One Writer’s Journey

November 15, 2018

Pitching Your Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:30 am
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One of the Library.con Live! sessions that I’ve watched was a keynote with author Mariko Tamaki. If her name looks familiar, that isn’t surprising.  She is the author of the New York Times bestseller This One Summer. This particular graphic novel won Printz and Caldecott Honors in 2015 and received the Eisner for Best Graphic Album.

Tamaki explained that more often than not you pitch a graphic novel before you write it.  That means that you have to be able to outline the whole thing (Act 1, Scene 1, Scene 2, etc.) and then follow through.  Part of this means knowing the basics of your story – who, what, where, when and why.

For me, the most interesting aspect was listening to her talk about the why.  Not only do you need to know why things happen in your story, you need to know why you are the author to write it and why now.  This isn’t new advice but Tamaki offered the best explanation I’ve ever heard.

When you pitch your story, you need to be able to tell the potential editor why you and why now.  Why now is a matter of theme.  What is it that makes your story relevent to readers today?  Why do they need your story?

This, obviously, pulls in you.  Why are you the one writer who should write this?  As Tamaki explained, we each pull along our little red wagon behind is.  It is full of all the stuff we bring along to the job.  It can be our interests or our experiences but it is what we bring that will help us write this particular story.

Tamaki also spoke on superpowers and making them relevent to the character.  To see this 30 minute session, register for LibraryCon Live! hereand scroll through the schedule to the lunch time keynote.



November 14, 2018

Free Online Conference

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:50 am

Are you interested in writing graphic novels, science fiction or fantasy?  Then check out LibraryCon Live! You can register here.

If you are like me, a lot of free webinar’s just end up being annoying.  You sign up excited to learn about plot or picture books or magazine writing but all you get is an hour-long ad for someone’s paid course on plot, picture books, or magazine writing. I’ve attended two events so far and at least in my experience Library Journal and School Library Journal events are not like that.

The markets for these events are libraries and librarians.  The editors, authors and illustrators who speak want their books to end up in libraries.  So in that sense they are selling their work but they do it by discussing their work, how what they’ve done relates to the larger body of work, and their creative process.

This event took place on November 7 but the sessions were recorded and archived so you can still register and watch whatever appeals to you.  There is also so much material that you can download – graphic novels, graphic novel samples, catalogs, slides from the talks, discussion guides, teacher’s guides and more.

Sessions include:

A keynote with Victor LaValle, author of Destroyer (BOOM! Studios)

A panel, Women Creators in the Lead with Karen Berger (Editor, Berger Books/Dark Horse), Gwenda Bond (author Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds/Del Rey), Amy Chu (author, Summit/Lion Forge), and
Dana Simpson (author, Phoebe and Her Unicorn/Andrews McMeel)

A keynote with Mariko Tamaki (author Supergirl: Being Super and Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass/DC, Abrams)

A panel, Hosting Your Own Comic Con-style Library Event

A panel, Children’s and YA, with Greg Neri (author, Grand Theft Horse/Lee & Low), Chad Sell (author, Cardboard Kingdom/Random House Children’s Books), Tui Sutherland (Wings of Fire/Scholastic), and Mark Tatulli (author, Short & Skinny/Little, Brown)

A panel, Fan Faves, with Jo Whittemore (author, Supergirl: Age of Atlantis/Abrams), Jeremy Whitley (author, Princeless/Diamond), and F.C. Yee (author, The Rise of Kyoshi/Abrams)

A keynote with Margie Stohl (author, The Life of Captain Marvel/Marvel)

Still not sold? There are also probably 18 (I’m not counting), author’s sessions.  Some of these are video. Some were texts.  All are available for download.  At a glance, I see sessions with Amy Chu and Ryan North (author, Squirrel Girl).

I’ve only watched 3 sessions so far and can’t believe how much I’ve learned.  Definitely worthwhile and I will be looking for more LJ and SLJ conferences and webinars.


November 13, 2018

RIP Stan Lee

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:20 am
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Came back to my desk after lunch on Monday to see numerous posts on the death of Stan Lee.  Sadness.

Three years ago, my husband and I took the MOOC “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture.”  Led by the Smithsonian, it was offered through EdX and included guest lectures by Stan Lee.  Yes, I saved every single one of those lectures.

What impressed me the most was his overall can-do attitude.  When he started at Timely Comics, he was an assistant.  That meant he assisted pretty much everyone at everything.  He filled ink wells for the artists.  He got people lunch.  But he also took advantage of opportunities. He wrote the filler “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” which appeared in Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941).  This is where he first used Captain America’s shield as a ricocheting weapon.

By the 1950s he was writing a variety of comics including romance, Westerns, humor, science fiction, medieval adventure, horror, and suspense. When he got the chance to premier a line of superheroes, he introduced something never before seen, flawed heroes who were just a human as they were heroic.

If you get the chance to take the EdX class, I highly recommend it.  Even if you don’t plan to write a graphic novel, this is a new way to think about literature.  Me?  I signed up for the Library Journal Conference all about science fiction, fantasy and graphic novels.  I’ll fill you in on that tomorrow.



November 12, 2018

Cover Reveal

I love it when I find the cover for one of my upcoming books online.  This time, lucky writer that I am, I have two titles in the same series.  Abdo Publishing will release Animal Evolution early in January.

For whatever reason, the cover for The Evolution of Mammals was posted about two weeks ago but I wanted to wait until the cover for The Evolution of Reptiles was also posted. I’ve been checking Amazon daily waiting. . . waiting . . . writers are not always known for their patience.

These were two of the most challenging books I’ve written.  Imagine trying to distill the evolution of reptiles as a whole down to 9 chapters.  In truth, that was much easier than doing the same thing for mammals.

For example, I really wanted to include a chapter on elephants.  But I simply could not find enough solid information for an entire chapter.

That said, between the two books I worked in so many incredible animals including cheetah, horses, horned lizards, sea turtles, tuatara, and much more.  I got to write about DNA, fossils, chemical studies, and early theories including Darwin’s theory of evolution.

I can’t wait for these two titles to arrive.  I know it will be a while but certainly this time I’ll manage to be patient.


November 9, 2018

Memoir: Defining What It Is

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:14 am
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Since I agreed to critique a memoir, I decided it would be a good idea to brush up on what exactly a memoir is.  My first question was how does a memoir differ from an autobiography.

An autobiography is birth to present (whenever it is written).  A memoir is a slice of that person’s life.

An autobiography is everything – historic events, significant experiences.  A memoir generally has a focus.  This focus might be a specific time period – the first time this person went to camp.  Or it might have a topical focus – the events that contributed to the author’s eating disorder.

An autobiography is all about fact and detail.  A memoir is driven more by emotion and experience.

Most often autobiographies are about famous people.  A memoir can be written by anyone with an experience to share.

And that is what is at the center of memoir.  The author has had an experience and reading about it will benefit the reader in some way.  Maybe it will give them hope.  Or it might teach them how to deal with a given situation.  It could show them that they are not alone in having to deal with the problem.

One of the most telling pieces of advice that I’ve seen is to remember that you are writing about a therapeutic experience.  Something about the experience helped you grow.  Emphasize what it was and how this worked out for you.  Writing as therapy?  Using your memoir to work through the death of a family member, loss of your business or an unexpected move?  That’s going to benefit you but you are writing for an audience.  Remember that or you are not likely to find a publisher.

Interestingly enough, several of the pieces that I read emphasized that a memoir is nonfiction.  Duh?  But they emphasized this for a specific reason.  When writing memoir, do not lie.  More than one author has created all kinds of controversy because they were caught lying in their memoir.  Don’t add yourself to that ignoble list.

Nonfiction.  Slice of life.  Offer your reader something of value. Tell the truth.  It sounds do-able enough until I start looking at all my friend has put into this.


November 8, 2018

Unreliable Narrators

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:52 am
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Yesterday I read a Writer’s Digest post about two truths and a lie. My own post has nothing to do with it but it is what led to my own post here.

When many of us write, we stick to the straight and narrow.  Our protagonists are honest and always tell the truth.  Unless they are talking to the antagonist.  Then, they might lie.  Maybe.  Our antagonists?  They lie like rugs.  After all, we reason, that’s what bad people do.

Strictly speaking, we all say something that isn’t true each and every day.  Sometimes its a lie.  Other times?  We’re just wrong.

And really good books mirror this.  I just finished reading The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor.

Hmm.  I’m thinking the rest of this post is probably a plot spoiler but you’ve been warned.

Before the story begin, a neighborhood boy dies when he falls from Mason’s tree fort.  The boy just happens to be Mason’s best friend.  This happened just over a year ago.  Mason’s learning disabilities make it hard for him to tell his story to the police.  He tries but the Lieutenant keeps interrupting.

The Lieutenant believes that he knows what happened.  This Truth that he has in his head, skews the investigation.

Mason tells the Lieutenant all that he remembers but he leaves out something that happened earlier in the day.  Without the experience of an adult, he doesn’t understand the importance of part of his story.  Not a lie, but a misunderstanding. Even the characters who lied end up being sympathetic.

Misunderstandings.  Assumptions.  Miscommunication.  All of these things can make your story both more real but also more interesting as your character works to unravel the misinformation to get to the truth.



November 7, 2018

Setting: Luring Readers In Step by Step

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:31 am
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Anyone who knows me knows that most of the time I’m reading one book and listening to another.  No, not at the same time.  Reading takes place in the evening.  And it is a print book.  The audio book is for when I’m rowing or doing handwork.  Rowing is a morning or afternoon activity.  Handwork can be any time of day but most often in the evening. And right now I’m critiquing two manuscripts as well.  That’s a lot of setting to keep straight.

Maybe it’s because I generally have more than one piece going, but I like distinctive settings and I love it when a writer knows how to draw you into that setting whether it is the Buttle apple orchard (The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle) or a small pet-friendly Virginia Town (Murder She Barked).

Wherever your story is set you need to introduce this setting to the reader.  It can be tempting to try to get this out-of-the-way with a gigantic info dump – paragraph after paragraph of important setting detail.  Important though these details may be, they tend to pull the reader out of the story.  What then would work?

One thing you can do is introduce your reader to the setting through the eyes of your character who is seeing it for the first time.  That’s what Krista Davis does in Murder She Barked. Holly hasn’t been back to this town for five long years and a lot has changed.  Wagtail is almost unrecognizable.  So we see it even as she sees it for the first time.

Or you can take your character from one side of the setting to the other.  That’s what Leslie Connor does in The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle. As Mason makes his way from place to place, he thinks about how great the orchard used to be.  He still loves it but a lot has changed in just a few years and Mason is a deep thinker.

Both of these approaches work because the author gives the reader setting details a few lines at a time, not a few paragraphs.  In this way, the setting is woven through the story and the reader has the time to really take it in.


November 6, 2018

What to Do When Someone Else Just Published Your Book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:48 am
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Have you ever had one of those “oh poop” moments when you open up an e-mail announcing a new book and think “Oh, no.  That’s the story I’m working on?”

There I was happily read blog posts when I popped open Susan Hawk’s blog and then I saw it.  “A Very Happy Publication Day for PENGUINAUT! by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Emma Yarlett.” I would love to say that my first thought was ‘what good news.’ Or ‘yay for Marcie and Emma.”  Or even ‘I love penguins.’

But I think it was something much more like ‘oh poop.’

You see I’ve been working on a penguin astronaut book.  Granted it has been on the back burner for a while.  My critique group was less than enthusiastic.  One person didn’t like that it was “unrealistic.”  Another pointed out that my language wasn’t “picture book” enough.  I knew it was going to take a lot of work so I set it aside for now.

And now this.

As long as it takes to publish a picture book, this one was in the works even as I drafted my idea.  I’m sure of that.  But what now?

First things first, I need to read this new book.  I need to see how like my idea it is.  I’m 90% certain that they are very different but I need to be sure.

Then I have to ask myself a very tough question.  Is there room in the market for two penguin astronaut books.  And now I’m assuming there are only two.  Mine and this one.  But what if another publisher has something in the works?  That is always a possibility.

I seriously doubt that there is room in the market for both books.  So do I just put mine aside?  Or do I try to rework it as something else?  A chapter book or an early reader is always a possibility.  But what about a graphic novel for younger readers?

I just don’t know.  First things first, I need to read the other book.  I’m waiting for it to arrive at my library.  In the meantime, I have a novel to work on as well as a series idea to put together.  But I can go it with the knowledge that penguin astronauts really are marketable even if I wasn’t quite first.



November 5, 2018

Highlights: Accepting Submissions

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:18 am
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All of you Highlights fans will be happy to know that the magazine is once again open for submissions.  That said, the guidelines are new so even if you knew the old guidelines you will have to study this new version.  You can find the updates guidelines here.

The thing that I like best is that they tell you what they need.  That way you don’t waste your time submitting mysteries with girl protagonists when right now they need boy protagonists.  And that humorous story about a boy who is in third grade?  Save it.  They need humorous stories with girl protags.

Me?  I’m thinking about submitting some STEM activities.  I miss activity writing and these are super short – 5 steps.

If you are interested in writing for other magazines in the Highlights family, click on the link back to the main list and you can find out what they need at Hello.  I’m afraid the news isn’t great.  They have most of what they need through 2019 and don’t have themes yet for 2020.  Still they will purchase and hang onto any pieces they simply can’t resist.

There are also details for High Five (crafts, recipes and activities should require minimal adult help) and Hidden Pictures.  Unfortunately submissions have not reopened on this last magazine simply because they have enough material to satisfy all current needs.

I know – it seems like bad news if you want to submit to Hello or Hidden Pictures.  But this way you can put your energy toward a project that has a chance of selling.  And, really, if you want to put your work into the hands of young readers that is much better than submitting something that they simply will not buy at this time.

Click through and read the guidelines.  Then brainstorm ideas.  They do need work and now you have a much better chance of sending what they are currently buying.



November 2, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Finding Comp Titles

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:13 am
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This is a topic that I go over with my students.  My next session of Writing Nonfiction for Children and Teens starts November 12th.

Before we discuss what you can do towards this end in five minutes, it helps to understand what comp titles are and why they matter.  Comp titles, or comparison titles, are published books that are similar to your own. They should be the same reading level and genre – middle grade mysteries for middle grade mysteries, nonfiction preschool picture books for nonfiction preschool picture books.

They are a tool that you use to pitch your own book.  They show you have studied the market and have some idea which readers would also like your books.

Here are three things to do in five minutes:

  1.  List Pertinent Facts. Before you start looking for comp titles, make a list of the pertinent facts about your book.  These might include reading level, audience age, type of book (picture book vs chapter book), fiction or nonfiction, and genre if there is one.
  2. What Can You Highlight?  What is it about your book that you want to highlight in this comparison?  It might be that your book is funny.  Or it is school story or a family story.  Maybe it is theme – books about self-discovery.  Or it could be the audience – toddler books.  It could even be the format, the tone, the voice or anything else.  Make a list.
  3. What Sells?  Once you have listed what you could highlight, consider which of these things is likely to sell.  After all, that is what you are trying to do, sell your book.

Once you have some idea what will help sell your book, start looking for comparable titles.  Remember that you don’t want to choose blockbuster books.  While we all hope to be the next Rowling or Seuss it seems a bit over-the-top to make that claim to a potential agent.  Once you have found two or three titles, you are ready to roll.

My manuscript, The potato Salad Police, will appeal to audiences who adore Patrick’s Pasta Patrol…


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