One Writer’s Journey

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
Tags: ,

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
Tags: , ,

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.


August 12, 2016

New Award for Matt de la Pena

mexican white boyLate last week the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) honored Matt de la Peña for taking a stance on intellectual freedom.  Some of you may not remember the event in question but back in 2012, the Mexican American Studies programs was terminated in Tucson, Arizona.  For some areas, this might be underwhelming but Tucson has a large Mexican American population.  When this decision was made, de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy was removed from circulation, effectively banning them. When this happened, De la Peña was scheduled to speak at a Tucson school.  De la Peña donated his speaking fee to pay for copies of his book, he gave these books to the students.

Admittedly, this story caught my eye because it is Matt de la Peña.  What can I say?  There are authors who impress the hell out of me and when I see their names go past, I take note.

Part of the reason that de la Peña impresses me is because he is 100% genuine.  I’ve heard him speak and I never had the feeling that I was viewing his stage persona.  I’m sure he has what my grandmother called “company manners,” but he is unapologetically himself.  And I think that’s a large part of what appeals to his readers.  He’s from a working class, ethnic background and he hasn’t forgotten that.  He’s from where they are now.  He knows their struggles.

When they lost access to his books, he did something about it.  He donated books himself.

To my fellow authors — be that guy.  Don’t just point the need out to your publisher.  Yes, it is dandy when they can and do get involved.  After all, they have much deeper pockets than we have.  But don’t let awareness of that fact rob you of your ability to act.  Be the author who sees the need and does something.

And on that note, I will climb down off my soap box . . . another of my grandmother’s sayings.



August 11, 2016

Passive Voice: Pros and Cons

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:39 am
Tags: , ,

Passive voiceBig Bad Rule:  Eliminate passive voice from your writing.

You’ve heard this rule.  I’ve heard this rule.  Pretty much everyone who has been writing for over a week has heard this rule.  Unfortunately, there are two problems with this rule.

  1. To eliminate it, you have to be able to identify passive voice.
  2. Sometimes passive voice is necessary.

Passive voice, simply put, is when the action happens to the subject.  “The Zika virus vaccine was invented by Dr. No.”*   The vaccine didn’t do anything.  It is passive (and not just because it is inanimate).  Following this advice, I would rewrite the sentence as “Dr. No invented the Zika virus vaccine.”

Unfortunately, many people see whatever conjugation of the “to be” verb and they start labeling every sentence that contains a version of “to be” as passive.  The problem with this IS that this is a perfectly good group of verbs that help us avoid needlessly convoluted sentences.  For example, what if I decided to rewrite “The Zika virus is a flavivirus”?*  I could change it to read “The Zika virus falls within the flavivirus genus.” Or maybe “The flavivirus genus includes the Zika virus.”  While the latter rewrite isn’t 100% awful, it lacks the sleek, simplicity of the original.

The problem with completely eliminating either passive voice or to be verbs is that sometimes they are essential.  With them, you can create sentences that are clean and concise.  They also give you a bit more flexibility on where you direct your reader’s attention.

“The Zika virus vaccine was invented by Dr. No.”  This emphasizes the virus and the vaccine.

“Dr. No invented the Zika virus vaccine.”  Shorter, simpler and the emphasis has changed.  I would go with version 1 if I was writing about the virus and version 2 if I was writing about Dr. No.

Thank you to Keith Cronin.  His post on passive voice reassured me that I’m not the only one with a problem with this Big Bad Rule and helped me clarify my own thoughts.


*Note: Dr. No did not invent a Zika virus vaccine but the Zika virus is a flavivirus.

August 10, 2016

Follow Your Passions

Fort Piokens tunnel-1572456_1920Follow your passions.” That’s the advice that we so often get about writing.  Write what you love.

So I look at the things that I love and I think … maybe.  The list includes:

Textiles/knitting – Color and textures mesmerize me even if my skill level is so-so.

Science – biology, rocks, animals.  I love it all.

History/Archaeology – I especially love what I call “fringe history,” the stuff that not everyone knows because it isn’t mainstream.  Let’s just say that I was into diversity before it had a name.

Then this week I read a blog post by Karlin Gray who wrote a nonfiction picture book about one of her childhood passions — Nadia Comaneci.  Gray was an Olympics crazed kid who loved gymnastics although it wasn’t something in which she excelled.  She wrote Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still, and it is out in time for not only the current games but Comaneci’s perfect 10.

Gray came up with her topic after thinking about the things she loved as a five year-old.  So what would be on my five-year-old list?

Fabric and thread.  My mother and grandmother loved to sew.  Mom made wedding dresses and suits.  My grandmother did embroidery.  She and I embroidered a quilt together.

Horses and, by extension, other large animals including cattle.  Horses were my first love.  I learned to ride when I was about 6 or 7 and so short that my legs stuck out and I had no hope of reaching the stirrups.  This wasn’t a pony but a Tennessee Walker with a ruined mouth who couldn’t feel any of my signals on the reins.  He would notice when I started to slide off sideways, walk to the fence or the barn wall and let me push myself back up.

Fort Davis.  One set of grandparents lived in Alpine, Texas and I loved visiting this fronteir fort.  I also loved visiting Cahokia Mounds, Ft. Bellefontaine and every other site I ever saw.  I saw the cell where Geronimo was held at Fort Pickens.  I spent the better part of an afternoon figuring out how I would have broken him out.

Hmm.  Maybe just maybe the things that I loved as a child have fed into the things that I love know as an adult and there really and truly are stories to be had…


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