One Writer’s Journey

December 13, 2017

MOOC: An Opportunity to Learn and Generate Story Ideas

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:50 am
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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the phrase, an MOOC is a massive open online course.  These are online classes often with video-taped lectures, readings and quizes, papers or projects.  These courses are a great opportunity to learn something new.  And with that knowledge, I often gain a handful of stories ideas per course.

The majority of courses I’ve taken have been through Coursera. Top institutions around the world offer courses through Coursera.  I’ve had classes through the Smithsonian, University of Virginia, Duke and Northwestern.  Although you can pay for credit, I’ve always taken the free version.

My husband and I also took a class on comic book history through edX.  edX was founded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012.  The class was through the Smithsonian and featured guest lectures by Stan Lee.

Two other sites that offer MOOC are:

The Khan Academy which partner with institutions like NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, and MIT.

United Nations Institute for Training and Research which is a training arm of the United Nations. UNITAR courses that are open to the public include courses on Environmentalism and Climate Change.  I’m considering several of these but most likely won’t be signing up until after Christmas.

What interests you? I’ve taken a wide variety of classes including:

History classes like “Luther and the West,” “Introduction to Ancient Egypt and Its Civilization,” “The Kennedy Half Century,” and “Age of Jefferson.”

Anthropology classes including “Osteoarchaeology: The Truth in Our Bones” and “Human Evolution: Past and Future.”
Science classes such as “Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life” and “Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology.”
As well as “Copyright for Educators & Librarians” and “Art & Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies For Your Classroom.”


Some classes I’ve enjoyed more than others.  The Astrobiology class just about lost me.  It was more chemistry than “oh look a planet” but I learned a lot and came out of it with some ideas.

I’m a firm believer in life-long learning.  Besides don’t you want to know the latest and greatest info on various topics so that you can stay in step with your readers?



December 12, 2017

Mind the Gap: Opportunities to Sell Your Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:58 am
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You want to find the gap when marketing your ideas.

How many of you do market research before you start to write?  I’m not talking about only looking for possible places to sell your story, article, or craft.  I’m talking about looking at what has already been published so that you have a clue where the gaps are.

Let’s say that you want to write a children’s book about the history of comic books.  Do a quick search on Amazon and you get back 27, 327 results.  Whoa!  That’s a lot of competition.

The first thing that I notice is that I goofed.  I searched all of Amazon and not just books.  I make that correction and get back 21, 185 results.  That’s still one heck of a lot.  But every book doesn’t appeal to every single reader so I look at the various departments.

If I market my piece to teens and young adults, there are 2,369 results.  Much better but still too many.  That said, I quickly notice something. I have 16 results on the first page.  Two are about comic books.  The rest are actual graphic novels.

Picking through 100 pages of results is going to take some serious time. But if you do it and don’t find anything that overlaps with your idea?  You can tell the editor that you did the research.  You can reveal that the closet thing you found were the 5 volumes of the American Comic Book Chronicles.

Perhaps you are interested in science in comic books.  Or female super heroes.  Or LGBTQ characters.  Any and all of these things could be used to narrow your search and look for a gap in a particular area.

Find a gap in what has already been done.  Then write the book that fills it.  This will give you an opportunity to sell and editor or agent on your market research, your knowledge of what is already in print and the fact that you are not duplicating someone else’s work.


December 11, 2017

Christmas: An Opportunity to Study Your Audience in the Field

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 5:09 am
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The holidays can be a frustrating time for writers and illustrators.  There is so much to do, so many places to go, and so many demands on our time.

But it can help if you look at these events and more as a chance to study your audience in the field.  No matter what age your writing targets, the holidays offer ample opportunities to observe.

My first opportunity this year came at a preschool breakfast with Santa.  I got to paint faces and watch the kids with the families.  I observed as Santa, a personal friend, came in and interacted with the kids.  The best part for me?  His own granddaughter only recognized him after he left, changed, and came back as himself.  Up until then, she wouldn’t get anywhere near “that scary Santa.” Story idea!

I also got to watch a group of kids playing with the putt-putt golf.  Little girls in poofy dresses focused HARD as they worked to get that ball in the hole.  Little boys walked up to the hole and dropped the ball in. They just wanted to see the light go off.  And then there was the cluster of future engineers in the back waiting for the balls to come out and trying to figure out how the whole thing worked.

This coming weekend, I’ll have another chance to observe.  Our church is also having a family movie night.  When I’m not caught up in the WOW that is Polar Express, I’ll once again get to watch the kids.  This time my target will be the train set.  It was set up at the breakfast but it was on the far side of the all from where my paints and I were parked.  I want to see what it is the kids like about the train and hear what they have to say.

When you are out and about during the holiday, keep your eyes open so that you come away from the whole experience with a number of new writing ideas to mine.  The holiday are a remarkable opportunity.



December 8, 2017

Critique: An opportunity to improve your craft

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:46 am
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The first Wednesday of every month, I have critique group.  I’m planning to take advantage of an Above the Slushpile opportunity from CBI.  So I brought the first 10 pages and the synopsis of my chapter book to the meeting.  I’d get help proofing and then I could send it out.


“Seriously, this reads like a middle grade.”

“Nope. It’s a chapter book. I even tested the reading level compared to several others.  It is spot on.”

Moan.  Sigh.  Another moan.  I should have just listened.

Because later on as I was taking a shower, I realized that my story has a plot and a subplot.  That’s not a chapter book thing. That’s a middle grade thing.

Moan.  Sigh.  Another moan.

But that’s the great thing about a group of people who knows your writing. They can spot where things are off.  They can let you know what you need to change, or what markets you should really be looking at, before you send it out to an agent or editor.

Having someone critique your work is vital. Often you are just too close to spot the problems.  After all, you know what you meant to write.  If that’s not how it turned out, you may not be able to spot it as quickly as someone who is seeing it with new eyes.

Here are four things to keep in mind when you are looking for a critique group.

  1.  If you are writing for children, find a group for children’s writers.  People who write for adults don’t have to deal with reading levels and developmental levels.  They have probably never studied picture books and how they function. You need someone who knows what they are looking at.
  2. Find a group who has goals that are similar to your own.  I publish traditionally.  At some point in my life, I might choose to self-publish but I need to work with writers who are interested in working with agents and editors.  It is a slightly different mindset.
  3. Some groups like to read their work out loud.  I don’t mind that, but I get a lot more out of reading the hard copy myself.  Find a group that meshes with how you work best.
  4. You may have to attend several meetings before you know if the fit is right.  Not to worry.  Every group is not for every writer.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be where I am today without solid critiques.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a note to write.  I should let my ladies know just how right they were!


December 7, 2017

Mentorships: An Opportunity to Learn One-on-One

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:05 am
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One of the best ways for a writer with experience and some know-how to improve their writing is to work with a mentor.  Working closely with someone means that you get targeted feedback and they get to know you and your writing quirks.

If you are a picture book writer or illustrator, author Tara Luebbe has an amazing opportunity for you.  The Writing With the Stars (WWTS) mentorship program pairs one lucky winner up with one of sixteen mentors.  Each of these people is a publishing professional who is ready to help someone else improve their craft.  Among the mentors for the upcoming year are:

Jody Jensen Shaffer.  Frankly, if I was eligible, I would apply to work with Jody. She is the author of 30+ children’s books, writes, picture books, poetry and nonfiction.  I’ve worked with Jody in the past and she is marvelously insightful.  She is taking applications from writers of prose, non-fiction, rhyming, lyrical or religious picture books.

Andrea Loney.  Does that name look familiar?  It should if you are up on recent picture books that are generating a buzz.  She is the author of Bunnybear.  Want someone with teaching experience?  You’re in luck with Andrea because she teaches in the MFA program in Dramatic Writing at New York University.

These are just two of the 16 mentors.  The mentorship runs from February 1 to April 30, 2018.  Applications will be received January 8 to January 13.  And the best part?  If you can’t make up your mind you can apply with three different mentors.

Are you qualified?

Application is open to both writers and illustrators.

All applicants should be working to publish traditionally.

They should be accomplished writers with three to four completed picture book manuscripts or dummies or an online portfolio.

They must also be unagented and unpublished.  Magazine sales are ok.

For check out the bios of the mentors and for details on how to apply, click here.  This is definitely an amazing opportunity.  I’m just a teeny bet jealous.


December 6, 2017

Opportunities: Personalize Your Work Space

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 7:49 am
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book box exteriorHow many of you have taken the opportunity to personalize your work space?  If you haven’t you should.  Writing takes a lot of energy and time.  Make your work area your own.

Fortunately, I’m not the only creative person in the family.  Recently my husband made something book-themed for me.  It looks like a stack of books.  But guess what?  It’s really a hiding place!

book-box-interior.jpgWe have a friend who works at a local library and she got him a stack of remaindered/damaged books.  He used them to make “book boxes.”  I’m still trying to decide what to hide here.  It may end up being something as mundane as flash drives or charging cables.  Or spare pens and markers.  Right now?  Chocolate covered coffee beans. It sits next to the author’s copies on my book shelf.

It’s silly and a little fun.  It has also already inspired a story idea.   I have other whimsical touches throughout my office.  On my desk is an old-fashioned typing stand that I use when I work from hard copy.  It was my mom’s. I frequently share the space with a life-sized skeleton.  Then there’s the skull with the multicolored flashing eyes on one bookcase.  I have a dancing baby Groot and a blue chinese dragon.  I can’t say that there is a unified theme but the space is definitely mine.

But what if you don’t have an office?  Maybe you work wherever you can find time and space at that particular moment.  I have friends who work on laptops at the kitchen table, in a coffee shop or in their cars.

Customize the wall paper on your computer using inspirational quotes, book covers, or whatever makes you happy.  Or perhaps you like to listen to music.  One friend who writes short stories plays Bach wherever and whenever she works.

When I do a hard copy edit at the dining room table, I light a black licorice candle.  Or you could have a cup of your favorite tea or coffee.  It isn’t specifically what you do that is the most important.  It is the fact that you do something to mark the space and time as your own.

Have you taken the opportunity to personalize your writing space or time?  If not, what can you do about that today?

For more on personalizing your work and your space, check out Deadline Dead Ahead and Your Writing Space: Does It Reflect the Real You?



December 5, 2017

Opportunities: A Contest

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:29 am
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I have to admit that I liked writing numerous posts about picture books throughout November.  Since I don’t know of a writing related “month” for December, I’m going to make up my own.  December is going to be Opportunity Month.

Why Opportunity Month?  Because I think we all need a reminder very now and then to take advantage of the many opportunities that come our way.  No, we can’t take advantage of them all.  But I think we use this as an excuse to let far too many pass on by.

So the first opportunity that I’m going to tell you about is a contest.  This one has a fast approaching deadline (12/10/2018) but why not take advantage if you have a story that is suitable.  Author Susanna Leonard Hill is sponsoring her 7th Annual Holiday Contest.  

To be qualified a story must:

  • Be about a holiday surprise. She welcomes stories about ” Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate.”
  • The word count has to come in at 250 words or less.  Writer shorter if you like but stop at 250 words.
  • Must go up on your blog between 12/7 and 12/10 EST. You then have to add your link to comments on her official holiday contest post which will go up 12/7.
Hill and her assistant will post the finalists on 12/15 or 12/16, depending on the number of entries. Blog visitors will then get to vote on a winner.

Initial judging will be based on:

  • Kid Appeal.  Stories are intended for readers 12 and under.
  • Holiday specific.
  • Contain a surprise.
  • Be well written with a main character and story arc.
  • Be original.

Good luck if you decide to enter.  I’m going to be looking through my files to see if I have anything suitable.


December 4, 2017

Free Digital Books

I found out about this great resource through Electric Speed, Jane Friedman’s e-mail newsletter.

Internet Archive is an organization that is working to digitize as much public domain literature as possible.  One of the projects that they support is the UCLA Children’s Book Collection.

Archives of historic books are a great resource because they give us a window into the time in which they were published.  When the books are children’s books, we learn not only about what these people thought about X, Y, or Z topic but also what they thought about children.

Childhood was not always recognized as a distinct “time of life.”  By Victorian times it was, at least for middle and upper class children.  Because of that, there are a wealth of books designed to teach children what they needed to know to take their place in society.  If you are writing a story set in the past, try to find material published then. It may not be easy to read but it will provide a mirror into the world at that time.

The oldest book in the UCLA collection is from 1728.  The title?  Moral Songs Composed for the Use of Children.  That’s pretty telling in and of itself. The Preface is a letter by the author, Thomas Foxton, explaining why he wrote the book.  Following that is a letter to the bookseller.

These aren’t songs in the sense that they are printed with notes on a staff.  These are poems about topics such as envy, wasted time and more.

You can view the book’s page by page or as a gallery with all pages laid out. You can also download PDFs of the books.

Books can be searched by year, author and language.  There are books by Twain and Oz.  Scanning the listings, I spotted a Malayalem dictionary which is apparently a dialect found in India.  This is definitely going to be a fun source to mess around with.


December 1, 2017

Strong Nonfiction: One Way to Nurture the Passions of Young Readers

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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Yesterday, I read a publishing blog about writing STEM steries to nurture girls to pursue their interests in STEM.  While I agree it is essential to nurture girls, I’d like to think of us nurturing all young learners.

Growing up in the 1970s, I was always encouraged to pursue my interests. My grandad was a mining engineer.  I had my own sample sack that I carried when we went on walks.  If I fancied a rock, I picked it up.  Back at home, I got a science lesson.

My father taught electronics at Ranken Technical Institute.  I helped him build a television when I was 7.  I know I was 7 because I was home from school with the chicken pox.  I helped him sort transistors and various parts and read the directions out loud to him.  That may not seem like much but let’s be real.  I was 7.

He encouraged me to do every science thing I ever wanted to do.  I built rockets.  I took chemistry and physics in school.

But I also embroidered and drew.  I read voraciously and absorbed history everywhere we went.  I remember being surprised, as an adult, the first time someone told me that girls my age had not been encouraged to study science.  The statistics back that up, but it was not my personal experience.

I was lucky.  My parents encouraged me to learn about what fascinated me.  A full range of topics were available but nothing was denied to me.  Nothing was forced on me.  Except ballet.  I do remember being coerced into take years of ballet.

Let’s definitely keep writing great STEM books.  But let’s also write great books about history.  And about the arts.  Let’s fill in the gaps and make an attempt to nurture all of our children.


November 29, 2017

Picture Book Mash-Ups: Putting Two Things Together to Create Something New

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:44 am
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Yesterday, I was on the treadmill scanning the publishing blogs.  That’s when I spotted Little Red RuthieA Hanukkah Tale by Gloria Koster.

Koster is an elementary school librarian.  In the course of her job, she’s seen how popular folk tales are.  She’s also seen the demands for fall and winter holiday books.  So she combined the two.

Not surprisingly, this got me thinking about a variety of possibilities.

What would happen if Little Red Riding Hood set out to visit Grandma on the Day of the Dead?  Or Goldilocks dropped in on the Three Bears on Christmas Eve?  What if the Three Billy Goats Gruff were caroling when they traipsed over the trolls bridge?

Obviously, not every mash-up is going to work.  Having Little Red Riding Hood determined to make the trip on Grandparent’s Day might create some fun possibilities but how big would the market be?  I’d want to look at numbers before taking on this story idea.  Christmas would probably have more appeal.

It might also help to look for natural connections.  Thanksgiving is pretty food based so what about a Three Bears Thanksgiving Dinner.  Blessedly the porridge would have to go.  Maybe to be replaced by everyone’s various takes on stuffing/dressing or cranberries.

You would also have to take the time to see what is out there.  I’d be absolutely shocked if no one has done the Gingerbread Man as a Christmas cookie.  But I should check before I make assumptions.  Speaking of assumptions, before trying a new twist on for size, it would be a good idea to see how many Christmas Three Bear books are out there or how many Three Bear Books in general.

Wait . . . what about Thanksgiving Three Little Pigs.  Thanksgiving as we celebrate it has nothing to do with building, but we do tend to make pigs of ourselves . . .

Pardon me.  I need to go look into a few things before starting a new draft.



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