Editor Spotlight: Laura Backes

August 12, 2016

Today we have the pleasure of interviewing freelance editor and publisher of the Children's Book Insider Laura Backes. Enter her giveaway for a free seat at the Picture Book Summit 2016!

Tell us about your background and how you came to found CBI.

I moved to New York City in 1985 and was working in various capacities at publishing houses for a few years (publicity, subsidiary rights, editorial). Then I got a job as a literary agent at Goodman Associates, and represented their children's book clients. I found myself writing these long rejection letters, explaining how the author needed to revise the work. I said to Jon Bard (now my husband/business partner, then my boyfriend), "I wish there was a source of information I could just refer people to." And he said, "Why don't you start one?" So in May of 1990 the first issue of Children's Book Insider, The Children's Writing Monthly rolled off the presses. It wasn't my full-time job until 1993 when Jon sold his public relations company, we moved to Colorado, and he joined me in the business. That's when we expanded into creating all kinds of tools to teach authors how to write, market and publish their work.



Tell us about CBI and writeforkids.org.

The Children's Book Insider of 2016 has several divisions. We're working on getting them all under one umbrella, but right now we have:

Children's Book Insider (www.cbiclubhouse.com). This includes our monthly electronic newsletter and membership site that houses 26 years worth of information on writing and publishing books, magazine articles, apps and ebooks for kids and teens. Children's Book Insider has evolved from six pages back in 1990 to an average of 17 pages a month today. It includes articles and interviews on a wide variety of topics (always with a solid how-to focus), and every month features two pages of writing markets, contests and conferences. We also host webinars about every 4-6 weeks on topics ranging from writing to setting up school visits to getting your book reviewed on Amazon.

WritingBlueprints. Our Blueprints unlock the DNA of top-notch books in different age groups, and take you through the writing of your manuscript step-by-step, using the same approach as the greatest authors on the planet. Our newest offering is Picture Book Blueprint (www.picturebookblueprint.com).

WriteforKids. Our blog, accessible to everyone, that delves into many areas related to children's books, especially at the beginner level (www.writeforkids.org).




Tell us about the Picture Book Summit. What is it, and why should people attend?

Picture BookSummit is absolutely the BEST conference you'll ever attend on picture book writing. 2016 is the Summit's second year, and we're working hard to top last year, which was outstanding. It's a one-day online event (Oct. 1, 2016), so you don't have to worry about travel, lodging, meals, or even finding a babysitter. 

The Summit features three incredible keynote speakers (this year we have Matt de la Pena, Paul O. Zelinsky, and Jane Yolen), and four workshops lead by myself, Katie Davis (The Institute of Children's Literature), Julie Hedlund (12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge) and Emma Walton Hamilton (bestselling author, and acclaimed editor and writing coach). We also have recorded editor and agent panels, and lots of opportunities for attendees to ask questions of all the speakers.

The entire event is recorded, so if you can't attend the whole thing live, you'll have access to each session to watch over and over. Attendees also get a PDF packet of information, and other goodies. Oh, and there's dancing. How many conferences can say that?

Our Early Bird registration price for the Picture Book Summit ($247) is good until August 15 --go to: http://picturebooksummit.com/registration-2016/



What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in children's publishing since you've begun?

Well, I've been doing this for over 30 years, so that's a lot of changes. Picture books have much shorter texts; YA fiction has boldly embraced all kinds of real-world issues; middle grade and YA authors can achieve rock star celebrity among their readers (which is wonderful); series fiction definitely needs a strong, commercial hook; and of course the push for diversity of characters and books (fiction and nonfiction) that reflect a wide range of cultures, religions, family structures, abilities and experiences. Just to name a few.



As a professional editor, what are the biggest mistakes you see in the work of aspiring authors?

One consistent mistake I see is that many authors clearly haven't been reading a lot of recently-published books from the age group and genre in which they want to write. They may not understand the sophisticated humor of today's picture books, or the difference between middle grade and young adult fiction (often I'll see a manuscript that the author thinks is YA, but it's actually middle grade with a 15-year-old protagonist). Or they don't understand the pacing of an early chapter book and mistakenly allow the plot slow down through the story's middle. 

They're basing their writing on books they read as a child, and publishing has changed tremendously in the last 30 years. The changes aren't good or bad, but they exist. To get published today, an author must understand how children's books are written today.



What the one or two top pieces of advice you would give to aspiring authors?

Well, read, of course. Read at least 100 books that are in the same age group as your manuscript. And get a strong foundation in the fundamentals of children's book writing. It's become almost a cliche to say "Learn the rules before you break them," but it's true. I would add to that if you're going to break a rule, do it with intention. Know why you're breaking it, and make sure it serves your story. Don't break, or even bend, a rule because you don't want to take the time to learn the rule in the first place.



What trend or movement in the kid lit world are you excited about?

The diversity trend (and I hope it's more than a trend) is very exciting. I'm especially glad to see books emerging where diverse characters populate stories that aren't about diversity. The books simply reflect the real world, which is filled with people of all kinds. I also like that picture books often reflect this diversity in the illustrations, even if the text doesn't mention race or religion or differently-abled characters. 

Another trend I love is the very creative and interesting nonfiction now available to readers of all ages. Nonfiction has become a real growth area in publishing, and I'm constantly amazed at the innovative ways authors and illustrators find to present nonfiction topics to kids.



What is something most people don't know about you?

Every year over Memorial Day weekend, my husband, son and I go to Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas. It's a music festival with old-school punk bands and a bowling tournament in downtown Vegas off Fremont Street. It's just as weird and fun and bizarre as you'd expect.


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Laura Backes is publisher of Children's Book Insider, The Newsletter for Children's Writers and co-founder of The Children's Writing Knowledge Base, an online membership community for aspiring and published children's authors (www.CBIClubhouse.com). She and her husband Jon also run a writing blog at www.writeforkids.org. Laura and Jon are the creators of the Picture eBook Mastery course about Amazon's Kindle Kids' Book Creator software (www.PictureEbookMastery.com), and most recently the WritingBlueprints.com site which houses Picture Book Blueprint, among other tools for writers. A 31-year veteran of the publishing industry, Laura has worked in publicity, subsidiary rights, and as a literary agent and freelance editor. She's the author of Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read (Random House), and technical editor of Writing Children's Books for Dummies (Wiley). Her articles have been featured in The Writer and Writer's Digest magazines, Children's Writer's and Illustrators' Market, and she speaks at workshops around the country. Laura lives in Fort Collins, CO with her husband/business partner Jon, and their son Matt.



66 comments:

  1. Laura,

    I have learned so much from you in the Picture Book Blueprint series and here you point out the most important lesson for writing for kids, read, read, read what's in your genre. There is a challenge that can be kept rack of on Goodreads and FB and it is the 1000 Picture Book challenge. It started in January and runs through Dec. 31, 2016 and the goal is to read 1,000 picture books in this time frame. I am at 900 right now. But I started writing seriously about four years ago and the first thing I did was become reaquainted with the children's section of the library and checked out between 20-50 picture books a week.
    The Punk rock bowling in Vegas sounds incredible!

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  2. Great mini-summit presentation, yesterday, Laura. Thanks, KidLit411 for all of the great interviews.

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  3. Laura is an amazing KidLit persona and I am so glad to work with her. I am a big fan of the Picture Book Blueprint. Thanks for sharing this, Sylvia and Elaine!

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  4. Great information and helpful advice. Thank You!

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  5. The mini summit was a delicious foretaste of the up coming pbsummit. Thank you for your insights here and there. It is helpful to know your background.

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  6. Laura, thank you for sharing your background and the opportunities offered by Children's Book Insider. I look forward to the replay of yesterday's webinar!

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  7. Thank you for making your knowledge of the kidlit world accessible to new writers! I missed the webinar but look forward to the replay. Pbsummit sounds like a real treat!

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  8. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. Lots of helpful information.

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  9. Great interview, Laura! Always love reading your insights! And, I totally agree, you were great at the Picture Book Mini-Summit last night! Tons of great info :)

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  10. Interesting interview and great suggestions for keeping current with children's book publishing.

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  11. Thanks Laura for the great advice - very helpful information.

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  12. You have great writing tips to offer and I've enjoyed CBI for years. Last evening's mini summit was helpful, too!

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  13. So grateful for the tips, Laura, and I enjoyed reading this interview!

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  14. I have been a CBI member for many years and have found it so helpful... thanks Laura, for all your hard work!

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  15. Laura, you do an amazing job reaching out to writers, supporting us, and helping us learn our craft! Thanks!

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  16. Every time I hear Laura or read something Laura has said or written I learn something more!

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  17. I just returned from a Christian writer's conference and had three publisher's representatives take my stories to their editorial board. I'd love to see how I can do that with my secular picture books as well.

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  18. Loved the mini summit yesterday Laura. Thank you for CBI as well. I am glad I found it you as a resource!

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  19. I just returned from a Christian writer's conference and had three publisher's representatives take my stories to their editorial board. I'd love to see how I can do that with my secular picture books as well.

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  20. Thank you for the post! Online conference dancing? I'd love to see it!

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  21. I have a question in regards to diversity. Picture book writers rarely specify skin color or ethnicity of their main character. Why haven't the illustrations shown a wide assortment of children? Isn't the lack of diversity the publishers decision on book style, not the authors? Or by diversity do you mean authors need to point out how we're different rather than celebrate what we have in common?

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  22. Awesome interview. Love Laura and her great advice! Breaking rules with intention...I like it.

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  23. Awesome interview. Love Laura and her great advice! Breaking rules with intention...I like it.

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  24. Love all of the info in this. Thanks to Laura for such a gracious interview. Her advice to read is so solid!

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  25. Thanks for the advice, resources and giveaway.

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  26. Laura is a great teacher and it's always a pleasure to learn from her.

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  27. Laura,
    You continue to surprise me with your knowledge of children's books and your relentless support towards the people in the kid lit community...you rock girl! Nice to see you celebrated for a change!

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  28. So great to learn more about Laura. I lived in Las Vegas for two years, how did I not know about Punk Rock Bowling?!?!

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  29. Thanks, Laura! I learned useful info from you during the Picture Book Summit 2015.

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  30. Thank you this interview, kidlit411 and Laura! I'm a new member of CBI and look forward to learning from all its resources!

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  31. What an opportunity, as well as a wealth of information! Thank you!

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  32. I loved learning more about CBI, and the Picture Book Summit line up sounds amazing!

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  33. I loved learning more about CBI, and the Picture Book Summit line up sounds amazing!

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  34. Great informative post! Thanks for the advice and the opportunity to win this fabulous giveaway.

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  35. I love the non-fiction trend too! My son is 13 and we read a lot of picture book biographies together. Just bought the three Melissa Sweet/Jen Bryant ones!

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  36. Great interview! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!

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  39. Great tips! Thanks for the advice and info about the Picture Book Summit. I watched the replay of Mac Barnett's keynote speech for 2015's PB Summit, and it was excellent. Great examples and very thorough.

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  40. I love the way nonfiction topics are being introduced to today's children! Thanks for a great post.

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  41. I love the way nonfiction topics are being introduced to today's children! Thanks for a great post.

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  42. I am so excited to re-visit my passion for writing and to learn invaluable information on writing children's books!

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  43. Thank you for such great information. I'm just now watching the replay for the Picture Book Summit.

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  44. Good morning Laura...What a "soft" photo of you. It is so relaxing to look at you (it?). Thank you for all the advise.

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  45. Planning to check out CBI. Thanks for your insights and this opportunity as well!

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  46. Got the VIPblueprint fot picture books. It's great. Cannot wait to finish my first draft. Thanks Laura

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  47. Thank for this interview as well as the Picture Book Mini Summit.

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  48. Thank you, Laura, for all you do for the kid lit community. I'm really looking forward to the Picture Book Summit.

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  49. Thank you, Laura! Your interview was very informative for me!

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  50. Thank you Laura! Picture Book Summit sounds like a winner!

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  51. Thank you for the great post and advice, Laura!

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  52. Thanks for all the many resources you've provided to kidlit authors through the years, Laura!! I enjoyed your post.

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  53. Thank you for the helpful information!

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  54. Picture Book Summit was great last year!

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  55. Thanks for a great interview! I've been a member of CBI for years!

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  56. Thanks for the interview and chance for a giveaway. I just caught the mini-summit replay today.

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  57. Thank you for the opportunity to win a chance to the Summit. I'm always looking forward to learn something new.

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  58. I'm so happy to learn about Children's Book Insider-or rather to cement it in my brain. It was there floating around from references past but now it's solid!

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  59. Great interview! Picture Book Summit sounds amazing!!

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  60. Thank you for all your great tips, Laura. And for the opportunity to win such an awesome prize.

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  61. Great interview, Laura. Just purchased the Picture Book Blueprint and looking forward to delving into it.

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  62. Thank you, Laura, for the great interview, CBI, and all of the help that you give inspiring authors! And thank you for the opportunity to attend the Picture Book Summit!

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