So You Want to be a Writer
My Writing Life
So You Want to be a Writer
February 2010

Many hopeful children's book writers believe that after they finish the text of their story, they need to find an illustrator. That is a myth and probably the biggest misconception of beginning writers.

Below I offer insight that I found along the way. I hope that these suggestions will be helpful to new writers for children. And ... yes, I was  one of those beginner writers (many years ago) who thought I had to find an illustrator.

You do NOT need to find an illustrator.

Once you have completed the book in its most finished form, you may begin the search for a publisher or an agent. This is a daunting experience because publishers and agents receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of manuscripts daily, depending on the company and their size and popularity. Unfortunately they only publish a very few of those. The larger, more popular companies, may publish about thirty titles a year; while the smaller companies may publish between two and three titles.
This is where the hardest work comes in. There are several suggestions below:

You need to do your research to find out which company would be the best fit for your story. To do that, you should go to the library or bookstore to find other books that are similar to yours. Then target those companies. Since you can only send your manuscript to one company at a time, and they usually take between three to six months to respond, if they respond at all, be sure to make good choices.

Since the business of publishing a children's book has so many facets, you really need to do your homework. One of the best resources is the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market - the current version. Sometimes you can find this in the library, but I recommend purchasing your own copy so you can mark it up.

There is also a book called Guide to Literary Agents. I'm not sure if that is updated each year, though it should be. Unfortunately, finding an agent can be just as daunting as finding a publisher, so you have to decide which route to take. An agent usually requires between 10% to 15% of your book earnings.

This is probably the best suggestion of all. Go to writer's conferences and join SCBWI . (Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators) You can join for about $70.00 a year and they provide an immense amount of information. There are also local chapters. For example: New Jersey SCBWI I think all of the states have a chapter.

Joining a local children's book writer's group can also be helpful to get feedback on your writing.

You can check out my website for a list of very helpful books about how to publish your children's book. My Writing Life This is actually the page you are on. Just scroll down.

Probably the best advice I can give to you is - if you believe in your book and this a dream you really want to happen, then be PERSISTENT and be PATIENT. It is just about the hardest field to break into. It can be done. Many have done it,

I hope that this information will help you.

Wishing you the best of luck.

My Writing Life

Here are some of the many books in my professional library. I've separated them into categories to make it more helpful. I've read many of these books from cover to cover. Some I use as reference books. Many I have read for motivation and inspiration. They all offer helpful and interesting information about the mysterious world of publishing.

On Teaching
Meet my kids
Meet my kids.

There are so many of them. There are David and Sara and Nick and Samantha and Thomas and Nichole and Kieth and Courtney. Well, the list could go on and on. I have taught more than 500 children since I began teaching a long, long time ago. I've taught kids with common names like Greg and John and some with not so common names like, Olivia and Demi. But, I've never taught a Mathilda or a Henry or a Stella or a Wendell or an Elvira or a Hubert . . . or even a Donna . . . but maybe I will . . . someday.

Children\'s Writers Workshop

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See you there! :)

School Days Colleagues
Danielle Major 2004
This is Danielle. Danielle Major, that is!  She is a great "teacher" friend. The year Danielle worked in my school, we couldn't stop talking education. She was a brand new teacher and I was a veteran. I have been teaching for a LOT of years . . . too many to mention, but when I learned that Danielle loved teaching as much as I did, we were inseparable. We spent every lunchtime together. We spent hours and hours and hours after school perched on desks in my classroom talking about classroom management, reading techniques, how to make a reading rotation schedule work with seven ability groups of readers. We shared and compared our philosophies of teaching, which we found to be parallel. And when we had to go home at night, we talked on the phone about the accomplishments of the children in her class and those in mine. We shared silly stories . . . like the time one of my KIDDLES swallowed her tooth as she was eating a banana; and how she dictated a letter to me, between tears, explaining to the TOOTH FAIRY why she had no tooth in her mouth . . . or under her pillow and still deserved her quarter.

Danielle now works in another school across town and it is not so easy to get together, but we do . . . every chance we get. She's not such a new teacher anymore . . . she's been teaching for 3 years. But we still can't stop talking education. It seems our love for teaching just continues to grow and grow.
Student Memories
Greg in 1st Grade
Greg in 1st Grade
Greg was a good student and a happy child for most of his 1st grade year with me. His mother, Val, was my dynamic class mom. She could handle anything! Then one day she told me she was worried. She was about to give Greg a brother, and he was upset about her going into the hospital. He was afraid she would not return. I told her not to worry. I told Greg not to worry, too. His mother was going into the hospital for a happy event. Greg was reassured and our whole class set out to write a book to welcome Greg’s new baby. (When all else fails – WRITE!) Greg also wrote his own book to welcome his new brother, David. (As David grew up, he landed on my classroom doorstep, twice – both in 1st grade and 3rd grade.) About ten years after Greg was in my class, Val told me that he was in the hospital. This time I couldn’t tell her not to worry, as I had done so many years ago. I couldn’t tell Greg that either. Greg was diagnosed with cancer. He was only 16. My memory of him stops there. But I remember him always. I remember his smile. I remember his fun-loving ways. I remember him six years old and in my 1st grade class. And, I miss him.

Keynote Speaker:

Susan Salzman Raab Founder of Raab Associates, dedicated to promoting and marketing children
?OLE! Mexico ?OLE!
National Endowment for the Humanities
									Oregon International Council Directors
									Anne  Mueller & Mary Bastiani
National Endowment for the Humanities
Oregon International Council Directors
Anne Mueller & Mary Bastiani
Anne and Mary,

I want to tell you that I miss Puebla and all of Mexico so much. A day doesn't go by that I don't think of it. Thank you both for EVERYTHING you did to arrange for such a wonderful program. I can't even imagine the work that went into all that scheduling. As I mentioned, I run a writers and illustrators conference every year and it is tons of work, but nothing in comparison to the efforts that you each put forth to make Puebla such a huge success. Mostly, I want to thank you for allowing me to be a part of it. I am so grateful. In my application, I wrote that it would be a dream come true (to be involved in this project) and it truly was. It was an amazing experience. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
My Published Work
Never Going to Grow Up
Never Going to Grow Up

"Grow up! Grow up!" groaned Matt. "Everyone wants me to grow up. I'll never grow up!" he said.

Sound familiar? Maybe Matt saw too many Peter Pan movies when he was little. But CAREER DAY was coming in Ms. Barker's class and everyone had to report on what they would like to do when they grew up. Jenny wanted to be a librarian. Sam decided a scientist, just like his dad, would be a good career for him. Matt said if he had to grow up, he'd be a pirate. But when he saw Ms. Barker frown, he tried to convince her by waving his imaginary sword in the air.

Ms. Barker would have none of it. She wasn't impressed. However, she did think, given Matt's "interest" in the sea, that he should learn about being a shipwright. After all, Peter Pan and Captain Hook needed to know about ships. And . . . so would Matt.

"A shipwright? What's a shipwright?" asked Matt.

Phrogs FROGS Phrogs
Tip Toad Through the Tulips
John DeAngelo
Tip Toad Through the Tulips
John DeAngelo
Paddy O'Day
Peggy Brace
Paddy O'Day
Peggy Brace
Herk Tuxberry
Timothy W. Blair
Herk Tuxberry
Timothy W. Blair
Frog with NO Name
Frog with NO Name
Friends on the Fast Track
Planning the Race
A little to the left in Turn One
More Speed on the Hairpin
Only think of Donna on the Straights!
Planning the Race

Only think of Donna on the Straights!


Where can I get more speed?

Careful of that wiggle on the ESSes.

Keep the car on the track.
That's half the battle.

A little to the left in Turn One

More Speed on the Hairpin

Hey, who's that in my mirror?

Pheww . . . slipped by them.

Took that apex just right!

AHHHhhhhh, the Checker Flag!

*NEW* TBI Traumatic Brain Injury - A Living Nightmare
Donna & David 
									15 months AT
									(After Trauma)
Donna & David
15 months AT
(After Trauma)
April 2006

I’m living a nightmare and I’m glad that I am. Sounds strange . . . huh? Who would want to be trapped in a nightmare every waking moment? Well, I don’t want to be trapped here, but here I am, nonetheless. I would prefer to take my happy, secure life back with my husband, David . . . taking long walks each evening after dinner, going out on the weekends for our Friday and Saturday night dates. Strolling . . . forget strolling . . . he never strolled, through the parks on Sunday mornings in all seasons to our favorite breakfast restaurant, The Petite Café. But on January 13th, 2005 our lives burst . . . when something burst inside David’s head. The doctors call it a TBI, a Traumatic Brain Injury. Some folks call it a stroke, and though many symptoms overlap and are similar, it is not a stroke. I call it a Living Nightmare.

If I weren’t trapped in this nightmare, it would mean that David did not survive. Then it would be another nightmare altogether, but a nightmare just the same. So that’s why I can say that “I’m living a nightmare and I am glad that I am.” I can’t imagine life without my husband, and although David is with me, life has changed.

David wasn’t expected to survive his first brain surgery. His head filled with blood. He was in excruciating pain and the paramedics rushed him to the nearest hospital – well, they didn’t exactly rush him. Weren’t they supposed to? In every movie I’ve ever seen the paramedics ran. They always seemed to have a sense of urgency about them and the situation. Our paramedics ambled. They ambled around their truck to get some equipment. They ambled slowly, oh so slowly, up the stairs to the bedroom. Slowly, oh so slowly, they asked David what was bothering him. I wondered why they couldn’t comprehend the urgency. David was unable to speak. He was writhing on the bed, holding his head, sweat pouring from his body, and he was screaming. When they finally placed the oxygen mask over David’s face, relief came. He became silent and I was grateful. He looked peaceful, but I later realized that he had slipped into a coma. This was bad, but at least it brought him some peace.

When David arrived at the local hospital emergency room, the doctors assessed the situation, sent him for a CAT scan, and decided to perform immediate surgery to evacuate the blood from the massive hemorrhage. But there were more surprises in store. An aneurysm ready to burst was found, which needed to be removed. An AVM (Arterial Venous Malformation) was also discovered. This also needed to be removed. Three emergency brain surgeries were performed on my husband in less than two weeks. After the initial evacuation of blood from his brain, David spent two nights in the local hospital; then he was transferred to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City for the additional surgeries.

For each surgery I was told that David had a small chance to live. He may not survive. Still, I had to sign on the dotted line. Me! David’s life was in my hands. A very scary thought! His life was in his surgeon’s hands, too. Many of the doctors that worked to save David's life at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City were former students of his. During medical school they had taken his Med Micro course. I remember thinking. I hope David taught them well, and I hope that they learned well. For now David’s life was in their hands, too. I wanted to ask David’s opinion. Did he want these surgeries? We always conferred on important decisions, and these seemed to be the most important ones of our lives. I wanted to shake him awake from his coma. I needed to know if I was making the right decisions. I needed him to help me, but he lay sleeping in a coma and he remained that way for nearly four weeks, and I had to make the hardest decisions of my life – alone. And so I signed – over and over and over again. I had no choice. If the operations were not performed, David would surely die and I could surely not live if he did.

Although David is a survivor, he battled three brain surgeries, the nightmare continues.
The brain trauma affected all of his motor skills and has reduced his motility to almost an infantile stage. He has to relearn to walk. His balance was and is still greatly affected. Although he has made significant gains in this area, he still has a long road to travel. For the first month after the surgeries, David remained in the NICU (Neurological Intensive Care Unit) at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. While there, the right side of his body was paralyzed. Within four weeks he became more aware and he slowly regained some movement. Then he moved to the Kessler Rehabilitation Center in East Orange, New Jersey, where he began the struggle to relearn to walk. At that time the best way to describe David was like a rag doll. He had as much balance and coordination as Raggedy Andy. Even with a walker, David could topple over with a breeze. When, nearly a year later, he began to use a four-pronged cane, he was still very shaky and needed to be shadowed wherever he went. Now David is gaining strength and progress is steadily being made, though it is taking a very long time. David is able to walk on his own, but picture Star Wars CP3O. His walk is very robot-like and so concentrated. He is still unsteady and can easily lose his balance, and still needs someone to shadow him in the outside world, but he is able to maneuver himself around our home rather freely. That’s not to say that I am not worried every waking moment.

David’s speech was also very affected. It was near impossible to understand him after they removed the trache. His voice was raspy and his words were garbled. Fortunately, today, although his voice is still gravelly and his speech is still very deliberate, he can be understood, but he may never regain the same beautiful voice he had before the TBI. Sometimes, I call him “marble-mouth” or “marshmallow-mouth” because sometimes it seems like his words are climbing over marbles or marshmallows to get out, but that only happens when he is really, really tired or when he is actually eating marshmallows.

“It’s hard work to talk,” he tells me. I know! I see his silent struggle. Most folks take everything for granted. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s not until you lose something, that you realize how valuable it is. It’s not until you have to struggle to attain something that its meaning is redefined. It’s hard work to open a door or brush your teeth when your hand won’t cooperate – when it shakes uncontrollably with ataxia. It’s hard work to stand up, or sit down or take a step when you have no balance. It’s hard work to take a sip of water, eat a bowl of ice cream or even sleep when you can’t swallow properly; when you fear aspiration or choking to death. It’s hard work to see double, blurry, tilted images 24/7 . . . well maybe 17/7, (I don’t think David dreams in double, blurry, tilted images) or it’s hard work to read a computer screen with the font raised to 24 with the images bouncing around the screen. Make them Stop! It’s hard work even going to the bathroom – judging the time – since it takes so long to get there (balance) unfastening the belt ataxia.) Throw in a little neurogenic bladder disorder and paralysis and it makes for a lot of uncertainty. Living with TBI Traumatic Brain Injury is simply HARD WORK!

David recently presented an hour-long speech at a scientific symposium in Colorado. It was very well received; and he enjoyed many compliments, not only on the results of his work and that of his students and postdocs, but many of the scientists made a point to tell him that he was completely understandable. One professor even invited him to speak at her university in the near future. That was the final vote of confidence. Then shortly after David’s Colorado talk, he also presented his work at a scientific symposium at UCSD the University of California at San Diego in honor of his post-graduate mentor, Dr. Don Helinski. Don was retiring after 41 years, and David, as well as many of Don’s students and postdocs gathered at the university to honor him in retirement. David received many accolades as many professors, friends, and colleagues in his field congratulated him not only on his presentation and his delivery, but also on his determination, motivation, and progress through this very difficult and trying recovery.

David continues to struggle to overcome ataxia in his right hand. He recently met and shook hands with each of my first graders. They laughed, all in good humor, while he tried to steady his hand long enough to grasp each of theirs. That hand is so out of control.

Then one night after dinner, I laughed as I watched Monique, a friend of ours, and David try to put together three magnetic rods and three magnetic balls to make a triangle using ONLY his right hand. I laughed as his hand jiggled all over the place and the balls rolled away from him; and I laughed as Monique slapped my hands when I tried to help him catch the balls. I laughed as I tried to do this task and found it not as easy as it sounds and David laughed at me. I laughed and Monique laughed and David laughed. And that’s how we get through life in the Disability Lane. Without a sense of humor, this nightmare would be unbearable.

David has a good attitude and he rarely lets anything get him down. (Oh, he does sometimes, but it’s rare. I even lose it sometimes, too, but don’t tell anyone.) A good attitude is essential because there is no easy, fast way out of this abyss. I glimpse a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s dim for certain, but I do see a glimmer. It’s just that I have no idea how long this tunnel is.

I think of this nightmare like a traffic jam on the interstate. You are driving along at 65 miles per hour – maybe a little faster – cruising – taking every bend and curve in stride. Life is good! Then POW! Hit those brakes, switch gears, and wait. You know something is ahead – an accident, construction, a little glitch in your day. You don’t know how long this traffic jam is, but you hope you will eventually get to your destination, though you may be a little late. It’s just an annoying interruption in your trip and you know you have to wait it out. You know you have to stop or inch along. You just don’t know how long the interruption is going to take. And so you wait – patiently, or maybe not so patiently, but you wait nonetheless.

In David’s case his jam is his brain trauma – a major accident - and it’s going to take a LOT of reconstruction of brain cells and nerve cells, before he maneuvers his way out of this jam. Patience is key. It’s not easy, just as it’s not easy to sit in a traffic jam not knowing when you will arrive at the end of the glitch, and be able to smooth-sail again. And so the tunnel is long – long, like the Lincoln Tunnel in rush-hour traffic; long, as I peer around the edges of the cars and busses in front of me; long, as I strain to see around each bend in the tunnel longing to see the light; long, when I finally do glimpse light only to realize it is a reflection and not REAL. LONG! LONG! LONG! But knowing that there is an end in sight, somewhere in some time, David and I continue to travel this long road of disability, with no choice, until we reach the “light at the end of our tunnel.”

Writer Friends
Barbara Seuling
Writer, Mentor, Friend
Barbara Seuling
Writer, Mentor, Friend
Writing Friend & Mentor

I first got to know Barbara while I was a chat host for the Children
Flowers Around the World
Village of Mont Tremblant
Village of Mont Tremblant

The flowers in the panel above are growing in Canada, in Mont Tremblant. Mont Tremblant is a rather quaint village. As the name indicates, it is a French town. It is very popular with skiing enthusiasts in the winter months and since it is the home of the Circuit Mont Tremblant Race Track, during spring, summer, and fall, many race drivers and fans can be found wandering its streets . . .when they aren't at the track, of course. I love going there . . . if only to be taken back to another time - another place.

*NEW* Strange Happenings

Whatever you want to call it.
It makes me SMILE!
*NEW* WIND RIVER Prokaryotic Biology
Then drive about fifteen minutes out of town and the vistas are magnificent. Mountains, many snow-capped, even in June
Streets of New York City


scorpion-1 subwayartgrasshopper2006
*NEW* Treska Trivia - A Slice of Life


As a member of SCBWI, the “Host" for the Children's Writers Workshop at the Careers and Workplace on America Online, and the registrar for KINDLING WORDS: the RETREAT, she has met many wonderfully, supportive and helpful writer friends.
Link to Important Sites
Clip Art Credits
Clip Art courtesy of
Teacher/Book Reviewer

Hi, my name is Donna O'Donnell Figurski.
                                      I love children's books,
                                                               all kinds.
                  BUT, I especially love picture books.
                                      I love to read them.
                                                                    I love to write them.
                      AND now . . . 
                                               I love to review them.


I have authored the column, TEACHER'S PETS on      since 2002.

My reviews have a different twist than do most book reviews I read. I work with a team of elementary-aged school children, called KIDDLE CRITers, who review books with me. We meet about once a month after school to read and discuss newly published children's picture books. The KIDDLE CRITers team consists of about seven to fifteen children ranging in ages from 6 to 12 years old. They
are enthusiastic critics and one section of my online review, called FROM the MOUTHS of KIDDLE CRITers, includes the insightful and sometimes hilarious comments by the children.

             Donna O'Donnell Figurski

    Author, Educator and Book Reviewer

Since I am also a first grade teacher, I design lessons for teachers to use with the books I review. This section is called, TEACHER TALK. I also suggest additional books, as well as two or three websites, which teachers may use to compliment the reviewed book. Of course, there is also my review.

The complete review can be found at Look for TEACHER'S PETS in the sidebar under FOR EDUCATORS. See you there.


If you would like to have your book considered for review by the KIDDLE CRITers review team, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

Although I cannot promise that every book will be reviewed, I will try my best to feature as many books as possible.

Fotos of Phrends
                   Summer 2007

Where did the  time go? Every time I see or think of Nancy that thought races through my mind -- sort of the way the time has raced by since we met. It was a long about way, but an interesting story. nancyandyeurocafeapr07

I was a student in the Education Department of William Paterson University. My dream of becoming a teacher was near reality. Okay, I'll start at the beginning.

I didn't always want to be a teacher. In fact, I was never overly fond of school. I always did well, but I do remember struggling over those times tables in 3rd grade. Anyway, when my daughter, Kiersten, started pre-school, a co-op in Claremont, California, I was required to spend time in the classroom helping out. It was fun. Then when we moved to Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California and Kiersten began 1st grade, I volunteered in her classroom. Her teacher, Fran Barker, was amazing! Fran suggested that I apply for the 1st grade assistant teacher job next door. I did . . . and I got the job. This was the beginning of my new career. Gone were my jobs as receptionist for the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Rochester. Gone, too, were the combs and brushes and blow dryers - the tools of my trade while I was a hairdresser. My new tools were pencils and books and addition flash cards. My favorite fruit was -- you guessed it -- apples. well, not really. My favorite fruits are cherries, blueberries and sweet clementines, with no seeds.

I worked for one year in 1st grade with Lauralie Stanton. Then tearfully, I told her that David and I had to move back to the east coast. (David was offered an assistant professorship at Columbia University.) Lauralie made me promise to go back to school/college to become a teacher. Her words, "You are a natural born teacher!" sent me racing to enroll in the education program at William Paterson University as soon as David and I settled into our new home in Tenafly, outside of New York City.

I wanted desperately to be in the classroom and I needed to go back to college. So . . . I did both. I worked as an assistant teacher from 8:00am to 4:00pm for two years in Englewood, New Jersey, while going to school at night. I won't say it wasn't hard. It was!  But I needed both of these things so badly that David made it home by 6:00pm three nights a week. He took care of our two children, Kiersten and Jared, then aged nine and four years old, so I could travel nearly an hour to go to classes. Summers were a little easier. My third year I took the dreaded math class. I knew I could never pass this class, that I would fail miserably, and Inancymcdonoughdonna2006 would NEVER become a teacher. But, to my surprise I had the most amazing instructor. I'm sad that I don't even know her name, but she made algebra fun and I loved it. I not only passed the course, I got an "A." It matched all the other "As" I got, (except for the one "B") and I graduated Magna Cum Laude. I was ready for student teaching.

Since I was already working as a teaching assistant in a 1st and 2nd grade combination class at Stillman School in Tenafly, New Jersey, I worked out a deal with William Paterson. They allowed me to student teach in the morning and continue with my assistant job in the afternoon. This was perfect! I was in a classroom all day for a whole year. What was even more perfect was that my student teaching mentor was Nancy McDonough. Nancy was wonderful! She was, and still is, a very serious teacher, who loves teaching children, watching them grow, and helping them to expand their minds. She is energetic. She is creative. She is a teacher with very high standards and she is a model for other teachers. BUT, best of all she is my very good friend.

Our friendship spans from our days in the classroom in the early 1980s to the present. Now Nancy and her spouse, Andy, and David and I meet every few months for dinner to catch up--to talk about the old times, to plan for the new times, and to wonder where all the time has gone.

Fan Mail 2008
Fan Mail 2007
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