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  • Writer's pictureManju Howard

Writing Contests, Challenges & Mentorships Can Help You Score a Home Run with Agents & Editors

Guest post by Vivian Kirkfield

For our Kidlit Creatives Members, Vivian is offering one picture book manuscript critique PLUS a 30-minute Zoom chat. To WIN this awesome prize, follow the directions at the end of this post.

When I dipped my toes into kidlit-land back in 2011, I didn’t know where to start. Luckily for me, the first kid lit person I connected with was author Susanna Leonard Hill. Susanna is a fabulous author as well as a crackerjack teacher of the craft of writing picture books AND the host of multiple contests.


Contests are definitely one of the best ways to get over the fear of submitting! And also, one of the best ways to exercise your writing muscle. Every year, I entered Susanna’s Valentiny Contest, her Halloweensie Contest, and her end-of-year Holiday Contest. These contests have word count restrictions which is a way to learn to distill your thoughts and use less words – a skill required when you want to write picture books. And of course, in all of her contests, there are awesome prizes.

Contests are also a way to connect with the kid lit community. Reading other entries can help with your own writing. But more than that, the encouragement that positive comments offer is priceless. As writers, we often work in isolation. It’s important to have feedback from others who are on the same journey.

There are many other contests out there, but to keep up to date on all of Susanna’s contests, you can follow her blog (

In 2016, I modeled Susanna’s contests and created #50PreciousWords. Participants work really hard to trim their stories to fit the 50-word limit and winners have received agent, editor and author critiques. Some participants have gone on to snag agents and book deals. And the other day, a writer tweeted that he just signed a book deal for a 50,000-word novel that started as a 50-word contest submission! If you would like information about #50PreciousWords (March 4-6, 2022), sign up to follow my blog (


Participating in challenges is yet another way to hone your writing skill, connect with like-minded folk, and win prizes that can lead to agent representation and/or book deals. The first challenge in my writing life was PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) which is now called STORYSTORM. Founded by the incredible Tara Lazar, participants are treated to an inspiring post every day in January on ways to spark ideas for new manuscripts.

Writers participate by reading and commenting on each blog post and by keeping an idea journal – writing at least one idea for a new story each day of the challenge. I have all of my idea journals from 2011. A number of those ideas are now published books and others are WIPs. Plus, there are amazing prizes…many of the guest bloggers offer critiques, books, and other awesome stuff! You can access previous years of Storystorm posts by going to Tara’s blog – and you can sign up to follow her blog so that you will be notified when it’s time to register for next year’s challenge (


Mentorships are another road all writers can travel. Filling out an application forces you to focus on where you want your writing journey to go. Submitting a manuscript provides a chance to be writing, revising and submitting. These magical three actions can lead to success on the path to publication. If you WIN a mentorship, you receive instruction, direction and guidance from a published author. And some mentorship programs also offer a chance to show your manuscript or pitch to agents and/or editors.

I’ve been involved for a few years with the #PBChat Mentorship Program, hosted by Justin Colón. At the end of the three-month mentorship, the mentees share their polished manuscripts with agents and editors. If you want to find out more about this mentorship, sign up to follow #PBChat ( Justin Colon also has wonderful list of resources/podcasts/helpful blogs/other writer events/challenges/other mentorship programs (

And, many kid-lit sites have weekly or monthly calendars that list some of them, like KidLit411(

There are contests, challenges, and mentorship opportunities out there waiting for you. They have helped me. I think they can help you, too!

Thanks so much, Vivian!

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, and visiting kidlit friends all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, Best Stem Book K-12 for 2022, and Junior Library Guild Selection.

To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books:

Website: Facebook Twitter: Linkedin: Instagram:

Prize offer: Vivian is generously offering one picture book manuscript critique PLUS a 30-minute Zoom chat. For a chance to win - Read the post, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on your Twitter or Facebook. Deadline to enter is Sunday, January 30th.

All posts on Manju's blog promote members of Kidlit Creatives: Create, Query & Support.

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