Team Writing: How to Coauthor a book

I recently received an intriguing e-mail.  “How would you like to coauthor this book?  Here is my idea based on a family-members life.  You have the writing and organizational skills to pull this off.  I’d really like to work with you again.”

In spite of the compliments, I had to think long and hard before I replied.  You see, I’ve tried working as a co-author.  To put it delicately, it was an unmitigated failure.  In part, this was because we were both new writers.  Maybe this was why we didn’t come up with a detailed outline of who was responsible for what.  We thought we had a plan but soon discovered that it wasn’t detailed enough when we started stepping on each other’s toes.

Because of this, I wrote back that I was interested but had some questions:

  • What are the parameters of the book?  Would the book focus on her family member or would we present information on all of the women in this role?
  • Do you have a publisher lined up? She has a track record in publishing.  I have a track record in publishing.  The two together look like a Venn Diagram with a tiny little overlap.
  • Adults or children?  She’s done more writing for adults.  I’ve done more for children.  Let’s make sure we have the same plan.
  • What is the timeline for starting and finishing?  The books I write for Redline have a 6 week window.  That’s going to be tough with us sending things back and forth.
  • What part of the research are we each doing?  She had the idea and had already done some work on the topic.  Please don’t make me duplicate your efforts.
  • What part of the writing are we each doing?  Are we dividing the chapters?  One of us doing draft one and the other draft two?  How can we both work on this?

I have a whole folder dedicated to our correspondence but we’ve ironed out the details so that we both know the topic, the audience and who is responsible for what.  It’s the best way to ensure a successfully coauthored project.


Agents: Agent Looking for Writers

Call for SubmissionsBrent Taylor of Triada US Literary Agency is looking for writers to represent.  He is interested in both middle grade and young adult.  Here are a few details.

Middle Grade:

  • Beautiful writing
  • Fresh voice
  • Strong sense of place
  • Larger than life characters
  • Fantasy that is humorous and intelligent
  • Magical realism
  • Realistic contemporary stories.
  • A truly scary haunting
  • Atmospheric settings
  • Fast paced and literary ala Cynthia Lord
  • Favorite MG writers include Rebecca Stead, Jerry Spinelli, Brian Farrey, and Kathi Appelt


Young Adult:

  • Meaningful high concept
  • This generation’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
  • Diverse submissions, especially LGBT characters and storylines
  • Favorite authors include Nova Ren Suma, Nick Burd, Stephanie Perkins, and Libba Bray

For more on Taylor and his interests see his Literary Rambles spotlight as well as the Triada US website.




Agents: Picking an agent for one-on-one critique

MuffinThis fall, I’m one of the speakers at the Missouri SCBWI conference, September 25-26, 2015.  My talk is the very first one since it helps orient new conference attendees to the experience.  One of the things that I discuss with them is what to expect from their one-on-one critique sessions.

One-on-one critiques are available at many SCBWI events and give you 10-20 minutes of face time, often with an editor or agent.  To make the most of it, you have to pick the editor or agent that is right for you.  Here are five things to consider.

What books has this person represented?  Don’t just pick a name out of a hat or pick the person with the funniest session title.  Instead, take a look at the list of books that she has represented.  Don’t just read over the names.  Take the time to get ahold of them and read them.  Are they literary?  Humorous?  Quirky?  If you don’t like any of the books on her list, chances are that this is not the agent for you.

Is this what I write?  Once you know that you like her work, take a look at it in comparison to what you actually write.  I love to read mysteries but I have never written one.  Because of this, it wouldn’t make much sense to hitch myself to an agent whose specialty is the mystery novel.

Is she an editorial agent?  One of the terms that you are going to see a lot is “editorial agent.”  An editorial agent is an agent who works with their authors on the manuscripts before they go out the door.  This means that you may end up doing a rewrite for your agent and a rewrite for your editor.  That said, rewriting for your agent means that your editor will get a more polished manuscript.

Her website.  Now pop on over to her website.  If her bio doesn’t include the URL, do a google search and look for a website or a blog.  What does the layout tell you about this person.  Is it ultra-business like and conservative?  Or is it light and playful?  Either one can work but note your reaction to what you see.  This will be a close partnership.

Google revelations.  If you haven’t already googled her name, do it.  Read interviews and chatter about this person.  Finding something negative about an agent isn’t necessarily a deal breaker as long as it isn’t something big.  “This agent never sent out my work.”  “I get submission updates the first week of every month.” Two very different statements about two very different editors.

Don’t expect the agent you meet with to offer to represent you on the spot but do chose someone you are compatible with to ensure a better, more informative experience.  To find out more about what to discuss with the agent in your session, read my post for today at the Muffin.


Character Obstacles

ObstaclesA few weeks ago I wrote a post about using obstacles so that your character has to work harder to achieve her goal. You need to challenge your character with a plot problem that cannot be easily solved.  By continually throwing obstacles in her bath you notch up the tension and keep the reader reading.

Here are three different types of obstacles you can use to frustrate your main character.

The antagonist.  The tried and true source of many an obstacle is the antagonist.  The antagonist is the bad guy, or girl, who wants something that is in opposition to what your main character wants.  Because they cannot both succeed (or there would be no worthwhile obstacles), this person is a source of many of the problems in your main character’s life.  Using your antagonist to create an obstacle can mean that the antagonist beats your character to a vital clue, recruit an essential ally or simply make it to the treasure map first.

The protagonist.  Yep, that’s right.  Your main character can also create her own obstacles. Often this is due to some shortcoming on her part — she is afraid of the dark and thus refuses to go into the cave to find the map.  In fact, she decides that the map is unnecessary so that she doesn’t have to reveal this fear to her friends.  Lies come back to haunt her.  Secrets turn friend against friend.  Misunderstandings snowball.

The setting.  A wide variety of obstacles can come from your setting.  A storm takes out the electricity.  Tidal movements mean that a key path is open only certain times of day.  A setting based obstacle can be harmless but annoying, like an inconvenient long distance, or as devestating as an earthquake.  Who knows?  The setting may even become your antagonist in that it is constantly thwarting your main character (think the Perfect Storm).

If you have placed obstacles in your character’s way, but the tension doesn’t seem to rise, consider how to use a different type of obstacle to derail your protagonist’s plans. You can even create obstacles that originate within two of these categories — force your water-fearing protagonist to cross a log over a rain swollen creek, combining her fear with the setting.


Agents: Agent not reading manuscripts

HaltI hate it when I see an agent or editor closing to queries but, if it has to happen, making it temporary isn’t so bad especially if someone is getting caught up.

Molly Ker Hawn just announced on the Bent Agency Blog that she is closed to queries until September 1, 2015 so that she can get caught up. If your query reached her before July 9, 2015, she will read your query.  If it arrived after that you will have to resend in September.


Look at this as a good thing — you have almost a month and a half to polish your manuscript and get it ready to go.  So get to work and good luck!


Mole Meadow Anthology

Mole Meadow MenagerieRemember all of my lectures about retaining rights whenever possible.  My most recent piece with Schoolwide is a lesson in why.

Mole Meadow Anthology is one of the pieces that was first published in Young Equestrian Magazine way back in 1996.  The olden days.  Back then it was called “Mole Meadow Menagerie” and it was a bio of the author Marguerite Henry.  That worked for a horse magazine because horse crazy girls still devour her books.

A general interest educational publisher was a different matter.  Horses could still draw readers but changing the emphasis to using fact to inspire fiction opened it up for classroom use.

The only reason that this was possible is because Young Equestrian only took first North American serial rights.  Hold on to those rights but even when you resell a piece be ready to reslant it to better fit the new audience, if it is different from the original audience.

I’m still trying to decide — should I call this an e-book or something else?  Gertrude Ederle vs. the English Channel is, in my mind, an e-book because it still looks like a book.  This?  I’m not so sure.

Whatever I decide to call it, I’m glad its out there for young readers to enjoy.


Back Matter

The backmatter for this book includes a recipe for blackberry fool.

500 words.  Again and again that is the magic number that editors give when asked how long a picture book should be.  Until recently it seemed like an impossibly small number for my picture book on prayer.  But then an editor pointed out a simple solution.  Get rid of the sidebars and put all of that material in the back matter.

If you’ve never heard this term before, back matter is anything beyond the main story that you include in the back of the book.  Back.  Matter. Get it?  Back matter can be a wide variety of things including:

  • More information on the main topic.
  • Places (websites and tourist sites) that the reader can visit to learn more.
  • Crafts or activities.
  • Information on the sources used including some that the reader might want to review.
  • Additional, age-appropriate reading on the topic.
  • Glossary of unfamiliar terms.
  • A timeline of events related to or discussed in the text.
  • The author’s biography.
  • Information on how the author came to write this particular book.
  • Organizations or important people associated with the topic.
  • How to use the book in the classroom.

As you can see, back matter can cover a wide range of things by giving you someplace to tuck information that the reader needs that would inflate the word count of the main manuscript.  Some publishers want kid-friendly back matter.  Others expect this material to be utilized by parents or teachers more than young readers.  When I write for Redline, I am writing for a series so my back matter has to cover the same things as the other books in the series.

In my prayer book, the backmatter took my manuscript from something like 750 words to 175 words.  Yes, 175 words of lean, stream-lined text.

Remember that back matter isn’t only used with nonfiction.  It is also a great place to explain what is fact and what is fiction in a piece of historic fiction.  A fantasy novel might include information on the folk tales that gave rise to this fantasy land.  Science fiction could detail the recent science that the author studied to create the science in the story.

What about your current project?  Would it benefit from back matter?




Fiction: The connection between reading and empathy

brain on booksScientists are finding connections between what we read and how we interact with other people.  Here are some of their findings:

  • People who read fiction, and put themselves in the character’s shoes, are more empathetic than people who do not read fiction. This is because text can not only paint vivid pictures, it can also allow you to experience strong emotions. Experience it at some level and you are more likely to be able to identify it.
  • Researchers found that students who read the Harry Potter books showed more sympathy toward people who are stigmatized in our society, such as the LGBT community or immigrants.  Not surprisingly, there was a catch. The kink?  This empathy only existed in children who identified with Harry who was an outcast but also befriended other marginalized people.
  • Readers of literary fiction were more empathic than either readers of pop fiction or nonfiction.  Researchers believe that this may be because the characters in literary fiction are often complex and harder to get to know, ie. they are more like real people than cardboard cut outs of people. (To find out more about these studies, read the entire article here.)

While this isn’t entirely good news for those of us who are nonfiction writers, it is interesting to note that scientists are proving what writrs have argued all along.  Give a child a good book, and you can shape his mind.






Grammar nerdI love infographics for the ease with which they share information.  Here is one on being a grammar nerd.  There were a few surprises here for me — namely that publishing wasn’t in the top careers list but health was.  Seriously?  I had to laugh at how to tell your a grammar nerd. “Grammar nerds … love the Oxford comma.”  Oh, yeah!   Have some fun with this and be sure to see if where you live is on the grammar nerd map.

Market Seeking Writers: Tiger Beat

  • Tiger Beat needs freelancers who love writing about pop culture for teens.  Not sure if this market is right for you?  Here are the questions that were posted:

    • Can you rattle off the monikers of all four members of 5SOS?
    • Do you know the ship name of bandmate beaus Rydel Lynch and Ratliff?
    • Have you heard about Nash Grier’s brand-new app?
    • If you have an inner 13-year-old fan girl wanting to claw her way out in a grammatically perfect way, then this might be the job for you.

    This magazine needs someone who:

    • Can spot celebrity trends and gossip and spin them into tales perfect for this demographic.
    • Writes clever, funny, and dramatic with a special understanding of teens.
    •  Generates tons of ideas for quizzes, features, and columns.
    • Knows the acts featured in Tiger Beat.
    • Has conducted interviews.
    • Has a B.A. in journalism, writing, communications, or a similar area.
    • Has 1-3 years of writing and reporting experience. Bonus points if you’ve worked for a teen mag.
    • Knows social media.

    In your cover letter tell us why you are the perfect candidate.  Include resume and at least three writing samples as PDFs. Be ready for an in-person or Skype interview.

    For more about this opportunity, check out the full listing here.