New Award for Self-Published Book

The Sparks Award.

This from the official SCBWI announcement:

“. . . The award is open to current writer and/or illustrator SCBWI members who have independently-published a board book, picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or young adult novel through an established self- publishing enterprise  or individually self-published.  Submissions must be submitted in traditionally bound form, contain an ISBN number, and provide evidence of Copyright registration. 

Entries may not have been previously published in any print or digital form prior to the self-published form and SCBWI reserves the right to disqualify books published by enterprises that we believe, in our discretion, operate in a predatory or unprofessional manner.

One winner and one honor book will be chosen by a panel of industry professionals and will focus on quality of writing and concept, quality of illustrations (if applicable), professional presentation, and editing and design.”  You can read the full announcement here.

Wowza.  What an honor!  

What I love most about this award is that it not only recognizes this important element of publishing (self-publishing) but all entries must clearly be geared to compete commercially with traditionally published titles.  If you chose to make your living self-publishing your work, that’s fine, but it has to be geared to compete in every way with the work put out by Harcourt, HarperCollins and other traditional publishers.

What say, you?  Does this encourage you to self-publish?  


Why You Should Study Your Markets

WordsongLast week, I had two very different picture books in my stack of library books — David Harrison’s Pirates and Jane Yolen’s Come to the Fairies Ball.  

Harrison’s book is a gritty nonfiction on the hard scrabble life of the pirate.  These aren’t fairy tale pirates.  These are the men and women who disciplined each other with beatings and stole anything and everything that might make a quick buck.

Yolen’s piece is a lyrical book long poem about a fancy dress ball thrown by the fairies, come one, come all.  Even the illustrations are light and fanciful compared to the starkly lit realistic paintings that add to Harrison’s book.

The surprising thing about these two books?  They were both published by Wordsong.  Read just Harrison’s book and you might think your piece on elfin magic isn’t a good Wordsong match.  Pour over Yolen’s book and you wouldn’t bother putting your wagon train manuscript in the mail.

Read multiple books (as in a dozen or more) by your target publisher before you make up your mind.  If you are interested in submitting to magazines, read issues covering about six months.  That way you’ll really know rather your manuscript is a good fit or not.  Before you read that much, it is just guess work.



National Book Award Nominees Announced


The National Book Award nominees have been announced.  This is the first year that ten-book long-lists for each panel will be released to the public in mid-September.  Here is the list for children and young adult titles.

Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)

Kate DiCamillo, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press)

Lisa Graff, A Tangle of Knots (Philomel Books/Penguin Group USA)

Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)

Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)

David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House)

Tom McNeal, Far Far Away (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House)

Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group USA)

Anne Ursu, The Real Boy (Walden Pond Press/HarperCollinsPublishers)

Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints (First Second/Macmillan)

The winners will be announced on 10/20/2013.  The last listing, Yang’s, actually consists of two books which is a little different.  NBA books tend to be titles that you could picture in the current headlines.   Which book has your vote?  



Call for Submissions: Magazine Market

Call for Submissions

I just found out about Spellbound, a middle grade fantasy e-zine for readers 8-12 years old.  It is a quarterly, themed e-zine.  Stress here is on middle grade as distinct from YA.

Here is the list of current themes along with the submissions periods.  In other words, don’t try to get a jump on the sea monsters theme and submit during the reading period for giants.

  • Winter 2013: Giants, Reading/Submissions Period: July 1 – September 30, 2013
  • Spring 2014: Dwarves, Reading/Submissions Period: October 1 – December 31, 2013
  • Summer 2014: Sea Monsters, Reading/Submissions Period: January 1 – March 31, 2014
  • Fall 2014: Magical Cats: Reading/Submissions Period: April 1 –  June 30, 2014
  • Winter 2014: Elementals: Reading/Submissions Period: July 1 – September 30, 2014

The website says they respond to all submissions.

Here are the guidelines for fiction:

Fiction Editor: Raechel Henderson

Word limit = 2,500
Payment = 2.5 cents per word
Rights bought: First World Electronic English-language Rights
Multiple submissions okay
No simultaneous submissions

What they are looking for:  stories involving magic, myth, legend and adventure in a fantasy setting.

Of special interest are:

  • Young protagonists with girls in “heroic” roles.
  • Non-Western European settings, characters and stories.
  • Minorities and disabled characters.
  • Stories where children protagonists have an active role in the story’s resolution.

Please send fiction submissions to submissions@eggplantproductions.comSend submissions in the body of the e-mail. No attachments!

For guidelines on poetry and illustrations, check out the Spellbound guidelines online.

I hope at least a few of you have appropriate manuscripts ready to go!



3 Reasons to Write Children’s Nonfiction

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Come visit my classroom at WOW! to find out about writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. Click the button to find out more.

As much as I love writing fiction, nonfiction is definitely my focus.  If you don’t write children’s nonfiction, here are three things that you should know.

  1. Editors get more fiction than nonfiction.  Most of the editors that I’ve spoken to tell me that they get a larger number of fiction manuscripts than nonfiction.  A lot of writers don’t want the hassle of having to do all the research involved in nonfiction.  But by writing only fiction, they guarantee that they face greater competition for fewer opportunities.
  2. Many publishers, especially magazines, use more nonfiction than fiction.  Survey several of your favorite magazines and note how much fiction they use.  Then compare it to the amount of nonfiction.  Nonfiction is almost always in greater demand.  Part of this is because there are so many types of nonfiction, but the good news for nonfiction writers is that they face less competition for a larger number of opportunities.
  3. Research once, write two or three times.  Do enough research when you research one piece on a topic, and you can gather enough material for two or three noncompeting pieces of nonfiction.  How is this possible?  Right now, I am working on a picture book on prayer.  It is a broad survey, touching briefly on many topics.  An in-depth piece about one particular prayer might be suitable for one religious magazine while a prayer shawl pattern would work for another.

If writing nonfiction sounds like something you want to try, I am teaching a class on Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults through October and November.  Check out this link to find out the details.


Themes — Good or Too Much Bother?

A variety of children’s magazines including Hopscotch, Boy’s Quest, Fun for Kids and Pockets all publish themed issues.  Readers know that everything in that particular issue will be tied together under a common topic.

Writers trying to break into a market benefit from themes as well.  Knowing at least a general topic gives you some idea what the editor wants to see.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you brainstorm writing ideas to go along with those theme lists:

  • The most important one?  Actively brainstorm.   Don’t go with the first idea that you come up with because that is the obvious idea.  That’s why it is your first idea. And if it is your first idea, it is probably someone else’s as well.
  • Don’t just brainstorm fiction ideas.  Check a couple issue of the magazine and you’ll probably discover that it publishes more nonfiction than fiction.  That said, editors get more fiction.  Submit nonfiction and you’ll find yourself facing even less competition.
  • Brainstorm ten or 15 ideas.  When you have a nice, long list of ideas, look for ways to make them even more unique.  Can you combine two of them — an article on gardening with a historic piece might become an article on how certain common garden plants have changed over time.  Our lettuce is thankfully very different from medieval lettuce.

Another good thing about theme lists is that the theme gives you a hard and fast deadline.  If you have just finished one project and don’t have a new idea, it can also help your get going again on your writing.

To find out more about writing science for children, see my post at the Muffin.

Check out the theme lists for the magazines above and you may find yourself writing something new.


What Every Chapter Must Include

No matter what type of book you are writing, each and every chapter must move your story forward.  Period.

Generally, my chapters correspond to my scenes.  In each scene, your character attempts to achieve a specific goal.  She may succeed.  Most often she will fail.  Her goal at the end will almost certainly differ from her goal at the beginning.

Did you include all of the essentials in your chapter?
Did you include all of the essentials in your chapter?

Chapters and scenes don’t necessarily coincide.  A chapter is simply an easily digestible piece of story.  It gives your reader a safe place to go get something to drink, go to bed, or walk to dog.  A chapter can break a scene at a suspenseful moment.  It can pull together two brief scenes.  How ever you decide to work it, something has to happen.  It is, after all, a unit of story.

Lately, I’ve read several manuscripts with “empty chapters.”  These chapters may:

  • Establish the relationship between two characters
  • Reveal something about your main character
  • Give the reader the clues needed to solve your mystery
  • Hide these blues amid red-herring.

But because they don’t move the story forward, they can do all of this and more and still drag.

Remember, a chapter is a unit of story.  A story is a character’s attempt to achieve something.  A chapter that doesn’t help this along, is something less than a chapter.


Response Times: Waiting for the Yea or Nay

response timesWhat do you do while you are waiting to hear about a submission?  Are you one of those writers who knows to the day when the three months is up?  Here are three reasons that I hope the answer is no.

Most successful writers have multiple projects in the works.  They have several things under submission and something else on their desk.  To achieve this, you have to send something out and get to work on the next item in your queue.

You will handle the rejections and bumps better.  If you have several things under submission and something else that you are writing when you here back, you are less likely to fall to pieces if the answer is no.  Focusing on only one submission is like putting all of your hopes and dreams in one basket.  Instead, give yourself multiple opportunities to succeed.

You are less likely to become desperate.  Watch the writers you know who have everything staked on one particular manuscript.  If that manuscript is rejected, they become desperate.  They have to get this piece out there whatever the cost.  There’s no telling what contract you’ll sign when that’s how you’re reasoning.

Instead, get your manuscript ready to go.  Write the “send to next publisher” date on your calendar.  Then turn your focus to something else.  Let this project absorb the energy you would otherwise put into obsessing about the first submission.  Before you know it, you’ll have a yea or a nay and another manuscript to submit besides.


Done and Out: It Takes More Than Luck to Succeed as a Writer

Done and OutIt takes more than luck to succeed as a writer.  That was the topic of last week’s post titled “How Lucky the Full-Time Writer.”  In this post, I discussed learning your craft, making the time to write, and also taking advantage of the opportunities that come your way.  Unfortunately, this leaves out one more crucial element.  As Otto Coontz pointed out in a comment, you have to stick with a project when the going gets tough and the writing isn’t easy.

Whenever I start a new project, my energy is high.  After all, I’m working with a shiny, new idea.  It is brilliant and Amazing and PERFECT.

At some point, this shiny, newness wears off and the writing becomes work.  Sometimes this happens during the muddled middle.  Other times the problem is that I am one spread away from a nonfiction picture book manuscript and, sadly, I’ve saved the most difficult spread for last because I can’t find the facts I need to pull it together.

Whenever and whatever the project happens to be, this is when it is tempting to turn my back and walk away.  After all, by now I’ve almost certainly had another shiny idea.  Or I’ve had an epiphany about some other not quite finished project.  Or my son has a swim meet, Christmas is coming or it is a day with a Y in it.

But I cannot succeed if I don’t make myself push through to the end.  Not only do I have to finish this draft, I have to rewrite it after my critique buddies comment on it and I have to get it out.  After all, editors are not rooting around on my hard drive or rifling through my filing cabinets looking for work to publish.  If I want to publish, I need to struggle through to a polished draft and send it out.

Thank you to Otto Coontz for reminding me of this all important step.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a picture book one spread from a finished draft, am 4 chapters into a middle grade fantasy, and now how to fix that big nonfiction project.  I really should finish one if not all of them so that I can get them into an editor’s hands.


Show Don’t Tell

Recently, I’ve started to take a harder look at how I express my characters’ emotions.  I’ve noticed that instead of giving my reader pertinent information, I’m often showing what I should be telling.  Let me explain.

If I write “Hillary was curious about her new neighbor” it gets the point across but not much else.  I could do show much more by showing this curiosity in a scene.

“Hillary paced down the row of bushes to the slight gap where she and Katie had cut through to each other’s yards.   Gone from the back porch was Katie’s bike, shiny bike.  In its place leaned a baseball bat, a ratty glove, and a pair of ragged shoes caked in mud.”

Okay, it isn’t Cleary but it tells you not only that Hillary is curious, but also:

  • Her best friend is Katie.
  • Katie used to live next door.
  • She and Katie spent a lot of time going from house to house.
  • Katie might have been a bit meticulous.
  • The new kid plays baseball.
  • The new kids might not be a neat freak.

In this version you actually see a bit of the setting and get a feel for three different characters.  So much better than “Hillary was curious.”  Snore!

I could also pull out The Emotion Thesaurus and add a few tells for Hillary’s emotional state.  Is she sad when she looks into Katie’s former yard?  Lonely?  Angry?  A physical reaction could give the reader a clue without my having to spell it out.

I started noodling this over after reading The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson.  She doesn’t tell me that one character mourned another’s death.  She shows us his silent scream.  Nor does she tell us when he starts to come out of his icy shell.  Instead, he hurries out to greet another character returning from a perilous assignment.  Instead of telling us how the character feels and what he is thinking, she shows us either through action or dialogue.

Off to scout out other lazy bits of writing.