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The next Children's Writer's World post will be on June 15th.

December 22, 2013

Happy New Year

Dear friends,

Thank you for reading and supporting Children's Writer's World blog as well as
Kid's Imagination Train.  Please leave a comment if you have any writers' topics
you'd like to have discussed on future blogs.




Ollie, our rescue cat of six years, is in the mood for a holiday nap.  He usually joins me as I write, lounging in my lap or sitting in front of the computer screen. 

Ollie and I wish you all a wonderful new year.  Happy writing!

December 13, 2013

Finding Experts

Have you ever wanted to write a nonfiction piece, but decided against it because you'd have to get an expert review?  Don't let that stop you.  Finding an expert is easy.

Go online and do a Google search by typing:  research and the name of your topic.       For instance, if you wanted to find an expert on the topic of leeches, type:  "research and leeches."  Often times, you'll find a link that will take you directly to a researcher's website.  You can also check out college directories and take a look at professors' studies.  In both cases, you will usually have access to a phone number or an email so that you may contact them. 

Before you contact an expert however, be sure to read his/her research first.  Then, send an email in which you mention the topic of your article and where the piece will be submitted.  Then politely ask for the expert to review the article.  Add that you will give credit for his/her expertise.  Even if the expert may not be available to provide you with a review, many times they may recommend someone else who is equally qualified.  
Always aim to get an expert review when you write nonfiction.  Here's why:

* Experts assure accuracy.  They can spot mistakes or misrepresented facts. 
* Experts can answer questions you may have about their research. 
* Experts may explain advanced concepts in simple terms, so that you can help kids to      understand more easily. 
* Experts may even lend fabulous quotes or anecdotes that you can add to your piece.  

Editors will strongly consider an article reviewed by an expert over one that hasn't. 
They know that experts lend credibility to your work.  So, don't let the fear of finding an expert hold you back from writing nonfiction.  From my experience, you would be surprised how many experts are more than willing to lend a helping hand.   



December 7, 2013

43,000 words

Last winter, I registered for a MG/YA webinar taught by literary agent Mary Kole.  Having already taken a picture book webinar taught by Mary and being curious about writing for an older audience, I thought this online class would be perfect.  And it was.  After taking the class, I became interested in writing for this genre.

Though Mary offered a 500-word critique as a part of the webinar, I could not decide whether to submit.  After all, I had only written picture books.  But as time drew closer to the deadline, I realized it was an opportunity to have my work evaluated by a well-respected agent.  So, I wrote the first two chapters of a story which was based on actual events that took place in my life many years ago. 

Weeks later when I received the critique, Mary pointed out that she liked the voice and the images.  This inspired me and spurred me on, but still I did not know what I was getting into.  I’m a picture book writer, you know, books that are well under 1000 words. Middle grade novels were at the very least 15,000 words! 

And that was scary.  So, I started by planning the story in my head, daydreaming about my main character and her unusual quest.  As the plot became more apparent to me, I made notes on index cards to flesh out each chapter and then arranged the cards in the sequence in which to tell the story.  When the chief details and scenes were finished, I had close to 30 cards. I figured I could write 500-word chapters.  Then I did the math:  500 words x 30 cards = 15,000 words.  Now this goal was achievable.    

When I began to write the chapters, more characters popped up (more than I had realized were necessary to the story).  Those characters took control and showed me how they would handle a situation (often much different than I had imagined).  Hence, the plot became layered with subplots and twists.  Thus, more note cards!  In the end, my novel weighed in at a hefty 43,000 words—which still blows me away! 

So, even if you’re a picture book writer, never let word count scare you about writing a children's novel.  If you’re curious about MG or YA, take a class, a webinar, and read books to get a feel for writing for an older audience.  Armed with knowledge, you’ll have the basic tools to get you going.  Keep in mind that middle grade can run as little as 15,000 words, but tends to run 30,000 – 60,000 on the average.  So, use note cards to give you the confidence to help plan your story.  Before long, you will find that the unthinkable journey of writing 15,000 words or more will become an achievable reality.









December 2, 2013

A Perfect Writing Day

One morning, I sat in front of the computer with the goal of editing a nonfiction piece.  All it needed was minor revision.  But, my brain was not engaged.  I could feel the onset of a migraine.  Migraines are known to produce foggy thinking, and this was living proof. What should have been an easy project became an unfinished project.  This revision was going nowhere.  Luckily, I realized that instead of continuing and getting more frustrated, I needed to take migraine medicine and move away from the computer.  Far away.  It was time to take a walk.  Clear the muddiness that had settled in my brain.  

The day was chilly—jacket weather, but sunny and inviting.  Wet oak leaves matted the sidewalk in clumps. Boxwood shrubs released their earthy scent and whipped it into the breeze. Squirrels chased up trees.  A stray cat scurried into the street and stole away in a whisper.  Then, moments of pure quiet.  No thoughts of writing.  

Twenty minutes later, I stepped to our front walkway feeling relaxed and more refreshed. When I returned to the computer, I opened my email.  There waiting was an offer to teach a class on writing for children's magazines at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.  What an honor. Sweet!

Now glowing because of the email, I thought about editing that nonfiction piece.  Naw, I opted to plunge to work on a fictional piece.  And good thing.  My muse was present and pushing me like never before, guiding me with word choice and sentence structure along the path of creativity.  I worked at a dizzying speed, trying to keep up with all of her suggestions.  Then, I returned to the nonfiction piece.  And that too, became easier to edit.  My muse did not let me down and she remained to steer me through the entire editing process.      

So what was it that led to such a successful writing day?  The exciting email was a nice touch (so was getting rid of a headache), but I think it was because of being outside. Moving away from the computer and getting in touch with nature cleared the cobwebs from my mind.  It helped set the stage for a perfect writing day. 

















November 25, 2013

Attention Span and Word Count

You probably know that most children have short attention spans.  When I volunteer to read in the Children's Garden at The University of Kentucky Arboretum, this becomes amazingly apparent.  Kids fidget. They wiggle. They wander.  Though they usually stay tuned in to the first book, they start to lose interest by the second.  I try to engage them in the story by bringing the book physically closer to their faces and by becoming more animated in reading.  Regardless, some still become distracted.

We should think about attention span when we write for children.  That's why Kid's Imagination Train magazine has set a limit to 500 words for fiction and nonfiction. We want kids to stay interested.  We know that while young children love to hear stories, they must not be too long. 

But...some writers like to push the limit.  They submit pieces that go well beyond the word count.  Maybe they think an editor would not notice or would not mind a piece that runs a couple of hundred words longer. However, magazine editors do notice.  They care about the length of submissions.  Some editors can't publish longer pieces—they simply do not have the space.  While KIT has the room for longer stories or articles, a piece that goes over word count has to be exceptional.  Specifically, a longer piece has to be totally engaging and fast paced.

Most publications request that word count be listed on the first page of your manuscript. So why take the chance of submitting a piece that exceeds word count?  All an editor has to do is merely glance at the length of your story before reading it and cringe or worse, send a rejection. When she sees that you've stretched the word count, she may be thinking:  what other guidelines has this author failed to observe? 

In most cases, it is in your best interest to follow the suggested word count as specified in the guidelines. Since older children are capable of longer periods of attention, word count is usually longer.  But when you write for young children, stories and articles must be short.  And this can be challenging, but not impossible. You've got to be frugal with the words you use. You must treat them as a precious component. You must make each and every word count.  When you keep your word count to a minimum, the benefit is worth it. You will succeed in keeping a young audience engrossed and actively engaged.  

November 18, 2013

The Three Steps of Editing


I’ve touched on this subject before, but it bears repeating.  Before you submit work to an editor, it should be reviewed and then edited.  When I get fiction submissions for Kid's Imagination Train that lack conflict or have so much dialogue that the plot fails to move forward, I can guarantee that the writer did not edit her work. The same goes for poetry.  If a poem lacks perfect rhyme or the meter is off, I willing to bet the piece wasn't edited. 

There are three easy steps to editing:
The first step is to read your work aloud.  Come on.  No one is looking or listening.  Read what you’ve written.  How is the pace?  Does it drag in parts or does it move along like a flowing stream?  Have you chosen the perfect words or do you stumble on a few?  Is the rhythm of a poem consistent or is it choppy?   

The second step is to find someone you trust—a good friend, a spouse, an office mate, anyone who you feel would give you an honest opinion.  Listen to what they suggest.  You don’t have to follow all of their suggestions, but at least consider them.  Try them out in a revision to see if your story or article reads better. 

The third step is making the necessary changes to improve your work.  Getting an article, story, or poem right the first time is nearly impossible.  So consider putting the manuscript aside for a few days and reading it again with fresh eyes.  Then when you return to it, tweak it.  It may take multiple drafts to come up with a piece that is ready for submission.

Reading your work aloud, having someone else proof your work, and editing your work pays off.  You’ll end up with a better story or a fabulous poem.  Failure to do so will more than likely win you a rejection.  Editors have an uncanny sense of knowing if your work has been reviewed and revised.  Don’t even think you can submit without editing.  You can't fool them.  

So why take the chance of having an editor reject your work?  If you put the time to create and write for children, then take a little more time to make it the best it can be. 




November 11, 2013

Becky

Her envelopes came once a week, addressed to Jim and Randi Mrvos—our names beautifully crafted in cursive.  Hers was the kind of penmanship that would have earned an A+ in school. Though the envelopes contained bills for the services she had provided in the care of my mother-in-law, there was something special in seeing our names so beautifully written as if an artist had painted them with a brush. 

But now…there will be no more envelopes displaying that elegant flourish and flair.  Just like that, in a blink of an eye Becky is gone.  I didn’t know her well, only through business, but she ran a top-notch service that we still heavily rely upon.  Following a routine surgery, Becky passed away two days later after contracting a deadly infection. It’s so hard to believe.  Jim and I were speechless when we learned the news. 

Why do I share this?  First of all, I share because words are powerful and can touch others emotionally. Secondly, her untimely death is a reminder to never put off anything like telling people that you love them, reading a book you’ve always wanted to read or taking a class you’ve always wanted to take.  It means writing that story, that article, that novel you’ve always said you’d write—but haven’t.  It’s up to you how you plan to do the things in your life.  But remember, there are no certainties. Ever. 

Someone else will take over the business and Jim and I will still receive weekly envelopes stuffed with a bill.  But it will be different now.  The handwriting will change. Maybe the envelopes will even be typed.  Who knows?  What I do know is that the gorgeous handwriting is forever gone—a beautiful style that only Becky could create.  



November 2, 2013

Details, details...


Stories written for children are usually rich in details.  When writers add details to describe a thing or a person, they add them for a purpose.  For instance in one of my stories, the main character wears an amethyst ring on her finger.  Notice the specific detail:  not just a ring, an amethyst ring.  As the story unfolds, we learn that this ring has significance and meaning.  It totally impacts the story. The ring is more than a pretty birthstone. 

Throwing details into a story just for the heck of it is not recommended.  Once, I received a fiction submission in which a detail was added but never mentioned again.  The story was about a kid who went on a thrilling adventure.  Before the child began her journey, the author described where she lived.  In this case, the young child lived in a very odd-shaped building.  But further reference to this detail was never made. Though probably unintentional, the author had teased readers (and editors) and forgotten that his audience would want to know more about this weird house.

The point is, if you include a particular detail in a story, you must come back to it, refer to it, or use it in some way. As Anton Chekhov is quoted, "Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.  If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.”  Other variations of his statement include: "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. “  And, “It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep."  

When writers include a detail in a story, they need to return to that detail again.  Got a story with a loaded rifle?  An odd-shaped building?  An amethyst ring?  Then, something has to happen or revolve around those things.  If not, those facts must go.  In failing to return to details, you risk letting your audience down.  Dramatic principle requires that every element in a narrative be necessary and irreplaceable, and that everything else be removed.  




October 28, 2013

Tenacity

How much perseverance do you have?  Do you throw in the towel after receiving a rejection? Do you easily give up when the writing muse fails to show up?  Do you quit because you don’t have the time to write?  Being a writer is not for the faint-hearted.  But with anything we desire to succeed at, whether it’s writing or tackling something new or difficult, we must keep on trying. For example... 

 

With a little more time on my hands since my daughter started her freshman year at college, I looked into taking a French class.  I had enjoyed the subject in high school and had always wanted to learn more.  This summer after corresponding with the teacher at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington Kentucky, I learned that she wanted me to take a beginning level class.  She expected students to buy the workbook and read through it before class started in the fall.  But when I opened the pages and began to do some of the exercises, it was way over my head.  So many rules and exceptions.  How would I ever be able to learn French?  I seriously thought about not taking the class.

 

But curiosity won me over and I decided to give it a try.  To my delight, the teacher was fun and the lesson was easy and enjoyable; however, since class size was too small, the teacher moved our session to a different day (and a more advanced class).  This class was taught almost entirely in French, so I got about 50% out of what was taught.  It was intimidating and challenging.  Luckily the following week, the teacher announced that a beginner’s class would re-open now that she had more participants.  Thank goodness, hallelujah!  Here, the pace would be slower and the information easier to grasp. 


But...what if I had given up?  What if I had not tried the upper level class?  Would I have even heard of the new beginner’s class?  My dream of learning more French might have been squashed.  So, I’m glad I stuck with it.  I guess you could call it tenacity.     


And that is what writers need when facing hardships or a challenge.  We get rejections; we stare at a blank page waiting for inspiration; we face critique partners who tell us that our manuscript needs more work.  Yet through it all, we must be tenacious. We must find the courage to continue writing despite the roadblock that stands in our way.  We know that sometimes this very roadblock will steer us to another path that will lead to success. To writers, giving up is not an option.  The only option for success is to persevere.





October 18, 2013

Leave well enough alone


I love publishing poetry for the Kid's Imagination Train.  Recently, I received a cute poem, but the meter and rhyme were off.  Since I felt that the poem had potential, the author and I worked together to edit it.  In a few days, she was awarded with an acceptance. The poem was slated for publication in a spring issue of KIT. Then, a few weeks later, the author wrote back to me. She wanted to edit the poem—again!   

Please, never consider doing this.  It's rare that an editor will work with an author to revise work. Generally speaking, editors edit manuscripts without author input.  Seasoned authors are aware however, that editors try to keep the story or article as close to what was originally written even though some words or paragraphs are struck. 

For example, when a manuscript of mine was accepted by a leading children's magazine, I was allowed to proof the piece before publication.  Upon reading it however, I found that major parts had been edited.  At first, it was shocking.  Then I realized that the editors had vastly improved it.   

In time, this poet will discover the ways of the writing world.  She'll discover that editors have a vision of how a submission should appear in print.  She find that editors want to publish outstanding work.  She'll realize that once a piece is edited and accepted for publication, it’s time to let go of the submitted work and move on to the next writing project.  

October 11, 2013

Change

Generally speaking, I don’t care for change.  I like things to stay the way they are.  So you can imagine how freaked out I got when the grocery store where I had shopped for over twenty years had been enlarged and remodeled.  That meant more walking (okay, that's a good thing) and hunting for items in places I never dreamed they'd be.  But that was nothing compared to how I felt when change affected my writing world.

About a year ago, Stories for Children magazine and the educational publisher Viatouch closed.  Suddenly, I lost two editing jobs.  I was totally crushed.  Though I didn't earn much, I loved reading other writer's manuscripts and preparing them for publication.  

After grieving for a while, I decided to take action.  Since the markets for children’s writers had been dwindling for years, I felt that a new kid's magazine was needed.  Hence, the Kid's Imagination Train magazine was conceived and developed through much sweat and tears. Now, writers have another market where they can see their work in print.  Now, children can read fantastic fiction, exciting nonfiction, intriguing book reviews,and kid-friendly lesson plans, plus, they can illustrate their favorite stories!  

If you too, have been affected by change, you probably know that you have two choices.  You can do nothing and mope and complain about it, or you can deal with it and move on.     

I would urge you to move on. Learn from the change.  Stay positive.  Look for opportunities. Think about what you can achieve.  When you take action, great things can happen—just because of change.


September 30, 2013

Latching on to Inspiration

Today, the Children's Writer's World welcomes Donna McDine.

Every day life inspires me. The occurrence does not have to be an extraordinary moment. Often times my most inspiring moments have come when I was not concentrating on my writing. From watching my children play with their friends when they were younger to listening in on conversations at the local coffee shop. I always keep a little note pad and pen in my purse for these unexpected moments. 

Several times inspiration has struck me when I’ve been driving and I keep a handheld recording device on hand for these moments. This way I’m sure to remember a thought because before I know it my thoughts are elsewhere or the current conversation has taken me someplace else.

As for my two latest books, Powder Monkey and Hockey Agony, the inspiration of the storyline of Powder Monkey came from a call for submissions on the historical fiction topic of the late 1700’s pertaining to the Royal Navy. Always fascinated by history, I jumped at the chance to create a manuscript worthy of submission. Through research I came across information of the Press Gangs the Royal Navy utilized to kidnap boys as young as eleven to work on ships. The conditions were deplorable and the determination of survival by so many inspired me to stay true to the historical events. Even though my initial submission was rejected by the publishing house putting out the request I did not give up. I eventually submitted to Guardian Angel Publishing and after several rounds of edits GAP accepted Powder Monkey!

The inspiration of Hockey Agony came from everyday life. Coming from a family of sports lovers I often find myself watching my daughters, nieces, and nephews competing in one sport or another. Unfortunately, over the years, bad sportsmanship is often found within the spectators, players, and coaches…sometimes even encouraging the players to cheat and to inflict personal injury to their opponents. And as many of us had read, some of these horrific occurrences make the local and national news. It’s our duty as adults to maintain a calm disposition at sporting events and to encourage competitive clean playing. For without honesty and integrity what will our children have in store for themselves when they enter adulthood?

For me inspiration is just a thought away or an article in the newspaper. Inspiration comes for me at the most unexpected times; and, I latch on to each and every thought making notes to hopefully use at a later time.

I’d enjoyed hearing about what inspires you! So please comment and tell me about your moments.  Thank you and here’s to your inspiration!



 

September 29, 2013

Milton, The Square Shell Turtle

In today's guest blog, MaryAnn Tatro reveals the inspiration behind her new book. 

The inspiration for my book started twenty eight years ago.  I didn't realize at the time there would be a book in my future, but it was there....waiting.

My son (then five), his day-care, and a selected number of other day-cares were asked to participate in a project that would change the look and hopefully attract the local public to a certain park in the Cleveland, Ohio area that needed much attention and clean up.

The children were given a 10" x 10" tile and asked to paint anything on their tile that they wanted. There were approximately one hundred participants who took on the task. After the tiles were painted, glazed over and hardened, they were finally arranged and displayed at their new home—the city park.

My son painted on his tile (you guessed it) a turtle. He made short brush strokes and fingerprint marks he said were grass and a few light blue areas he called water.  Now to the average viewer, my son's tile painting could be deemed abstract, but to me it was a masterpiece.

A few years ago, I heard some rather disappointing news. This particular park was to be renovated and all the tiles had to be removed.  My husband and I decided, before all was lost, to make a special trip to Cleveland and photograph our son's tile.  To our amazement, the tiles were not damaged but relocated to another area park; and, I am pleased to report that is where they are to this day.

And so that takes us back to the beginning, the inspiration for my book, Milton The Square Shell Turtle. Now, I can't leave my husband out of the story completely. I gave Milton my husband's laid-back personality and his ability to avoid a problem (or as he puts it) SOLVING a problem by finding another way and keeping peace. Lastly, I wanted Milton to be different from other turtles.  And so he is, because in real life, we are all different and unique.



September 22, 2013

Not Even the Sky is the Limit!

Today, a guest blog by Denise Zarrella
When it comes to inspiration for my children's book Not Even the Sky is the Limit!, there is no doubt that my daughter Gianna was the spark that ignited my passion for this project.  My book showcases the abilities of children and adults with Down Syndrome.  Since the moment my husband and I found out that we were going to have a child with Down Syndrome, we began to see the world in a whole new way.  We began to think about every person we knew who had a child with Downs.  We imagined what our life together would be like; and above all, we wanted to know that we could look forward to a life that would be full of love, laughter and all the things everyone else enjoys doing as a family.


My reason for writing this book, geared for toddlers, goes even deeper than that, though.  I spent a lot of time on the computer "Googling," Down Syndrome.  I was shocked to see how many parents, who found out that they were going to have a child with Downs, decided to terminate their pregnancy.  The parents, siblings and close friends of people with Down Syndrome that I've connected with admit there are some challenges to having a special needs child, but none of them could imagine a world without their son, daughter, brother or sister.  They don't want to.   
    

Not Even the Sky is the Limit! is modeled after my kid's favorite book when they were toddlers.  It was called the ABC for You and Me Book.  It went through every letter of the alphabet and had a child with Down Syndrome demonstrating a word for each of those letters.  My kids loved this book so much we are missing the "Q is for quilt," page!  My kids loved the pictures of the other kids, and I realized I loved how happy and well adjusted all the children in the book appeared to be.  The book put me at ease and got me excited about our family's future.

Since day one, I have enjoyed talking to parents of children with Down Syndrome and learning about what their kids love to do.  I've heard stories of lead singers with Down Syndrome, weight lifters, actors and actresses, the list goes on and on.  Every time I hear one of these stories, I think the reporter in me feels the need to document it, and the mother in me wants to publicize what I've heard and seen, because I believe a lot of people are unaware of all the cool things people with disabilities are doing. 

One day, I shared one of these many stories with my husband, Tony.  I said, "I just wish there was a book with all of these stories of what people with Down Syndrome are out there doing in it so I could look at it whenever I feel discouraged or worried."  He just looked at me very matter of factly and said, "Why don't you do it?"  I stopped for a second and then said, "I think I will." A little over a year later, Not Even the Sky is the Limit! was published. My husband cried when he saw the book for the first time. It was one of our most emotional moments in our relationship, ever. Tony calls this book, "your love letter to Gianna," and he's right. 
      
As someone who has written for television for years, I really always thought my first book would be something like The World According to Garp, but clearly God had other plans for me.  Gianna was born, and Not Even the Sky is the Limit! would bring me to one of the most satisfying and rewarding milestones of my life.

If one person is enlightened by reading this book to one of their children, or a child is able to see the world through more accepting eyes as a result of turning the pages, then my mission is accomplished.  My biggest hope yet:  that someone will see this book and decide to move forward with their life and their child, a child they will know with Down Syndrome. 





September 16, 2013

I Am an Author

Today, a guest blog by author Patti Jefferson.

I am at the airport and as I look around me, I wonder if anyone knows. When they look up at me from their Candy Crush and text messages, can they tell? I feel different. I know that what I am about to do will affect some people’s lives - changing them forever. Their bags are full of souvenirs from their trip just finished or gifts for loved ones they are headed to see. Not mine. My bag is heavy and for the hundredth time this morning, I wish it was lighter. Soon it will be.


No, I am not a terrorist. I am an author. Today, my carry-on bag is full of copies of my first children's book How Long Will You Love Me? and I am starting my first book tour. This week I am going to stand in front of hundreds of students and explain what an author does. I am going to share my love of books and of reading and of writing & illustrating. Some of those children may be inspired to be storytellers too or at the very least, better readers. Maybe I'm wrong ...maybe they will all grow up to be firemen, florists or CEOs and only have a vague memory of the lady who came for an author visit at their elementary school years ago. In my heart though, I hope that out there in the crowded cafeteria is at least one kid who will just get it. We will connect and I will make a difference.

Standing at the gate to board my flight, I straighten my posture. I make eye contact with the people around me & I smile. I doubt that the little girl in the pink dress near the window will tug on her mother's skirt, point and whisper "Mommy, do you think that lady is an author?" but I do know one thing with absolute certainty. One of the books in my overly heavy bag will reach a little girl just like her and even if she has no idea what an author is yet, she will grow up remembering those moments when her mother read my books to her.


That's why children's book authors do what we do: to create not just a collection of silly stories printed on paper but to create those precious bonding moments.

Maybe none of my fellow travelers today will know that I am an author. Maybe no one will question why my bag is almost too heavy to get in the overhead bin. But I know.... and that makes me smile. I am an author and that is my inspiration.

 






September 7, 2013

Three Messages

After four attempts, Diana Nyad swam the treacherous Florida Straits and completed a 53-hour, 100-mile swim from Cuba to Key West.  Nyad, a 64-year old endurance swimmer, is the only person to have succeeded in swimming from Cuba to Key West without fins or a wet suit.  Her 35-member support team kept a close watch as she swam the ocean brimming with jellyfish and sharks. 

After two nights and two days of the torturous swim, Nyad greeted onlookers and her support team.  “I have three messages,” she said.  “One is we should never, ever give up.  Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams.  Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team.”

When I read her messages, I immediately thought about writers who were pursuing the path to publication.  Her messages certainly apply. 


1.  We should never give up—no matter the rejections, the writer’s block, or the lack of confidence.  

2.  We should never dismiss our dreams, regardless of our age.  Laura Ingalls Wilder, William S. Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Joseph Conrad, and Henry Miller and more were published late in life.

3.  We should never believe that writing is a solitary sport.  It takes the team of critique partners and editors to reach the goal of publication.

Nyad said that with each attempt to swim the ocean, she vowed it would be her last; yet, the quest nagged at her.  She tried again.  On the fifth time, she succeeded in reaching her most difficult goal.  What an amazing woman!  Though her quest is over, her words of wisdom remain.  I urge you to think of those three messages often.  Use them for inspiration.  Allow those three messages to encourage you, to spur you on as you journey the road to publication.  





September 1, 2013

Character

While I was on vacation in the Smoky Mountains this summer, I met an unusual lady. We sipped on soft drinks as our families zip-lined through the hills.  In a conversation which lasted over an hour, we learned about our hometowns, family histories, and likes and dislikes.  We discovered that we enjoyed doing the daily word jumble, we both knew brothers named Kenneth and Edward (friends of my family and her son's names), and both of us had a scare with cancer (her's far more serious than mine).


That afternoon, she shared a deep secret.  She revealed that she had lost one of her sons in a tragic car accident.  But the strange thing was, even though she grieved for him, she never shed a tear.  Her revelation surprised me and this sad moment touched the writer in me.  It made me wonder what behaviors we expect of others in a given situation.  What other occasions do people act in unexpected ways? Our chance meeting taught me that character is more complex than what meets the eye.  


If you want to create complex characters, then one thing you can try is to allow your characters to act in unexpected ways.  You can polish this skill by talking to others. Strike up a conversation while you wait in a grocery check-out line or at a doctor's office. Get to know others at sporting events or at after school activities. Listen well.  You'll see things from another’s point of view.  You'll learn how other people handle tough situations.  Later, you may find yourself weaving bits and pieces from these real conversations into a character for a story. 


My Smoky mountain acquaintance lives far north, many miles from me, but I am thankful that we were able to connect and share.  She had surely made an impact on my life, both personally and professionally.  She's made me think harder about developing richer, more complex characters. Though chances are unlikely that we’ll meet again, I will think of her often, knowing that we are both enjoying and unscrambling the daily word jumble.  




August 24, 2013

Rhythm and Rhyme



As few weeks ago, I “attended” this year’s Writeoncon conference.  One of the speakers was picture book author, Deborah Diesen.  She gave a short vlog on rhyme and rhythm and offered good pointers for crafting poetry for children. 

Deborah began by giving a definition:  the basic unit of rhythm is a metrical foot.  Then she presented four examples:

Iamb—an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, like the word, away
Trochee—a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, like the word, happy
Dactyl—a stressed syllable followed by 2 unstressed syllables, like the word, joyfully
Anapest—2 unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable, like the word, seventeen

The kind of foot and the number of feet per line makes up the meter or the rhythm of a poem. Deborah reminds us to stay true to that rhythm.

She also pointed out that a poem is more than matching the last syllable—a rhyme has to rhyme rhythmically.  Deborah said, "Rhyme the last stressed syllable from the vowel sound on and everything that comes after the last stressed syllable."  The word “today” rhymes with “away.”  But “chickadee” and “playfully” don’t rhyme perfectly, even though they end in “e.” 

It takes practice writing poetry for children.  There are plenty of rules to follow.  And some editors insist that authors strictly adhere to those rules.  Deborah suggests buying a rhyming dictionary.  In addition, you can study rhythm and rhyme in her book: The Pout-Pout Fish, a New York Times bestseller, or check out other rhyming books such as Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown , Wild about Books by Judy Sierra, or and Time for Bed by Mem Fox.    










August 18, 2013

Deliver a Powerful Punch

Recently, I received a promising story for the Kid's Imagination Train magazine.  The author kicked off the piece with conflict:  the main character tells a friend that a monster lurks in their neighborhood. Great!  The story was off to a good start. Throughout the piece, the tension was successfully created.  But unfortunately, the ending was a letdown. Quite frankly, the monster was not all that scary.

This ending might have worked better if the monster was:
* large in size, that is, something a kid can’t squish with his foot or,
* something amazingly detestable for a kid to encounter or,
* a believable, yet unexpected surprise

When you write a scary story, close it with a strong ending—something that is icky or would give kids the goose bumps.  That’s what you’re aiming for.  Resist the urge to slip in a scientific fact to clarify the ending. It will come across as being too didactic.  The last thing children want to read at the end of a suspenseful story is an explanation (even if it’s one sentence).  An explanation may slow the action and weigh the ending down.   

When you spend time developing characters, creating conflict, and building suspense, you should make the ending as worthy of the tension that has been set-up.  Think of it this way:  you have gained the trust of your readers by promising them something big is going to happen; therefore, don’t disappoint.  They’re invested in your story.  If you’re writing a piece that intends to frighten, be sure the ending delivers a powerful punch.

August 12, 2013

Conflict

KIT receives more fiction than nonfiction.  I guessing authors believe it’s easier to write and to get published.  But that’s not necessarily true.  If authors fail to incorporate believable conflict in their fiction, they will probably have a harder time finding a market for their work.  

In a recent fiction submission, conflict was present, but misplaced.  The main character, a young boy, didn’t face a problem.  Instead, he learns of a tragedy through his parents.  After listening to his folk’s plan to help the victims, he too, decides to assist.  The young boy acts nobly, which sends a terrific message to readers.  But since true conflict is missing, the ending becomes predictable.

For fiction, conflict must touch the main character in a meaningful way.  Consequently, the stakes are raised and we care about the main character.  In this story, the author could have placed the child closer to the tragedy and had him personally affected.  This would have helped readers become more emotionally connected to the young boy as he learns to tackle the problem.  

Whether the story is for children or adults, all fiction must contain conflict.  Below is a conflict check list when writing for kids:

Present the conflict early in the story to hook your readers.
Create a meaningful conflict which directly affects the main character. 
Choose a conflict that kids can relate to.  
Build on conflict to create tension and suspense.
Have main characters solve the conflict themselves without any help from adults.

When you have provided a deeply personal conflict for the main character, then you have hit on advancing the plot and creating an emotional connection to your story.  Editors are keenly aware of the necessity and the prospects of good conflict.  When it is properly crafted, they won’t reach for a rejection slip.  They’ll be eager to keep on reading.  







August 5, 2013

Homework

As editor of the Kid's Imagination Train, I receive a good amount of stories, but very few poems.  So when a poetry submission awaited in the inbox, I was thrilled.  This piece might make a nice addition to KIT. 

But after reading the poem, I found that it wasn't quite right for KIT.  This writer failed to do her homework.  Homework is easy and consists of the following three "assignments."

1.  Study the magazine.  Get a feel for the kind of pieces that are published.  KIT leans to whimsical, funny, or sweet poems that tell a story and have the potential for illustration. 

2.  Edit your work.  Read it out loud.  Poetry must have perfect rhyme and spot-on meter or beats—not just matching the number of syllables in each line, but having the correct emphasis on those syllables. 

3.  Read the writer's guidelines.  Learn how submissions should be formatted in terms of font and spacing.  Discover what is expected in the subject of your email.

Most editors will tell you that these three homework assignments are expected to be completed before submitting.  This includes nonfiction as well as writers of fiction and poetry.  However, when writers fail to do their homework, they are not only wasting their time, they are wasting the time of an editor.  

When writers read the guidelines, study the magazine, and edit their pieces, they show editors that they care about their work.  They want their submissions to be seriously considered. And because of their efforts, they'll have a better chance of seeing their work in print. Editors know these writers have done their homework well.

July 26, 2013

Teaming up for Revision

When fiction is submitted to the Kid’s Imagination Train magazine, word count is the first thing that is checked.  If the piece is within our word range, the submission is eagerly read. If it exceeds word count, the submission is still read, but it may be rejected because shorter pieces are preferred.

Next, the piece must appeal to children.  Lastly, the submission should have the potential to be easily illustrated.  That’s the beauty of KIT.  Children have the opportunity to illustrate their favorite features. 

If the story meets word count, appeals to children and can be illustrated, but tells instead of shows, is negative, or portrays an unlikable character, a revision is required.  Some editors would reject a story at this point.  But if the piece has promise, I contact the author about editing the manuscript.

When revising submissions for KIT, I work with the authors and allow them to participate in the editing process.  We may focus on creating a kid-friendly character, finding better word choices, or strengthening dialogue.  Upon receiving my suggestions which aim at keeping the plot intact, the author may wish to use all of the ideas or use some of them, or totally rewrite the story.  Then the author sends me her revision. This goes on like a tennis match sometimes, batting ideas back and forth until we are both satisfied.

In my experience, very few submissions are instantly ready for publication.  Revision is part of the writing process.  Having a second reader can be beneficial in getting feedback about the manuscript.  But ultimately, the piece must pass the editor's standards.  Working with an editor helps writers to understand what is expected.  They learn specifically how to identify and then rectify the problematic parts of their story. During the process, patience and dedication is required.  But in the end, revision pays off.  When editor and writer work together, they give a manuscript the loving attention it rightfully deserves.    


July 22, 2013

Thank you


Two simple words—thank you—carry a lot of weight.  Writers should use them often. How often do you thank someone? 

Here are some (and of course there are many more) occasions in which writers can put those two words to work:    

*when a friend agrees to critique your work
*when people tell you they like your blog or writing
*when a publisher sends you a complementary copy
*when a writer guest blogs for you   
*when a follower leaves a comment for your blog
*when an expert offers to review your work
*when an expert agrees to an interview 
*when an editor has accepted a piece for publication
*when an editor has rejected a piece, but has offered ways to revise
*when an agent provides feedback on a manuscript

These two simple words cost nothing, I repeat, nothing.  So use them sincerely and often. Know that when you say “thanks,” you have brightened someone else’s day.


Image courtesy: Clipart

July 15, 2013

Hiring a Publicist

Last week, I blogged about publicists.  And it's got you thinking.  You want to create buzz about your book, but you're still unsure about hiring a publicist.  

In an article in the Huffington Post, Fauzia Burke, the founder and president of the publicity and marketing firm FSB Associates says, "Most authors know that a public relations effort for their book is essential for their success.  In order to have a campaign to promote their book comprehensively, many look to augment their publisher's efforts by hiring a PR agency." 

If you're interested in hiring a publicist, Burke says authors need to do five things:

* identify goals---what do you want to achieve?
* get referrals from other authors---get names and compare and contrast agencies
* check on prices, timeline, and availability---find out more about their area of expertise
* call the publicist to ask questions---get a preliminary proposal
* research the agency online---check past and current projects and their social media   connections

Some publicists plan and implement entire publicity campaigns, organize appearances on big blogs with a high number of followers, and arrange radio and television interviews to showcase your product to a large number of potential customers.  They find ways to put your book on the NY Times Bestseller list and set up magazine write-ups, book reviews, and book club readings. 

According to Burke, a good PR agency should give you valuable information for building your brand and to amplify the exposure you are getting.  Burke advises, "In the end, it is all about the collaboration—so pick your team carefully."  

For more on the article by Fauzia Burke, check out this link:



July 7, 2013

What a Publicist Can Do for You


You’ve written a great book.  Let’s suppose an editor likes it so much that she wants to publish it.  What’s next after signing the contract?  You’ll need to market your book.  Say what?  Isn’t that what the publishing house is supposed to do?  Yes, to some degree.  Each publishing house has their own marketing strategy, but the author is expected to do marketing as well.  This task can be daunting; therefore, you may want to consider hiring a publicist.

Publicists can help you create your platform before your title is released to help you get noticed.  Successful launching of a book requires pre-promotion.  This may take up to a year before your title is released. 

Gail Kearns, President, Project Editor, and Production Coordinator of To Press and Beyond says, "Promoting a book takes a  lot of time and dedication, not to mention perseverance. As a book publicist, one of the first initiatives I like to tackle is the Big Idea, or how to position the book to get optimum results in garnering reviews, interviews, and features." 

"Another responsibility of the book publicist is to create marketing materials, such as press releases, author bios, questions for media, and talking points," says Kearns. "I don't suggest authors do this themselves, even if they think they can. Writing press materials is far different from writing a book. Veteran publicists have a lot of experience in crafting marketing materials that are more likely to bring results, whether it be a pitch to a radio host or to the event coordinator at a bookstore."

Kearns believes that bloggers are the new reviewers. She says that publicists are blog researchers and they have databases of media contacts and bloggers. Publicists worth their salt have established relationships with many of them.  "Hiring a publicist saves the author hours and hours of time building a list of media and bloggers, making contact, pitching, and following up. Hiring a publicist lends credibility to an author's promotional efforts," says Kearns.

Publicists can provide branding, trade and niche marketing, press kit development, and website development.  More, publicists step in to navigate the complex world of social media and present you with smart opportunities to help get the word out about your book.

For more information check out:  To Press & Beyond is a full-service book shepherding agency. For more information on their services, visit www.topressandbeyond.com or email gail@topressandbeyond.com



June 28, 2013

Keep 'em Coming Back


Whether you write for children or for adults, you most likely have a blog—which leads to a question:  do you blog about yourself or do you blog to inspire others?  After reading several writers’ blogs, I found a good majority of writers focus on themselves.  “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” to quote comedian Jerry Seinfeld, yet it’s surprising to think that an audience would continue to read posts that center on a writer’s life.  

If however, you enjoy blogging about yourself, don’t despair.  There are ways to keep and even grow an audience.  The recipe for writing a slice of life blog includes three important ingredients that are easy to incorporate.

1.  The blog must be unique.  Specifically, the blogger needs to find a way to make the mundane exciting.  This can be done by writing a post in an unusually creative or entertaining manner.   For example, check out: www.sharonkaycreech.blogspot.com.  Author Sharon Creech includes photos and writes short posts that read like poetry.

2.  The post should conclude with an up-beat or encouraging message.  Readers want to feel uplifted, not powerless or depressed.   Put a positive spin on tough situations.  Give the audience hope.

3.  The blog needs to be relatable.  In other words, bloggers must connect with their audience and appeal to the widest human interests.  This can be achieved by providing “take-away” value—something readers may appreciate or learn from and apply to their lives.

Humor is not a requirement in writing slice of life; however, if the blog is hilarious, then chances are it’ll have a huge following.  But then here’s the rub:  How do bloggers know they are funny?  Unfortunately, there’s no meter to gauge that.  I do know that when someone is funny, they don’t just write funny.  They live and breathe funny.  It’s an organic part of who they are.  Funny people can take the most ordinary thing and make it hilarious.  For them, entertaining others is effortless and natural.   

Bloggers that focus on themselves must make their posts worth reading if they want to retain an audience and grow followers.  It’s like the kid in the AT & T commercial with Beck Bennett who answers the “What’s better, more or less” question with:  “We want more.” Likewise, readers want more and it’s a blogger’s job to deliver.  Bloggers who write about their lives need to be aware of their audience.  Successful bloggers know that means making their posts unique, positive, and relatable. That’s why successful bloggers have their audience always coming back for more.



June 23, 2013

Story vs. Situation


Editors publish stories, not situations.  What's the difference?  Conflict is absent in a situation.  For example:  If a child spends the day at the zoo with his parents, rides the train, and has a picnic lunch, then it's a situation, not a story.  But if the child is gets lost at the zoo, then conflict has been created and you have the beginnings of a story.

A story needs to have a main character who faces a problem.  The earlier the conflict is mentioned, the better.  It will create tension and interest and will hook the audience.  The conflict should be relevant to a child, something he could experience or is likely to understand.  More, the problem must be solved by the main character.




Take for example the wonderful picture book,      I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.  The book is not just about a day in the forest with a bear and his woodland friends.  The bear has a problem: his hat is missing and he wants it back.  One by one, he asks each animal he comes across if they have seen his hat.  He gets despondent until a deer refreshes his memory.  So, the bear renews his search and succeeds in finding his hat, which in the end, leads to a humorous implied conclusion. 




Ask yourself these questions when you write your story: 
Does the main character have a problem that he eventually solves by himself?
Is there action, a climax, and a resolution?
Will solving that problem change the main character in some way?

If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, then you gone beyond a situation and you likely have a very good story to tell.




June 17, 2013

Passion Sells


If you want people to take notice, you need to have passion.  This is true for any career or profession, not just for children’s writers.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went shopping for the tree of my dreams—a yellowwood tree.  When we visited Garden Center “A,” we were greeted by an employee who admitted he didn’t know much about the tree and preferred to talk about his hometown.  We noticed his lack of interest.  He really didn’t seem to care whether we found a tree or not.  He did however, ask another employee to help us out.  The second fellow knew very little about the tree, but he did Google it.  But, I could have done that. 

We drove to Garden Center “B,” expecting better service; and here too, the salesperson lacked interest.   He was polite and showed us an assortment of trees, yet he didn’t seem to care whether we found the flowering shade tree we sought.  

We drove to one more garden center located close by.  An employee at Garden Center "C" listened carefully to what we wanted and promptly showed us the tree we had in mind.  Then, he piqued our curiosity with a tree we had never considered.  It was a beauty, a Kwanzan cherry tree; and, it met our requirements.   Later, we walked back to the office where he showed us a chart in which the owner had scored and rated trees, so we could get a feel for how the yellowwood compared to other shade trees. 

The salesman was knowledgeable and passionate about trees and it showed.  What amazed me was, I had had my heart set on a yellowwood tree for over twenty years, but after discussing the other option, and I was convinced that it wasn’t the best tree for us.  

So back to passion and to its connection to writing.  Passion sells!  I think this is what counts when you submit your work to an editor or agent.  Your passion must show in your query.  It’s all about finding the perfect words to let the love of your work shine through.

If you have the chance to speak with a publisher during a conference or to pitch your book, passion must be evident in your delivery and in tone of your voice.  When you sell your story, being low-key and shy may work against you. 

Whether you pitch an editor or write a query, your excitement and commitment to the story must be felt.  You and your work are a package that publishers consider as a whole.  Editors and agents will take notice when you are passionate about your work.  Trust me, it’s contagious.  Of course, the writing has to be sensational, but when passion is evident they will be dying to get their hands on your story.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Jack's Farm
And so what of tree-shopping trip?  Because of the sales person’s enthusiasm, we changed our minds about buying a yellowwood tree.   His passion convinced us.  No regrets.  The rose-like, pink flowering Kwanzan cherry tree now blooms in our backyard.









June 3, 2013

Award-winning author Hetherington sponsors the Crosley Word Contest



Sands Hetherington majored in history at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and has an M.F.A. in creative writing and an M.A. in English from UNC-Greensboro.  He raised his son John as a single parent. During those formative years, Sands read to his young son every night. As a result, he and John developed the Crosley crocodile character in the Night Buddies series of chapter books. Sands Hetherington credits his son John for being his principal motivator. 




Sands shares the story of winning the Next Generation Indie Book Award and invites kids to participate in the Crosley Word Contest: 

It was a Monday, or it may as well have been because I was feeling lousy due to the spring pollen. I dreaded getting out of bed and handling all of the business I had to face, including clearing a steamer trunk full of e-mails, which I had been especially dreading.

I’m glad I decided to tackle the e-mails first. After clearing off seven or eight humdrum communications, there was the announcement! Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, my first book in the Night Buddies series, had been awarded Winner of the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the Children’s/Juvenile Fiction category. It couldn’t have come at a better time!

My allergies cleared up (for the rest of the day anyway), and I went about my other business with energy I hadn’t had in years. It reminded me of two incidents: one was when General Grant received General Lee’s offer to discuss peace terms, and Grant’s migraine instantly cleared up, and the other was when W. B. Yeats heard about his Nobel Prize in the middle of the night and got out of bed and cooked sausages. I usually do cereal in the morning, but I did have one Italian sausage left over from the night before, so I went and fried it up as a celebratory gesture.

Then I thanked John and Crosley for their part. They are the main characters in the stories I created with my son John, when he was a young lad. Kids love the books, and it’s all the more gratifying to get this kind of recognition from my peers in the publishing community. Creating memorable characters is a main goal in writing these Adventures After Lights Out. Night Buddies, Impostors, and One Far-Out Flying Machine is the second book, recently released.

I’m now writing the third book in the series, and if you’d like to get in on the action, Crosley has a contest going on. It’s what he calls the Night Buddies Adventure Series Wacky Word contest. Winner #1 will receive a $25 gift card to a bookstore of their choice & both titles signed by yours truly. Four runners up get prizes too. And who knows? The winning words could end up in my next book!  
Visit this link to participate: http://familiesmatter2us.blogspot.com
You might want to have some sausages on hand, just in case!

For more information on author Sands Hetherington, go to www.nightbuddiesadventures.com

Like our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/nightbuddies