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Meet the Teaching Artist: Picture Book Revision with Kathy MacMillan

by Writing Workshops Staff

5 months ago


Meet the Teaching Artist: Picture Book Revision with Kathy MacMillan

by Writing Workshops Staff

5 months ago


 

Join us at WritingWorkshops.com for an exciting opportunity to refine your picture book manuscript under the guidance of Kathy MacMillan, an accomplished author and editor. Kathy brings a wealth of experience to the table, having penned children's books, young adult fantasies, and nonfiction works. Her 3-week Zoom workshop, Picture Book Revision, is designed to cover all aspects of the revision process.

In this focused three-week course, Kathy will lead participants through essential revision techniques, from big-picture editing to fine-tuning details. You'll learn about structuring your story, crafting engaging pitches, and polishing your manuscript for submission. Whether you're refining your narrative, dialogue, or the overall flow of your book, this workshop offers valuable insights for every stage of the revision process. By the end of the course, you'll have a deeper understanding of how to prepare your picture book for publication.

Hi, Kathy. Please introduce yourself to our audience.

I am the author of 25 traditionally published books for children, teens, and adults, including picture books, middle grade and young adult fantasy, middle grade and young adult nonfiction, and parent/educator resource books. My previously published books include Compton Crook Award finalist Sword and Verse (HarperTeen, 2016), the Little Hands Signing series (Familius, 2018-2024), and She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World (Familius, 2019, sequel forthcoming 2024). You can find more information about my books here. I am also a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter, librarian, and signing storyteller. I established the Mentorship Program for the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia Region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and was the co-Regional Advisor for five years. I live in Baltimore, MD.

What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft? Or is this just your jam and you love it?

I have done a lot of critiquing and freelance editing over the past several years, and I love working with picture book authors to bring a story from idea to reality! I find that every story, no matter how rough, has the sparkle of the author embedded in it. My job is to help them figure out how to shape that great idea into a story that will find its way into children's hearts.

Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?

My Picture Book Revision workshop starts with a series of big-picture questions that help you figure out what you are trying to say and where your book fits on the market. Then we delve into structural revision, before zooming in on line-level techniques that drive reader connection with your characters. Finally, we will polish those manuscripts until they sparkle, and develop a pitch that will get readers, agents, and editors excited about your story. My favorite part of this workshop is sharing techniques that demystify concepts like "show, don't tell" and give writers practical tools for revising their work.

What was your first literary crush?

For novels: Megan Whalen Turner. Her Queen's Thief series still represents everything I aspire for my readers to experience in my books. On the picture book side: Cynthia Rylant. She has such a sensitive eye for character and brings the reader right into the story.

What are you currently reading?

The Grimoire of Grave Fates. This YA novel was created by Hanna Alkaf and Margaret Owen, and has stories by 18 different authors that feature students at a prestigious magic school solving a murder.

How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?

My social media bios say "keeper of spreadsheets", and they are not kidding. I have a spreadsheet with dozens of project ideas listed in it, and I give each idea scores for how much work it would be, how excited I am about the project, how marketable it is, etc. Then I combine those scores and, theoretically, whichever project has the highest score is the one I work on next. But sometimes the heart and muse don't care about my spreadsheet, and they want to dive into something different. So off I go!

Where do you find inspiration?

Anywhere and everywhere! I am always jotting down story ideas. My picture book The Runaway Shirt was inspired by a game my son and I used to play when he was little. My novel Sword and Verse was inspired by a stray thought I had while researching ancient libraries for an article. I write them all down, because you never know which one will spin itself into a story.

What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?

Louis L’Amour said, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” This is so true! It's really hard to get into that chair and get started, but nothing will happen until you do. I often set a timer for an hour and promise myself I can stop after that if the writing is not coming, and that gets me into the chair. And once I am there, it starts to flow.

What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. This book takes the popular screenwriting method and applies it to novels, with lots of examples and explanations. But I recommend the book to my picture book students as well. The beauty of the method is that it ties plot and character together in a way that makes it easier to create satisfying, resonant stories.

Bonus question: What’s your teaching vibe?

Encouraging, upbeat, and lively. We're all on this adventure together!

Learn More About Working with Kathy:

You can learn more about Kathy's upcoming Picture Book Revision 3-Week Zoom Workshop, and sign up now.

Instructor Kathy MacMillan
(she/her) is a writer, editor, instructor, nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter, librarian, and signing storyteller. She writes picture books (including The Runaway Shirt and the Little Hands Signing series from Familius Press), children’s nonfiction (including She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World from Familius Press and Super Cities!: Baltimore from Arcadia Publishing), middle grade fantasy (the Chronicles of Cavallon series under the pen name Kim Forester), and young adult fantasy (Sword and Verse and Dagger and Coin, both HarperTeen). Her debut novel, Sword and Verse, was a finalist for the Compton Crook Award. She has also published eight resource books for educators, librarians, and parents, including 5 volumes in the bestselling Storytime Magic series from ALA Editions. Kathy has served as both mentor and Mentorship Program Coordinator for the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia Region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and was co-Regional Advisor for 5 years. She lives in Baltimore, MD. Find her online here.

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