Thursday, April 28, 2011

What will happen the day after the royal wedding?

Knowing that the royal wedding will happen tomorrow made me think about weddings in general. I find it curious that the plans for the event itself often take priority far over the ramifications of the marriage, which would be that you are now going to be stuck with this person forever if you both take your vows seriously. Of course, there are a lot of little details to work out with a wedding: flowers, catering, cake, dress, location, photographer, wording of the vows, guest list, and much more. For Kate Middleton, it's many steps worse considering that most of the inhabited world will be watching, since many of us have a strange fascination with royalty.

But for Kate Middleton (whom I am inclined to pity), she's not just marrying Prince William, but the position that she will fill as his wife. When she says her fateful "I do," she will sentence her children to be heirs of the crown of England. There will be no escape for them. Their lives will never be their own.

What's the deal? you might ask. Isn't it great to be king? And by the way, what on earth does this have to do with writing?

Publishing a book is a little like getting married. Most writers are so wrapped up in pulling off the event successfully that they don't stop to think about what it will mean to their lives afterwards. While Kate Middleton has had plenty of time to decide if marrying Prince William is what she really wants to do with her life (and I do mean with all of her life), most writers just want to get to the place where they sign on the dotted line.

Today, as the world holds it's breath and Kate Middleton hovers at the precipice of royal matrimony, certain to throw herself into the abyss below, set aside a moment for reflection and a bit of research. What will happen to you if you get a book contract? What will be expected of you as an author? Are you ready for that kind of commitment? The links below will help you discover what you're missing if you haven't signed on the dotted line yet.

Harold Underdown's site, The Purple Crayon. (He wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Even after working in publishing for some years, it was an eye-opener of the big picture of the publishing world.)

Rachelle Gardiner's website is always filled with concise information on the publication process and the pitfalls you'll want to watch out for before and after you become a published author.

Chuck Sambuchino's blog is a fabulous source where you can pick the brains of writers who have been there and done that. It's loaded with information that will help you on your way, published or not.

(By the way, if you want to know what Kate Middleton is facing by marrying Prince William, check out my review of Growing Up Royal on

Monday, April 25, 2011

At the core of genius

Sorry to break it to you, but I have nothing inspiring to say today. Personally, I'm okay with that, because writers don't just write when they're inspired. In fact, from what I've read, writers spend most of their time writing when they aren't inspired at all.

There's a saying that you've probably heard: genius is 1 % inspiration and 99% perspiration. I don't agree. I think genius is all perspiration, because if you aren't willing to sit down and work when you have no inspiration at all, you'll never get anywhere.

What do you think? Is genius really about showing up when you don't feel like it?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Children's authors and illustrators interviews give you the inside scoop on success

I'm so excited about the author and interviews I've been doing over at and wanted to share the links in case you haven't seen them. Drop by so you can take advantage of the valuable advice by these proven children's authors and illustrators.

Sometimes writers start out in other occupations, such as teaching. Laura Crawford is a teacher whose desire to help kids learn has resulted in multiple picture book sales. Check out her interview for help in developing your own creative ideas.

Laura Crawford (part 2)

Illustrator Jeff Mack started drawing and writing as just a kid but never quit. His spectacular illustrations will wow you while his advice encourages you in your own writing journey.

Children's author Tammi Sauer has provided exceptional fun for kids (and adults) with books such as Mostly Monsterly and Mr. Duck Means Business. Get to know her better and read about her path to writing success in this two part interview.

Children's author Lori Mortensen has written many stories, articles, and children's books. If you want to know how to go from unpublished to published, don't miss any part of this three part interview.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Playing picture book lotto and beating the odds

Honestly, writing picture books is not exactly like gambling. It just feels like you're throwing the dice and waiting to see what comes up sometimes. In writing, however, you have more control than you might think. Here are some ways you can improve your odds for a sale and escape the slush pile.

• Study English

Ah, yes. We start with the ever popular study of the English language. You'll need it if you're planning to get anything published. Grammar is important if you want to communicate well or show an editor or an agent that you know what you're doing. Unfortunately, many manuscripts are unusable simply because they "ain't got no good grammar."

• Read all the time

You have full permission to immerse yourself in great picture books. Read as many as you can every day. Possibly the two biggest differences between a picture book and a short story is that a picture book needs a lot more visual potential and has a different type of rhythm. You'll develop a sense for picture book rhythm and plot that will serve you as a writer if you read many picture books.

You get extra points for this one if you set up a spread sheet, one slot per page number, and type in the text of a few of your favorite picture books. If you do, you'll begin to see a pattern which will help you in your own story development.

Double your extra points by reading Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.

• Don't send your manuscript out before it's ready

Most writers have done this at least once. I did it more than once. (Ouch!) When you write something, of course it sounds right at first. After you leave it alone for a week and come back to it, it won't look quite so perfect. Sometimes I work on a picture book manuscript for two years before I feel it's ready to go out. During this time I rewrite and rewrite, in addition to getting feedback from other writers in critique groups.

• Know what a publisher publishes before you mail to them

Publishers don't just publish books. They publish specific kinds of books. Each one tries to fill a niche. Please, for the sake of those poor overworked editors and agents, find out what the publisher wants before you send your manuscript. Get a catalog and study it like our life depends on it. Do they only publish picture books with child protagonists? Do they have stories about animals? Do they publish self-help books for kids? Do they publish fiction or nonfiction? Find out. Make sure you are a fit so you don't waste your time and theirs.

Special tip I picked up from the 2010 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market: Do an advanced search on Amazon by typing in the publisher's name, age level of book, and dates so you can see what they've published in the past few years.

• Direct your muse

This takes the previous point one step further. I actually picked this up from a book on writing and selling cartoons. The idea behind it is for you to research a specific magazine or publisher before writing a story or book so you can fit into the niche they publish for. As writers, we're often encouraged to follow our heart, and there's nothing wrong with that, but a skilled, disciplined writer should be to direct his ability and fill a need.

The bottom line

Approximately 80 to 85 percent of the slush pile is not usable by a publisher. Probably less than 5 percent might even be something they would consider with more than a brief glance. If you want to be competitive, you have to be willing to do what it takes to get into the 5 percent that interests them. I know that nowadays even published writers have concerns about the industry, but publishing isn't going anywhere right now. There are authors out there selling their work. This means that when it comes right down to it, the only thing really standing between you and publication is you. And that's definitely an issue that you can do something about.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Embracing the uglies

The awkward stage of life. Nobody likes it, but we've all been through it.

I don't know about you, but I went through my personal awkward (and what I considered ugly) stage when I was in junior high and most of high school. I was academic, wore glasses, and was shy. My clothes weren't as "in" as the other kids, and the only good thing I had going for me was that I didn't have braces. I have the Kodak moments to prove it.

On the flip side, eventually I grew up a little more and left a measure of my awkward stage behind. I was still shy, but in college it was not less than cool to like studying and get good grades. I got some contact lenses, although I still prefer glasses, and things seemed to have turned out well in spite of my earlier awkwardness.

Where, you might be asking, am I going with this? Well, in both writing and art, you have to travel through preliminary stages. This is unavoidable and necessary, because it is in the "ugly" stage that you discover your vision for a project. Without it, you'll never arrive at your desired destination.

I find this slightly easier to do in writing than in art. While painting, I always have the uneasy feeling that someone is looking over my shoulder. I know what's coming, because I'm in the ugly stage, and no one will understand that it has to be there unless he or she has painted before. It's a time of vulnerability that I do not enjoy.

I find this particularly true with murals. You're out in the open for everyone to see while you work. I've had people stare, obviously perplexed, at what I'm working on. I can see by the look on their faces that they were running under the assumption that I had some ability in the painting area, but suddenly felt they'd been grossly misinformed. Sometimes it's only when the complete vision manifests on the wall that they relax and smile. Now they get it. Now it looks good to them.

So this week, embrace the uglies. Don't let disapproval from outside or inside stop you. The uglies mean change, but they also mean growth, and growth is a good thing when you come out on the other side.

What kind of uglies have you had to face? Did you give up or press on?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stop by to read the interview with author Tammi Sauer

Having enjoyed reading some of Tammi Sauer's books, such as Mr. Duck Means Business and Mostly Monsterly, I was thrilled to interview her this week for Please drop by the site and read the first of my two-part interview with her.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous today, try out her dance "The Librarian," too. (It's also on the site.)

: )

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Make an appointment to have a happy accident

This week I interviewed Jeff Mack, a writer and illustrator of children's books. Aside from the fact that it's always interesting to peak into the life of someone who is out there living the life that so many writers and illustrators dream of, one of his answers struck me as particularly interesting.

He said that while he's working on the first phase of his illustrations, he creates quick sketches of the layouts and characters. While he's doing these scribbly drawings, "accidents" sometimes suggest forms that he had not thought of before. These lead to more sketches, and as he allows the process of trial and error to continue, he eventually comes to up with his final art.

This struck me as somewhat profound, primarily because it applies to writers just as well as illustrators. As writers, we strive for the perfect word and the perfect story. Some times we muddle around in the middle, afraid to go forward because we want everything to be just right when we write our story for the first time. However, first drafts are not meant to be perfect. They are just like an illustrator's early scribbles. If we just allow the creative process to take it's natural course when we show up to write each day, eventually, we'll see something more finished and more beautiful than we first imagined. It will have more facets than the original plan called for. Hopefully, it will have more depth.

My challenge to you this week is to break out of any perfectionist mentality that you harbor as you write your first drafts. Instead, let yourself enjoy the happy accidents that result from quickly moving through your plot. In the end, they might take you in directions you didn't plan to go, which might turn out to be a good thing.

If this is something you've struggled with (as I have), leave a comment after you have permitted yourself to let go more in your writing. How did it work out? Did you have some happy accidents that actually produced something you were glad of in the end?

If you'd like to read my interview with Jeff Mack, click on this link and enjoy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Interview with the talented Jeff Mack!

If you're just stopping by, please follow the link to read my interview with children's book illustrator Jeff Mack.

: ) Beth

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Really Great Article on Creativity (and Life)

My brother-in-law posted this link on Facebook, and he usually posts interesting things, so I checked it out. This is a really thought provoking article about the creative process. Austin Kleon, the writer, has captured many of the practical aspects of creativity and simple-to-try advice in the popular 10 commandment format! Plus, he has very cool illustrations to go with them.

Today, Austin's Point No. 2 captured my fancy:

2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to start making things.

This is so true. I believe that in the doing, the learning and developing and perfecting happens!

In fact, I think I should memorize each of the points Austin makes, and practice doing one a day. Yeah.... I think I'll do that.  Then, I'll report back here about how it went! Or, go to the article yourself and try it and report back here!

Monday, April 11, 2011

There's blood in the water

It's like a bad Jaws remake. The happy writer is swimming in the glittering ocean, splashing just beyond her depth.

Then the music starts with the deep notes of the Jaws theme. Our heart rate increases as the music picks up in tempo. Something is not right here. We want to scream to the writer, "Get out of the water quick! You're in danger!" but no sound comes out of our throats. We are paralyzed, mesmerized by the tragedy about to unfold in front of our eyes. Something awful is about to snatch our writing friend out of her happy writing dream. Something that's out for blood.

It's worse than sharks.

It's worse than parahna (which wouldn't be in the ocean anyway).

It's an unscrupulous vanity publisher, gliding through the water in the guise of a traditional publisher.

So what? you think. How bad could it be? It's not like it can skeletize a cow in less than four minutes.

Well, it depends. It could be okay, but it could be bad. As a writer, it's up to you to educate yourself. Not all vanity publishers are bad. Some of them are just what they say they are: publishers who will publish your book for a fee. They're upfront and above board, and there's nothing wrong with using them if you want to pay to get published and then take on all the marketing and distribution that will be left in your lap. But some vanity houses craftily try to represent themselves as traditional publishers. These will gush over the manuscript you send with hopes of enticing you to take a dip in the water of the publishing world. They're happy to serve you—for a not-so-small fee.

So if you're planning to take the plunge into the writing world, don't say I didn't warn you. The more you educate yourself by researching publishers, the better off you'll be. If someone asks you to pay to be published, beware. Traditional publishers DON'T charge writers. EVER. The vanity press might be on the up and up, but the pitfalls there can be numerous if they aren't.

Don't lose any sleep over the sharks. Vanity publishers are more dangerous. They can get you on land, and you might never realize you've been had until it's too late.

For good info on who you can trust in the publishing industry, check out Writers Beware Blog and Editors and Preditors.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book review of Davey and Marie Jank's 'Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak'

Davey Jank watched as the airplane roared past him down the grass runway before lifting off into the sky. That was it. His new residence was now the Amazon jungle, and he was on his own, one of a handful of missionaries committed to learning the Wilo tribe's language and culture so that they could translate the Bible for them. At the moment, he felt abandoned as he watched the little plane disappear from view. Would this remote people accept him? Would he ever learn their language well enough to come up with a written form for it and share the Gospel message?

Having grown up with missionary parents, Davey knew some of what he was facing at that moment, but he didn't turn back. Armed with a sense of humor and a smile, he would eventually come to know and appreciate this friendly jungle tribe which had invited him to tell them about God's Talk. In the process, he would eat grubs, battle persistent rats, and go fish-spearing with crocodiles. It would be all in a day's work for this Amazon missionary as he carried a notebook and pen, trying to discover what the Wilo's were saying to each other and to him.

Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak is a humorous view into the lives of Davey Jank and his wife Marie. Follow their adventure as they discover that the challenges of jungle life go far beyond living without telephones or computers. The real pitfalls are those produced by living closely with a people whose language and culture are a mystery to you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Writers Should Be Voters

Today, my husband and I got up early and went to the library to vote. Standing out in front and bundled against the chill was our neighbor. She is running for the school board, and she and her young daughter were passing out flyers – at the appropriate distance from the polls, mind you!

I admire her for gumption and conviction to run for office and I hope she wins. She certainly won my husband's and my vote. It makes me feel more confident to actually know people who I am voting for.

What does this have to do with writing? Not a thing that I know of, but I encourage writers to participate in government and civic responsibility. How else will we preserve the right of free speech, which we as writers hold so dear? And, how else can we encourage future readers by ensuring our schools effectively train students to read and write and do arithmetic?

Dear readers (writers) – if you didn't vote today, please do so at the next election.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The magic of the 39 clues

I've been reading the 39 Clues series lately. In case you aren't acquainted with them, they are an action-packed adventures middle grade fiction series, ingeniously laced with history and geography. If your middle grade reader suddenly starts asking you questions about Mt. Everest, Shaolin Monks, cobra venom, or phosphorus, you'll know that he or she has joined Amy and Dan Cahill on the adventure of a lifetime to find the 39 clues.

Suffice it to say, my kids (even the teens) are eating the books up in gulps. Although it's been a little disrupting to have them arguing over who has first dibs on whichever book they are currently on (I always win because I'm the mom), from the standpoint of a writer, I find the lure of the 39 Clues intriguing. How do they captivate the reader? What enticement keeps us from putting them down? In short, why do we keep reading them?

I'd like to explore the idea of the book you can't put down more, but at this point, I'd like some feedback. As a reader, what is the difference between the books that you can walk away from and the books that you just can't put down? What is their magic?