March 15, 2016

To Be, or Not To Be Snappy

Many publishers and literary agents agree that queries should be professional.  That means the letter needs to be straightforward without any outward attention-grabbing devises. 

There are however, some writers who believe that a witty query will help them stand out from the slush pile. Some writers like to send a query written in the voice of the main character.  I wouldn't recommend this tactic.  It is usually frowned upon by agents.  

Other writers have met agents at conferences, and they feel confident enough to approach them with a snappy synopsis or bio.  Again, there is no guarantee that a writer will snag an agent this way.  

Literary agent Mary Kole says, “The point is, some agents will always prefer a straightforward, businesslike query.  Others will tolerate some cuteness or gimmick. You don't know who's who until you try it, though, even even then, most people won't tell you if that was part of the decision to pass."

I personally wouldn’t try a gimmicky query, but that’s just me talking.  I’d be afraid my clever query might backfire.  Even if my story is titled “The Bright and Brainy Pony ," I’d be scared to label myself as a bright and brainy writer in my bio.  Though it’s clever and plays on the title, it’s risky.  And…I’m not a risk-taker. 

So, how will you write your query?  Will it be snappy or strickly professional?  In the end it comes down to your gut feeling.  To paraphrase a quote from the movie Dirty Harry:  “You’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?  Well, do ya?”

March 1, 2016

The Five Senses on a February Day

I like to walk for about an hour around my neighborhood even when it's freezing.  Only snow and rain keep me inside. So bundled with layers of clothing, plus gloves, ear muffs and a scarf up to my chin, I brave the cold.  

Here are the five senses on a brisk February day before I sit down to write.

I Hear:  
blue jays screeching 
fire engine siren screaming 
train whistle wailing 
dogs barking, snarling, and growling 
wind chimes tinkling

I Smell:  
smoke from a fireplace
the flowery scent of laundry being dried
dry cold air
damp oak leaves 

I Feel: 
a breeze sailing through my hair
wind striking my face
cold cutting through my jeans
fur-lined gloves warming my hands

I See:  
10 American flags, 8 Christmas decorations, and 6 University of Kentucky Wildcat flags
the sun peeking through thick grey clouds
a discarded beige leather sofa by the street curb
wine-colored buds trying to push out on oak trees
a cluster of emerald-green hyacinth leaves waiting for spring 

I Taste
nothing yet until dinner (pan-fried pancetta tossed with brocolini served over pasta)

Coming March 15th:  To be or not to be snappy. How witty should a query letter be? 

February 15, 2016

Tips in Choosing Titles

How do you choose a title for your story or article?  Do you have one in mind before you write the piece?  How do you know if it's a good title?

The purpose of a title is to give a reader some idea about the content of a piece.  It is the first thing that I look at when reviewing a submission for Kid's Imagination Train.  But sometimes a title may fail to promise what it plans to deliver.  For instance, several months ago I received a nonfiction submission with a title that led me to believe that the piece would be about scientists helping people in unique ways.  Instead, the article centered on inventions. The title was misleading.

Titles can be straightforward and to the point, or they can be creative and lively.  Ideally, titles should pique a reader’s interest.  In a recent submission to KIT, I received a wonderful poem titled "What do Bears do in the Rain?" The title immediately captured my attention.  An article written by Erin K. Schonauer and Jamie C. Schonauer and published in Stories for Children Magazine was titled "The Cresent's Ghostly Guests".  Makes you curious, huh? 

Here are some tips in choosing titles:

Choose a title after you have written the article. 
Keep the title short.
Use playful titles and alliteration for a very young audience. 
Use snappy titles for older children.
Create intrigue.
Read your article again and see if the title is a good fit.

Whether it's fiction or nonfiction, a title must relate to the content of the piece.  In the bear poem, we learn exactly what bears do in a downpour.  And in the ghost article, we discover where haunts occur and and why.

A good title whets a reader's appetite.  It gets them in the mood to read your work. When you choose a title that relates to the essence of a story, article or poem, you won’t disappoint your audience.  You will deliver what you have promised.

February 1, 2016

The Power of No

How do we feel when we hear the word no?  When a publisher or an agent says no (as in a rejection), it stings us temporarily.  We move on and submit again because rejections are part of the writer's life.  But how do we feel when an acquaintance or a relative tell us no?  Often, we feel miserable for quite a long while.    

People use the word no to assert themselves or to feel superior.  As a result, this little word invalidates our remarks and leaves us speechless, powerless, and crushed.  This is a form of bullying—intimidating someone verbally, through e-mails, or with text-messaging.   

Most writers have experienced rejection from a publisher or agent, but this is not a form of bullying.  It is a method that is used to convey that a submission is not up to standards. However when we deliver the perfect manuscript, that rejection can turn into an acceptance. 

On the other hand, people who habitually say no have developed a trait that can rarely be changed.  Anything we utter (or e-mail or text) will and shall be met with nope.  So, to shield ourselves from being hurt, we can focus on what we can change.  We can steer clear of toxic people.  We can politely limit contact and conversation.  Then when we do so, we can surround ourselves with people who communicate with more respect.     

Coming Feb. 15:  A post on tips for choosing titles 

January 1, 2016

A New Year’s Wish

As you know, writing for children is not easy.  We freak out when nothing comes to mind when we want to begin a new story.  We lose faith when agents and publishers reject our work.  We get sensitive over a critique member's remarks, or feel exasperated when friends or family just don't get what it takes to write for kids.

Still, we strive to create just the right story that can be told with just the right words and with just the right number of words because we love to write for kids.  

We know it's not easy, but sometimes we need a little encouragement.  

So I remind you to never give up, to believe in YOU, to know that you will succeed.

To all of my faithful readers, I wish you many days filled with the joy of writing. 

December 15, 2015

Keeping a Submission Log

Do you keep a log of your submissions?  I'm betting most writers do so.  But, I learned that some writers aren't interested in keeping records.  I was shocked.  How do writers keep track of their submissions if they are not written down or recorded?  

Keeping a submission log doesn’t have to be complicated.  A notebook or a word doc. will suffice.  List the title of your manuscript and the agents or publishers that you’ve contacted, their email addresses, and the date that you sent your submission.  You can format it anyway you like, even use color coding.  (I use orange for dates of submission, green for acceptances, and purple for rejections). 

Then in a few weeks, mark your submission to indicate if it’s been accepted and the date it will be published. You can even note the amount of payment.  If your submission was rejected, note that date, too.  When you have a record of your submissions, you will know when to follow-up if you haven’t heard back from an editor. And, with a complete list of your submissions you will be able to refer to it as you continue to submit new work.  

Keeping submission records is an important part of the writing life.  It's what writers do. Don't expect (or even ask) an editor will find your submissions.  She doesn't have the time and it’s not her job to keep track of submissions for you.  It’s your job to keep good records. 

December 1, 2015

Online Submission Forms

When it comes to submitting a children’s book manuscript, you can usually query an agent or a publisher by email.  A few publishers and agents however, have online forms that you must fill out.  Most of the time, the forms will only take a few minutes to complete.  But, some require more time and thought.  

This topic comes up because I found a publisher who requires writers to fill out an extensive online submission form.  The form consists of two parts:  an author section and a book section.  Both parts ask detailed questions.  Halfway through, I was ready to give up.  The clock was ticking away, my brain was getting numb, and I was beginning to think why bother.  Would my submission be taken seriously?  But, I continued to answer questions about hobbies, education, publications, awards, things that inspired me, and what makes a great book.  (This is just a sampling of the questions. There were many other questions that needed to be addressed).

Then, it was on to the book section.  Here, my manuscript had to be formatted as specifically described in the guidelines and uploaded.  Next, a description of the book had to be stated.  Then the hook, a quote from the book, a synopsis, and the intended audience were required.  Lastly, the publisher wanted to know why I chose to submit to them.  

All in all the entire process took a good part of an afternoon.  When I finally submitted my project and author profile, I felt proud to have completed the time-intensive form. Though there is no telling how successful my submission will be, the submission process forced me to think about my book in new ways:  how would the book be marketed, how do others feel about my book, and how strong is my platform?   

If you find a publisher that has an online form, try to read through the questionnaire before typing in answers. Judge how much time you’ll need to answer the complete form. Create thoughtful answers to the questions beforehand.  Then, don’t rush as you fill out the form.  Review your answers before you hit 'send.'  

Congratulate yourself when you’re finished.  You completed a submission form that few writers would have the patience or the time to tackle. Your dedication may pay off and you may have found a publisher who will be interested in your work.