One Writer’s Journey

December 19, 2014

A Gift from Publisher’s Weekly

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:27 am

Consider this offering an early Christmas gift from Publisher’s Weekly.  As writers, we read award winners and starred reviews, trying to learn their secrets.  How did they do it?

Publisher’s Weekly has made this a bit easier by creating a listing of all 2014 starred reviews in children’s books.  Not only do you have all of the starred reviews in one place, the publication also contains an article on sleeper bestsellers, Question and Answer interviews with illustrator Molly Idle, photographer Vallorie Fisher, author Sheila Turnage and more.

Download your copy today, request the books themselves, and start studying.  Me?  I’ve already requested copies of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and My Teacher is a Monster (No, I am not) by Peter Brown.




December 18, 2014

Submitting Your Work in December

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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calendarShould you submit your work in December?  If you do, how likely is it come swiftly home, the victim of December desk cleaning?

This is one of those great debates in the world of freelancing.  Is it worthwhile to submit your work in December or will someone who wants to clean off their desk simply make it be gone?  I’ve always sent my work of in December but I think that may change.  Yesterday, I saw two postings asking writers to wait until some time in January.

Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary is closed to queries until January 12, 2015.  See the request here.

Susan Hawk of the Bent Agency is also closed to queries through January 12, 2015.  See the request here.

If you have an editor or agent you want to query this time of year, don’t assume that they are open.  Google them.  Check their blog.  Check their site.  Does it say they are closed to submissions?  If the answer is yes, they are closed, than don’t send it to them right now.  If the answer is no, they are not closed, send away.

Of course, you should be checking before you send your manuscript in July or August, too.  So I guess the rule should be:

January through December check and make sure an agency or publisher is open before you submit.



December 17, 2014

Why You Need a Top Notch Synopsis

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:06 am
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synopsisI’ll admit it.  I hate writing my synopsis. Hate.  HATE.  HATE.

That said, the synopsis is vital.  It tells the editor or agent about your storyline including:

  • Who is your main character.
  • What does she want?  What happens in the story?
  • What or who stands in her way?
  • What will happen if she fails or why in the heck does it all matter?

When you write the synopsis for a children’s or young adult book, you should be able to keep it to a page.  That said, my first draft is often two pages or more.  The problem is that, if the details of the story are too fresh in my mind, I try to include everything.  That doesn’t tend to work and the synopsis rambles around.

One way to avoid this is to write the synopsis without flipping through the manuscript.  This isn’t a chapter by chapter summary.  Instead give us the main character and the story problem in paragraph 1.  Attempt #1 goes in paragraph 2.  Attempt #2 goes in paragraph 3.  Attempt #3 goes in . . . can you guess? . . . paragraph 4.  Then you have your climax in paragraph 5.  You can give information about word count and the like in paragraph 6.

Six paragraphs, 1 single spaced page.  It really is worth your while and some people argue that you should write it before you draft your full manuscript.  Read my post today at the Muffin to find out why.



December 16, 2014

Don’t Fall into the Fix It Trap

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
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Finish lineWhen you start a new story, do you write it from beginning to end before you begin to rework it?  Or do you write chapter 1, rewrite chapter 1 and then rewrite chapter 1 some more?

The problem with rewriting before you finish a draft is that it is easy to fall into the rewrite trap.  First, you rework chapter 1 so that it has a stronger hook.  Then you add details that bring the setting to life and set the mood.  You think you’ve done a pretty good job until your critique group comments on it.  Now you have to rework it yet again.  And heaven forbid you read an article on dialogue or voice, because that will require yet another rewrite.

We all know that we will need to rewrite our work not once but several times.  We also know that we have to present editors and publishers with the best possible product.  Because of this, we are always reading up on how to write and soliciting advice from our fellow writers.  Once we’ve learned this new technique or been given advice, we feel the need to apply it.

That’s all well and good, unless it keeps you from actually reaching the end. I’ve worked with writers who constantly rework that first chapter.  They go back to it again and again, spending years on their opening without ever reaching the conclusion.  They fix each and every problem that they read about whether or not anyone has ever spotted this problem in their work.

Don’t do this to yourself.  Instead, give yourself permission to finish.


December 15, 2014

Readers Choice Awards

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:50 am
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Study the award winners.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve heard that advice.  But to truly benefit from it, you need to know who selects each of these awards.  Let me explain.

The ALA (American Library Association) gives a wide variety of awards — The Caldecott to an illustrated book, the Newbery for the text, The Siebert for nonfiction and much, much more.  These books are chosen by a panel of librarians.  Its good to know what librarians love because they by books — lots of books.  But pay attention — these awards are chosen by a panel. That means that everyone has to vote for that particular book.  If one person objects or the book just doesn’t click, no award.

Then there are the readers choice awards.  I like these because they are selected by “every reader.”  These may not be the people with library science degrees or educational degrees, but that’s cool.  These are the readers.  One of the latest to be announced is the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2014.  With 3,317,504 members voting, these are the books that they liked best.  Two or three dozen people could object to a book, but it if got enough votes — WINNER.  That’s something to know because that’s how the market for our books works.

The winners most of interest to writers for teens and children are:

Comic books and Graphic novels:  Serenity: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Weadon

Young Adult Fiction:  We Were Liars by e. lockhart

Young Adult Fantasy: City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare

Middle Grade and Children’s:  Rick Riordan’s The Blood of Olympus

Picture Books:  The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

NOTE:  These are just the winners in each of these categories.  You can see the entire list of nominees as well as how many votes each got here.  Just click on the winning title in that category and it will take you to the complete list of twenty titles for that particular category. Read as many of these books as you can and, as you read each one, consider why it won.  This is especially important if you don’t like the book because we are inclined to dismiss books that we don’t enjoy.  Instead, think it over and try to see what makes it popular.  Not an easy exercise but worthwhile to someone who wants to sell in a similar market.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some books to request from the library.




December 12, 2014

What is a book?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:53 am
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As you do your holiday shopping, I hope that you are buying a few books or book related items.  Book related items?  Book ends, book lights or screen cleaners.  Yes, screen cleaners.

Look — I’m way old school.  I don’t have a reader.  I don’t even have an I-phone and if I did have an I-phone I wouldn’t want to read on it.  What can I say that I haven’t said before — I’m old school.  I like paper books but not all paper books.  I’m not a huge graphic novel fan.  Some I love but generally I’m indifferent.

That said, if I’m buying for Christmas I need to consider the recipient of my gift.  One of my neices wants eb0oks.  Period.  Her sister wants print.  No questions and no deals.  Print.

If I want to be a well-received gift giver, I need to think about the person who will be opening this in anticipation.

No matter what form your gifts take, I hope you’re buying some books this year.  My gift to you — a humorous vidoe about books…


December 11, 2014

Planner or Pantser?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:06 am
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plot or pantsOne of the things that you hear writers talk about is whether they outline or plan vs writing by the seat of their pants.  Me?  I like to have some idea where things are going.  It may not be much of an outline, but I have something especially if I’m writing fiction.

But then I started thinking and I don’t remember exactly what sparked the thought.

I generally have a plan for my writing week.  I may not know exactly what I’m doing every writing day but I know on Monday that I need to get A, B, C, D and E done during this partciular week.  And yet, as I wrote about it Deadlines, I’m really good at meeting external deadlines and much less good about meeting internal deadlines.  To an extent, it makes sense.  If someone is going to pay me to write up F and G, they may very well bump C, D, and E off my to-do list.

But here’s what I’ve been noodling over — Many of my external deadlines are for fiction.  Or more elaborate nonfiction.  Maybe I get sidetracked, in part, because I’m not on much of a track to start with.  I think I know where I’m going, at least vaguely, but there is some sort of a problem with my plan.  Maybe there’s a plot hole I need to plug, a character that needs to be added or a setting that is little more than a shadow.  Maybe I get sidetracked because I’m still working things out and I work them out better as I write.

Could I . . . is it possible . . . that I am really a pantser?  Self-deluded but a pantser none-the-less?

This is definitely something that I’m going to be noodling over in the coming weeks.




December 10, 2014

He Said, She Said: Tagging your dialogue

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:28 am
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saidYesterday, I read a review of a short story.  The main problem that the reviewer had with the story is that the author tried too hard.  Instead of using said, her characters teased, argued and replied.

I understand why an author would choose one of these words, but it isn’t necessary.  Said is seemless.  Said is non-threatening.  Add the character’s name — Melody said or Ryan said — and the reader knows exactly who is talking.  And, truly, that is the whole point of said.

Nope.  That’s it.  Said just keeps the reader on track.

And, no, you don’t need to use a better word so that the reader knows HOW the character said something or what else is happening.  NOt convinced?  Think about this. Argued implies raised voices and drama but well-written dialogue will get the arguement and the drama across. If you have to say “argued Melody,” work on your dialogue instead.

Still, said can feel monotonous and it really isn’t always necessary especially if you only have two people who  are talking.

“Where is Peter?” Melody said.

“He wasn’t in class,” Ryan said, “but he didn’t text anyone.”

“I hope nothing else has happened,” Melody said.  

“Exactly,” Ryan said.

See.  Boring and not necessary because you can take some of those out and still know whose saying what.

“Where is Peter?” Melody said.

“He wasn’t in class,” Ryan said, “but he didn’t text anyone.”

“I hope nothing else has happened.”  


Still seems a little ho hum doesn’t it?  You don’t need the he said she said tags but it doesn’t entirely get their worrry across.  Add some beats of action to do that.  They make it even easier to leave out he said she said.

“Where is Peter?” Melody looked around the crowded cafeteria.

“He wasn’t in class,” Ryan pulled out his phone and shook his head, “but he didn’t text anyone.”

“I hope nothing else has happened.”  

“Exactly.” Ryan slipped his keys out of his pocket.

If you can’t stand to leave it at he said she said, slip in some beats of action and choose actions that will help set the mood.  It may not be as easy as having your characters whisper, shout and exclaim but it will make for a much better story.



December 9, 2014

Sending Your Work to an Agent

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:33 am
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agentWhen writers start to pull together their writing samples for an agent, they get weird.  Okay, I mean we get weird.  Writing is one thing.  Submitting your work to an agent is something else — it freaks us out.

I read a post today about querying an agent that made me shake my head.  Someone asked this agent about how to query with the first 50 pages of her manuscript when the agent really needed to read through page 53.  If she read through page 53, she’d GET it.  This person asked if it was okay if she fiddled with the font and made it 11.5 instead of 12 . . . I’ll let you read agent Janet Reid’s response.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind when sending an agent your work:

1.  Pick your very best writing that falls within what they represent.  If your very best piece is a novel and this agent wants picture books, find an agent who wants novels.

2.  Start with page 1 . . . If they want 10 pages or 50 pages, start with page 1.  Don’t send them your exciting climax instead.  The agent, like any reader, needs to start from the beginning.

3. Don’t send attachments if they want it in the body of the message.  This is a tough one for a lot of writers becuase submitting your work in the body of an e-mail just looks so messy.  It does.  But if the agent doesn’t want attachments, follow instructions.  She isn’t going to read an attachment.

4.  Keep your formatting normal.  If they do accept attachments, keep your formatting normal.  Don’t get cute with the font or the margins.  Times New Roman.  12 point. Double space.  One inch margins.

5.  Hit send and then get busy.  Not fussing.  Not worrying.  Not checking your inbox.  Go work on something else.  Seriously.  If the guidelines say that the agent takes 3 weeks to reply, give her 5.  Don’t e-mail her at 3.  Get your mind off it by working on something else.

When you draw attention to your self, you want the agent to be impressed with your amazing writing, not the fact that you can be a tad neurotic.


December 8, 2014

Speak: How I proof by reading my work out loud

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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Because of some advice that I received from writing buddy Kris Nitz, my last step in proofing is to read my work out loud.  That isn’t so tough when I’m working on something short — 500 words or less.  But when I’m doing 14,500 words of nonfiction . . . not so easy.  I do just fine for about half a page.  As I read, I get quieter and quieter.  Before you know it, I’m mumbling and the next thing you know, I’m reading silently in head.

SpeakI’ve solved this by using Speak which is part of Microsoft Word.  You aren’t going to locate this feature easily; we are talking about Word, after all.  But here’s how to add it to your Quick Access Toolbar.

  1. In Word, the default location for the Quick Access Toolbar is the upper left corner of the screen.  On the far right of this Toolbar is a black arrow pointing down. Hover the mouse over this arrow and it says “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.”  Click on this arrow.
  2. This opens a drop down menu titled Customize Quick Access Toolbar.  Mouse down to More Commands and select this option.
  3. This opens the Word Options menu.  In the dialogue box, Choose Commands From, Popular Commands will be selected.  In this dialogue box, scroll down to All Commands and select.
  4. Scroll down through the menu list until you find Speak. Select and then click the “Add >>” button.  Speak will now appear in the Customize Quick Access Toolbar  on the right hand side of this menu box.
  5. At the bottom right of this menu box, click OK which will save this option and close the menu box.

Once you have installed Speak, all you need to do is select the text that you want the program to read and then click the Speak icon on your Toolbar.

I do not love the mechanical sounding computerized voice and some of the pronounciations are hilarious — wind (as in blowing) is not in her vocabulary so she prounces it like “wind your watch.”  That said, I actually listen to it and she doesn’t get ho hum and quit read out loud.

To find out what kinds of mistakes I catch with Speak, check out yesterday’s post on The Muffin.



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