February 1, 2015


Throughout each week, I like to work out at the gym, walk for an hour, and take ballet. Of the three activities, ballet is the hardest.  Ballet requires strength, balance, coordination, and focus.

One of the most challenging ballet poses is a passé.  This is when a dancer balances on one foot with the other leg opened wide to the side and the foot arched and pointed at the knee.  Looks easy, right? However, I can only balance for two to three seconds without holding onto the barre.  

In one class, I asked the instructor what the secret was to balancing in passé.  She said a dancer had to develop a strong core and be able to lift the body up from the legs, hips, trunk, shoulders and head.  That's a lot to think about. 

I was struck with the similarity of writing nonfiction for children and performing ballet because both seem easy to do and yet, that's hardly the truth.  Both take perseverance to do well.  

With ballet, dancers practice to make it look effortless. They take classes which begin at the barre with a series of movements that warm up and stretch the entire body, literally from head to toe. From there, they move to the center of the studio to perform a combination of steps, applying the principles of the barre without the aid of the barre. Lastly, the dancers move across the floor practicing turning and leaping. 

In writing children's nonfiction, authors must strive to educate a young audience within a tight word count (generally 500 words).  Writers don't rely on the Internet for research. They dig deeper to find primary sources and current studies.  They present research in a lively, creative manner to engage children.  Writers edit, edit, edit, until the piece flows, the word choices are perfect, and the meaning of complex concepts are simplified. And, writers put this all together in such as way as not to talk down to children.

I love doing ballet and writing for kids, but sometimes they are not always easy.  There are always challenges like doing a perfect passé or aiming to have an article published. Since I want to succeed at doing both, it takes hard work and dedication.  It takes time and practice. And as Victor Hugo once pointed out, it takes "perseverance, secret of all triumphs."

January 18, 2015

The Five Senses

My daughter attends Wake Forest.  One of the many nice perks for parents is receiving an email called The Daily Deac.  Betsy Chapman writes every day about activities on campus, updates on construction projects, and opportunities and special events for students.  She offers reflections and questions for conversations with our Deacs. 

One of my favorite posts is called the “Five senses.”  In these posts, Betsy describes what she is experiencing on campus.  With distance separating us from our scholars, this post helps parents to connect with what our students may be sensing, too. 

I like this post so much, that once a month I plan to add my version to Children’s Writer’s World. Dear readers, here are the five senses from my desk in front of a window as I sit down to write.

I smell: 
—my husband’s lunch of spaghetti and marinara sauce   

I hear:
—the mail truck’s engine rumbling  
—the microwave humming 
—silverware clinking on a plate
—Ollie meowing for food

I taste
—Seattle’s Best dark roast coffee sweetened with a bit of sugar

I feel
—the warmth of my coffee mug
—the smooth surface of the desk 

I see: 
—an oak tree with curled brown leaves waving in the breeze 
—the blue sky warm with sunshine and streaked with veils of clouds  
—a man bundled up and jogging down the sidewalk with a dog

January 10, 2015

Never Give Up

Do rejections make you want to give up on writing?  A lot of writers feel this way from time to time.  When you have spent hours on a writing project, you are hoping for an acceptance.  But when that rejection note comes along, you may find yourself wanting to throw in the towel. 

Although rejections are part of writing/publishing process, sometimes they frustrate and discourage me.  I get downright grouchy about rejection (just ask my husband). 

Some rejections are harder to take than others.  For example, I can’t figure out why one Midwestern educational publisher keeps rejecting my work. Their guidelines state to submit a description of an article in one to two paragraphs.  Since reprints and multiple submissions are permitted, I submitted descriptions of three articles that had been published in respectable magazines.  These pieces have been used as testing passages and in books to improve students’ reading skills.  And yet, all three of the articles were declined.

Despite the rejection, I submitted again to this publisher.  And, more “no thank you” emails came my way.  But this time, the rejection note included a message:  “Your writing was strong and engaging and very close to what we're looking for.”  They even sent examples of the kinds of articles they had published.

So what would you do?  Would you give up or try again?  For weeks, I put off approaching this publisher because I didn't want to set myself up for another rejection. But, I decided to submit once more because this editor appeared genuinely interested in my work.

Striving (and hoping) to earn an acceptance, I worked on improving my next group of submissions by creating a stronger hook for each article, by making sure that the topic idea was not too broad, and by providing intriguing details that had been discovered through research.  

Perhaps, the editor will be interested in this new set of articles.  And then again, another rejection could come my way.  But if that happens, I will have to find another way to crack this market. Giving up is never an option.

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.  

November 17, 2014

Read It Out Loud

You've probably heard this before:  read your work out loud. Most editors would encourage you to do so.

Once, a writer sent a nice poem to Kid's Imagination Train, but she repeated a phrase three times in two stanzas.  The repetition in this piece was distracting and it caused the poem to weaken.

Had she read her work aloud, she would have caught this slip. Then, she could have used a thesaurus to find words to replace the redundant phrase.

There is an exception to using repetition.  If you want to draw attention to a word for emphasis or for humor, then words and phrases can and should be repeated.  A classic example is Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss:

Green Eggs and Ham
I am Sam.
Sam I am.
That Sam-I-am!
That Sam-I-am!
I do not like
That Sam-I-am!
Do you like
Green eggs and ham?
I do not like them,
I do not like
Green eggs and ham.

Take a careful look at what you have written.  Review it multiple times.  Then close the door if you want and start reading it out loud to the computer screen.  You can print a copy and read to a mirror or even read to your pet. Listen for any unintended repetition. Check to see if you work flows off your tongue. Catch awkward phrasing. I urge you to do this every time before you submit your work. And so, allow me to repeat myself: read your work out loud:)