December 28, 2014

The Kentucky Writing Workshop

Are you interested in advancing your writing career?  Then mark your calendar:  Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest Books is hosting "How to Get Published" in Louisville, Kentucky on February 6, 2015 at the Holiday Inn Louisville East.

This writing event is a full-day opportunity to get intense instruction, pitch a literary agent or editor (optional) and get your questions answered.  Please note that there is limited seating (90 seats total).

The special writing workshop is designed to give you the best instruction on how to get your writing and books published.  The topics include:  your publishing opportunities today, how to write queries and pitches, how to market yourself and your books, what prompts an agent/editor to continue (or to stop) reading your manuscript and more. Writers of all genres are welcome.

Literary agents onsite will give feedback and take pitches from writers.  This year's faculty includes agent Natalia Aponte (Aponte Literary), agent Alice Speilburg (Speilburg Literary), agent Brent Taylor (TriadaUS Literary), agent Victoria Lea (Aponte Literary), and editor JD DeWitt (River Valley Publishing).

I have registered for this workshop and will blog about it next year—so check back with Children's Writer's World in February or March.  Until then, I hope you will consider attending, too.  By the end of the day, we will have more tools to help us move forward along our writing paths.

December 14, 2014

Grade Level

When you write for young children, you should aim to keep the reading level age-appropriate.  In other words, if you are writing for ages 8 and 9, the readability should be for grades 3 - 4.   But what you have written an article intended for third-graders and an editor tells you that your piece is too advanced?  How can you measure the reading level so that you can edit it for the appropriate grade?

Here's when the Flesch-Kincaid grade level tool comes in handy. If you use Microsoft Word to spell-check your manuscript, you can choose to display readability statistics such as Flesch-Kincaid.  This tool was created to indicate comprehension difficulty when reading a passage.  The Flesch-Kincaid tool indexes readability by employing a formula that results with a number that corresponds with a U.S. grade level.  

Writers should become familiar with Flesch-Kincaid and use it as a guide to judge grade level.  I am not sure how many writers know about this tool, or know about it and forget to use it.  But if an editor points out that the reading level of your article is too high for the intended audience, you will need to find a way to lower it.  And this is where Flesch-Kincaid can help. 

In order to succeed in lowering readability, you cannot rush the process.  You should not hurriedly shorten a few sentences and cut some words here and there, and send it back to the editor with the message:  “Here you go.”  (I’m not kidding. I have seen this quite often.)  When you return an article to an editor in a day, it looks like you haven’t spent the time it takes to edit properly.  In fact, it almost shows that you don’t care enough about your work.  

My advice would be to work on the revision over several days, put it on the back burner for a few days, and return to it with fresh eyes.  Then take a look at the length of your sentences.  Turn the compound sentences into simple sentences.  Balance the number of simple sentences so that the work does not sound choppy.  Include some complex sentences, those that have an independent clause and a dependent clause.  Next, scrutinize each word.  Reduce the number of multisyllabic words.  Use a thesaurus to find grade-suitable words. 

You may find that you will need to repeat this process many times to gradually lower the grade level.  It's challenging, but doable.  And it's worth it. Before long, you will have created an age-appropriate piece and made an editor happy by giving her what she has requested.  

December 1, 2014

The Subject Line

Writer's guidelines.  Every magazine has them.  But I'm trying to understand why some writers fail to observe them.  Do writers simply forget to read the guidelines?  Do some feel entitled to skip them if they are published authors?   

The writer's guidelines will usually state how an article or story should be presented to an editor. This includes the way an editor wants the subject line of an electronic submission to read.  For Kids' Imagination Train, we would like to see the author's last name, the genre and the title in the subject line.  

Writers must always follow the guidelines.  And that includes having the correct wording in the subject line for an electronic submission. As cruel as it may seem, your work might get deleted or find its way into a spam folder if the subject line is not worded as specified.
Whether you pen fiction or nonfiction, you are well aware of the work that goes into writing for children. Nonfiction writers spend hours finding sources, reading them, taking notes, writing the piece and then editing it.  They spend time trying to find an expert to review the manuscript. Likewise, fiction writers spend hours crafting stories that demand conciseness, simplicity, and a visual sense.  They too, must edit and revise.  So with the mountains of time invested, why would writers take the chance of having their work trashed simply because they failed to follow one little step?  
As silly and as persnickety as it might sound, the subject line of an email submission must be stated exactly as requested.  You must pay attention to this little detail, because if you fail to do so, your precious manuscript that you spent oodles of time on may never get read.  And no writer wants to walk down that path.  I've said it before and I'll say it again (and again).  Review the writers' guidelines.  Pay attention to what is required for the subject line.  Doing this little step correctly should guarantee that your hard work will get into the hands of an editor.