Tuesday, March 29, 2011

These are a few of my favorite things...

In case you aren't aware, I write book reviews for children's books on Examiner.com. Since I'm always reading and looking for the exceptional in kids' lit, I wanted to share some of my favorites. If you're looking for a good child's read during spring break (or any other time), check out the list below. The links will take you to reviews on my Examiner.com page, where you can find more information about the books and their authors. Enjoy!

Picture books
Early chapter
Middle grade
Young Adult
  • The Muppets Make Puppets
  • Growing Up Royal—A timely look into what it really means to be one of the royal family. (Kate Middleton, I hope you know what you're in for.) After reading this, you might be glad you weren't born with a tiara on your head.
  • The Secret of the Yellow Death—A dramatic story of the scientists who solved the mystery of yellow fever, ultimately saving thousands of lives.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fixing the chinks in your writing armor

The publishing business is a furnace. That may sound metaphoric, but it's almost too true to be a figure of speech. Every time I send out a manuscript, it's going to go through fire. If I've tempered it myself, then it might survive, but if I've left it with weaknesses, it will be consumed by the fire like chaff.

Remember the space shuttle Columbia? It was a beautiful ship, but during the takeoff of its final mission, a small hole was poked in one of its wings by a piece of insulation that fell off a fuel tank. The hole was hardly noticeable, but it mattered when Columbia faced the heat of re-entry. The spaceship broke apart, tragically killing all of the crew.

The hole in Columbia's wing can be likened to flaws in your manuscript. The publishing industry is choosier than it used to be. Despite this pickiness, most of the books which are chosen for publication don't pull their weight financially. Publishers rely on the ones that do, which is why they are so careful. If you're frustrated by this, don't be. Just deal with the holes in your writing so that you won't burn up when you go through the selection fire. I believe these are some of the keys to surviving the flames.

• Study English

Yeah, I know. You thought you were done with school. Maybe you had the idea that writing (especially for kids) was going to be a shoo-in way to earn a few extra bucks and get your name in print. Not so.

You're going to have to study if you want to be good enough to make it past sharp-eyed editors, because in addition to that trifling thing called plot, editors care if you misspell words, don't know a compound sentence from a misplaced modifier, and sprinkle adverbs and exclamation points through your story at will. If you send out a flawed manuscript, I see a form letter in your immediate future.

• Read everything that editors, agents, and successful writers have to say about writing and publishing

This requires further study. There are lots of books at the library that will help you, or you can pick up some at your local bookstore. I check them out first and buy the ones I think are most helpful for later reference.

This is important because if you're not willing to take the time to research what those experts want, you might as well paste a huge sign on your head that says, "I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M DOING, BUT I JUST WANT TO PUBLISH A BOOK." Don't waste an editor's or agent's time. Take up knitting instead.

• Join a writing group

Your family loves you. At least, I hope they do. Unfortunately, they aren't reliable when it comes to telling you the whole truth about what you write. Also, if they aren't writers, the likelihood that they'll know how to make a manuscript better is pretty slim. Writing group members are more objective, and they have your best interests in mind. Find a group to link up with and be glad they've got your back.

• Reach out and touch someone

The best place you can go to make contacts is conferences. They're not only learning opportunities, but places to meet established publishing professionals. Before attending, study to find out how to make conferences pay off for you. If you're financially strapped, try to get to one of the smaller local conferences. One published author told me that she preferred the smaller conferences because she felt like she got more out of them.

• Writing is a job, so expect to work hard at it

Don't just think this publishing thing is going to happen to you because you have good intentions. One established author (I think either James Scott Bell or Randy Ingermanson) said that you can expect to devote four years of consistent writing and study to the craft in order to be a serious contender as a writer. That's not unreasonable when you think it's also the amount of time it takes to get a degree from college for most careers. Writing is no different. Writing is all about content, not intent. Do what it takes to make the content great, or get out of the slush pile.

Now for the encouragement.

Don't worry about what might or might not happen. Write your book, because if you don't write it, you'll never publish it. That much is certain. The sooner you begin the process of developing your craft as a writer, the sooner you'll become better at it, and hopefully, the sooner you'll end up published.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Thank God I'm Not a Sports Writer

I was glancing over the newspaper and my eye fixed on the sports page. The headline read “Sharp's Injury Is Death Nail in Hawks Season.” “Death Nail?” Hmmmm. It's a whole new concept. And, most of today's readers probably never even heard of a Death Knell...

To be a news writer of any kind stretches the limits of the English language because each specific news area has such a limited vocabulary. Sports, for instance. How many ways can you say that a team won? Good sports writers find creative ways. Team names help, as do individual players' names. But still, the essence is the same – one team won and the opposing team lost. The headline usually features the team that most people who read the article would support, which makes it tough in Chicago when the Cubs and the Sox play.

However, the day in and day out task of writing news challenges its writers to be creative within the confines of the vocabulary and genre. We fiction writers can be similarly challenged, and to be truly interesting, we must be just as creative and well versed in craft and vocabulary. We could also learn from the daily diligence of the news writer. Practice, practice, practice!

But, I still say – Thank God, I'm not a sports writer!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It's all about what you do today

Seriously, it really is.

These past few months have not been entirely unproductive from the writing end. The proof? I've been holding my own with my Examiner.com reviews and interviews. That's important to me because I do love to promote good writing and illustrating. However, without about a million more readers checking it out daily, it's not going to make me wealthy. My payment at this point is largely that I believe it helps out a smattering of kids and adults who desire some guidance in finding excellent reading materials. (With this in mind, please tell all your friends to subscribe to the site and stop by frequently.)

I've also plugged away at getting a few picture book manuscripts out there, especially considering the fact that it takes months to know whether they're accepted or rejected.

But I have not been diligent on working on my novel. I'll just tell you right now. Last night, I did sit out and churn out some words. They weren't inspired. They were lousy. No one had to tell me.

I find myself rolling the following over in my mind:

• I may not be a great writer, but I still want to finish the book.
• I am afraid that it isn't going to ever be any good, but I still want to finish the book.
• I never feel like writing after a day of teaching school, grading papers, and being a mom, but I still want to finish this book.
• If I don't do this now, I'll never do it at all.

That's the bottom line, really. If I don't get over these fears of mediocrity, staple my rear end to the chair, and make myself do this now, no one else is going to do it for me. (It always comes back to that, somehow, and I hate that part.) It's all about what I do today, not what I want to do tomorrow.

Do you ever feel this way too?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Getting to know all about you...

As part of Examiner.com's recent push for evergreen content (articles which hold their ability to inform over time) I'll be doing a series of children's author and illustrator interviews. If you're interested, stop by my page and subscribe so you can be alerted when these articles become available. In the battle to become published, information is power.

Also, check out my two part interview with local teacher and author Laura Crawford which was posted about a week ago if you're interested in writing educational (but fun) nonfiction for children.

Have a great day!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Can you kill off characters in middle grade fiction?

This is sure to disturb Christine, but I had an idea about killing off one of my characters in my book today. It was bad enough when I had Grandpa shot. She just about had a conniption, and he's only a made up character. I guess it's a step worse when you knock off a beloved character completely. For her peace of mind, I'll refrain from saying who it is, but my daughter, who is reading this over my shoulder, is already upset and telling me I can't kill anyone off. All I can say without giving anything away is that it is sci-fi, and I'll make everything okay in the end.

This brings us to the question of the hour. Can you kill off characters in middle grade novels, or is this too disturbing for kids this age? What do you think?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Explaining rejection to a ten-year-old

"Mom sent a letter to herself," my daughter told my husband.

She was obviously puzzled. She recognized my handwriting and was wondering why I would have sent myself a letter. She would have been doubly freaked if she had checked out the Pennsylvania postmark, but her sleuthing isn't quite up to that yet.

Yes, the dreaded SASE had squirreled it's way back to my doorstep. To add insult to injury, I had to explain it to my ten-year-old rather than just filing it and moving on.

My thirteen-year-old son jumped in the game. "What's a rejection?"

Where have you been for the last five years of my life? was all I could wonder. Except for one picture book "almost sale" through Magination Press, I had had nothing but rejections for five years, and hadn't kept it a secret from my family.

Again, I explained the concept of sending out a manuscript that you'd labored over for 20+ drafts in hopes of selling it to some pleased editor vs. the concept of sending out a manuscript and getting a form letter with the same manuscript back (meaning they didn't want it).

"Wow." My son looked at me with something akin to shock. "Writers go through that?"

Yes, writers go through that. Again and again and again and again.

Now, I'll admit, it has been a touch discouraging with this particular manuscript, but that's only because I had early success with it. The very first editor who looked at it wanted to buy a rewrite of it. It's only the editorial board that decided against it. No problem, I thought. If they wanted it, certainly another interested agent or editor couldn't be that hard to find.


The current stats on the manuscript in question are as follows: nay's–12 agents and 6 publishers, yea's–zero. The nay's are definitely winning.

But the truth is, that's nothing compared to what some authors have gone through during submissions. If you're selling a middle grade or YA manuscript, there are many more agents and publishers available for you to try for.

The ending? Writers don't give up. They mean business. They know that they're going to have to do what it takes and stay in for the long haul. For the few who have instant success, I applaud them because almost no one gets that. For the rest of us, we're just going to keep on trucking till we get there.

Have any stories of success or rejection to share? Leave a comment.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Back in the saddle—sort of

It's Thursday, and I missed my Monday post, but I had a good reason. As far as we can tell, it had something to do with a disk in my back and excruciating pain followed by blacking out as I became a dead weight while my husband tried to hold me up.

I should have eaten less banana bread last week.

Oh, well. After plenty of prayer and some upper cervical spinal correction (which made me thankful for specialist Dr. Duda), I'm almost back at one hundred percent. In the mean time, I've been doing more reading than writing, and I'll share a post from Paul Joseph which made me laugh this week.

For all you writers out there who thinks that no one understands you, you're mostly right. Just have a good laugh about it and move on.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Please leave a message

This is just a post to tell you that I'm actually writing, so I'm not really posting. But that's a good thing, because I've allowed my novel to suffer as I try to get a few PB manuscripts out the door again. (It's not unlike keeping plates spinning.) Anyway, have a great Thursday, and see you next week!