Posted by: nancyisanders | April 15, 2020

Encouragement in Challenging Days

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Praying you will find strength, encouragement, comfort, and wonderful times of refreshment in God’s presence during these days of sheltering in. (Read Acts 3:19-20.)

Posted by: nancyisanders | April 9, 2020

NF PB Bio Step 9: Self-Editing

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Nonfiction Picture Book Biography Step 9: Self-Editing

Now that I have my first draft in my hands, I’m busy working on it to get it ready for today’s publishing standards.

I like to print out a check-list to go over to help me at this stage. You can print it out for free and use it too as you’re working on your biography.

CLICK HERE to visit the site where I list freebies and scroll down to print out the NONFICTION PICTURE BOOK SELF-EDITING CHECKLIST.

Basically, I go over this list and over it and over it. I check off items I feel are doing okay. But the ones that need work I keep working on.

Let me know if you have any questions about this!

Posted by: nancyisanders | April 6, 2020

NF PB Bio Step 8 The First Draft

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Nonfiction Picture Book Biography Step 8 The First Draft
For those of you who are following along, I just wanted to give you a reminder that I’m sharing in this series of blog posts the journey my brain is taking to write a picture book biography for a BREAKTHROUGH topic.

Read More…

Posted by: nancyisanders | April 3, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 7 Act 1

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As I mentioned in my previous post, my brain started coming up with opening lines, ending lines, cliffhangers, and other tidbits. I started jotting down anything my brain wanted to work on and I encourage you to do the same.

But right from the get go, I also plotted out my story arc following the 3-Act structure I always like to use.

Act 1 is the Beginning of the story
Act 2 is the Middle (It has a first half and a second half)
Act 3 is the Ending of the story

And then I became very intentional about writing my story’s beginning.

When I write a picture book like this, I like to write it in 4 different sittings. Even if I’ve been jotting down actual text my brain is coming up with, I’ve found that my story arc is stronger and my plot is stronger and each different part of my story is much stronger and fresh if I separate it into at least 4 different sittings.

So for this first sitting, I worked on my beginning. At this point, I didn’t worry about word count. But do the math. If you want to write a 500 word picture book, the beginning should only be about 175 words. If you’re gearing for 800 words, the beginning should only be about 200 words. If you’re gearing for 1000 words, the beginning should only be about 250 words long. I wouldn’t aim for anything longer than that for today’s picture book market with a breakthrough topic.

But again, I didn’t worry about the word count. I just wanted to get the first draft down. As it turns out, my beginning was probably about 300 words for my first draft. But I had to get it all down before I could trim it to be what it should be. I encourage you to do the same.

Just sit down and write the first draft of your beginning.

Now…since most of my “mentor” texts are still sitting there at the library waiting until the library opens, I did some digging around in my own book stashes and discovered the perfect mentor text for a breakthrough topic about a woman picture book biography!

ALABAMA SPITFIRE is the biography of Harper Lee, the author of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

The great thing is that you can look up this picture book. CLICK HERE to see it on Amazon. Then click on the feature: LOOK INSIDE THE BOOK. You can read the first several spreads of this picture book…it’s a great mentor text for the beginning or Act 1 of your own biography!

I encourage you to type this out, word for word, as much as you can read of it. And while you’re at it, type out the Author’s Note at the end. And take a screen shot of the bibliography, too.

You see, even though I own this book, I typed it out word for word. And I typed out the Author’s Note, too. Why? You may ask? Because typing out mentor texts of published books trains our brains for the pacing and word count in a way that’s simply irreplaceable. I do it all the time! I encourage you to do it too. Have fun!

Posted by: nancyisanders | April 2, 2020

NF PB Bio Step 6B More on Story Arc

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I thought I’d give you another sneak peek into what I’m actually factually doing on my own journey to write a picture book biography. And the peek this time is to understand more clearly how I filled out my BASIC PLOT WORKSHEET A that I encouraged you to download in my previous post.

First of all, there are lots of formats you can pick to use to write the plot of your picture book biography:

You can write a birth to death plot.
You can write a plot that focuses on a significant event.
You can write a comparison between two people.
The list goes on.

For my picture book biography, I played around with different formats. I plugged different plot points on my BASIC PLOT WORKSHEET and actually went through a couple of different versions.

But the one I chose to use at last was one that focused mostly on the career of the woman I’m writing about because it was her career that was significant. And even more specifically, I focused on one small part of her career so that I could better tell a story instead of just a list of accomplishments.

So here’s how my BASIC PLOT WORKSHEET turned out:

For the BEGINNING, to answer “How does the story start?”:
I show my Main Character, as a child, encountering a problem. (This is the same problem she will later deal with in her career as an adult.)(This literally took less than 100 words.)

CHANGE !: This is where my Main Character, still a child, deals with this problem. This shows how she works to solve it as a child.

First Half of the Middle:
Then I give some brief background information about my Main Character and where she grew up and how it gave her a passion to deal with that problem.

Change 2: The Turning Point of the story. The Middle.
What happens in the middle?
The turning point of my story is where my Main Character, because of her passion, applies and is hired for a special job to deal with the same problem she dealt with as a child. This makes her the first woman to ever do this. The reason this is the turning point is because it was the build up of everything she was as a child and now the story turns because this will be what she spends the rest of her life doing.

Second Half of the Middle
This is where I show what my Main Character’s duties were in her new job as she’s working to deal with the problem.

The big change that happened was one key significant event that shaped the rest of her career.

The End: How does the story end?
I again tried to bring out her passion for the problem she deals with. I tried to tie the ending back into the beginning and show her dealing with the same problem, but successfully now as an adult instead of as a child. I ended the story with how she successfully accomplished one milestone in her career.

Author’s Note
Then in the Author’s Note, I tell everything else there is to know about her. In the author’s note I tell all about her whole career. All the rest of her background about her parents and where she grew up. And all the rest of the information about her, how she got famous, etc.

In other words, for the actual picture book story, I picked one problem that she dealt with as a child and then as an adult, with key plot points to move the story forward. I focused just on that story, and not on her life as a whole. I saved her life as a whole for the author’s note.

Please feel free to use this same story arc with the same plot changes as I have, if it makes it easier for you to focus on and learn how to craft a strong story arc.

Have fun and let me know if you have any questions!

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 31, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 6 Story Arc

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Nonfiction Picture Book Biography Step 6: Story Arc

As I started moving forward at this point, a lot of the activities I was doing with my manuscript began to overlap.

I started reading a lot of my research.

My brain couldn’t help it. It started to come up with opening lines. Ending lines. Little tidbits of scenes and snippets of dialog.

Story arc ideas started floating through my brain.

Ideas for stronger curriculum tie-in and universal theme that could tug at every reader’s heart.

But in this midst of all this overlap, I want to isolate out specific details so you can join in on the process my brain was taking and hopefully help your own brain move forward in a positive way with your manuscript.

One of the things I started working on is my story arc. The plot. A picture book is so short and such a page-turner that I always like to determine and plan my plot before I start.

So I printed out a copy of my handy-dandy plot chart that I ALWAYS use when I write a picture book. You can use it too. CLICK HERE to go to my website WRITING ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY AND FRIENDS. Scroll down to the link for the BASIC PLOT WORKSHEET A. (It looks like the image at the top of this post.) Download the worksheet and print it out. I actually have about 20 copies printed out that I keep handy because sometimes the sheet I’m filling in gets messy and I want to re-do it.

Also, you may want to click on the link next to the worksheet with tips on how to fill this out.

I didn’t do this in one sitting. I filled this out as I read up on my research. And then I changed it several times.

The key is that I really didn’t start writing my manuscript until I had plugged in my story arc on this chart and also started to read my mentor texts to help me with this genre. (Even if you’re not yet able to get in any mentor texts because your libraries are closed, try to look them up on Amazon to peek at as much as you can in their ‘LOOK INSIDE THE BOOK’ features. It will help you get started.)

Oh, and sometimes I like to fill in outlines, too, to help me create my story arc chart. If you want to create an outline for your manuscript, you’ll find worksheets on that same site to help you.

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 28, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 5 Footnotes

Very Oldest Pear Tree from Albert Whitman website)

As we’ve been moving forward on writing a nonfiction picture book that is a breakthrough topic, in my last post I talked about gathering my research.

I also mentioned that I usually put together my bibliography right at the beginning. It makes it so much easier to track research as I’m typing my manuscript into a document. Every day I can just copy and paste from my bibliography into my document to track where I got that fact that I stated.

To show you what that looks like, I created a pdf document of my most recent picture book, THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE. (release date August 20, 2020…CLICK HERE to pre-order it on Amazon). In this pdf document I included the first 3 pages of my manuscript. It’s a work in progress but it’s getting near the final shape as I had gone in and included the publisher’s name and the illustrator’s name on my manuscript.

I just want to make it clear that the publisher NEVER saw this version of my manuscript, however. This is my research reference ONLY. When I submitted any version to my publisher, I always went through and deleted all my footnotes. This is just for my frame of reference.

In other words, I kept one version for myself to track all my research, and then I made a second copy of that version, deleted all my footnotes, and then sent it to the publisher.

Hope this give you an idea of how I track my research while I’m typing out my picture book manuscripts.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Here’s the pdf to show you how I add in footnotes:

The Very Oldest Pear Tree with footnotes

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 26, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 5 Research


Nonfiction Picture Book Biography Step 5 Research

While waiting for my mentor texts to arrive (this process is taking a lot longer than normal due to the libraries closing), I started gathering my online research.

Read More…

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 23, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 4

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The very next thing I did after choosing which woman I wanted to write about was to order in mentor texts from my local library.

Basically, mentor texts are books that are already published in your genre that you want to model your manuscript after.

I am targeting a specific publisher so I looked through their catalog and basically ordered in from my library about 8 of their picture book biographies about women. Plus 2 others from a different publisher just to compare. (I also ordered in more titles from my library from the links below, also to compare.) Unfortunately, our local library is now closed, but I ordered about 30 picture books anyhow and hope to grab them as soon as they open back up. Hopefully soon!

So if you’re targeting a specific publisher, you can do the same. But don’t worry if you don’t have a specific publisher in mind. Just order in 10-20 (or more!) picture book biographies about women that have been recently published.

Here are several links you can explore to order in titles from your library that interest you as potential mentor texts:

12 Picture Book Biographies of Truly Amazing Women

25 Biographical Picture Books for National Women’s History Month

31 New Picture Book Biographies

And just a note…stay healthy! Read lots of Psalms to strengthen you and comfort you in these challenging days!!!!

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 19, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 3

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Now that you’ve brainstormed ideas for potential lesser-known famous women who did a big thing, it’s time to choose which one you actually want to write about.

Here’s the litmus test I did while I was at this stage.

I searched on Amazon to see if there were any children’s books biographies about the one woman I was most interested in. THERE ISN’T. This is good because if there were already books about her, it’s not really a breakthrough topic to write another one. It might be a good topic to pitch to your editor if you are already working with an editor and they don’t yet have a book about this woman in their product line. But it wouldn’t be a BREAKTHROUGH topic to try to break into a publisher in general.

I searched online to see if there was ANYTHING written about this woman anywhere. THERE IS. In fact, I found lots of little documentaries from her home town and from organizations in the field she worked in. I even found lots of quotes she said! This is key, because in ten minutes of searching online, I found enough research that I could use to write a picture book. This was important to me because I want to write this book fairly quickly and not spend several years digging through dusty archives. Plus, because this woman was famous in her local/national circle, this told me she was a big enough topic to write about.

Was her record “clean” according to today’s culture and standards? For example, she didn’t own slaves, which would have been a very touchy issue in a current picture book to feature this woman as an outstanding role model but have this controversial part of her life to deal with.

Was her claim to fame something that could be included in today’s classroom curriculum? Fortunately, it’s not hard to pass this test because even if a topic isn’t necessarily taught in today’s curriculum (such as being a famous ballerina or being a famous scuba diver), women who overcome great obstacles to be the first in their career or simply brave women role-models, are a tie-in automatically. Just be certain that the woman you choose to write about does fit in somehow with today’s curriculum standards. And if you really want to take this up a notch, choose an unsung woman hero to write about that supports STEAM…meaning she has a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, or Math.

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 16, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 2

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Nonfiction Picture Book Biography STEP 2

STEP 1 for writing a nonfiction picture book biography BREAKTHROUGH topic was to decide to write a brand new manuscript about a lesser known famous woman who did a great big thing.

STEP 2 is to brainstorm ideas for which woman would best fit a BREAKTHROUGH topic in today’s current children’s book market.

I just want to reinforce something here. This is exactly the trail my brain is taking right now as I’m preparing to write my newest BREAKTHROUGH picture book. I want to give you an exact look at what I’m actually doing to try to land my next contract. Why? Because I want you to experience success too.

So after I decided to write a new biography about a lesser-known famous women who did a great big thing, I printed out one of my handy dandy brainstorming worksheets to help me brainstorm.

I have a free brainstorming sheet that you can download and print out to use, too. CLICK HERE to visit my site WRITING ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY AND FRIENDS where I post writer’s worksheets and other tips. Scroll down to find the link for the IDEAS BUBBLES BRAINSTORMING. Then download that file and print it out. (It looks like the image at the top of this post.)

Here’s how I brainstormed using this worksheet.

First I thought about main topics that interest me or that I already have experience/background in so I can talk with a ‘REAL’ voice.

Then I wrote each of these main topics inside a big bubble, one topic in each bubble.

For example, say you like scuba diving. You would write SCUBA DIVING inside one of the big bubbles. Or say you also like SNOW BOARDING. You would write SNOW BOARDING in a second big bubble. Or say you are a librarian or a teacher. You would write LIBRARIAN or TEACHER each in its own big bubble.

After I wrote down several main topics in my big bubbles on my brainstorming worksheet, I next went to my computer. I googled famous women for each topic. For example, you would google FAMOUS WOMEN SCUBA DIVERS. Then you’d look over the list that pops up. You’d write any potential women’s names in the small bubbles around the big bubble that says SCUBA DIVERS.

Do this for each topic you have written on your bubble worksheet. That’s what I did.

In my next post I’ll share with you what I did next.

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 13, 2020

NF PB Bio Step 1


Nonfiction Picture Book Biography Step 1

While we’ve been chatting about BREAKTHROUGH topics in the world of children’s publishing, I’ve decided to be intentional about finding another breakthrough topic for the general market and begin a new picture book manuscript.

I know so many of you are interested in these blog posts because, like me, you want to experience breakthrough and get your manuscript published.

So I thought I’d invite you along on my journey. I’m going to show you step-by-step exactly the process my brain is going through to find this new BREAKTHROUGH topic and write the new picture book from beginning to end.

What was my first step?

One HUGE breakthrough topic right now in the general picture book market is to write a biography about a little known yet famous woman who has done a great thing for our world.

So that is my first step. I decided to write a brand new picture book about a little-known yet famous woman who has done a great thing for our world.

I invite you to do the same! In my next post I’ll share with you how I searched for the woman to write about.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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For the last two months, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for a new book. Since I wrote my last picture book, THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE, (CLICK HERE to learn how you can order a clone of this historic tree to plant in your own garden!) I have written a bunch of other manuscripts.

Some of those manuscripts were per the request of my agent after he met with various publishers. Some of those manuscripts were ideas that were near and dear to my heart.

But for the last two months or so, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for a new BREAKTHROUGH topic.

Read More…

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 6, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic Based on Current Picture Books

Very Oldest Pear Tree from Albert Whitman website)

Yes, I had found my BREAKTHROUGH topic for a picture book in the general market. THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE. It’s book birthday will be on August 20, 2020.

You can use this idea to help guide you in your search for a BREAKTHROUGH topic. THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE is about a tree, is about the founding years of our nation, and had a holiday tie-in with Thanksgiving, Arbor Day, and Earth Day. This is a BREAKTHROUGH topic because classrooms and homeschooling families all across America study these topics every year. So they are always on the lookout for a new picture book they can read with their kiddos.

Here are several other current picture books that are BREAKTHROUGH topics that can help you as you’re exploring the children’s publishing world to look for the next BREAKTHROUGH topic you want to write about.

Evelyn, the Adventurous Entomologist
Why is this a BREAKTHROUGH topic? Because it combines two ingredients teachers, librarians, and homeschooling mamas (and therefore editors!) are looking for: 1) biographies about girls doing amazing things, and 2) STEAM topics (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, or Mathematics) for kids.

Picture book biographies about little known people doing big things (especially if they’re girls) are on nearly every editor’s wishlist.

The Ocean Calls
Why is this a BREAKTHROUGH topic? Because it combines two ingredients teachers, librarians, and homeschooling mamas (and therefore editors!) are looking for: 1) authors from a diverse background who write about something related to their background…the author of THE OCEAN CALLS is Tina Cho and Tina currently lives in South Korea where this nonfiction story takes place. 2) It also has a STEAM tie-in.

So if you have a background in a certain speciality or ethnicity, you can write with a REAL voice because you are REALLY part of that experience.

Grace for President
Why is this a BREAKTHROUGH topic? Because it combines three ingredients teachers, librarians, and homeschooling mamas (and therefore editors!) are looking for: 1) Girls doing big things. Yes, this is a current trend! 2) American history…kids learn about presidents in early elementary 3)It has a holiday tie-in that it can be read on President’s Day.

Right now I’m working on writing my next BREAKTHROUGH topic. But this time, my children’s book is for the CHRISTIAN market. I spent the last 2 months exploring the CHRISTIAN market to choose my new BREAKTHROUGH topic. The journey was a little bit different than the journey I took to choose a BREAKTHROUGH topic in the general market.

In my next post, I’ll share some of the unique trails I traveled on to choose my newest picture book topic for the Christian market.

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 3, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic and Writing a Picture Book

Very Oldest Pear Tree from Albert Whitman website).jpg

Now I knew what my BREAKTHROUGH topic was: Nearly 400 years ago, the Puritans planted a pear tree. And it’s still alive near Boston today!!!!!

Why was it a BREAKTHROUGH topic?

Read More…

Posted by: nancyisanders | February 28, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic and Doing the Research


I decided that the BREAKTHROUGH topic I wanted to write about for my next book was PILGRIMS.

I read a few children’s books about Pilgrims. That’s always a good place to start researching when you’re on your journey to write about a BREAKTHROUGH topic. Gather a bunch of children’s books already published on your topic and see what they already cover.

Read More…

Posted by: nancyisanders | February 25, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic and Learning More About It


After I brainstormed some lists of topics every kid learns about in grades K-2, I looked over my list. Here were some of them:

Community members like firefighters and postal workers
Career choices (What will I grow up to be?)
Animal homes and habitats
History of America
How a seed grows

So…after thinking about things, I decided to choose a subtopic of the History of America…PILGRIMS.

I know in kindergartens across America, every Thanksgiving, kids learn about the Pilgrims, often dressing up, eating food, and reading books about them.

BIG TIP: If you can think of a topic that has a tie-in with a holiday (without necessarily being a holiday book) that makes your topic an even BETTER BREAKTHROUGH topic.

I figured that Pilgrims and Thanksgiving tie-in were both win-win topics.

So my next step after choosing a general BREAKTHROUGH topic was to start reading, reading, reading about Pilgrims and while I was reading I planned to keep my antennae up.

What for?

To do a treasure hunt for a fresh and unique angle to write about on my BREAKTHROUGH topic. I’ll share that with you in my next post.

Image by Annalise Batista from Pixabay

Posted by: nancyisanders | February 20, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic for a Picture Book Teachers Will Want


Right now a lot of children’s publishers are looking for picture book topics teachers, librarians, and homeschooling mamas will buy. That’s because this is a viable current market. They’re one of the strongest purchasing powers behind picture books, which are a really tough book to sell in today’s digital world.

Read More…

Posted by: nancyisanders | February 17, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic in Children’s Books


A couple of years ago, I embarked on a journey. It was a familiar journey in some ways…I’d taken it before when I wanted to choose a brand new breakthrough topic to write about. But it was unique in its own way because it led me to a unique breakthrough picture book idea.

Just exactly what am I talking about?

Yes, I wanted to choose an idea for a picture book. But there are ideas and then there are BREAKTHROUGH ideas. BREAKTHROUGH ideas are the sort that practically guarantee a publisher will want your manuscript. Even if the writing is a little rough around the edges or needs a stronger story arc.

BREAKTHROUGH ideas might not necessarily be an idea that I would have stumbled upon by myself.

BREAKTHROUGH ideas might not necessarily be on the top 10 list of topics I want to write about.

BREAKTHROUGH ideas might not necessarily be a topic I’ve already researched.

But a BREAKTHROUGH idea practically guarantees you a book contract after all your hard work.

WHY? Because a BREAKTHROUGH idea is specifically targeted to today’s current publishing market (but not necessarily a flash-in-the-pan trend).

WHY? Because a BREAKTHROUGH idea is usually something a number of editors are currently interested in.

WHY? Because a BREAKTHROUGH idea is usually a topic that will practically guarantee good sales numbers of a book because this topic is being bought by parents, teachers, and librarians (the current market who is purchasing children’s books).

So, I invite you to read my next series of posts where I share my journey with you on choosing a BREAKTHROUGH topic to write about in today’s current children’s book market.

Posted by: nancyisanders | February 1, 2020

How-to-Write Classes for Children’s Writers

1 Sanders Author Photo circle

As many of you know, I teach classes on how you can write for children.

I’m excited to announce a brand new class on writing funny stories for kids!

It’s called WRITING HUMOR FOR KIDS and is available now at the Serious Writer Academy where I’m one of the instructors.

I love writing funny stories for kids. I think my favorite funny series that I wrote (quite a while back for Concordia) was called the MARSHAL MATT series: MYSTERIES WITH A VALUE.

And I’m currently working on a funny story that’s a 4-book middle grade novel. In my class, WRITING HUMOR FOR KIDS, I teach you the nuts and bolts of how to do it. I let you know all the tricks of the trade that I use in my own writing so that you can use them too!

CLICK HERE to learn how you can buy the audio of that class (with handouts) as well as my other class, DEVELOPING 3-D CHARACTERS.

Oh, and if you want to take the class that my friend, Tina M. Cho took to learn how to write a middle grade novel, CLICK HERE to find out more info!

Happy writing!

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