• Picturebooking Prof

Putting my Money where my...Pen?...Is: Investing in the Next Step

So after completing the end-of-year assessment exercise I posted about at the beginning of this year, I took some steps to take my writing to the next level. Now I’m super frugal, so the fact that many of these steps cost money forced me to evaluate my commitment to this whole children’s writing thing. So, once I decided I was all in, I took some of the extra funds I’m making this term from advising my Master’s students and invested it in my writing. Although I'm not usually one to talk money, I’m going to be transparent here in terms of cost, in case it’s helpful to fellow aspiring writers. Here’s the breakdown:


1. 12x12 Challenge Membership

  • WHAT: A forum of children’s writers and authors who support one another, critique one another’s work, and share knowledge and resources related to writing for kids. The “challenge” component involves the goal to write a new picture book draft and revise an old picture book draft each month of the year. Membership includes at least one training webinar a month, along with myriad other resources for developing your writing. 12x12 is organized by Julie Hedlund.

  • WHY: I need the eyes of kidlit professionals on my work. I also need practice critiquing others’ work. And I want to connect with others who write for children.

  • COST: $177 for the year


2. Rate Your Story Membership

  • WHAT: A service that provides professional critiques on your work. Published authors and experts read your story, write a detailed page of comments and suggestions, and then give it a rating from 1 to 10 (1 is the best, 10 is the worst) to give you a feel for its submission-readiness. Members get 18 submissions for the year, and ratings and critiques are typically returned within two weeks.

  • WHY: I needed a professional evaluation of how ready my work is for publication.

  • COST: $165 for the year (early registration price, which also came with one extra submission in December 2019)


3. Website Upgrade

  • WHAT: Upgrading from the free, ad-littered site with the “wixsite” domain to a website with my own professional domain (brendawhiteheadwrites.com) and no ads.

  • WHY: Up to now, I’ve been on the “everything free” train. This has been fine, but now that I’m engaging more effortfully in the kidlit community, and now that some of my work is approaching publication-worthy (meaning I may start submitting to agents and editors again soon), I wanted to make sure I come across as committed and professional.

  • COST: $112 for the year ($8.50/month, plus $10 to privatize my domain registration)


4. SCBWI Membership Renewal

  • WHAT: This is the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators that I joined last March, and which gives access to many resources, conferences, and local chapter events.

  • WHY: Technically, I won’t have to renew this until March, but I wanted to include it here since it will be part of my annual investment. SCBWI membership is considered an essential for all writers for children.

  • COST: $99


Now, it’s also important to note the free events and resources I’m still investing my time in—it doesn’t all cost money!


5. Storystorm

  • WHAT: A 30-day challenge to come up with a new picture book idea every day for the month of January. The challenge is organized by author Tara Lazar, and is accompanied by daily emails from a variety of successful authors designed to get the brainstorming juices flowing.

  • WHY: I needed to brainstorm new material and also wanted to connect with fellow writers.

  • COST: free!


6. KidLitCon 2020

  • WHAT: A 2-day conference in Ann Arbor, MI (about 30 minutes from me), planned for March 2020. The event is free thanks to sponsorship by the Ann Arbor public library (huzzah!).

  • WHY: Again, I want to connect with other writers, and this is a great way to meet some local folks in person. Most conferences cost hundreds of dollars to attend (not including travel costs), so this conference is serendipitous.

  • COST: free!


7. #PBpitch

  • WHAT: A day when writers can “pitch” their stories on twitter using the #PBpitch hashtag, and agents and editors following the hashtag have the opportunity to “heart” any pitches they are interested in. A “heart” greenlights those pitches out of the slush pile and gives them a much better chance of being picked up.

  • WHY: For me, mainly to practice my pitches. I don’t expect hearts, but it’s fun to play and fun to support other authors by retweeting their pitches.

  • COST: free!


8. Contests

  • WHAT: Okay, this is kind of a lazy category, since some contests are free, but others have a nominal submission fee. I will likely submit to at least one fee-based contest hosted by the Institute for Children’s Literature (the current call is for bedtime books, and I have one at the ready), but I mainly stick to free opportunities, like Susana Leonard Hill’s holiday contests (there’s a Valentines one coming up soon that I’m looking forward to!).

  • WHY: Practice, practice, practice! And potential kudos.

  • COST: $19 (for the ICL contest) or free!


So, there you have it. I mainly view 2020 as a year of practice-practice-practice, connecting with the kidlit community, and finding my voice. Although I have a long way to go, it has already been incredibly encouraging to hear what fellow kidlit writers have to say about my work. I’m leaving a few quotes here, not to toot my own horn, but as an “I’m not a complete imposter” flag for myself when I have those “what on earth do I think I’m doing??” moments (and I have them on the regular!):

  • “I think something like this could be an instant classic.” ~From the Rate Your Story feedback on one of my stories, which was rated a “1” (submission-ready)

  • “This is a marvelous story…genius.” ~Comment on one of my stories from a fellow 12x12 member

  • “Heartbreakingly beautiful.” ~Comment on one of my stories from a fellow 12x12 member

  • “Beautiful story…this is an important story to tell.” ~Comment on one of my stories from a fellow 12x12 member

Yes, these are selected comments—not all of them are this glowing, and even these are accompanied by helpful suggestions for making my writing and my stories even better. But that’s exactly what I need: supportive, honest feedback that helps me take my stories from my kiddos’ bedrooms to the big, wide world of children’s publishing!



How will you invest—time or money—in something you’re passionate about this year?


Fellow writers, are there other tools/memberships/resources you find helpful in developing your skills and connecting with the wider kidlit world?


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