a children's writing list and she liked the kinds of thoughtful questions I was posing. She gave me advice and after a while, she offered to mentor me
Toni:She spent a year teaching me everything she knew. It was wonderful.
Mel:A match made in…cyberspace!
gladys1: Toni what is the main secret you can tell us unpublished writers how to get that first manuscript published?
Toni:Oh, gladys, what a good question. Well, of course you know that every answer would be different. But for me, it's about PERSISTENCE and DEDICATION TO IMPROVING. Take all feedback from editors to heart. Really examine your work and try to improve it, even if THAT editor doesn't want to see it again. And don't give up. Continue to write NEW manuscripts and continue to refine the ones you love and are committed to. That's my bit of wisdom.
Mel:And what great wisdom! By the way, Jane Kurtz has been in our chat room since you recommended her so highly, and she really taught us well—thank you!
Toni:Oh, that's GREAT! I don't think I realized that. Jane and I have remained very close friends and (as you know) co-authors. In fact, we're proposing a new professional book right now.
Mel:A good friend of ours, Melanie Cardell, sent me a photo of you from the American Library Association Conference in Atlanta in 2002. It shows Jane, Jennifer—last name?—and Franny Billingsley, and YOU, Toni! It's a GOOD picture—I want to show everyone here now!
Toni:Oh, Mel, what fun! Jennifer Jacobson is the fourth author. And Melanie in the middle.
Mel:I'm glad we brought back good memories for you!
caq: When writing a picture book, do you think "page break here" or are the page breaks formed by the rhythm, rhyme and alliteration?
Toni:No, I never think PAGE BREAK. I trust my editor and illustrator to figure that out for me. But I know that many wiser souls than I do strongly suggest that picture book authors think and plan that way!
dcbraymer: Did the publisher ask about other manuscripts you had written—when you were talking about selling your FIRST book a while ago, Toni?
Toni:No, she didn't. We (my agent and I) did send her another manuscript (Dawdle Duckling) shortly after--and she bought it. Might I mention that I have just published a SEQUEL to Dawdle Duckling? :>
Mel:Yes, please DO!
Toni:In January, Ready or Not, Dawdle Duckling hit the shelves. It's the story of my little dreamy duck trying to play hide and seek. As you can imagine, he's not very good at it, given his propensity to dawdle. However, it is the VERY dawdling nature that does, ultimately, solve his problem. For as he dawdles, he is making friends. And it is his FRIENDS who hide him in the end, so that he wins the game!
Mel:Ready or Not, Dawdle Duckling is a great sequel! How do you explain the sequel concept to kids, Toni?
Toni:We always begin by talking about a series they KNOW: both Marc Brown's Arthur books and Bridwell's Clifford books. We talk about the characters' personalities ("duckonalities," in this case) needing to remain the same within a changing story. In this case, we review the character of Dawdle, his dreamy, imaginative nature. Then we IMAGINE what it would be like if Dawdle played a game, like hide and seek, where he had to HURRY UP! It works very well with them.
Mel:Is it unusual to have a sequel to a PICTURE BOOK, though there have been some? Who came up with the idea of a sequel? You? Your young readers? An editor? Will there be a sequel to the sequel in your Dawdle Duck series?
Toni:Not so very unusual, Mel. And the idea for a sequel came from Margaret Spengler, my illustrator. She wanted to paint more Dawdle paintings. She didn't have an idea for a story, though, and left that up to me. I'm actually working on a third Dawdle right now, though it's too soon to tell you about it.
Mel:Will there be a series of Little Loon and Papa—my FAVORITE of ALL of your books?
Toni:Ahhhh, I have FINALLY gotten an idea for a Little Loon and Papa sequel, thanks to some kids in New Hampshire, I think. I haven't done the research I need to do to see if it will work (remember that all of my books are very true to nature) but I think it will!
Mel:A nuts-and-bolts question: How much might a FIRST-TIME picture book author expect for an advance payment, and at what royalty percent?
Toni:Mel, from one of the big New York houses, I think that the advance might be $5000, and, of course, 5% royalty is pretty standard for a first picture book. But that varies, of course.
Mel:Mary Grandpre illustrated The Sea Chest. Since then you've worked with illustrator Margaret Spengler on your picture books. Tell us again how you got connected up with Mary Grandpre first to illustrate your books, and then the illustration task was passed on to Margaret Spengler, please.
Toni:My brilliant editor hired them both! And my brilliant editor has chosen Nancy Carpenter for A Lighthouse Christmas. I'm dying to see what she does with it!
Mel:Is A Lighthouse Christmas in any way a sequel to The Sea Chest, Toni?
Toni:No, it's not. It takes place in 1929 on ANOTHER Maine lighthouse island and has two siblings as main characters, a boy named Peter and a girl named Frances.
Mel:Have you had any lifelong fascination with lighthouses?
Toni:I haven't, though I'm not sure why not. I grew up in Michigan, the state with the most lighthouses, by far, but never saw a lighthouse until I visited Maine as an adult. Since then, though, I have loved them and been deeply fascinated. If we have past lives, one of mine was spent at a lighthouse, for certain.
Mel:How long will a good book stay in print, and how does a publisher decide to take it out of print?
Toni:A good book will stay in print as long as sales are BRISK. I don't know what the measure of brisk is, which is one of the reasons I do so much speaking. I feel that I CAN influence sales in this way. When a current printing (sometimes the first) of a book dwindles and sales have not been brisk in the preceding royalty period, a publisher often will take it out of print.
Mel:Tell us about royalty statements, please. How long or extensive are they? What figures in a royalty statement are most important?
Toni:For me the two important figures on my royalty statements are HOW MANY COPIES SOLD and HOW MANY COPIES WERE RETURNED. The net between those two is the actual count of how many really SOLD. If there were any subrights sales, they are noted but I would already have been aware of them. My statements are one or two pages long.
Mel:What do you mean by "subrights"?
Toni:Sales to book clubs, sales to foreign publishers, etc.
Mel:Do those increase the income of a book significantly?
Toni:Not really. The figures for such subrights sales are very small, in my experience. But in terms of the book clubs and the fairs, I believe what my editor says: "If they buy one copy, they're going to need another one!"
carrieh: When you write, do you have a favorite spot at home?
Toni:Carrie, I have a gorgeous office. BUT sometimes I just have to take my laptop down to the bright, sunny ell (I live in a colonial farmhouse) and write there.
carrieh: How much time do you set aside in a day to write? Do you set a schedule for yourself?
Toni:I do not have a schedule because I do so much speaking and that makes my life unpredictable. I AM going to experiment with four hours of writing a day this summer, though. There are times when I write for sixteen hours a day when I am not on the road, however!
lizziegirl: How do you know when a manuscript is ready to be sent in, Toni?
Toni:That's a great question, lizziegirl. It's a guess and a risk, I think, but for me, it always goes to SEVERAL trusted readers, usually more than once. When they say it's ready, I'm pretty sure.
adele: Do you ever feel that you're writing for the market rather than writing what you truly want?
Toni:adele, no I don't. I'm not sure that I even COULD. However, the impetus for Little Loon and Papa came when my editor told me that booksellers were looking for more Father's Day books. So you see, I can be inspired to tell a genuine story by the needs of the market!
Mel:Toni, tell us before time gets completely away, about your proven method of keeping track of editors and what they are looking for, please—the one you've shared with us before.
Toni:Okay. First, set up a database using Microsoft Excel or something more sophisticated. Create categories for Editor Name, Publishing House, Title, Notes, Date of Entry of Info, and Source of Info. Then begin, one entry at a time, to record the information you READ, HEAR, or otherwise KNOW about various editors. Be sure to take notes on what they publish, what they want, etc. You will glean all of this from publications such as Children's Writer, Children's Book Insider, the SCBWI Bulletin, conferences, workshops, etc. Over time, you will develop a very reliable resource that you can turn to as you plan your submissions.
Mel:I know you strongly recommend going on retreat with a few other writers you're close to, because you got ME to doing it from your previous chat. Why is that important for us writers?
Toni:I think that it's a difficult fact that we live in a fast-paced world full or interruptions and demands. What we hope for, I think, is to re-create the 19th-century writer's life. We CAN do that when we escape to a retreat and simply devote ourselves to WRITING.
Mel:Toni Buzzeo, the time ALWAYS flies when you are our guest! And it's surely because of the MANY eager questions chatsters always ask you, and your fascinating answers. We really appreciate all you have shared with us tonight, and you have given us great hope that we TOO may keep close track of editors and publish picture books ourselves—as well as do school visits with children. THANK YOU so much for coming to chat with us this evening, after an exhausting year of school visits so recently! Do we dare dream that we could invite you back a FOURTH time in the future, and have you come and update us on your picture book writing career and all the school visits you do so well?
Toni:I'd love to return—any time, so long as I'm at home and not winging high above the states where you all live!
Mel:Two Thursdays from now, on June 9, Judy Cox will visit our ICL Chat Room for the first time. Judy has been recommended to us as an amazing teacher, as well as an accomplished children's author. Judy has been a nominee for the Beverly Cleary Award for her book Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café, a good book I highly recommend. She wrote an article for ICL's Best of the Children's Market 2000, as well. Judy Cox could chat most capably about any children's writing topic. We'll announce her topic soon—so keep checking at http://www.institutechildrenslit.com/rx/iclschat.shtml
Toni Buzzeo, THANK YOU again for such a wealth of ideas and suggestions you have so freely shared with us tonight! From what I've seen of all the questions that have been asked—and some we didn't have time to get to—writing children's picture books is a topic very much on the mind of most of us chatsters here tonight. We all wish you well in your continued career, in writing picture books, as well as speaking at schools and conferences. Maybe we will be so fortunate as to be able to hear you in person someday soon!
carrieh: Toni, Topher I bet, is a very proud son.
Toni:He is, it's true!
Mel:Goodnight, every children'swriter!
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Here are EXTRA, leftover questions from the evening of May 26, graciously answered by Toni Buzzeo, our Thursday Chat Guest:
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caq: Have you ever had a time where you and your editor disagreed about where to place the page breaks?
Toni:No, that hasn't ever happened to me. I really trust her judgment on such matters!
caq: How many picture books have you written and had published? How many were for the older reader, not to be read aloud?
Toni:I have written MANY more than I've had published, but I've published four and have one more under contract. Both The Sea Chest and the forthcoming A Lighthouse Christmas are for that older reader.
caq: The idea of a picture book for the older child, The Sea Chest, is intriguing, and I was wondering how different is it to write a picture book not meant to be read aloud. The prose in The Sea Chest is wonderful. The words flow, rather than roll off the tongue and linger to be absorbed, rather than wanting to be repeated. Is it difficult to switch gears in writing style like that?
Toni:I haven’t had difficulty in switching gears, no. I would disagree, though, that The Sea Chest is not meant to be read aloud. I think it reads aloud beautifully BECAUSE of the lovely language. I also have written novel manuscripts, which is one step further away from my very young picture books! I’m quite eclectic.
Mel:On your last chat with us, I believe you mentioned a middle-grade novel you were writing, Toni. How is that coming along?
Toni:Slowly, in a word. I have spent so much time on the road this year that I haven’t had the deep, quiet, uninterrupted spaces a novel requires. I do have wonderful revision notes from an editor who would like to see it again, though!
carrieh: What is the longest book that you have written?
Toni:It’s the one just mentioned, a colonial time travel novel entitled The Rogue Pine. It’s 165 pages.
caq: Should a beginner writer choose to write one form of picture book first (read-aloud vs. the early reader picture book) and then venture into the other rather than switching back and forth while in the learning process?
Toni:I’m not sure about what a beginning writer "should" do but I can definitely tell you that I did NOT stick with one format. I wrote young picture books, "older" picture books, easy readers, and novels in the five years I was pre-first-sale. I learned so much each time I began—and revised with guidance—a new manuscript.
gladys1: Have you written a full-length manuscript about animals and from an animal’s POV?
Toni:I’m not sure what you might mean by a full-length manuscript. A novel? A nonfiction book? I haven’t written any of those from an animal POV, no. But Dawdle Duckling, Dawdle Duckling, Ready or Not and Little Loon and Papa are all full-length picture book manuscripts.
eggamy: Why do you use talking animals in your books?
Toni:My talking animals (they talk very little, though) are stand-ins for people!
carrieh: Do you do any readings at libraries around the U.S.?
Toni:Yes, I do, Carrie, when I am invited!
carrieh: Do you get to help choose what images are used in your books? Or is this all chosen by the publishers/editors?
Toni:No, I am not part of the illustration process except insofar as I offer feedback on the sketches and rough art. That is the terrain of my illustrator—and editor.
carrieh: Does your son Topher have children of his own yet? If so, has he read your books to his children?
Toni:Toph is a mere 22 years old and doesn’t have children. He has read all of my books, of course. In fact, he’s one of my trusted critiquers.
gladys1: What is a press sheet?
Toni:PRESS SHEETS are produced as the book is printed. They are large sheets which contain all the pages of the book, before they are separated and bound into the book.
carrieh: What influenced you to use water fowl and fish in your books? Do they have some special meaning to you?
Toni:Ducks were my favorite animals when I was a child—thus Dawdle Duckling. As for Little Loon, he was inspired by the loons on my western Maine mountain lake where I have a cabin. The fish was Margaret Spengler’s invention!
eggamy: Do you find Microsoft Word easy to use?
Toni:Oh sure. It’s my standard word processor, so I’m quite adept at it.
carrieh: With the books that have been rejected, have you worked on re-writing them in any way to see if by changing the stories a bit, it may help to get them published?
Toni:Oh yes, and I continue to work on several of them. They aren’t ready yet, apparently, but I am very committed to some of them.
dcbraymer: Were there surprises in the contract we need to watch for?
Toni:No, I don’t think there were any surprises. I’d talked to many people so I knew what to expect.
carrieh: Did you ever feel like you were getting "automated responses"? How did you handle those?
Toni:Aren’t those "form rejection" letters hard? Yes, I got those in the beginning, and sometimes even later on. They are hard to deal with. If an editor sent me two of those in a row, I didn’t submit to him/her any longer since obviously my work wasn’t resonating with him/her.
carrieh: Toni, Did you ever enter writing contests? If so, did you win any?
Toni:I did. I twice entered the Writer’s Digest contest and didn’t win either time. I once entered the Marguerite de Angeli contest and also didn’t win. Finally, I entered the Barbara Karlin Grant competition sponsored by the SCBWI, and did win in 2000!
dcbraymer: How do you like to keep up with submissions?
Toni:I have an agent who submits for me, so I no longer have that big job to do.
lizziegirl: Do you respond to personal e-mails from your Web site or does someone else do it for you?
Toni:Oh, no. I respond to it all myself!
carrieh: Do you still take time to sit and read poetry?
Toni:Yes, I do. I have a poetry shelf in my library. I don’t read it as often as I’d like to, though.
carrieh: When you begin a story idea, do you have a particular break-down method that you use, for example, writing out an outline, character names, descriptions, etc?
Toni:When I write a novel I do all of the above. When I write a picture book, I spend several months (sometimes years) grappling with character and especially PLOT in my mind before I begin to write.
carrieh: Is it usually up to the editors to choose the illustrators, or do you as a writer also get to help with the decision?
Toni:The editor is definitely in charge of choosing. Because I am a long-time children’s librarian, my editor always asks me who I might have in mind, but the final decision is hers. Isn’t she great at it?
Mel:What "say" do you have in how the illustrations are done for your books? Could you/would you ask for a finished illustration to be changed if you didn’t feel it "fit with" your story text?
Toni:I am lucky enough to see all my illustrations at the sketch stage and then the draft art stage, so certainly I could and do ask for changes that are problematic from an accuracy standpoint.
carrieh: Did you do a lot of research on lighthouses for The Sea Chest? Which lighthouse did you design your story after?
Toni:I did a tremendous amount of research, yes (remember, I’m a LIBRARIAN!). The lighthouse in the story is modeled after Hendricks Head Light on Southport Island, Maine where the legendary story is purported to have taken place.
vettemom: Time and energy: How do you keep it under control?
Toni:Ahh, you have an incorrect assumption there! :> I have not attained balance in my life; and time, especially, always feels at a premium. I’m a very high-energy person, which is lucky, though.
omalizzie: Do you find it easier to publish when you co-author?
Toni:I’ve only co-authored professional books, but yes, since the work is divided in half, it’s easier. I don’t know that manuscripts are easier to place because there are two of us, though.
tripoli: I am wondering about how an unpublished writer starts submitting.
Toni:First, join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (http://www.scbwi.org). They will send you a remarkable packet of introductory materials. Study these materials carefully, format your manuscript carefully, and then study the enclosed market guide. Find a few publishers who are open to submissions and who seem to be a match for your work. Now go to your public library or local bookstore and ask to see the catalogs from these publishers. Double check to see whether your assessment is correct. Are they a good match? Identify a specific editor to target (especially if you have developed even a small database of editors, this will be easier) and mail the manuscript to him/her with a brief but carefully written cover letter and a self-addressed stamped envelope and postcard (so that the editor can let you know he/she has received your submission).
Mel:As a media specialist, you write books for adults, too. What are those books about?
Toni:I have a passion for collaborative practice between teachers and librarians, so two of my published books are about that and two more are forthcoming. One of my big excitements this year will be the publication of Toni Buzzeo and You, a book about me and my books! And I also have a fabulous book (with Jane Kurtz) on terrific author visits and another with Jane on children’s novels with rich Social Studies connections. I’m just signing a contract for a book of Reader’s Theater as well. Thus far, my published professional books are:
Collaborating to Meet Standards: Teacher/Librarian Partnerships for K-6 (Linworth 2002)
Collaborating to Meet Standards: Teacher/Librarian Partnerships for 7-12 (Linworth 2002)
Collaborating to Meet Standards: Teacher/Librarian Partnerships for K-6, Second Edition (Linworth, forthcoming 2006)
Collaborating to Meet Literacy Standards: Teacher/Librarian Partnerships for K-2 (Linworth, forthcoming 2006)
Reader’s Theater Collection (Highsmith, forthcoming 2007)
35 Best Books For Teaching U.S. Regions (Scholastic Professional 2002)
Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators, and Storytellers (Libraries Unlimited 1999)
Toni Buzzeo and You (Libraries Unlimited 2005)
Mel:Since you were with us a year ago April, you’ve left your position as a school district media specialist. Were there doubts and misgivings at all the first few months? How are things going in that "change-positions department" now, friend?
Toni:It was a tremendously difficult decision to give up my librarian work. But once I made the choice, I’ve never looked back. Who’s had time! I’ve filled my life with writing and speaking and now can’t imagine how I worked in my library too (even part time). I must say that I do volunteer during my at-home months in the winter as a library media specialist and writing teacher in my local elementary school. I’ve loved that.
Mel:What book(s) are you working on currently, Toni?
Toni:I am working on a revision of a new picture book manuscript entitled No T. Rex in the Library. It’s been in the works for a year and a half now.
Mel:Thank you, Toni Buzzeo! You have gone waaaay beyond any call of duty, taking time out of your busy schedule, and you have just enRICHed an already-RICH Guest Chat very generously—Thank You!
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