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Happy Tuesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!

Ahhhhhhh...can you smell it? The leaves are falling. The caldrons are bubbling. And you're probably drinking things infused with pumpkin. You know what that means...

The inevitability of winter. Also PBCritiqueFest!

My hope was to make this an annual event but I had serious doubts of gathering a team of participants in all this craziness. Who would have time to commit to donating a critique? This roller coaster year has been ludicrous speed!

But here we are. In the chaotic thick of it all. And in spite of the swirling vortex of diarrhea that is 2020, we have some seriously amazing and generous people, ready and willing to help kidlit creators grow.

That was quite a sentence.

That's what it's all about--helping each other grow. Nobody gets anywhere without help and we don't create in a vacuum. We need eyes on our work. We need people to speak into it. We need each other. And that is something to celebrate.

So let's begin the celebration. picture book critique fest 2020.

Now that you're blinded by neon, let's get after it. In this blog post you'll find a brief overview of how the festival works, see who's participating, find answers to frequently asked questions, and hear from some of our 2019 winners.

Here we go!


First of all...we have 36 picture book critiques to giveaway.


Yes, you read that right. 36 winners will be randomly selected and then "paired with their person" based on information provided on the registration form. Winners will be announced throughout the day on Saturday, October 31st on Twitter, Facebook, and on a Picture Book Spotlight blog post.

Okay...where do I start?

To enter the celebration for your chance to win a picture book critique by any of our fabulous participants, simply subscribe to PB Spotlight AND register yourself by clicking the links on the festival page. Once you have subscribed and registered, you may log additional entries throughout the 3-week festival to increase your chances (see guidelines below).


Once you have subscribed to PB Spotlight, click the "register" link on our festival page. This link will take you to a purple google form. On the form you will share information about yourself, critique preferences, and the work you'd like to be critiqued. You only need to register ONCE.

Last year we had hundreds of entries so you're going to want to increase your chances.

How do I increase my chances?

To increase your chances of winning a critique, you can log additional entries by participating on social media and promoting the authors, illustrators, and agents. Each time you complete an activity, simply log what you did on the additional entries form. This year, the form will email you a receipt to help you keep track of what you've logged. You can earn up to 100 additional entries!

Talk about an increased chance of winning!

Each time you you complete an additional activity, select the link "log additional entries" on our festival page and it will take you to a green google form. You'll get an email confirmation to help you keep track of what you have already logged.

Awesome! Sounds simple as pie.

Who is donating a critique this year?!

Authors, illustrators, and agents, OH MY!


How are winners selected?

Winners will be selected through an online list randomizer--top 36 move on to be "paired with their person!"

How can I help spread the word?

Smoke signals, flare-guns, and Morse code are the preferred means of communication for this event. JUST KIDDING! By any and all ways. Social media is obviously a major component to something like this, but by all means text a friend, email, post a blog, whatever!

Who can participate?

EVERYONE. Period. Newbies. Not-so-newbies. Query warriors. Self pubbers. Agented friends. Un-agented friends. Authors. Artists. Humans, mostly. If you create picture books and want your work to be better...this is for YOU!

When will winners be announced?

Winners will be announced on HALLOWEEN!!! On Saturday, October 31st, I will share out groups of winners throughout the day. It will be super fun! The deadline to get your entries in will be Friday, October 30th at 9AM CST.

Where will winners be announced?

The winners will be announced on this website (on the #PBCritiqueFest page), a blog post, and on social media (Twitter and Facebook).--also watch for some signal flares!

How will winners be paired with their person?

When you enter to participate on our google form (available on this website October 12th), you will share a little bit about yourself, your work, and your critique preferences. After the group of 36 winners is randomly selected, I will do my best to pair people according to their entry information---The critique participants have also filled out a survey to help me pair them with the best fit.

What happens after I win?

You mean after your happy dance? After that happy dance is finished, it's time to work! Make sure that manuscript or dummy is in ship-shape and ready to send out--some of our participants will want your work immediately! I will reach out to specific individuals over email to communicate their deadline and any other information their "person" wants me to share.

Anything I didn't cover? Shoot me an email or tweet at me! All questions welcome.


My critique helped me look for ways to keep the humor popping in my stories.

(Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan)

I participated in Brian Gehrlein’s awesome PBCritiqueFest2019 and won a critique from Adam Wallace. Adam was really upbeat and thorough with his critique. He addressed plot points, voice and made really insightful comments on how and where to improve my manuscript. After I had made some revisions, Adam even took a second look and made additional comments. I really appreciated the opportunity that PBCritiqueFest gave me last year to get feedback from a professional in the field. Thanks Adam and Brian! (Eileen Mayo)

I was thrilled to win a critique from Megan and Jorge Lacera during last year's #PBCritiqueFest. It was a pick-me-up just to be chosen! Even though it was mostly luck of the draw, it felt good to get a "yes" when we writers are so used to hearing "no." And then the Laceras clearly put a lot of time and thought into the critique they did for me. They suggested a mentor text and big picture revisions for me to consider, as well as gave me line edits. Their comments helped me look at my manuscript more critically and grow as a writer. I'm very appreciative to them for the work they did on the critique and to Brian Gehrlein for putting on the Fest! (Hollie Wolverton)

Thanks to Brian and #PBCritiqueFest 2019, I was gifted the chance to share my work with my picture-book idol, Tammi Sauer. I know it seems impossible, but her critiques are as good as her books! Tammi's sage advice and contagious enthusiasm for the genre helped me not only polish my manuscript, but have given me a sharper lense for viewing all my writing. (Lizzy Rizzi)

During the #PBCritiqueFest 2019, I was fortunate enough to win a critique with literary agent Alyssa Henkin. Both she and her assistant read through my manuscript, gave suggestions for polishing, said my concept was relatable, and commented that my writing was strong. While my revised story garnered no acceptances when sent out, Ms. Henkin’s belief that my writing was strong, greatly bolstered my confidence and helped me to continue striving to perfect my work. Many thanks to Brian Gehrlein for his dedication to the literary community in sponsoring #PBCritiqueFest. (Author Aileen Stewart)

“I was in a place with my writing where everyone kept telling me I was SO CLOSE, but the querying trenches had bruised my spirit. When I saw the tweet for PBCritiqueFest on Twitter, I decided, ‘What have I got to lose?’ And when I saw the list of agents, editors, and authors, I definitely decided it was worth a shot. I requested one of my top five agents and was matched! Her feedback was thorough, gracious, on-point, and incredibly motivating. For once I couldn’t wait to revise thanks to this top-notch critique! But the best part? The same day I won a critique with PBCritiqueFest was the same day I was offered rep from another dream agent of mine! Since then, that manuscript has seen a few more revisions and is now in line to be subbed within the next year. It looks a lot different than where it started – SO. MUCH. BETTER!” (Audrey Perrott)

When I entered the #PBcritiquefest2019 I had no idea I would actually be chosen! I was thrilled to have LIndsay Davis Auld critique Watch Out For Gramma!. She did a thorough critique with notes on character, voice, plot, and structure. Her advice has definitely led to a better manuscript. Thank you, Brian, and Thank you, Lindsay! (Shirley Fickie)

In 2019, I participated in #PBCritiqueFest and I was one of the lucky winners to receive a critique from a literary agent. This critique was my writing aha moment! To hear directly from an agent where my strengths as a writer are, how to improve upon my weaknesses, and to learn some of the nuances of the industry was priceless. Through this experience, my writing has become stronger and my confidence has soared. This festival provided me not only the opportunity to improve a particular manuscript but to grow as a writer, to passionately pursue my writing vision…and the process has been liberating. Thank you, Brian, for hosting #PBCritiqueFest and gifting writers this incredible critique opportunity. (Guitar Hanna)

Cori understood what I was trying to do with my story, a great foundation for a critique. She pointed out some spots that weren't working, made some concrete suggestions, and directed me towards spot-on mentors texts. Most impactfully, she helped me see how a pretty simple structure change could be a difference maker. I love revising but tend to get stuck in the same general structure, just changing words or sentences. Cori's feedback was exactly the kick in the pants I needed to do a real head-to-toe revision. My story is much better for her perspective, and I'm so grateful! (Elizabeth Metz)

Diana Murray was able to offer amazing feedback on a subtle POV shift in my story. Being able to fix that problem helped me tighten the plot and make the resolution even stronger. The story now waits in the wings with a couple others that are submission-ready. It will be one of those manuscripts that I confidently send out when an agent asks to see more samples of my work.

Thank you so much for providing the chance to get feedback from an amazing and talented author! It's these types of interactions that help keep the confidence fueled and help sharpen the tools in our own editorial toolboxes. Since the critique fest, I was offered a publishing contract for a different manuscript. (Shaunda Wenger)

As someone who “never wins anything”, I was beyond thrilled to win a critique from the incredibly talented Eric Fan via #PBCritiqueFest! His insights as an author/illustrator were just what I needed to help me cut superfluous text, strengthen the relationship between characters, and elevate my story to the next level. (Lauri Fortino)

What a surprise to win a critique in last year's PBCritiqueFest! The critique gave me some good ideas for taking my manuscript to the next level. (Maria Antonia)

Andrea had some great ideas for the marketing of my story and her critique reassured me that it was mostly very polished. She pointed out a few areas of confusion and some suggestions. I plan to submit to her later on when I begin subbing to agents. If anything comes of it agent-wise, I will let you know! (Kelly Rice Schmitt)

Thank you, Brian & PBCritiqueFest! Laura Gehl's constructive suggestions, with balanced and detailed comments on both improving and working on the positive aspects of my ms, was what I needed to polish my story. Thanks to this opportunity my PBbiography was selected through SCBWI PA West and the University of Pittsburg Office of Child Development, for the "2020 Creating Books for Change Program", working closely with the university students of the Creative Writing Department on the impact of words and pictures on racial equity and justice. I am still speechless about how PBCritiqueFest made the way for my story to find its path, hopefully in the publishing world. I do hope I am a winner this year, too! I am more than grateful for the opportunity and I urge you to participate and give yourself the chance to make your dream come true! Thanks a lot! Yiassas!

(Agatha Rodi, Patras, Greece.)

I won a critique from Rebecca Gomez last year at a time when I was relatively new to writing picture books. Her critique was unbelievably thorough and instructive. For every story I wrote after that, at least one piece of information I learned from that critique was utilized to make my new story that much better. Fast forward to the spring when I was getting ready to apply to the #PBChat mentorship program. I had two potential mentors picked out, but then remembered how helpful Rebecca's critique was and did a last minute switch to apply to her. She ended up selecting me as her mentee and our working relationship has been beyond wonderful. I really owe so much to Brian Gehrlein and #PBCritiqueFest. (Larissa Elliott)


About Brian Gehrlein

Brian Gehrlein is more machine than man since the accident. Yes, since that fateful accident in his top-secret lab. It was a Tuesday. Taco Tuesday to be more specific. While working diligently on his most recent plan to take over the world, Brian felt a grumble in his gut. This is no time to eat, Brian thought. But, then again, even evil geniuses need tacos from time to time. So he set down his anti-gravity boots and casually made his way through the high security death maze toward the kitchen. After dodging swinging scythes, leaping over lasers, and tip-toeing past his murder robot, Kevin, he arrived at the kitchen door. The tacos were pristine. The kind of tacos you just have to text your mom about. The kind of tacos that distract you from the fact that you forgot to close the door to the top-secret lab and Kevin the murder robot is right behind you. Brian could suddenly sense the electrical hums buzzing inside Kevin's cold, unfeeling murder robot chest cavity. He turned and saw the dim glow of his vacuous murder eyes. Kevin raised his murder robot death arm...and then Brian slipped on a banana peel. The doctors said it was an honest to goodness miracle. It was the first successful head transplant in human history. Now Brian spends his days writing exceptional pictures book as a human head riding a robot body. The real irony? The robot body which Brian uses to transport his Kevin. Kevin...the former murder robot. It's a dangerous world out there, friends. Watch where you step...and never leave the door to your top-secret lab ajar.


October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
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