Monday, 20 April 2015

Mixing Story Sacks With Picture Books

We all know (I hope) that reading stories is an invaluable experience for young children. It helps them develop a wide range of important skills including developing their listening and communication skills. But many people seem to stop there with picture books but introduce a story sack to the equation and the learning opportunities expand hugely. A story sack offers opportunities for active, involved, cross-curricular learning. They help bring stories to life and offers practical ideas that support the differing interests and learning styles of young children.
So what is a story sack? 
It's a large cloth bag containing a picture book with supporting materials that stimulate language activities and make reading a memorable and enjoyable experience.
How do you make a story sack? 
Simply find a cloth bag to serve as the sack (even an old pillow case will do) and fill with some or all of the following materials (remember to keep appropriate for the needs and abilities of your child).
  • A copy of the book
  • A CD or DVD of the story, if you can find one (link below to my first picture book A Book For Bramble
  • Related non-fiction books e.g. for my book A Book For Bramble you could explore the life of mice and the other creatures that appear in it - rabbits, squirrels, owls and various bugs etc.
  • Models of characters (soft toys are ideal) and objects from the story for example from my book The Best Jumper you could include (for older children) chunky child friendly knitting needles and wool
  • Activities or games relating to the story - often renaming a favourite traditional game will help you achieve this for example a noughts and crosses game can be easily changed if you use images of the characters as counters
  • Themed art and craft items - Pinterest can you your friend here
  • Linked activity cards - see below
Activity cardsAn activity card lists ideas for things to do based on the book, this could include questions, for example using my book Bad Manners, Benjie! you could ask:
  • What was your favourite bit?
  • What bad manners did Boris have?
  • What good manners did Benjie have?
Or why not write a single activity on a piece of paper, fold it up and place in a jar or small cloth bag. Mix the ideas up then encourage your child to close their eyes, pick one, unfold the paper and read what the activity is. Then complete the task or activity it suggests. Your child can suggest these ideas or you could create your own as a surprise. Activities could include:
  • Enjoy a themed crafting session
  • Make up a song or poem based on something that happens in the story
  • Enjoy the same activity the character did in the story for example go to the park just like Boris, Benjie and Dog did in Bad Manners, Benjie!
I hope you can see what fun you can have with a story sack and this post has given you a few ideas. If you have a few ideas I've not included above please do share.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A Few Blogging Tips

I teach a number of writing courses that encourage students to earn money from their writing. As part of their marketing campaign I always suggest that writing a blog can be a good option. The reasons I give are the very reasons I blog. They include:

  • It provides you with the opportunity to exercise your writing ‘muscle’
  • Blogging doesn’t cost you anything apart from time – so can be a cost effective marketing tool
  • It allows you to create your USP by proving you know your subject – great if you want to impress an editor
  • It enables you to reach a worldwide audience and market yourself and your work, even when you're asleep

Now when blogging there are things you should do and things you shouldn’t. What follows are a few tips that will hopefully help you create a blog people will want to visit plus a few tips on blogging etiquette.

What you should do when blogging:


Don’t just use it to sell, sell, sell. Write something of interest; create a blog that is useful and provides information, just as I’m hopefully doing with these tips. However remember a blog can be used as a marketing tool and include a link here and there. Be honest you don’t get anything for nothing. As a reader I’m more than happy to gain from someone’s knowledge with the only cost to me being the odd link here and there (which I don't have to follow if I don't want to).  


Include images of anything related to the blog content, you or your work. It makes the page look more enticing and allows you to ‘hide’ a little advert - hence the picture of my latest book – see point one.


Don’t moan about your in-grown toenail, how bad your day has been or what you plan to have to lunch, people don’t care. I refer you back to point one, so write something of interest or of use. 


Ensure you proofread and edit, make the work the best you make it. This will prove you care about your work and hopefully encourage an editor to contact you and offer that book contract you’re looking for. As someone who is an Indie publisher it also proves to possible readers of my work that I can string a sentence together.   

What you shouldn't do when blogging:


Use it as a tool to send spam. 


Steal someone’s copyright (words and or images). You’d be annoyed if it were to happen to you.    


Don’t be rude, cruel, incite hatred, say anything that can be considered libellous, encourage someone to break the law or say something you know is untrue. It damages your reputation, will lose you readers and may lose you work. This also goes if you're leaving comments on a blog post. What you write reflects on you and once your reputation is damaged it can take a long time (if ever) to repair that damage.      


Don’t share information that is personal to you or anyone else.


Don't claim to have done something you haven't or be something you’re not. There will be at least one person who will know you're stretching the truth and will let the world know. As with point three it will simply damage your reputation and people remember.  

Although writing a blog may not directly earn you money you may find you get commissions based upon your on-line presence. I know a couple of my writing friends have and I gained a commission from a US magazine from one of my crafting themed posts. 

I hope you’ve learned a little from this post and I’d love to know why you blog.


As I’ve mentioned I teach a few writing courses I thought just in case anyone was interested I'd included links to three of my courses that start on the 7th March 2015:

See what I did there? 

Monday, 8 September 2014

My seven tips for marketing your ebook

In a blog post I wrote for Authors Electric last month (Retelling Tales - It's Been Done Before) I hinted at my latest book. This month I'm pleased to announce my latest ebook featuring the rogue that is Brer Rabbit is now available for download from Amazon (UK - USA). The book contains eight retold tales all based on the original tales collected and retold by Joel Chandler Harris.

You may be wondering why I'm telling you this. Well using my monthly slot on Authors Electric was one of the ideas I had to help me market my new book. I also had other ideas and wanted to share them with you (so I wasn't just marketing at you). So here they are:

I've placed a blatant plug on my personal Facebook page and my author Facebook page.

I've decided to give Wattpad a go. If you've not heard of it basically it's a library you upload your work on to and people can download and read for free.  Some people choose to place entire books on there, a chapter at a time. Some like myself upload part of their work (in my case just one of my short stories) in the hopes someone enjoys their work so much that they are then willing to pay to read further work. I have no idea if it'll work but I'm happy to give it a go. In the first 24 hours my Brer Rabbit story was read by six people. I've also uploaded a story from my Anansi the Trickster Spider collection so I can see if the sales increase -  I'll let you know in a few months if Wattpad appears to pays off.

I've let the 449 people on my LinkedIn network know my book is now available to purchase. I also intend to let a few of the groups I'm a member of know about my new book. One of the groups has 3,774 members - so a quick mention can't hurt.

As you can see I've also blogged here and intend on blogging on my website and post on our company website (all my ebooks are written under the banner of Mad Moment Media).

I read somewhere that Pinterest has 70 million users, with 80% of those being women and apparently 70% of Pinterest members using the site as inspiration for their next purchase. So I'm going to create a Brer Rabbit themed board which will hopefully raise the profile of my ebook and even create a sale or two.

I've added the book to my author page on Goodreads. I'll be honest I've done very little with Goodreads, so over the next couple of months I'm going to learn as much about it as I can and try to discover if it can be used as a marketing tool. If you have a Goodreads author account and also wish to experiment then here is their official link that provides information on how you can use it to market yourself and book.

Last but not least I'm going to create a 'proper' email signature. It's something I've never done (I've just been lazy) but I send 100s of emails per month. Apparently it shouldn't take long and I never know it may lead to a sale or two.

If you have any other ideas about marketing then I'd love to hear them, so please do share.


P.S. If you fancy reading a Brer Rabbit story or an Anansi the Trickster Spider story then just follow the links.

Monday, 9 June 2014

How Teaching Is Helping My Writing

The few days ago I was talking to a friend who has just started a new job, which she's loving. She'd come to the conclusion that in her previous job she reached a dead end, hence the move. Once we'd talked about her new job she asked me how my writing was going. "I just don't have time," was my reply.

She was surprised and asked me why. So I explained that at the moment I'm teaching so many writing courses that I only  have time to scribble ideas in my note books. She then asked if I felt my old 'job' of writing had reached a dead end. After thinking for a moment I realised that teaching is an extension to my writing. I love to teach new writers the tricks I use and they often teach me a few new tricks. I also realised that although I'm not writing the teaching provides me with the opportunity to bounce ideas off of people I would never normally come into contact with. So my teaching is laying down the fuel for the writing I will do during the periods I don't teach, namely the holidays.

So rather than my writing reaching a dead end I feel a little time away from it is giving me the chance to build on my library of ideas, which I can then use to fuel my writing when I return to it.

So my advice is if you feel you've reached a dead end with your writing take time away from it and refresh your writing battery. It's working for me.



P.S. If you want to hone your writing skills check out my on-line writing courses (and the others) run by Women On Writing:
How To Write A Children's Picture Book And Get Published
Five Picture Books In Five Weeks
How To Write A Hobby-Based How To Book


Thursday, 27 March 2014

Turning a book character into a toy

I was recently handed a sheet of paper and told by him-in-doors "this is for you to fill out." When I looked down I saw the words 'bucket list.' So over the last couple of weeks I've been adding things as they've occurred to me. Now I've always wanted to have one of my book characters turned into a toy. Knowing this was unlikely to happen with my traditionally published picture books I decided I'd do it myself. So I looked at the picture books that have been published as an eBook or an app. As soon as I saw the rabbit that appears in 'Clever Rabbit' and 'The Best Rabbit' I knew I may just be able to make him work.
A page from 'The Best Rabbit'
So I grabbed my crochet hook, some orange, yellow and red yarn and got crocheting. I'll admit I've surprised myself as I've never turned an image into a 3-D object. I'm now hooked - sorry for the pun. I'm now looking at my other characters to see if I can repeat the process. I'm going to allow my brain to cogitate on it and hopefully that brain cell will work out what I need to do. I"m thinking Captain from Captain and Nugget (eBook - app for iPhone/iPad ) at the moment - I know I have just the right colour wall in my stash.  
My crocheted version of Rabbit  
If you'd like to have a go a creating your own Rabbit then a free crochet pattern can be found here.



Friday, 28 February 2014

Wearing Two Hats at The Same Time

lynne garner author visit
I was recently contacted by a teacher who had set hedgehogs as the theme for a class project. She asked if I could visit the children and talk to them about hedgehogs and the volunteer work I do rescuing them.  I suggested as part of my visit I also put my author hat on and read my picture book 'A Book For Bramble.'

As I spoke to the children I was amazed at the number of facts they already knew. These included:
  • They are nocturnal
  • Their main defence is to roll into a ball
  • They eat slugs, snails, caterpillars, bugs etc. but you can also feed them hedgehog food or cat/dog food
  • It's good to leave water out for them during hot weather 
  • There are different types of hedgehogs
  • Hedgehogs are quite good swimmers
  • A hedgehog can run up to 4 miles per hour (although I know they are fast, as I've had to chase escapees, I didn't know it was that fast)
Although I enjoyed the visit what arrived in the post really made the visit special, an envelope containing hedgehog themed thank you cards. These cards will go onto the hedgehog shed wall but before this happens I wanted to share them.

The hedgehog themed thank you cards kindly sent to me after my school visit
Hedgehogs galore!

More hedgehogs plus a little mouse called Teasel
I hope you've enjoyed seeing these images. 

Note to teachers:

If you're a teacher about to cover the theme of hedgehogs and would like me to visit please click on the 'support us' button for more details.


Sadly many hedgehogs may have died in the floods this year, so those that have survived will need our help more than ever. So if you have a hedgehog who visits your garden then you may wish to supply it with a new home or perhaps leave some food out. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Picture Books Aren't Just For Kids

When working on a new picture book I'm not just writing it for children, I'm writing it for a list of people. This list consists of:
  • Commissioning editor
  • Marketing department
  • Bookseller
  • Purchaser

That is a lot of people to get my book passed before it lands in front of the eyes of a child. I therefore have to ensure my story fulfils the criteria each one of the above has. I therefore  have to consider many different things as I work on a new title. These are: 
For the commissioning editor I have to try and produce a story that is often character led. So I need a strong character that has to overcome a conflict or one that 'grows.' This means I have to have a plot with a strong start, an interesting middle and a satisfying end. Editors often like a lesson to be learnt, even if this is subtle as in my picture book 'Dog Did It' where the message is not to blame others for your own actions.

The marketing department are looking for a book that can be sold globally and will sell year round. This is why some publishers prefer animals as main characters because they can cross most borders. The marketing department also wants a book that will sell well to a parent or grandparent but also someone buying for an institution such as a school or library. Lastly they want a book that has something they can use to help sell the title for example it has a clever twist to the ending as in 'Tadpoles Promise' written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ross.  

A bookseller has similar needs to the marketing department. They want a book they can place on their shelves and sell itself. This is why humour often works well. If the adult who picks up the book smiles as they are reading it they are more likely to buy it. A bookseller not only needs a book that looks good but also one a child will want read to them time and again. 

Although a picture book is aimed a children it is an adult who purchases it. They are not just looking for value for money but also something they won't mind reading 10, 20, 30 or more times.

So next time you pick up a picture book remember it's been written with you in mind, not just the child you'll be reading it to. 

I have three new distance learning courses commencing soon via Women On Writing: