May 15, 2015

The Five Senses with Ozzie

For those of you who faithfully read Children's Writer's World blog, you know that my beloved eight-year cat passed away in March.   It's hard to describe the loss.  Ollie was part of our family and his passing left me terribly sad.  Several friends suggested that I find another pet.  One friend told me there is always room for more love.

Some time afterward, my husband and I visited local humane societies. But going to the animal shelter on the weekends was too crowded with pet-seekers.  So, I started to search online instead.  In a short period of time, I found an eight-month old, amber-eyed stray named Polo. I felt a connection to him.  Mid-week, I drove to the shelter. When I called his name, a little grey-striped paw pushed through the slats of a cage. My heart melted the moment we were face to face.  That day, I signed the adoption papers and renamed him Ozzie.

In many ways, Ozzie is Ollie reincarnated.  Though he may not look like Ollie, he acts like him.  Ozzie rests on the bed when I nap, lounges in front of the computer as I work, and sits near me in the arm chair when I read—just as Ollie had once done. He understands the same words that Ollie had once known:  "sit," "stay," and "come here" and "let's go up" and "let's go down" whenever I call him from the stairs.

I will always miss Ollie, but his passing led us to meeting and adopting Ozzie.

I sit at a table with the kitchen door open and Ozzie at my feet.  This is where I write.

I hear:
Ozzie's rumbled purring
a cardinal singing "cheer, cheer, cheer"

I touch:
Ozzie's fuzzy furry belly
the smooth, slick wooden table
rough woven place mats

I smell: 
chicken cooking in olive oil
clean fresh spring air

I taste:
a sweet Honey crisp apple
iced tea, slightly sweetened

I see: 
shadows of tree branches on the deck
a breeze tickling the lime-green leaves of a locust tree
a wisp of a cloud floating across a pale blue sky
Kentucky bluegrass, a deep emerald green
Ozzie stretched out, eyes closed, dreaming

May 1, 2015

So You Want to Write for KIT?

As the editor of Kid’s Imagination Train, I receive emails from writers who want to know what topics interest me.

A few authors want to write about famous people.  And this is what I tell them. If you want to write an article about a famous person, it has to relate to children.  You may spend many hours detailing the important aspects of a prominent person's life from birth to death, but chances are kids will not be drawn to this kind of article.  A piece like this has the tendency to come across as lifeless and dull.  So you need to find a way to spice it up. See if you can find a humorous event or discover a courageous act about the famous figure during his childhood days.  If the person is still living, do an interview and add some interesting quotes.  Make the writing snappy and lively.

Many people want to write about animals.  KIT publishes animal pieces, but they should be told with a unique slant.  For instance, KIT has published pieces about animal tongues and animal feet.  We also like articles about unusual animals. In our June 2015 issue, we will publish an article about an animal called a Fisher cat.   Have you ever heard of this creature?  Let me give you a clue—it is not a cat!

Sometimes, authors send me a list of topics and ask me to choose.  Though I may select a topic, this may not necessarily garner an acceptance.  It’s all in the writing.  After the piece is written, read your work out loud as if you were reading it to a child.  Is the information presented in a logical manner with similar facts grouped together?  Would it capture and hold the attention of a child from beginning to end?

To get ideas for a piece, take a look at our archives.  Look over the topics that have been published. Read several pieces.  Get a feel for the writing style.   And then mull over ideas and make a list of possibilities. Then choose a topic that has the potential to educate and entertain.  The key is find a topic that interests you and children as well.

April 15, 2015

Never Give Up--Part II

A couple of months ago, I blogged about my rejection from a prominent Mid-Western educational publisher.  Specifically, this publisher compiles writing passages for testing children's reading comprehension skills.  I proposed six articles, but a few weeks later, the rejection letter appeared in my inbox.  Not ready to give up, I requested examples of published passages in order to improve my chances of an acceptance.  Afterward, I proposed more articles—and another rejection letter came again.

This was getting frustrating!  What kind of articles did they want?

I read the rejection letter once more.  Despite turning down my ideas, the publisher said that my writing was strong and engaging.  She asked if I would consider doing some commissioning work.  I really hadn't planned on submitting again. Why open myself to a third rejection?  And then, I realized that was the wrong attitude. The publisher was interested in my work.

This time, the strategy was to improve 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 from cutting-edge research.  I submitted four proposals. And then...several days later, another email appeared.

It read, "After reviewing the proposals with our development team, we would be interested in a passage."  WOW.  But there was one more paragraph: "The approval of a topic idea does not guarantee payment.  Authors are not ensured payment until their passage has been officially accepted for use on assessments.  If a passage is considered unsuitable for testing, even after multiple revisions, it will not warrant payment, and the rights to the work will be returned to the author."

So, I could work on this passage with no guarantee that it would be accepted.  What to do, what to do? Because it seemed that I was getting closer to having my work approved, quitting now was not an option.  Even with a tight deadline, I carefully wrote the piece and edited it for grade level.  A week after the completed passage was sent, the director made editing suggestions:  rearrange the order of the paragraphs, simplify the scientific terminology, and make the writing snapper.  Okay, not a problem.

After completing the work, the passage was delivered.  And then I waited.  Even with the possibility of a rejection, I felt good knowing that the submission had been vastly improved.

And then shortly afterward, I got good news.  My passage had been accepted!  After weeks of researching and writing and after multiple rejections, I had reached this difficult goal.

Was it hard work?  Yep.  Would I do it again?  You bet.  As hard as it is to take, rejection is part of the writing life.  But so is perseverance.  If you want something bad enough, you know the drill—never give up.

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: