One Writer’s Journey

August 26, 2016

Hidden Human Computers

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
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Hidden Human computersIt is always a great feeling when readers connect with your work.  But it is an even more heady experience when it happens before the book is officially out.  Early reviews of Hidden Human Computers, scheduled for release in early 2017, have this to say.

“How often do you see the diagram of a Jim Crow segregated dining room arrangement, in a book about Space and Math? How often do you read a book that discusses Civil Rights  and Halley’s Comet; the history of Black Colleges and the history of Human Computing; the evolution of aircraftand the evolution of government hiring policies?  How often do educators have one tool that teaches Science, Math, Social Studies and English — with a Black and female lens?” (Annie Winkler-Morey, The Minneapolis Project.)

“It’s told in a way that accepts its readers as smart and capable individuals while also telling a captivating story. At the same time, it doesn’t shame its readers for not knowing the information previously. Harris and Edwards, instead, are pleased and proud to be able to tell the stories of these important women. I very much appreciated the balance in the storytelling.” (Young Minds Need Stories.)

“Thanks to Hidden Human Computers, an emerging generation of thinkers will be able to have an ancestral relationship to the contemporary understanding of the universe. Black women, our literal and imaginary ancestors, were crucial to contemporary space travel, observation and astro-physics.” (The Feminist Wire.)

I am, to put it mildly, just a little jazzed.  Fingers crossed that the book is just as well received by our intended audience of young readers!



isn’t coming out but it is already bringing in positive reviews

(find all three)

August 25, 2016

The Writing Life: How Many Projects Do You Work on at a Time?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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deskWhat kind of a writer are you?

Are you the type of writer who works on 1 novel manuscript at a time?  That’s the way my friend Kris works.  She starts working on a novel, contemplating the plot, getting to know her characters, studying her setting.  Then she starts writing ahd that the only thing that she writes.  She may shift to something else briefly if she gets a rewrite request from her agent, but normally she works on that one piece until it is ready to send to her agent.

Maybe you’re a writer who has 6 different manuscripts going at once.  Jane Yolen told me that she tends to work on several different manuscripts at once.  When she gets stuck on one she sets it aside and focuses on another.

I used to think that this was how I worked because I might be noodling over one, researching another, and writing a third.  But then I realized something. Although I’ve got a fiction piece in progress, a nonfiction book in the works, my blog posts, and an article for CBI, when it is time to get something done, than that piece is the one I focus on.  Sure, I may be researching a new nonfiction book while working on that fiction, but once I have a deadline in hand, all other big projects go by the wayside.  Yes, I still blog but I generally focus on one book manuscript at a time.

The reality is that there is no one way to work.  We each have different work habits, schedules and demands on our time.  The key is to find a way to write that works for you.  It doesn’t matter what works for Kris, me or even Jane Yolen.  Whether you write in long hand or type it out on the computer, work on one manuscript at a time or ten, you have to find what works for the one and only you.



August 24, 2016

Early Literacy: 1000 Books Before Kindergarten

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:50 am
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reading boyThe St. Louis County Library system has an exciting new program — 1000 Books Before Kindergarten.  Studies show that children who have been read to since birth have an edge when it comes time to learn to read.  Why?  Because they have stronger language skills and vocabularies than children who have missed out on this experience.  Children who participate get prizes at 500 books and the full 1000 books.

  • What does this have to do with writing?  Think about the many ways that this program could be to your advantage if you write picture books. Ask to host a story time at your local library.  Read your books.  Read the books of other authors.  Simply watching kids react to books is great research for a picture book writer.
  • Offer various book related material as prizes.  Perhaps you could offer copies of your books or posters of your book cover.  Maybe you could even make a coloring page based on your book cover.  All of this gets word out about your book.
  • Does your church offer a preschool?  Offer a post-school story time for the kids and offer to speak to the parents about the importance of reading aloud to literacy.

I hope that you see where I’m going with this.  Even if you don’t live in St. Louis county, many libraries and humanities councils have early literacy programs.  Look for ways to hook into these programs, educate parents and turn kids on to reading.

It’s a great opportunity to experience your audience first hand.



August 23, 2016

Writing and Publishing: It is a Business

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:26 am

poutIf you are a writer who wants to sell your work, you are going to have to keep something in mind.  Publishing is a business.

When you get feedback from an agent or editor, don’t take it personally.  They are critiquing your work, not you.

As a writer, that can be hard to remember.  We invest so much time, energy and emotion into our work that what we have written becomes deeply personal.  Deeply.  When someone tells us that our setting isn’t strong enough, a scene needs to be cut, or our characters aren’t believable, we have to remind ourselves — this is not personal.  They are just trying to help us take our work to the next level.  That next level is 100% necessary if your work is going to compete the in market place. Whether or not you are a new writer or a seasoned professional, your work will be competing against the best of the best.

This means that when your agent tells you that no one wants dystopian YA at the moment, she isn’t telling you that you are clueless.  She’s telling you that your story idea likely won’t sell.  Remember, it’s a business.  This isn’t personal.

This means that when your editor tells you that she just isn’t passionate about this story, she’s telling you that this isn’t the right piece for her. She doesn’t think that she can take it to that next level.  Remember, it’s a business.  This isn’t personal.

When your editor asks you to coordinate your publicity work with the marketing department?  Still not personal.  The marketing department is in the business of . . . can you guess?  Marketing!  Selling books.

Your work is precious to you, and it should be.  It’s the only way you’re going to have the energy to take it from the initial idea to the polished final manuscript.  But if you are trying to sell your work, you need to transition from this personal approach to a business approach.  Why?  You are dealing with professionals.  Want to be one of them? Publishing is a business.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t have the occassional tiny tantrum, but save it for your writer’s group.  They’ll understand and they’ve undoubtably felt the same way.


August 22, 2016

Women in Science and Women in Sports

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:19 am
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women in sciencewomen in sportsWhat a great way to start my week.  My two most recent books are out from Abdo Publishing.  Women in Science and Women in Sports are part of the eight title series, Women’s Lives in History.

The most difficult part of these two books wasn’t deciding what to include and what to leave out.  That said, that was difficult.  No matter how many different women I included, someone was left out.  Some aspect of science or some sport were left out.  Between narrative, examples of sporting or scientific women, and the sidebars I worked in as much as possible.

The most difficult part was discovering and refining the narrative that linked them all.  These books are nonfiction.  The stories that they tell are factual, but I had to have an overarching narrative.  How were things changing in this field?  At this time?

As is always the case, I learned a lot writing these books.  Would I want to do something similar again in the future?  Maybe.  These were the two most difficult books that I’ve ever written.  I knew sports would be tough because my background in and knowledge of sports isn’t as broad as my background in science.  But science was just as difficult if not more so.  Let’s just say that I thought digesting physics so that I could write about it was tough until I had to work on the section on pure math.

Difficulties aside, I’m glad I wrote them and I can see them filling a need in the schools.  Yes, there are books out about female athletes and female scientists but they focus on a few people (Wilma Rudolph and Marie Curie). Yes there are few others but not as many as you might expect.  These books will help fill that void.

Really, really looking forward to having the author’s copies in hand.


August 18, 2016

Publicity: TeachingBooks

Black Lives Matter

The book that earned me this opportunity.

When I opened the e-mail, I wasn’t sure how to react.  I’d used the Audio Name Pronounciations on to help students learn the names of their favorite authors.  Once you hear some of them, you never forget how to say them.  Scieszka rhymes with Fresca.

But why would they contact me?  Sue Bradford Edwards. That’s pretty straightforward.

They has provided me with several links so I listened to Neil Gaiman explain his pronounciation and the origin of his family name. Maya Angelou explains how she got the name Maya which isn’t her given name.

Stories.  Hmm.  I can tell a story.  And, like much of what I write, this would be nonfiction.  I’m good at that.

It took me about a week to decide on a story.  Then I wrote it out and rehearsed.  When I could read it through out loud without stumbling, I called the handy dandy phone number and recorded my message.  You can hear it here.

It would have been easy to just let this opportunity slide.  After all, my name is easy to pronounce so I don’t think that teachers are going to look hither and yon for how to say my name. But as I poked around the site, I discovered that each author has a page.  The page includes links to their website and blog and at least one of their books. Otherwise, it is a great place for teachers to look for author information but also a “safe place” for young readers.

And now I’m a part of it.  What might be the most fun?  I can share this recording far and wide.  That means that I have an interesting little tidbit that I can share with people who are interested in me and my writing.  Now, I have to figure out how to imbed it in my web site…



Biography: How to write about someone who isn’t well known

Terrible Typhoid MaryMy audiobook of the moment is Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.  The title may be all Typhoid Mary all the time, but after listening to the first 1/3 of the book, I’d have to say that the focus of the book is on George Soper.  Soper billed himself as an expert on epidemics, specifically typhoid but he had no medical background.  He was a civil engineer.  I had a grad class on urban history so this makes sense — a big focus for the early civil engineers and city planners was public health.  They fought to keep people healthy as American cities grew.

What a timely topic!  But without Typhoid Mary I don’t think it would have been an easy sell.

George Soper?  Whose George Soper and why do we care?  Civil engineering just doesn’t have any play as a “sexy” topic.

Flash “Typhoid Mary” in front of an editor and you just might grab their attention.  Sell it from a new angle – a medical mystery pursued by a new kind of investigator and you’re reeling that editor in.  If you can find a way to make it sing, you’ve likely got a sale.  Clearly, Bartoletti did and this reads like an episode of Bones or a crime drama.

As much as editors tell us to submit the biography they haven’t already seen, the completely unfamiliar is a remarkably hard sell.  Too rarefied and editors know it will be tough to locate an audience, no matter how fascinating the subject.

This means that if you’ve found someone unknown, look for a way to tie them into something well-known or timely.  Even if someone doesn’t know Mary Mallon, they’ve probably heard of Typhoid Mary.  Fears of West Nile and the Zika virus are rampant and this ties into that mind-set.  Bartoletti also found a way to make it sound like true crime.  It may not be easy to make the connections but the more you can make the more likely you will be to make a sale.



August 17, 2016

What Makes a Publisher Your Favorite?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:55 am
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thumb-422558_1920 (1)Recently, a writing buddy and I were discussing “favorite” publishers.  She has a few things to say about one of my favorites which got me thinking — what makes a publisher a favorite?

  • Book topics.  I have to love the types of books they publish.  Whether fiction or nonfiction, the books themselves are what I notice first.
  • Book design.  In addition to the topic, I also note the design.  It may seem strange (isn’t it grand just to get published) but I want to love holding my book in my hand.  This means that covers have to be intriguing, the font readable, good quality illustration and respectable margins.  I love Abdo’s book design.  I’ve planned to submit to a publisher before until I saw their books and the pixellated images within.
  • E-book design.  Yep, this is a separate category.  Why?  Because I’ve discovered that a publisher with good book design may have bad e-book design.  One of my editors and I were looking at e-book design and we were amazed at what we found.  Some publishers may as well have been laying out a printed page.  It was straight text, no graphics and no links.  Others put in so much that it was overpowering.
  • Editing.  I don’t demand a lot of input on book design or graphics.  Other people know more than I do.  But I want to know I can ask my editor a question without committing a grave offense.
  • Payment policy.  I will work for a flat fee if it is generous.  Ideally, I would love to have an advance and royalties.  Just royalties?  Not so much. Payments also need to go out promptly.  I haven’t heard to many bad stories about book payments but if I hear an author say they couldn’t get paid?  Right off my list.
  • Post-publication support.  If I’m going to be at a book fair or speaking at a conference, I want to be able to get my books.  If that isn’t possible, I want to know why.  Good communication is a must.  Ignoring me completely is not.

I’m not one of those writers who keeps a “No Way” list of publishers/editors.  That said, I do listen when other writers talk.



August 16, 2016

Comparing Word Counts

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:31 am
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AR BookFinder“How long should my chapter book be?”

“I want to write a picture book biography like the ones Holiday House publishes.  How long should it be?”

When my students came to me with questions like this, I used to refer them to Renaissance Learning’s AR Quiz store.  Unfortunately, when Renaissance stopped selling quizes individually, I could no longer find the book information I used to use.  I assumed that they had removed this data from their site.

Fortunately, I recently came upon an online discussion of book length.  Several people said that they used the Renaissance numbers.  No one had a link into the quizes but now I knew the information was still there. I’m not going to say that Renaissance made it easy, but I finally found a way to locate a specific book.

Follow this link to AR Book Finder.  You have to select teacher, parent, or student.  I always just tell them that I’m a parent.  Then you can search for the name of the book you need.  For this example, I searched on Poison is not Polite by Robin Stevens.  Select the correct book and you find a variety of information including:

  • ATOS reading level
  • The book’s interest level
  • Word count

Search on the book you are using as a mentor text and you’ll have how long it needs to be and at what reading level.  Search on several books from the same publisher and you get a feel for what they want in a middle grade novel. This can give you a target to focus on if you want to submit to a publisher but also an area to avoid if you don’t want your book to be in direct competition with another.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve checked my book’s word count vs the competition.  Now I need to run the test for an ATOS reading level.



August 15, 2016

Holiday House Sold

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:09 am
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Holiday HouseLast week the publishing world found out that the independent children’s publisher Holiday House had been sold.  John Briggs, Holiday House president, made the decision to do this so that he could retire.  The publisher was purchased by “a new company formed by growth equity investment firm Trustbridge Partners.”  Although I’m sure this company has a name, they do after all need something to put on their letterhead, but that’s what they are called in all of the stories that I’ve seen.

Holiday House will continue to operate independently under a “management team” headed by v-p and editor-in-chief Mary Cash. Cash has been with the Holiday House for 20 years.  Future plans are to keep the publisher in their present NYC offices but add staff to support “the company’s expanding publishing program.”

More staff.  Expanding program.

Fingers crossed that this means good thing because, selfishly enough, Holiday House has long been one of my dream publishers.  They don’t have any of my manuscripts at present but that’s because . . . drum roll please . . . nothing is out there.  Nothing that isn’t under contract anyway.  Yeah, that’s something I need to work on and, to that end, I need to get back to work.  I have a manuscript that’s almost ready to go out.


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