One Writer’s Journey

December 16, 2016

Hidden Human Computers Launched Yesterday

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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Hidden Human computersMerry Christmas, Sue and Duchess!   Abdo gave us the best Christmas gift ever — our book Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA launched yesterday.

Our book is features the three women in Margot Shetterly’s Hidden Figures but it tells about other women as well, including Duchess’ grandmother Miriam Harris Mann.  That’s why Duchess wanted to write the book — she wanted to tell the story of all of the women.  And she wanted to tell it for young readers in a way that anchored it into the larger history.

This larger history is vitally important but also too little understood.  Most people get that these women faced discrimination because they were black.  But they also faced discrimination because they were women.  It seems like a no brainer but I was amazed to realize that no one had studied these women.  Research on black NASA scientists focused on male engineers.  Research on women at NASA focused on women computers but sidelined the black women.  In fact, the only place they got equal time was an unpublished manuscript in the NASA library.

In a time when people need to be inspired, this is a story that needed to be told.  What an honor to get to work on it.  Merry Christmas to me!



December 15, 2016

Online Marketing: Who Has Time to Do It All?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:30 am
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social-media-1233873_1920Its no great secret.  I make my living as a writer.  Like a lot of writers, I find the vast array of possible online markting options overwhelming. I know one writer who edits anthologies, spends scads of time on Facebook.  She hosts events on Twitter as well as book give-aways on Goodreads.  I watch her and wonder “what if you can’t do it all?  Is it worth the bother?”

Imagine my delight when I came across this Digital Book World post by Chris Syme – Why You Only Need to Sell Your Book on One Social Media Channel.  I’m all giddy at the prospect.  I can focus on — one.

Syme’s idea is that it is better to promote via one social media outlet and do a really good job than it is to do a mediocre job over many.  Focus your attention and get results.  The key is to discover which is best for contacting your audience.  If you audience is on Facebook on and off all day, Facebook is the way to go.  If your readers, Tweet, Tweet and Tweet come more, than use Twitter.  Maybe you’ve got photo savvy readers on Snapchat.  Which doesn’t matter as much as knowing that it is where your readers “hang out.”

Not that Syme’s gives you the all clear to ignore the other forms of social media.  The key is to find one to use to market your writing.  You should still update the others on a regular basis.  You need to have an extended presence because it makes you easier to find.  But your selling efforts?  That’s all in one place.

You just have to figure out which place is where your readers hang out.  One vs many.  That sounds much more doable to me.



December 14, 2016

The Balancing Act that Is Nonfiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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balanceHopefully when you read this I’ll have a full draft done on my next book.  Hopefully.  I’m only about 1/3 of the way through my last chapter and my willpower is more like won’t-power at the moment.

In this first draft, I do try to get everything in the right order but I don’t worry about things being smooth and perfect.  Or not.

I also don’t worry too much about whether or not I have enough information.  That’s something I’m going to address in the next draft.

When I prepared chapter 1 and my outline last week, my chapter was way too long.  This wasn’t a problem that I could correct by cutting a word here and a word there.  I had to eliminate entire paragraphs.  This meant less background information and fewer examples.

As I draft chapters 2 through 5, I’ve noticed that my word count is very close to perfect.  The reason that this worries me is that I should have to edit a paper draft to tighten things up.  This should be when I get rid of those extra words especially -ly adverbs or replacing a weak verb with two adverbs with a single strong verb.

I suspect that, as I worry about surpassing my word count yet again, I’m being too cautious.

I always have to add more information when I write the second draft.  That’s when I fill in the blanks — things that weren’t in my notes or that obviously need clarification with another example.  Instead of spending the time to do a great deal of research, I simply type a question or comment in CAPS and then highlight it.  When completing draft 2, I go back and do the research needed to fill these blanks in.  This time around I’ll be rereading each chapter and looking for places that the information isn’t dense enough.  I’ll add to any area that seems a bit weak.  Then I’ll cut to make it all fit.

I want to give my readers as much information as possible without overwhelming them.  As are so many things with writing, its a balancing act.  Here’s to leveling things out in the next draft!


December 13, 2016

Little Pickle Press Becomes March 4th

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:22 am
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Lm4-thumbnail5-2ittle Pickle Press recently announced a name change.  The new name?  March 4th.

Since the beginning, the mission of Little Pickle Press was to “create media that fosters kindness in young people and to do so in a manner congruent with that mission.”  Otherwise, to proceed in kindness and generosity of spirit to promote kindness and generosity of spirit.  Their hope is that this new name will reflect this.

Not that the name Little Pickle will entirely disappear.  It has been encorporated into one of the publisher’s three imprints.  These are LIttle Pickle Stories for ages 0-10, Big Dill Stories for ages 11-14, and Relish Stories for readers aged 15 years and older.

But why March 4th?  Because it is a declaration.  March 4th plans to meet the challenges facing our society by producing an increasing selection of stories and products that not only engage and entertain but also inspire the development of strong character.

You can check out the entire story here.

Guidelines on what they are looking for and how to submit your manuscript can be found here.



December 12, 2016

Comic Books in the Classroom

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:55 am
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lunar-landscape-804147_1920I’m a very visual person.  Because of this, I’ve always been a little surprised that I don’t like comic books and graphic novels more than I do.  My son believes its because I haven’t found the right graphic novels. “You like some of them a lot.”  And he’s right.  It either clicks with me or it doesn’t.

Oddly enough, I’m the same way with “regular” books.  I either like it or I don’t.  That said, I’m better at picking novels that I like I think in part because I know what genres I like — historic fiction, fantasy, science fiction, mysteries and thrillers/espionage.  I know just as well what I don’t like — romance and the vast majority of self-help.

I also grew up in a culture that didn’t encourage us to read comic books.  Sure, my grandparents bought me some but these were Scrooge McDuck and that sort of thing.  Comic books were fine until I became a strong reader and “outgrew” them.  Smart kids, after all, did not read comics.  If they did, you’d find comics in the classroom.

And I did, but only rarely.  Now and again some enterprising teacher would bring in a handful of classic comic books.  I think that they brought these in for the reluctant readers.  I may not have been reluctant but I loved these comics.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Gene Yang recorded a really interesting TED Talk (see below) on comic books.  He was a teacher for almost 20 years.  He gave lectures (no, really!).  He left video lectures when he knew he was going to have a sub.  His students pointed out just how boring these videos were.  But he also drew comic lectures and these went over incredibly well.  Why? They presented a self-paced visual learning opportunity.  His students could read as quickly or slowly as they needed to read to absorb the information.

He also discussed how comic books went from being popular with teachers to being kept out of most classrooms.  Once again, sloppy research is to blame.  His lecture is only about 10 minutes long so take the time to watch it and learn about how comic books can help young readers learn.


December 9, 2016

The Anna Dewdney Read Together Award

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:23 am
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When I heard in September that Anna Dewdney, author of Llama Llama,  had died of cancer, it really rocked me back.  Not only were we the same age, but my mother-in-law had given my son one of Dewdney’s books along with a recording.  Although she lived in another city, she wanted her grandson to hear her reading to him.  I’d have been touched even if I wasn’t an author.

In celebration of all the young readers Dewdney reached, Penguin Young Readers, the Children’s Book Council, and the Every Child a Reader program have established a prize in her honor. Each year, the Anna Dewdney Read Together Award will be given to a US picture book published in the last five years. Otherwise, this first award will be given to a book published between 2011 and 2016.  The book must be an outstanding read-aloud that encourages compassion and empathy.  Compassion and empathy — how cool is that?

If you are a librarian, teacher, booksellers, parents, caregivers, or children’s book bloggers aged 18 or older, you can submit up to five read-together picture books by February 5, 2017.  The finalists, the five books with the most nominations, will be announced during Children’s Book Week in May.  For more on the award, see the article here.

December 8, 2016

Best Books: Who Votes for What?

goodreads-best-books-2016Whenever someone announces book awards or puts out a best books list, I click.  Why?  Because I’m always interested by the differences in what people choose.  ALA awards go to literary books with broad appeal.  The National Book Awards go to books with headline appeal.  I’m still getting a feel for the books chosen by my fellow Goodreads members.  The Goodreads Choice Awards for 2016 were announced yesterday.  You can find the entire listing here. There were four juvenile cateogories.

The best picture book award went to Mo Willems’ The Thank You Book.  I haven’t read this one yet but it is on my request list at the library.  In spite of this, I have to admit heaving a sigh at this one.  Early reader.  Unless I am sadly mistaken, this is an early reader as are the other Elephant and Piggie books.  Sigh.  Sigh.  Again, sigh.  I’ve read some of the other books this one beat and I LOVED Sherman Alexie’s Thunder Boy Jr.  Maybe you have to be a writer, teacher or librarian to “get” the difference between a picture book and an early reader.  Ah, well.

The best middle grade and children’s book award went to Rick Riordan’s The Hidden Oracle.  Seriously, how many series does this man have?  Another request for the library.  I have read his Hammer of Thor which was a runner-up on the list.  Although I recognized several of the others, I haven’t read them.  Yep, more requests will be made.

The award for YA sf/f went to Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury.  Again, I’m requesting it.  I saw she had another book on the list as well.  Obviously this is an author I should be reading. I adored Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven King (LOVED!) but am not familiar with the vast majority of books on this list.

Ruta Sepetys won YA fiction with Salt to the Sea.  I know her  name but haven’t read this book yet.  Again, several of the books look familiar, one is on my library request list, but I don’t have it yet.

The thing that was most interesting to me about these books is that the lists contain many titles that are not getting the industry buzz.  Yet they are the ones that readers are voting for and loving.  Definitely something to think about as you consider which books to read next.  Do you want to click with librarians?  Read ALA titles.  With book sellers and reviewers?  Consider National Book Award winners.  Readers?  Turn to the Good Reads awards.  Me, I’ll be reading a bit here and a bit there, but I suspect more from Goodreads than the others.


December 7, 2016

Rewriting: Working from my Editor’s comments

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:06 am
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wondering-and-wanderingAbout two weeks ago, I got a rewrite request from an editor.  She had some comments and would be willing to take another look at my manuscript.  I sent out a note saying I would make the changes and then put it off.

In part, that was intentional.  I’m the kind of person who needs to let these things gel a bit.  It makes the rewrite that much easier.

But it wasn’t entirely intentional.  I also landed a contract with the first chapter and outline due tomorrow.  Obviously, that has been my first priority.  I also got sick.  Let’s just say that sneezing etc can be very time-consuming and leave it at that.

Today I set about making the changes. Part of the reason that I like to let things sit is because it gives me time to really consider the editor’s comments.  If I don’t, I make the changes in the simplest, most straightforward way possible.  There’s nothing wrong with that but these kinds of changes often feel cosmetic and superficial.

When I take the time to think about the changes, I can think of how they would ripple throughout the story.  I can consider what existing elements I can pull into these new sections to make them appear original.  My first set of changes were amended to eliminate one of the new settings.  Why?  Because it seemed to spread things out too much.  The rewrite led me to do a bit of research on traditional house design.  My first set of changes sent the characters in one direction and then another.  It terms of illustration and overall story flow, it seemed like a single path would be more easily understood.  I just needed to lengthen the path.

Their journey which wanders a bit more than before led to wondering between the characters.  Why do you think this?  Because of that?  This in turn made the characters seem more 3-D.

I’m going to let the story sit again and take it to my critique group before it send it back in.  I’m hoping that taking a bit more time with it will enable me to complete a manuscript that is whole and hearty and able to please young readers and editors alike.



December 6, 2016

Where Should You Focus: Marketing or Craft?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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focusWhere should you be focusing your energies and time as a writer?  Should you be working on craft or marketing?

I’m going to tell you right now, my answer is not the popular one.  My favorite retreats and conference sessions have always been those led by my fellow writers and illustrators. I want to hear how other people work.  What takes them from fizzy new idea to finished manuscript?  How do they focus their rewrites?

For those of you who don’t know, for 10 years I was Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Regional Advisor for Missouri.  That means that I was responsible for sending out the quarterly newsletter and scheduling writing events.  At the end of an event, I would pass out a questionnaire.  What did you think of today and what do you want to see tomorrow?  Even if they loved learning about poetry from Constance Levy or mystery writing from Vicki Erwin, they also wanted to see the same things at future events.  Agents and editors.  They wanted access to markets. Craft might have been what they needed but it isn’t what they wanted.

And to a point, I see the logic in this.  Even if you write like Hemingway, you need to do who wants to publish Hemingway.

But the problem is that you first need to learn to write like Hemingway.  Really.  You need to study your craft. Here are five tips for my fellow craft hungry writers.

Read.  Read works that are similar to what you want to write and those that are not.  What do these writers do well?  Study those techniques.  What doesn’t quite work?  Take a hard look a these pieces too and figure out what you would do differently.

Study how-tos.  Check out some of the best how-tos on writing.  Everyone has their favorites and mine include Writing Picture Books, Writing Metrical Poetry, The Plot Whisperer, The Emotion Thesaurus, and Novel Metamorphosis. It doesn’t do any good to just gather such books.  Read them. Apply the techniques. If they include exercises, do them.

Write.  The only way to figure out if you’ve learned anything is to write.  Writing is a practice intensive vocation.  Write, write and write some more.  You’ll either figure out that you don’t really like to do it or that you are getting better.

Rewrite.  It doesn’t do any good to write one story after another.  Although some first drafts are really good, none are perfect.  You have to learn to compare the story you intended to create with the one you got down on paper.  Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis is a great tool for accomplishing this.

Rinse, lather, repeat.  That’s my quirky way of telling you that step #5 is to keep doing steps 1 through 4 again and again and again.  When you’ve honed your craft, you’ll actually be ready to take advantage of any market news that comes your way.  Until then?  You may have a market, but you won’t have a market worthy manuscript.


December 5, 2016

Rough Draft: Word Count and Reading Level

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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wordpress-923188_1920I have a new contract with Red Line.  This one isn’t for  Abdo but Norwood Press.  The reading level is lower and the book is much shorter than the ones that I write for Abdo.  The elements present in each chapter are also somewhat different.  This means that I’m going to have to make adjustments to how I normally write.  But that’s all part of the business so I’m okay with that.

That said, it is going to be a fairly serious adjustment.  I’ve gotten used to what Abdo wants and can hit close to the word count and the reading level with little adjustment.

So far I have just over half of chapter 1 written for the Norwood Press book.  My first drafts are always something of a hot mess but that’s okay.  I can’t fix it until I have it down.

Each chapter needs to be something like 750 words total.  With slightly over half of the chapter drafted, I have something like 600 words. My first section is WAY too long.  That’s okay.  I’ll cut it back once I have a full draft of the chapter.  First I’ll smooth things out.  Then I’ll print the chapter out and start cutting.  Cutting is always easiest on a hard copy.

Just for fun, I checked the reading level. It is supposed to be 5.5 – 7.0.  I had forgotten so that it could run as high as 7.0 so I panicked a bit when the ATOS test gave it 7.3.  I prefer to be closer to the middle of the range so I’ll play with that once I have the word count right.

Making it shorter may fix part of the reading level issue.  Shorter sentences tend to have a lower reading level.  I’ll also look for complex sentences and simplify them.  Then I’ll take a hard look at the vocabulary.  Some of it I can’t help.  Unfortunately, I have to include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Too bad it wasn’t Yale.

Fortunately, I like playing with this sort of thing.  For me, it’s a game to hone my work to fit a series and an audience with a particular reading level.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish blowing my word count on this chapter so that I can begin fixing it.


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