Hot Markets? How to tell if its worth your time

I read a lot of industry news. I want to see who is publishing what and where my own work might fit into the market.  Several newsletters and blogs I read recommend hot markets “Check these markets out for the opportunity to make a sale.”

But not all “hot markets are created equal.”  Some definitely offer good opportunities for sales.  Others, not so much.  Here is some of what i look for when I’m studying one of these markets.

They are actively acquiring.  It seems obvious but a market can only be “hot” and a possibility if they are buying. If not, it might be a great resource for Sue the Reader but Sue the Writer needs to go elsewhere.

They are a paying market.  Whether you are a published writer or a money-earning professional, great opportunities to publish that offer you exposure but no pay are really only so-so opportunities.  If it is for a cause or organization that you believe in, feel free to donate your time and talent.  Otherwise, think long and hard about giving your work away.

They are acquiring more than a handful of pieces a year.  Recently, I looked into a new-to-me magazine that purchased up to 3 pieces every six months or so.  If I had a manuscript that was a perfect fit, I might have considered it, but I still wouldn’t call it a hot market.  Why?  Because the maximum number of pieces they acquire/year from freelancers is six.  This may be a viable market but hot?  No. I’d call it tepid.

I’m not saying that you should ignore a small market.  But when you see a market listed in a blog, newsletter or magazine, you are going to be competing against everyone else who also saw it listed.  If you have something that is perfect it, send it.  If not, don’t make this market a priority.  Instead, look for one that might publish something you have ready to pitch or submit.


Character Emotion: Emotion Ranges from a Little to a Lot

Character emotion is one of the first things that writers learn to show vs tell.  An angry character yells and stomps.  A sad character cries.  A happy character dances for joy.

But emotions aren’t binary, either on or off.  Sometimes emotions are strongly felt.  Other times they are more subtle.  Part of showing character emotions is learning to express where on a scale of one to ten your character is experiencing this particular emotion. Let’s take satisfaction as an example.  Your character needs to drop something into the mail.  Sealed letter in hand, she hurries to the front door to see the mail carrier stepping up on the porch.  She’s made it.  It’s a small victory so she simply nods her head to herself.  Job well done.

At lunch, she is discussing getting her scholarship application sent out with a friend.  This friend is certain she did it wrong.  “You should have e-mailed it.”  Your character is sure she is right and she’s more than a little tired of this particular friend second guessing everything she does.  While her friend is texting with her latest boyfriend, your character quickly pulls up the information about the scholarship on her phone.  Questions may be e-mailed in but all applications must arrive via snail mail.  She slides her phone across the table and gives a jazz hand salute.  “Ta da! I told you it had to be mailed in.”

Stronger emotion, stronger reaction.

A month later, she’s listening to messages on her phone before she walks to class.  “We’re pleased to inform you that you’ve been selected to receive a full scholarship to state university.”  A full scholarship!  She shrieks, jumps up and down and throws her arms around a passing student – a victory of this magnitude will play out bigger than getting to the mail box before the mailman.

When you are thinking about how to share your character’s emotion, consider not only the emotion but how strongly it is felt.  Will this call for a small, medium or large reaction?


Why Elephant and Piggie Are Top Notch Early Readers

Earlier this week, I read an article by Jodie Rodriguez about the Elephant and Piggie series. Rodriguez wasn’t happy with her children learning to read.  She wanted them to be fluent without the stumbles and the starts and stops.  She wanted them to grasp what they were reading.  As I read her piece, I realized I was reading about what makes a top-notch beginning reader.

  1. Dialogue dependent.  Much of the text in the Elephant and Piggie books comes in the form of dialogue.  There’s just enough to pull readers into the story but not so much per page that they have to spend too much time decoding unknown words.
  2. Pictoral support.  In a picture book, the illustrations expand on the story.  In an early reader, they help the reader decipher various words. The illustrations provide visual cues. Yes, this is something that the publisher has to do but knowing this is part of an early reader can help you craft your story.
  3.  Performance.  Elephant and Piggie can be acted out.  When a reader gets stuck and another reader acts out the text, inflection and emotion can help identify the tricky word.

What does it take to create a story that can be performed?  Actions are verbs.  In a story that benefits from being acted out the verbs are active.  WHen someone gets stuck, another reader has something clear to act out. The text doesn’t say Rose solved the problem. Instead it briefly says what Rose did.

As the author, you also need to limit the number of words you use to create your story.  Words that have been decoded are old friends.  The reader knows these words.  Words that are unfamiliar create an ongoing struggle.  Yes, you want the reader to expand their vocabulary but you want them to stick with the book until the end.

Elephant and Piggie does all of this and more.  One of my favorite characteristics is that no matter how silly and “out there” these two characters are they are obviously real children.  They do real child things.  They express real child emotions.  All of this adds together to create a story that pulls young readers in. As they read these books, young readers build the confidence they need to grow into the next stage of their reading experience.


Author’s Copies: Fossils, Fossils and more Fossils

Saturday, we came home from bald eagle watching to find a package on the porch.  We were expecting a book for the teen’s birthday but this was way too heavy.  It turned out to be not one book but four – my author’s copies, 2 each, of Evolution of Reptiles and Evolution of Mammals.

When my editor contacted me to see if I wanted to write for this series, for me it wasn’t a question of if. Instead it was a question of how many will you let me do.  Behind me in the photo are some of our many fossils.

Way back when the teen was in first grade or so, he took a geology and fossils class at the community college he is now attending.  Every other kid walked out of class one day carrying a fossil the size of a coaster.  Maybe the size of a saucer.  Not my kid.  He came out lugging this fossil (top right).  That’s a cookbook stand that it is sitting on.  It is about a foot across.  When Jr came out carrying this, the professor was right behind him.  “He could pick something smaller if this one’s not okay.”  That was his first real fossil.

Then they went on a hunt through a creek bed.  He managed to fall, soaking himself and coating himself in mud, shoulders to ankles.  But he came out of it with two fossils.  He took the class again and found two more.  All in all, he has an ammonite, a trilobite (both bottom left), a mastodon tooth and part of a turtle shell (both bottom right).

Me? I used to go fossil hunting with my dad and grandad.  I have a wine glass full of crinoids fossils.

And I needed this love of the topic because these were two really hard books to write.  So much new information has been found since I was in college.  Not that I’m complaining.  Working on these books gave me a great opportunity to update my own knowledge.

Now I’m off to finish working on a proposal for a wildlife series.  These two books will help show the editor my enthusiasm for the project.



World Read Aloud Day

For 2019, World Read Aloud Day is February 1. That’s one week from today.  Whether you are an author, a teacher or just someone who loves books, reading matters.  LitWorld sponsors this global event and gathered statistics on why reading matters.

  • Statistics gathered in 2016 show that 758 million adults – two thirds of them women – lack basic reading and writing skills.
  • The poorly-literate are less likely to participate in democratic processes. Because of this, they have fewer chances to  exercise their civil rights.
  • Illiterate people earn 30-42% less than the literate.

So what can book lovers do to celebrate literature?

  • Take your children to a reading event at the local library.
  • If there isn’t an event scheduled, find a comfy spot in the children’s section and sit down to share a book aloud.  No, you can’t be too loud but that’s okay.
  • Read at a Scout or Youth meeting.
  • If your child is in school, ask if you can come share a short story with the children.
  • Take photos or videos of your children or yourself reading. Share the images on social media with the tag #WorldReadAloudDay.  Don’t want pictures of your children on social media?  Take photos that show the book covers instead of their faces.

LitWorld has a host of ideas including a list of books around certain themes. Check out all they have to offer here and make plans to read aloud next Friday.  Hopefully, with a little help, I’ll have a video to share.


Branding: Do You Have One? Do You Need One?

Does an author need to have a brand?  I’ve always been hesitant to say yes an author needs a brand.  Part of this is because I write so many things.  Although all of my books are nonfiction, the audience ranges from third grade to high school. I’m also writing some fiction. How can a range of books this diverse fit within a single brand?

Hint:  I now see that an author needs a brand but that is only because my understanding has grown.

At first, I understood brand in terms of graphics.  Your site, your Twitter account, your Facebook author page should all have a single look.  From colors to font and photo, a single look helps a reader know that they’ve found you.

Its part of the reason that series have a distinct look.  If you are a cozy reader, you will probably recognize this cover.  When I first saw it, the description didn’t sink with the cover.  Weddings?  What do weddings have to do with a Flavia de Luce novel?  But that’s just how good that cover design is.  It immediately says Flavia de Luce.

If you are a Flavia de Luce reader, you know the brand. She’s smart and sassy and willing to break the rules to get to the bottom of things.  She’s self-assured to the point of being abrasive and also incredibly smart.  Science and chemistry will play a part in solving this mystery.

That’s the series brand.  It is the expectations that readers bring to the series.  It is the emotional response.  It is much more than the look of the series.

And because of that I now realize that as long as I deliver the same things to my readers, whether they are 9 or 19, all of my books can fall under one brand.  The key is to figure out exactly what I want that brand to be.  Making sure my social media all has the same look?  Some people might find that tedious but its the kind of graphic challenge I’ve always enjoyed.  And it too can become a very small part of my brand.



A Writing Plan: Customization is Key

The key is to find what works for you.

Monday one of the son’s friends found me in the kitchen. He’s a college freshman who, like many freshman, finds himself adjusting his life plans.  In spite of the common knowledge that boys don’t read and boys especially don’t read fiction, he’s an avid reader who loves teen fiction.  We spend some time talking writing and his agony trying to work writing in around college.

Him: I know you’re supposed to write every day but when I get home from work I’m spent.  I can’t write for an hour.

Me: So write for fifteen minutes.

Him: But I can’t get much done in fifteen minutes.

Me (shrug):  You have to find what works for you.

Oh the joys of being new to the trenches and having the well-meaning tell you exactly how you should do it.  Write first thing in the morning.  Keep your butt in the chair no matter what.  Don’t write without an outline. Slap down a first draft – it doesn’t matter how bad it is.

We spent time discussing plotting vs pantsing.  He’s a plotter.  I’m a pantser who tries to plot.

Him:  If I know where I’m going, how it will end, I can craft the perfect opening.

Me:  I have to write to where I’m going and then come back and write the opening.

Him: So my way won’t work?

Me:  Not for me but that doesn’t matter.

Him: What do you mean it doesn’t matter.  You’ve got books and I don’t.

Sigh.  This isn’t a high fantasy adventure with a keep full of gold and one treacherous way in and only one treacherous way in.  There are as many ways to work as there are writers.  Your writing plan needs to be customized to suit you.  And the funniest part?  What works for you  today probably won’t be what works tomorrow.  And that’s okay.

Customization is key.  That’s what makes it your writing plan for where you are now.  Explore.  Fiddle.  Improvise.  And find what works for you. That is, after all, what we writers do.


Steady Ahead: Maintaining POV

Why you have to keep track of who is telling your story.

When I say that I’m in an adult book club, I don’t mean racy adult.  I mean grown up book as opposed to the books for children and teens that I write.  Without these ladies, I might go months and never lay eyes on a grown up book.  Not that I’m 100% happy with all of them.

I’m not going to say which one we are currently reading, because I won’t pan another author’s book.  Someone else might just love it.  But this book was getting on my last nerve.  It seemed like every other page, the author switched point of view (POV).  One of the other group members messaged me a few days ago telling me that she was having the same problem so I know it isn’t just me.  The POV shifts are annoying.

Point of view is the view from which you are telling the story.  If you’re not sure what that means, think of it as who is holding the camera.  If you are telling the story from the point of view of your main character, your reader will get the entire story, including thoughts and feelings, from the perspective of this character.  This can be done either through a third person telling (Mark couldn’t believe how hot it was when he stepped outside) or first person (I couldn’t believe how hot it was when I stepped outside).

One of the hardest things to learn in writing is not to shift points of view.  You do that when you are merrily writing the story from Mark’s point of view but then tell us something that only Atticus knows or something Atticus has just observed.

“Wait!” you may be thinking. “Isn’t that just third person omniscient?”  Third person omniscient POV means that the reader knows everyone’s thoughts and feelings from page one until the last page.  They don’t hear the story from Mark’s point of view until page 10 and then bounce over to Atticus from pages 11 to 23 only to then switch back to Mark or maybe to Mabel.

All of this bouncing around was just annoying . . . until I switched to the audio book.  In audio, I almost didn’t notice it.  I’m really not sure what that means but it is something I observed.

Be conscious of which POV you are writing.  And keep it consistent.  A frustrated reader is bound to become someone else’s reader.


Source Bias: What to Use and What to Lose

Research, accuracy and source bias has been on my mind a lot the last few days, and not surprisingly it started with a news story.  This particular story was the one about Nathan Phillips and a group of students from Covington Catholic High School.

One narrative has a group of white male highschool students mocking and trying to intimidate an Omaha elder.

In another, the elder saw tension building between the high schoolers and a religious group.  He and his people encircled the students, praying and drumming only to be mocked.

Another narrative blames it all on Black Muslims.

In yet another, Phillips was clearly trying to intimidate the high schoolers.

The problem in researching anything like this is understanding source bias. Simply put, bias is how the author thinks about the topic.  What beliefs color this perception?  What is his goal in writing the piece? All potential source materials have bias because they are created by people and people have bias.  The key here is to identify the bias found in a particular source and determine whether or not it will get in the way of accuracy.

I had the audacity to challenge a source posted by a friend of my husband.  “That’s just because it isn’t a liberal blogger.”

In all truth, I’m suspicious of liberal sources where this story is concerned.  They are going to be inclined to make the people wearing Trump hats look bad.  But I’m also suspicious of conservative sources.  See the Black Muslim comment.

The key is to find sources that are willing to make both sides look less than perfect.  For that, look at the New York Times.

Just about any topic can suffer from “bias issues.” The key is in knowing the limits to which you can trust a source.

A missionary in the early 19th century South Pacific, may have had some valuable insight into the lives of the islanders, but his observations were filtered through the lens of someone who journeyed to their island home to “save them” from their flawed state of being.

Two warring parties cannot and should not be expected to give unbiased or accurate information about each other.

Economic level, education, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, and much, much more play into bias. By being aware of the possible biases of your sources, you’ll have a better idea of what facts to take at face value and which to take extra steps to verify.


Mary Oliver: RIP

Mary Oliver.  Even a non-poet like myself knows Oliver’s name. For those of you who may not have heard, Oliver died yesterday from lymphoma.

Personally, I always appreciated the straightforward truth of her poems, many of which were set in the natural world.  Even when I didn’t think I got poetry, I knew that even someone with a linear, logical mind like mine could appreciate her work.

One of the things that I appreciated most about Oliver is that she didn’t forget about the people who just weren’t sure they understood poetry.  In fact, she wrote a book to help them out.  A Poetry Handbook:  Prose guide to understanding and writing poetry was published in 1994 and reissued in 2015 by Harcourt.  That’s one of the books that I requested yesterday from the library. Maybe it’s just me, but I often feel the need to check out a book by an author when I hear that they have died.

In addition to poetry and books about poetry, Oliver also wrote essays.  Like her poems, her essays also celebrate nature.  She also wrote about others who have written of nature – Wordsworth, Shelley, Poe and Frost.

Not that Oliver’s work was without critics.  Feminists especially thought that Oliver simplified the relationship between women and nature. I can read that they felt Oliver’s attitudes put women at risk and somehow disempower women.  I can repeat it but I don’t get it.

Me?  I think she found herself and her own power in the natural world where she found freedom and a connection with something larger than herself.  I think she invited others, readers and writers, to do likewise.  If you don’t, you don’t.  Oliver isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but she definitely spoke to me and encouraged me to try my hand at poetry.