Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Illustration Notes [To note? Or not to note?] by Guest post author Beth Anderson

 Today I welcome back author Beth Anderson to the Grog Blog. Her latest picture book, Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose! published May 14, 2024, from Calkins Creek.


Illustration notes are one of those things authors always have questions about. To note? Or not to note? We’re told they have negative effects. But we also tend to think they’re necessary at times. As a writer of narrative nonfiction, I know details have to be right, but at the same time, I don’t want notes to detract from a read by an editor or overstep with an illustrator.

As I pored over the pre-publication passes for THOMAS JEFFERSON’S BATTLE FOR SCIENCE: BIAS, TRUTH, AND A MIGHTY MOOSE!, checking art and text before it went out for printing, I was amazed at how illustrator Jeremy Holmes had merged text and art. The finished spreads were so seamless and intertwined that I couldn’t tell what I had written in the manuscript and what he had added in illustration. When I see books like that, I often wonder what specifically was in the text, illustration notes, and added in art.

So, I went back to see the evolution…

The submitted manuscript had a few illustration notes within the story, including a few optional quotes that could be used. I also had a note for the editor at the end, as I usually do, containing some specifics on the situation in a few scenes to help clarify for an illustrator what wasn’t contained in the text.

Then I looked at the editorial revisions…

Most all the illustration notes in the story disappeared during this process. Why? The revisions clarified so the notes weren’t needed. Sometimes the addition or changing of as little as one word can eliminate the need for a note.

 That brought me to compare that final manuscript with the book to see how Jeremy worked his magic…

Well, first of all, it was abundantly clear at the sketch stage that he had dug deep into research himself. The art was filled with magnificent details. Some spreads had a somewhat graphic novel-ish (yes, I’m sure that’s the correct art term) look that included bits of text. So…where did some of those text pieces originate?

Here are a few examples of text in art and art in text: 

Take a look at this spread and guess what came from me and what came from Jeremy… 


My text had the first three exclamation words (because, of course, I love sets of three!), and he added the 4th. With his format using four panels, the addition of “poppycock” was perfect.

On a previous page, there are a couple similar words added in the art that were his.

 Jeremy also used little white boxes with comments or a few words in various spots. A few originated in my text, and he moved them into the art, but most of those are his creation. Some of those boxes add humor, others offer historical tidbits (which could have come from a scene  illustration note, but I don’t think they did).

 There are also a few primary source documents in the art. Jeremy’s choices showcase priceless examples that enhance the story and most definitely provide something for kids to pore over on a second read and likely inspire “Whaaaaaaat?”…LOL…“ew.” One of the documents was the bill for the moose. I had tried to find a way to include pieces of it in the text, but it ended up being cut. Jeremy didn’t know that. What fun to see it on the page in the art!

 He totally got my tone and angle, and made it all come to life. He amped up the emotional arc, added to pacing, and brought so much creative fun to the story. And in the end, guess what, he didn’t need my illustration notes. He didn’t use the quotes I offered, didn’t depend on my scene details. He illustrated his vision of the story and integrated it perfectly with mine. Luck? No. Skill. A skilled and wonderfully creative illustrator, chosen by a skilled editor, Carolyn Yoder, who matched just the right illustrator to the text!

 So, my conclusion is…

Unless your story is very different than what the reader needs to see, the old adage applies—the fewer the illustration notes, the better. For me, cutting them forces more clarity in the writing.

 We hope you’ll enjoy the story!

 

Watch the introductory video!

Publisher book page: https://astrapublishinghouse.com/product/thomas-jeffersons-battle-for-science-9781635926200/

For signed copies, visit Old Firehouse Books here: https://www.oldfirehousebooks.com/book/9781635926200

 

Educator Guide: https://astrapublishinghouse.com/resources/thomas-jefferson-guide/

Class Video Visit with Beth Anderson and illustrator Jeremy Holmes from Second Star to the Right Bookstore: https://youtu.be/ijn7pN3MoE8  

For more on Beth’s books and to explore her blog, visit https://bethandersonwriter.com 

 





Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Serious Science Presented Not So Seriously

by Sue Heavenrich

Greenwillow Books, June 4, 2024
 I love it when an author can present serious science in a fun – and even humorous – way. So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Abi Cushman’s newest picture book, Flamingos Are Pretty Funky. It’s the second (Not So) Serious Guide book and just as fun to read as her earlier guide, Wombats Are Pretty Weird, which  I reviewed last year.

Flamingos are tall wading birds that wear bright pink feathers. And they have pink legs and even pink feet. You may have seen some at a zoo or in an aviary, and recently they’ve been in the news. Since last summer, flamingos have taken up residence in Florida in places where they haven’t been seen for decades. Flamingos, it turns out, were once common in Florida. But their lovely pink plumage was prized for decorating ladies hats. So flamingos were hunted out of existence in the 1800s. And now they’re back – perhaps blown in by hurricane, say some scientists.

So now is the perfect time to learn more about these flamboyant birds. In her book, Abi Cushman invites readers to get up close and personal with flamingos. But not that close!


“Back up a little,” she writes. “A little more …There! Behold the flamingo…”  And with that she’s off and telling us all about where flamingos live and their names (er, species), and why their feathers are pink. It has to do with what they eat – shrimp – and … 

“Have you tried eating more peas? I hear green is a pretty stylish color, too.” 

Sorry for the interruption. That was Joey the snake. He hangs out in sidebars and page margins adding comedic commentary. Back to flamingos … I enjoyed Abi’s new book so much that I invited her over to the GROG for a cuppa and a chat.

Sue: I love the beginning "too close... back up..." How did you decide where to begin with this book?

Abi Cushman
Abi: With both Wombats Are Pretty Weird and Flamingos Are Pretty Funky, I like to think of the narrator as someone who is trying to do a serious nature documentary, but things go a bit sideways. I thought it would be funny to play with the idea of “Can you spot the flamingo?” Well, of course you can because it’s bright pink. So I thought I’d take it a step further (or rather, a step too close) and zoom in all the way to its feathers to start.

Sue:  You've got a map to show where different flamingos are found around the world. And I think this is where we first meet their personalities. How and when did you decide the Lesser Flamingo would be cranky?

Abi: I mean, wouldn’t you be cranky if your name was Lesser? No doubt the name came about because this flamingo is small, but surely we could come up with a better name. It’s a bit insulting. To be fair, none of the flamingos have very creative common names, which was great for me because it provided fodder for jokes.

Sue: What inspired you to write this book?

Abi: I always wanted to make more “[Not So] Serious Guide” books in a similar vein to Wombats Are Pretty Weird. But I added flamingos as a potential animal to pitch to my editor after reading a National Geographic Kids article about how flamingos can live in very extreme environments. I had already known about them getting their pink coloring from their food, but I learned about their tough scaly legs and their ability to drink salt water from the article. That made me want to dig even deeper, and I discovered even more cool traits. I think flamingos make a great subject for a book because most people are familiar with them but may not know how weird and special they are.

Sue:  Do you have flamingos living anywhere near you? (Not that flamingos are native to Connecticut) 

Abi: I am lucky in that I often see wading birds where I live in Connecticut, including snowy egrets and great blue herons. However, the closest flamingos probably live at the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island.

Sue: We first met Joey-the-Snake in your Wombat book. When did you decide he'd be in Flamingos are Pretty Funky? And will we see him in any future books?

Abi: When I was thinking about how to continue the series, I actually wasn’t sure if I should have Joey the snake again or a different animal to provide commentary. But then once I thought of the joke comparing the bright pink color of the flamingos to Joey’s “drab pea-greeny” color, I felt like I could make it work. I like having him in this second book because it adds continuity to the series. I have ideas for more animals Joey can meet, and it is my sincere hope that you will see him in future books!

Sue: Thanks for hanging out at the GROG, and I can’t wait to see more “not so serious” guides! 

Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of Soaked! (Viking, 2020), Animals Go Vroom! (Viking, 2021 Wombats Are Pretty Weird (Greenwillow Books, 2023) and illustrated The Quiet Forest (written by Charlotte Offsay) published earlier this year. When she’s not writing about weird animals, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two kids. Find out more about Abi and her books at her website at her website.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Vicky Fang has a new series! ~Christy Mihaly

I'm delighted to welcome author-illustrator Vicky Fang to GROG today. Vicky's published books include the "Best Buddies" early readers and the "Friendbots" and "Layla and the Bots" series. Lots of great STEM content there! Vicky's newest book (released June 4) kicks off a funny, relatable new early chapter book series. She tells us about it here.

Welcome, Vicky! To start, maybe you could tell us a little about yourself and why you write books for kids.

Vicky:

Thank you for having me! I started writing and illustrating because I wanted to inspire kids in STEM, and have expanded from there. But the common thread that remains through all my books is encouraging kids to be creative problem solvers, whether that be in STEM or friendships or school—or anywhere!


And now you have three new books coming out! Tell us about one of them!

My next book, AVA LIN, BEST FRIEND! is the start of a brand-new early chapter book series! It features a six-and-a-half year old girl who is navigating school, family, and friends—often with unintended and hilarious results. Ava Lin is Chinese American, which you’ll see in the little details of her life, but her knack for getting into—and out of—sticky situations is familiar to us all.




Great cover! So you are the illustrator as well as the author?

Yes. AVA LIN is the first chapter book series that I have self-illustrated, so I’m incredibly proud of it! I’m hugely grateful to my editor, Sarah Ketchersid, and my art director, Lisa Rudden, at Candlewick for giving me the opportunity and supporting me along the way.


What inspired you to invent Ava and write her story? How did you get the ideas?

AVA LIN is inspired by my kids and my own childhood. I’ve loved watching the earnestness, curiosity, triumphs, and relatable misunderstanding of my own kids and wanted to capture that in this series. They’ve loved watching these books come to life too. We laugh about Ava Lin’s antics together, and when something appropriately funny happens in real life, they say “This should be in an Ava Lin book!”



AVA LIN, BEST FRIEND! (Credit: Candlewick, ©2024 Vicky Fang)

Love that your kids are looking out for ideas for you!

How long did it take you to write this book? 

The idea for AVA LIN sat in my head for several months and then I wrote the first draft during a weekend retreat. (I love retreats.) After that, I probably revised for a few weeks before sending it off to my agent.


That's a great tip for procrastinating writers! Take a retreat!

After you wrote it at that retreat,Vicky, how long did it take to sell the manuscript?

It took about six months to sell Ava Lin. It did sell in the first round of submissions, but the submission process feels so slow these days!


Tell me about it. So slooooow.

What do you hope readers take away from reading Ava's story?

I hope the series makes kids laugh! I also hope that kids will relate to Ava Lin’s experiences—to see that Ava makes mistakes all the time, but that everything is always somehow okay in the end. And that even when things don’t turn out the way she expected, it doesn’t stop her from approaching life with curiosity and optimism. And last but not least, I hope these books help kids fall in love with reading!


AVA LIN, BEST FRIEND! (Credit: Candlewick, ©2024 Vicky Fang)


As an illustrator, you get an additional level of input into your books.

Tell us something about how you did the illustrations for Ava.

I had so much fun illustrating these books. I think I most enjoy the expressiveness that I was able to pull into each of Ava’s life moments. I also just had my first classroom visit where I taught kids how to draw Ava Lin, and it was such a delight to see their own versions of Ava Lin!


What was most surprising about doing these illustrations?

I hadn’t realized how much fun it would be to do this style of illustration, interspersed between text. Each illustration gets to be like its own mini-story, which was super fun to do. I think because Ava Lin is such an enthusiastic character, it also felt joyful to draw the things she loves, like animals, bubble tea, and treasure!


AVA LIN, BEST FRIEND! (Credit: Candlewick, ©2024 Vicky Fang)

This series looks really fun!

Okay, Vicky, tell us: What advice do you have for writers?

Thinking about this series specifically, I feel like it really leveraged everything I’ve learned as an author and illustrator up to this point. I was able to think about crafting multiple elements of this book (plot, character, arc, heart, pacing, etc.) in a much more fluid way than I had been able to in my previous books. And I’m still learning and getting better! So my advice to writers is to just keep at it. Slowly but surely, you will get better and better. 


Also, if you’re looking for more writing and publishing advice from me, I started a newsletter with my friend and critique partner, Christine N Evans (Dear Mr. G, The Wist Library) called Kidlit Survival Guide—check it out!


Thanks, VIcky! Last question: What’s next for you?

I’ve just finished art for Ava Lin Book 2, and am starting sketches for Book 3! I’m also working on sketches for my next series, an early graphic novel series called ONE MAD CAT.

That's a lot! Thanks for taking the time to chat here. I look forward to reading all these amazing books.



Wednesday, May 29, 2024

What's Changed in Children's Publishing in the Last Ten Years? by Julie Phend

 

What's Changed Since the GROG Blog Began?

As part of GROG Blog's Ten-Year Anniversary Celebration, we're exploring what's changed in children's and young adult publishing since the GROG began. 

I asked four long-term Groggers, Kathy Halsey, Christy Mihaly, Tina Cho, and Todd Burleson to tell us:

  • What has changed for you personally as a children's author, teacher or librarian in the past ten years?
  • What changes have you seen in children's publishing?

Here's what they had to say:

Kathy with her book, Be a Rainbow
Kathy Halsey:
In ten years, so much has changed in this whirlwind business. Back in 2014, I was beginning my journey as a children's writer. In 2024, my first WFH book, Be a Rainbow (Kiwi Press) launched.

When most of the charter GROG members began this journey, we were optimistic and curious about writing for children. We wanted to share our questions and the answers we discovered with other kitlit writers and illustrators; hence the birth of GROG, an acronym for "group blog."

Todd Burleson, our founder, came up with the name and banner, which hasn't changed and may feel "old school" now. (There was no CANVA then.) Our GROG goals remain the same: assisting our readers, life-long learning, celebrating others' successes, and creating a better world for all children through books.

Traditional publishing has become harder: publishing houses merged, book productions costs rose, and long waits for everything is the new normal. Still, we're optimistic and committed to writing for kids. New, smaller publishers have emerged that interact more personally with their clients. Exciting new book formats grab more readers. Best of all, more kids see themselves in books now that publishing is more open to diverse writer once left out of the business. 

Kathy Halsey is a children's author, entrepreneur, former K-12 librarian, and Past President of OELMA. 

Kathy and Christy 
Christy Mihaly:
After a dozen years and forty books. I feel less like an imposter when I tell people I'm a children's author. I've also become much more comfortable making presentations at schools, libraries, and conferences. 

I've had the same agent, Erzsi Deak, for eight years, and it's been a real joy to be on this writing journey alongside a wise professional partner. In addition to finding homes for my manuscripts, she has helped me figure out how to evolve and grow as an author.

One of the nice things about having published nonfiction books is that I've had former editors suggest new topics or ask me to write a particular book they want to see. Yes! Give me an assignment, please!

Another great thing is that I'm still meeting wonderful new people in the kidlit community--other writers, illustrators, teachers, and librarians. We're all on a journey together, and I love how supportive the kidlit and education communities are. 


Christy presents at Children's Lit Festival
in Kirksville, MO
Regarding changes I've seen in the industry:
Everything feels slower these days. Writers are having more difficulty finding agents, and agents are finding it challenging to sell manuscripts. Editors seem overworked, and books are taking a long time to move once they're acquired.

The efforts of so many people in the industry to improve diversity in kids' books has had an effect. Recently published books have featured a wide range of cultures, identities, and social issues. On the other hand, there's the backlash of book banning and censorship--we live in interesting times.

Graphic novels (and nonfiction in a GN format) have taken off in the last decade. Kids have always enjoyed these books, but I think adults are taking them more seriously now. 

The landscape of conferences seems to be changing, as some are cancelled and others revised or presented online. I'm not sure where this will go, but there may be new opportunities ahead. I look forward to finding out!

Christy Mihaly is a children's author and poet who has published more than 35 books, primarily nonfiction, on topics from hayfields to free speech to Mel Brooks.


Tina Cho
Tina Cho:
So much has changed for me personally in the past ten years! In 2014, my family was living in South Korea. In 2024, we're living in Iowa, USA. In 2014, none of my books were published. I didn't have an agent yet. In 2024, I have a wonderful agent and five published picture books with two more on the way, plus a middle grade lyrical graphic novel. I'm blessed!

Regarding changes I've seen in the publishing world:
These days, it's harder to get published. With the pandemic, publishing slowed way down. Editors started working from home. Publishers laid workers off. Some publishers have combined into one house. Agents and editors are being very selective of the stories they publish, and the wait time to hear back from both has increased dramatically. Therefore, writers need to really know the craft of writing and put their very best unique work out there. It's a competitive and tough market right now.

Ten years ago, we didn't do virtual author visits. But again thanks to the pandemic, most of now have conducted visits virtually. To do in-school visits, I think security and the necessary paperwork have increased.

I've seen editors want and acquire more diverse stories. When I first started writing, there weren't many books featuring Asian characters. Now there are many, though still a drop in the bucket compared to those featuring white characters and animals. Books that deal with social and emotional learning have skyrocketed since the pandemic. Being cooped up for a year or more hit us all heavily. Now, we read books to children and adults to get them out of depressed states. 

Tina Cho is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction picture books. She recently moved back from South Korea to her home state of Iowa, where she teaches and raises a family.

Todd Burleson was integral to founding the GROG Blog but is no longer a regular contributor. I asked Kathy to re-introduce him to our GROG readers. 

Todd has always been a leader, team player, and a technology innovator. No wonder he was our GROG leader! This anniversary has us reminiscing about how we met. We've never met in person, but we have much in common: we both have Master's degrees and 30+ years of experience in education and a love of nonfiction. We're both school librarians, Midwesterners, and even had the same agent. Todd's still shaking things up in the school library world as a creator and visionary. Welcome back, Todd!


Todd Burleson
Todd Burleson:
Holy cow! TEN years! I vividly remember when I timidly reached out via Facebook to like-minded writers and thinkers who wanted to create a blog about all things children's literature, curious whether there was a need. A handful of intrepid individuals responded, and the Group Blog (GROG) began.

In the ensuing years, my career as an educator and librarian hit all-time highs as I was given the honor of being chosen as the 2016 School Library Journal Librarian of the Year. This afforded me tremendous opportunities and experiences, including traveling around the world talking about books and learning, and meeting amazing authors, illustrators and librarians. 

Over the past decade, I've seen the children's literature world blossom. Movements like We Need Diverse Books, the explosion of graphic novels (New Kid even won the Newberry Award in 2020), and novels in verse have turned millions of young people into passionate and empathetic readers. The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, the first picture book ever to win both Newberry and Caldecott Awards, seemed to change the rules and open new horizons for writers and illustrators.

In my current work as a 5th and 6th-grade librarian, I'm encouraged by the powerful stories being written that help EVERY child feel represented, respected, and understood. Students are hungry for meaningful stories that entertain, inspire, encourage, educate, and challenge them.

At the same time, I'm seeing books banned across the country at a time when the world is ever more divided and in need of understanding one another. Books have the power to bridge that gap and heal those divisions, if only we allow them to reach our readers. In my opinion, there has never been a better time to be part of the children's literature world, and books have never been more impactful!
Todd Burleson


Thank you to all the writers on the GROG, past and present, for continuing to work and encourage those who create for young readers. It is an honor to be part of this fantastic group of people. I look forward to watching the GROG expand and grow in the future.

Here's to ten more years!

Todd Burleson is a 32-year veteran educator who is currently a 5th and 6th-grade librarian in Winnetka, IL, and is the author of The Green Screen Makerspace Project Book (2017). He was selected as 2016 School Library Journal Librarian of the Year and is a passionate advocate for the power of reading to change lives.

There you have it, folks. Thank YOU for following the GROG Blog and being part of our kidlit community.  


















Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story: Making a Science Topic Accessible for Kids By Jody Jensen Shaffer

Today I welcome author Jody Jensen Shaffer to the Grog Blog. We've been online writing friends for a while, and it's been neat to see Jody's body of published books grow!

 




I, Tina Cho, recently read her nonfiction picture book, CREEP, LEAP, CRUNCH! A Food Chain Story to my kindergartners, and they loved guessing the next predator in the food chain, the suspense of the story, and the "scary" snake. 

Today, Jody shares her expertise with us in writing nonfiction. 

Thanks for having me on the Grog Blog, Tina! I’m excited to share my experience making a science topic, like the food chain, accessible (read fun and interesting) for kids.

I’ll give you the short version right up front: I think like a kid, so I write to entertain…myself! If I run across cool facts about how things work in nature, strange creatures with little-known talents, fascinating processes within the human body, or amazing ways of sharing that information, I’m hooked.

My job as a writer then is to share my excitement with (chronological) kids. Here’s how I did that for Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story, gorgeously illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal and published by Knopf Books for Young Readers in December 2023. I hope my process will be helpful for your readers!


Choose a Subject You’re Interested in

If you like what you’re writing about and researching, it’ll show in your manuscript. I knew when my journey began in 2013 with Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story that I wanted to write about the food chain. I researched my state’s science curriculum to see what grades studied food chains, and I read current picture books about the food chain to see what was already out there. Then I began researching kinds of food chains—where they take place, what animals live there, what those animals eat and what eats them.

Structure

I needed my food chain book to be different than what I saw in the market, so I began brainstorming picture book structures—traditional 3-act, cumulative, concept, mirror, parallel, reversal, list, how to, dialogue-driven, lyrical, variety of viewpoints, day in the life, morning to evening, etc. I wanted my structure to be exciting.

Then suddenly—okay, after lots of staring at my computer—“There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly” popped into my head. (For those unfamiliar, the old woman swallows a fly, then she swallows a spider to catch the fly, then she swallows a bird to catch the spider. You get the idea.)

Hey, wait! I thought. That’s a food chain! A fictional, rather strange food chain, but a food chain nonetheless! And it was told in a cumulative way—new information was introduced with each page turn, while old information was repeated. I thought using a cumulative structure to discuss the food chain would be really fun! What’s more, I knew kids would be familiar with both the “Old Woman” story and cumulative structure. By building on kids’ past knowledge, I could build interest in my subject.


Voice

So, I had my food chain facts, and I had my story structure. I knew that for kids to recognize my story’s cumulative structure, I would have to be true to the voice of the “Old Woman.” That is, I would have to mimic the rhyme, meter, and cadence of the words of that story. If those lines rhymed, I needed mine to, too, in the exact way and at the exact time. No slant rhymes. No reversed-sentence rhymes. No fudging. This is trickier than one might think! Especially when you’re writing nonfiction, because it all has to be true with actual words! 😊

So I rhymed where I was supposed to, matched my beats to the “Old Woman’s,” followed a cumulative structure, and got all my facts in there. Oh, and I also decided to make it a morning-to-night story (kids are familiar with those) and to write it using lyrical language. Can you tell this project was like putting a puzzle together? I love puzzles, by the way.

Then I went through my text and concentrated on additional literary devices—alliteration, internal rhyme, simile, metaphor, and a fun narrative voice—until it sang.

And guess what? Kids love rhyme that’s well done. They love alliteration. They love repetition. They love a fun narrative voice. All things that make a science topic accessible.


Give it a twist

So, finally, my cumulative, rhyming, nonfiction food chain book began in the morning with the sun and proceeded through a series of ever-larger animals until it ended, rather predictably, at the apex predator, a black bear.

And it felt…incomplete. Even with all the beautiful language and cool structure. Whoop-de-doo, the big guy wins. So what’s new? Yikes for the mouse, I guess.

But I’m an animal-lover and a cheerleader for the underdog (as are kids), so I worried about the cricket and the red-tailed hawk and the fox (even though I’m big enough to know what happens in the real world), and the story sat on my hard drive for three years, unfulfilled and unfulfilling until…

2016!

…when my story twist came to me—“But some days—,” wherein all the critters escape their predators, and the black bear munches flowers and seeds and is perfectly satisfied! Because that happens, too, in the real world! I knew kids (and their adults) would love that alternate ending as much as I did.

From there, it only took me another five years of tinkering—and working on other projects—before I sent it into the world, received two offers, and ultimately accepted Knopf’s.

One more tip: choose a fun, active title. My original, There Was a Blue Sky, was a bit too lyrical.

So, how do you make a science topic accessible for kids? You write it to delight the child inside you.


Thanks for sharing your process, Jody! I, especially, loved how you gave this food chain story a twist! 




 Jody Jensen Shaffer is the author of more than 80 books for children, including Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story (2024 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, Oklahoma's 2025 Donna Norvell masterlist, SLJ starred review), Prudence the Part-Time Cow (Missouri Show Me Award finalist), A Chip Off the Old Block (Iowa Goldfinch Award nominee, Amazon Teachers' Pick), It's Your First Day of School, Busy Bus! (Amazon best seller and Book Box pick), EMERGENCY KITTENS, Sometimes I am Hot Lava, and more! Jody is a frequent school, library, festival, and conference presenter. She lives with her family in Missouri. You can find Jody at jodyjensenshaffer.com and on Twitter at jodywrites4kids.


See all her books at JodyJensenShaffer.com
Twitter @JodyWrites4Kids 








Wednesday, May 15, 2024

A Question of Copyright by Fran Hodgkins

When I teach writing classes, I’m often asked, “Do I need to copyright my work?” The fear of having work stolen afflicts many writers, and so I thought I’d address it this this post.

What is copyright? 

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, it’s a form of intellectual property. It has two main facets: originality and fixed form.

 

What does "originality" mean? 

This may seem like a no-brainer, but let’s put it down in black and white. Originality means that a work is a human creation—you’ve created it yourself. It also means that a “modicum” (the Supreme Court’s word, not mine) has been involved in creating it. Certain things cannot be copyrighted, for example. If you have an idea to write a story about a donkey, you can’t copyright that idea. Nor can you copyright the idea of a heist of the Mona Lisa. This is often the fear that my students have — their idea is precious to them (as all our ideas should be), and so some sneaky publisher is going to read their manuscript and steal their idea. This is highly unlikely and should not stop you from developing your idea into an original story.

 

This concept of not being able to copyright an idea is what throws a lot of people. It’s been called the “idea-expression dichotomy.” You can write a story about a boy wizard and nobody can stop you. However, if your story shares common elements with a famous book series, then you are likely on dangerous ground. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, “. . . protection will extend only to the original elements that the author has contributed to a work, not to the work’s underlying ideas, which remain freely available to the public.”

 

Besides ideas, you can’t copyright:

·      Titles

·      Names,

·      Slogans, or

·      Short phrases.

Those expressions are covered by a different kind of intellectual property law: trademark. Copyright also doesn’t cover processes, systems, procedures, or concepts.

 

What is fixed form? 

A fixed form is any form—such as writing or recording—in which the work can be shared with others. When you write down your text, it is now in fixed form, and protected.

 

And that’s all you need to do.

 

Wait, what?




Don’t I have to file forms and pay fees and all that stuff? Actually, no. And this is the part that surprises everybody. By putting your original work in fixed form, you own the copyright. It is not necessary to mail yourself a registered copy and never open the envelope (a traditional way of establishing the date of creation, which folks still do).

 

However, registering your copyright gives you legal protections and you need it to enforce your exclusive rights in case of any legal questions. If you want to register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, you do have some homework to do. Forms need to be completed, copies submitted, and fees (ranging from $45 to $125 to start) paid. Traditional publishers register the copyrights of the books they publish.

 

In work-for-hire situations, the client registers the copyright under the client’s name. Why? Because although you created the work and put it in fixed form, you also sold it to the client. When a work-for-hire client send you payment, they buy the copyright from you and it becomes theirs. Yes, copyright can be sold. It can also be transferred, such as from a parent to child.

 

What rights does copyright give me? 

In short, it gives you the right to use the work. For example, imagine you publish a picture book about a spaghetti-loving dragon. You hold the copyright (you’ve published with a traditional publisher). That means you can sell your dragon book, write a series about your dragon (these are called derivative works), and transfer rights to make an animated movie based on your book to a movie studio.

 

 

 

Your work, registered or not, is protected for decades under the U.S. copyright law. Currently, works have a copyright term of the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. For works made for hire, produced anonymously, or written under a pen name,  the term is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation (whichever period is shorter).

 

The concept of copyright is so important to the creative vitality of the country that it’s actually in Article 1 of the Constitution. It was also defended in the U.S. Supreme Court case Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken “The immediate effect of our copyright law is to secure a fair return for an ‘author’s’ creative labor. But the ultimate aim is, by this incentive, to stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good” [422 U.S. 151, 156 (1975)].

 

Knowing that the expression of your ideas is fully protected, go on — create!  ©


 

For more info

To learn more, visit the following websites:

 

United States Copyright Office, https://www.copyright.gov/what-is-copyright/

 

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, https://www.uspto.gov/ip-policy/copyright-policy/copyright-basics