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

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