April 1, 2015

The Five Senses: As I Write with Ollie

Late February, 2015

My beloved cat Ollie is dying.  In his younger days, he loved to swat at yarn, tear boxes to shreds, and carry his baby (a stuffed mouse toy) in his mouth.  For a treat, he would "sit," "stay," and "come here."  He knew the words "bird" and "squirrel" and when I asked him if he saw any, he would go to the kitchen door to look for them.  As he grew older, he would sleep on a dining room chair hidden under the tablecloth.  On sunny days, my lean cat would stretch out by the screen door.  At dinnertime, he would beg at the table, lifting his paw to my arm.

When he was healthy, he would hunt me out.  He would sit next to me on my chair as I read, or stretch out on the desk in front of the computer screen as I wrote, or snuggle on the bed as I napped.

Now, he is more stationary, saving his strength for potty and water breaks, resting on a soft blanket near my desk.  These days, I come to him.  I sit on the kitchen floor next to Ollie—this is where I write.

I see:
raindrops clinging to the deck door
sheets of drizzle rippled by the wind
birds winging across the pale gray sky

I hear:
the cat water fountain gurgling softly
the humming of the refrigerator

I smell:
a light sweet scent of flowers on the kitchen table

I taste:
coffee sweetened with sugar

I feel:  
soft, silky fur
stiff whiskers
velvety ears

March 16, 2015.

Ollie is gone and I miss him terribly.

Rest in peace, my dear sweet cat.

March 15, 2015

The R Word---Revision

What would you do if an editor asked you for a revision? Would you:

A.  Shelf the piece 
B.  Send it off to another editor
C.  Follow up and revise

When I get a submission for Kid’s Imagination Train that has potential, I email writers to let them know that with a little editing, their work will likely be published.  I point out the strong parts of the piece and then discuss the portion that needs revising.  For instance   in nonfiction, a writer may need to conclude the article with a tie-in to the beginning.         In fiction, a writer may need to develop a true conflict closer to the start of the piece. With poems, writers may have to edit for rhythm and rhyme.

There are times however, when writers never follow up.  It’s puzzling.  Writers should understand that when an editor asks for a revision, she is interested in their work.  That means it's time to revise.  And this process should not be dreaded.  Think of it this way: effort has been spent creating an article or a story or a poem with the possibility of publication, so go the extra mile and spend just a little more time editing.

Most of the time, writers will comply.  They get it.  They will do what it takes, drawing on the editor’s suggestions and working to improve their submissions.  They know the goal is not to rush the process and submit, but to take their time and revise so that they will produce a polished manuscript. As an editor, it's a joy to know that writers realize the worth of revision.  In fact, one writer told me: "I would be happy to revise.  Editing is always welcome because there is always room for improvement."  I couldn't have said it better.

March 1, 2015

Pitching an Agent

Last month, I pitched a literary agent for the first time at the Kentucky Writing Workshop. The night before however, I got maybe two hours of sleep because of a pounding migraine.  Pitching the next day was not going to be easy for me.  But you know the old expression:  the show must go on.

Here is what I learned:

* Practice the pitch every day prior to the session.
* Memorize the pitch.
* Give the pitch in front of a mirror to watch your expressions and gestures.
* Videotape yourself with a cell phone.  Listen to the sound and speed of your voice.
* Think of questions that you might be asked.  Practice answering with confidence.
* Dress comfortably for the session.
* Be professional—don't do anything gimmicky.
* Begin the session with light conversation.
* Bring a copy of your pitch to glance at if necessary, but do not read from it.
* Bring a notepad to got down any comments that may be discussed.
* Be aware that the jitters may set in, even with months of practice.
* Speak slowly when you give your pitch.
* Be prepared to answer questions about your work.
* Be prepared to hear some criticism.
* Stay focused on the agent and try not to be distracted by other people in the room.
* Be knowledgeable and PASSIONATE about your work.
* If you plan a sequel, then mention it.
* Thank the agent for her time.

There were three outcomes for the writers who pitched:  a rejection, a request for the first three chapters, or a request for a full.  I met a gal at the conference who pitched the same novel to two different agents.  One requested a full, the other rejected her work. THE VERY SAME BOOK!  We know that querying an agent is subjective.  There's your proof.   So, when you get a rejection, remember that there is probably an agent who will love it.

The pitch is your one-on-one 10-minutes with an agent.  It's nerve-wracking and intense. But if you get the chance to pitch in person, try to relax and enjoy the moment.  This is an opportunity to not only meet an agent, but to convince her to fall in love with your work.

February 15, 2015

Tips from the Kentucky Writing Workshop

Last week I attended the Kentucky Writing Workshop.  In a word, it was FANTASTIC!
Chuck Sambuchino, an editor at Writer's Digest, presented four amazing lectures:

* Your Book Publishing Options Today
* Everything You Need to Know About Agents, Pitches, and Queries
* How to Market Your Books: Platform and Social Media
* How to Get Published

Just after lunch and before the last two lectures, four agents formed a panel for a session called Writer's Got Talent.  Chuck read the first pages of manuscripts from conference attendees.  When two agents raised their hands to signal they had heard enough, Chuck stopped reading and the critiques began.  As an attendee, it was fun trying to predict what the agents might have to say.  I noticed that Chuck was halted before most of the first pages were completely finished to the end, which signaled a problem with the manuscript.  Agents didn't care for too much backstory which slows down the pace. They didn't like rhetorical questions.  If the main character asks a question, then there must be an answer.  But, on the positive side, all of the agents loved great voice.

Here' s some tips that we learned:
*  Book publishing options include self-publishing or traditional publishing.  With traditional publishing you can choose to use an agent and you can aim for a big publishing house or a small house.  Publishing houses will help you sell subsidiary rights.  Traditional publishing creates an air of legitimacy. On the other hand, with self-publishing you are in more control of publishing.  Book length and genre no longer matter.  Some self-pub services include as CreateSpace, Smashwords, and Lulu.

* A pitch is like reading the back cover of a book.  It is generally 3 - 10 sentences.  Chuck advises not to give away the ending in a pitch.

*  A platform is your visibility and influence to others.  It can be a website, a blog, an e-newsletter, column writing, public speaking, and social media presence.  The key is to have take away value, whether it's humor or education.

Attendees spent a full day reaping valuable information and pitching agents.  If you ever have the opportunity to attend a workshop presented by Chuck, you will not only learn about writing and marketing your work, you will be inspired to write your very best and to get your work in front of agents.

Here is a link that you might like to check out:

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.