3 Reasons to Sign Up for the Middle Grade Magic Virtual Summit

If you are interested in writing for middle graders, check out Middle Grade Magic, an event put on by School Library Journal.  Can’t attend on April 8, 2020?  Not a worry because the sessions are recorded and you can watch them later.  I spotted sessions on writing humor, writing stories about friends and friendship, and using mythology to help write fantasy.  So that’s reason #1 to sign up.

Great Sessions.  Panels of authors as well as librarians share their expertise on these topics and more including Family Ties in middle grade books as well as library programming for middle graders.  Learning about programming is a great way to improve your own author events. Me?  I want to learn all about escape rooms.

Equally Great Speakers.  Not sold on the topics?  Then take a look at the speakers.  Personally, I’m eager to hear Linda Sue Park speak.  She is the final keynote.  I also want to hear editor and author Andrea Davis Pinkney.  Why haven’t you signed up yet?

Cost.  This event is absolutely free.  Absolutely?  Yep. There are no hidden costs like some events that get you to sign up only to discover that to access the full program you have to sign up for a class that costs $597.   You also aren’t going to have any travel expenses although if you want to use Door Dash to order food in no one can stop you.

The date for this even is on a Wednesday which is one of my busiest days but that’s okay.  I’ll watch the videos later on while walking on my treadmill.  The authors and librarians who speak at SLJ events are excited about books and reading that their enthusiasm rubs off.  Why not benefit from this excitement?  You may hear something that sparks an idea or solves a problem in your current WIP.


3 Ways to Get Creative with Your Book Marketing

Recently I saw a post, a know not where, that listed the four types of book events you can do.  An author signing.  A group signing.  A workshop.  A school visit.  I looked at that and thought, “There has to be more.”  And there are.

Creative Venues.  This weekend fellow Business of the Book speaker Dan Killeen advised us to get creative when coming up with venues for a book event. He’s sold books as fantasy conventions and even the St. Patrick’s Day parade.   Other possibilities include nature centers, historic sites, and animal rehab centers.  Think of locations that might be willing to let you set up a table.

Unique Holidays.  Then I saw a Flashlight Press add that discussed holidays throughout March and their books that tie into those days including World Sleep Day and Pack Your Lunch Day.  I wondered what other oddball holidays I might be able to find.  A quick Google search led me to Holiday Insights where I discovered that March is both National Celery Month and National Frozen Food Month.  Week long celebrations added National Bubble Week to my list.  And then I spotted National Pig Day and Middle Name Pride Day.  This could get interesting fast!

What’s In It For Me.  Another Business of the Book Speaker, Tamara Grantham, discussed making sure that every contact you make with your reader is clear about one thing – what is in it for them.  Give aways and freebies don’t have to focus on tangible items.  You can also make PDFs of art available.  Or MP3 files of original music or poetry you read aloud. You’re a creative professional.  Use it to market your book!

Go beyond the ho hum and the ordinary to draw in not only your readers but also the curious who may not know yet what you are all about.


5 Reasons to Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)

Last weekend, I spoke at a day long workshop put on by the Kansas-Missouri Region of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  Way back when, I was the regional advisor for what was then only the Missouri Region. Although I’m still active, I don’t make it to many events but this one really reminded me why it is such a great organization.  If you want to write and/or illustrate children’s books, here is why you should seriously consider joining.

  1.  The Programming.  Whether it is a day long event, a three day workshop or a webinar, the programming is top notch.  Unlike many webinars I’ve taken part in, they offer value vs simply trying to sell you another, more costly service.
  2. The Professionalism.  Are you interested in traditional publishing?  Or self publishing?  Whichever it is, the purpose is to encourage professionalism and quality.  Just getting your name on something so you can sell it?  Not so much.
  3. Name Recognition.  If I were to tell an editor from one of the Big Five publishers that I belonged to the North County Writer’s Guild (I made that up), they would be unimpressed.  Editors have actually commented that they pay attention when they see SCBWI.
  4. Financial Aid.  Making a living at this business takes time and effort.  But the SCBWI wants to help you have the time to put in that effort to perfect your craft.  They offer a wide variety of grants.
  5. Contacts.  Networking is vital in today’s international marketplace.  One of the best ways I have found to learn about new jobs and who wants what is to talk to my fellow writers.  That’s how I knew to apply at Red Line.

There are many writers organizations out there.  Time and time again, SCBWI has impressed me with what they have to offer.  Find an SCBWI event near you or sign up for a webinar and see what I mean.


3 Things You Need to Know about NASA’s Katherine Johnson

Feeling a little blue today after hearing the news that Katherine Johnson, formerly of NASA, died yesterday.  This 101 year-old math whiz was one of the Hidden Human Computers that Duchess and I wrote about in our book.  She was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Computers.  When Hidden Figures come out, Johnson was the only one of the three women featured in the film who was still alive.   These women were responsible for doing the calculations that got the Apollo 11 lander on the moon.  Here are three things you need to know about Katherine Johnson.

  1. Johnson also figured out how to calculate the parapolic path that Apollo 11 needed to follow.  She started with when and where they wanted the space craft to land and worked backwards.  Her calculations revealed when take off needed to occur to achieve the desired outcome.  No one else had done this before but to Johnson it was just another math problem to figure out.
  2. Final calculations for the Apollo 11 flight were done by a computer, the electronic kind.  But John Glenn didn’t trust it and wouldn’t prepare for launch until Johnson double checked all calculations.  That’s right.  He trusted her but not the computer.
  3. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Katherine Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  He said, “Katherine G. Johnson refused to be limited by society’s expectations of her gender and race while expanding the boundaries of humanity’s reach.”

The sun is set here so I would gaze up at the stars and spend some time thinking about Johnson but it isn’t possible tonight.  We’ve had rain off and on all day.  Maybe I’ll go find my dad’s slide rule.  Another interesting fact? I taught myself how to use it when we were writing the book so that we could explain it to our readers.


When Giving a Presentation, Keep This in Mind

It doesn’t matter if you are doing a school visit, speaking at a workshop, or entertaining the crowd at a literacy event there is one thing that you should keep in mind.  Preparation pays off.  And this should include a backup plan.

This weekend, I was the first speaker at the KS-MO workshop.  I haven’t spoken in front of a group in a while but I always get really nervous.  Really nervous.  Let’s just say that I have situational hypochondria.  I feel horrible the night before any event at which I speak.

So what do I do?  I prepare.

Although I don’t read my talk, I write it out more or less word for word.  Then I rehearse it.  Anything that was awkward or goofy, I redo. There were two sections this time that I had to really rework.  Then I rehearse it again.

The venue provided a laptop and projector.  So I prepared Powerpoint slides.  The second time I rehearsed, I clicked through the slides along with my talk.

Then I save the presentation on a thumb drive.  Then I e-mailed it to myself just in case the thumb drive failed.   But I also had a plan in place if, for whatever reason, technology was NOT available.

Jody Feldman, one of my fellow speakers, discussed school visits.  She said that she prints out her two most important slides.  She does classroom presentations and print outs aren’t ideal but the students can still see what she is talking about.

My slides enhanced my presentation but were not essential.  They simply included URLs and names so that people didn’t have to ask me to spell things out loud.  No one needs to watch me try to do that!

I got there early enough to plug in my drive and make sure I understood the clicker.  Don’t laugh.  It had four buttons.  That means I have a 25% chance of getting it wrong.

But the prep work and rehearsals paid off.  Not only did my bit go well, since I was first I was able to kick back and enjoy the rest of the day.


5 Reasons to Take Part in This Picture Book Challenge

Do you write picture books?  If so, you should sign up for the ReFoReMo challenge?

If you’ve never heard of it, this isn’t a picture book writing challenge.  It is a challenge all about studying picture books so that you can learn to write them.

Writing Picture Books Is Harder Than It Looks.  Most of us, at some time in our lives, have believed that writing a picture book sounds do-able.  They are so compact!  And so adorable!  Like a literary cup cake.  But then we try to write them and find out just how crazy difficult it is.  You are packing a full story into less than 500 words and leaving room for pictures.  How do you do it?

This Challenge Helps You Learn from Published Authors.  One of the best wasy to learn to write is to study how multi-published authors do it.  Throughout this challenge, authors like Heidi Stemple will tell you about various aspects of their writing.  And they will each give you numerous examples from the published books of other authors.

This Challenge Helps You Learn from Editors.  But it isn’t just authors who write the blog posts.  So do editors like Little Bee’s Courtney Fahey.  Want to know what an editor looks for?  Just read her post.

There’s a Scrumptious Readling List.  When I want to study published books to learn about a topic, I find myself having to ask.  What are good picture books to study rhyme?  What about setting?  Or voice?  The reading list for the challenge has already been released and there are well over 100 books for you to read.  Each blog post is accompanied by a numver of books.

With this Challenge, You Will Have Accountability.  It is easy to want to do things and then never get around to them.  I want to clean off my desk.  I wish my kitchen floor was clean.  I want to read and learn.  When I sign up for this challenge it is actually something I do.

Why not sign up here and see of yourself?


3 Problems to Fix when You Revise Fiction

Last week, I was reading Jane Friedman’s blog when I came across a post on rewriting. I’ve suspected for a while that two of these things were problems in my manuscript.  The third one?  She didn’t point this one out but I’m just as certain it needs to be fixed.

  1. Along for the Ride.  While working on my mystery, I noticed that my character spent quite a bit of time pointing out what was going on.  “Oh look, a dead body.”  “He seems suspicious.”  “Nine times out of ten, the victim knows the killer.”  Clara, my protagonist, is really good at narrating the action, but actually taking part or driving it in any way?  Not so much.  I already knew I needed to fix this.  Friedman calls it giving your character agency.  I need to make sure that her actions impact what happens next.
  2. Step by Step.  Speaking of what happens next, I need to make certain that Event A leads to Event B which leads to Event C and so on.  At the moment, it reads like a drew a random assortment of “plot cards” out of a deck and have yet to connect them in any meaningful way.
  3. Talk, Talk, Talk. While she doesn’t spend much time driving the plot, my character does spend a lot of time talking.  She and the secondary characters talk in the garden, around the kitchen table, at the diner, etc.  Hmm. Until I typed this up, I didn’t realize how many of these chatty scenes had to do with food in some way.  Friedman calls these “sitting and talking scenes.”  Her advice on how to fix them?  Cut as  many as you can and remember that actions speak louder than words.
The more fiction I write, the more about writing and rewriting fiction that I learn, the longer my revision checklist becomes.

The Number One Reason to Limit the Writing You Post

I am taking a Coursera class on Ancient Roman Art and Archaeology.  I love, Love, LOVE the lectures and have learned so much.  And, I’ve also come away from the class with several writing ideas.

As part of this class, we have to post essays and grade essays written by our fellow students.  I’ll admit, I don’t put my best work up there but several of the questions have involved things I would be interested in writing about professionally.  I’ve been really careful what I post, but also wondered if I was being paranoid.

Then today I clicked on the link to check the work of a fellow student.  As I read, I caught myself thinking that it sounded familiar.  It sounded an awful lot like my essay.  But this professor provides enough information that we don’t need to do tons of additional research to answer the questions.  That had to be it, right?

Finally I opened up my essay in another tab.  I read his.  I read mine.  I clicked back and forth between the two, scrolling down and reading bits here and there.

He had copied the first two sections of my essay.

Students in this course are from all over the world and I know that different cultures have different attitudes towards copying the work of others.  But in order to submit your work on Coursera, you have to check the box stating that you wrote this yourself.

I don’t know if anything will come of it but I turned him in.

At this point, I’ve read and scored something like 15 essays for this class.  Many of them were very well written and I’m wondering how many of these people have had their work copied.  I checked the discussion forum and there were several threads in the past but nothing recently.

There are so many classes you can take online.  And so many communities where you can post your work for critique. Now I’m wondering just how bit a problem plagiarism is.


3 Must-Haves for a Picture Book Biography

I’ve been reading a lot of picture books lately and one of my favorites has been Pies from Nowhere by Dee Romito.  It is the story of Georgia Gilmore who was part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Never heard of her?  That brings you have to have in a picture book biography. . .

An Untold Story. If you want to sell your work to a publisher, you have to find a story that hasn’t already been told.  That can be hard to do with a well-known figure like Martin Luther King Jr. because the book that you write will have to compete with those already on the market place.  Instead of writing about King, Romito wrote about Georgia Gilmore.

A Marketing Hook.  Especially if no one has heard of the subject of your biography, you are going to have to find a hook.  What is going to sell your book?  Romito solved this problem by choosing a civil rights story and a subject who knew and worked with King.  The publisher and bookstores alike will know how and when to market this book.

Kid Appeal. If you’ve found an untold story with a marketing hook and it doesn’t have kid appeal, you still have one more hurdle.  You need to find a way too hook young readers.  What about your story will appeal to them?  There’s a lot about this story that will pull young readers in.  Number one?  It involves keeping secrets.  Georgia helped hide the identities of the other women so that their jobs were not at risk.  Not only does this involve a secret, Georgia is heroic helping with the boycott at risk to herself.  Like Georgia, young readers will imagine themselves as heroes as well.

A top notch picture book biography is entertaiting as well as being a great learning tool.  But to make it to your young readers you first need to find an untold story that has a marketing hook and kid appeal.  Are you up to the challenge?


Two Essentials for a Break Out Book

In the blog post Three Reasons Why One Picture Book Is Not Enough, I mentioned the importance of finding the right break out manuscript.  The problem is that when your first book book, whether it is a novel or a picture book. comes out you probably don’t have name recognition.  This leads us to must have #1.

Your break out book has to have a marketing hook.  Once you have a reputation, people will buy your next book because it is your next book.  Until then, your book needs to have a marketing hook or something that will help it sell. Maybe it can be sold in association with an anniverary or a holiday.  What themed display would your book fit in at the library.  Right now, the themes at my library are “Black History Month,” “Best Sellers,” and “Valentines.”  You can’t plan for the second one but you could for the other two.

Your break out book has to have broad enough appeal.  No book is going to appeal to everyone but your break out title can’t appeal to only a tiny niche.  It has to have broad enough appeal to make printing it worth the publisher’s effort.  My niece’s grade school is on the National Historic Register.  That fact is interesting to those of us here in the district but there’s not enough audience appeal to interest a publisher.  But what about a book about the creation of kindergartens?  They originated here in St. Louis.

Any book that you publish has to have both a marketing hook and broad enough appeal to make publishing it worthwhile.  But it is that much more important if you are a newer author.

This is why a book that might not work as your #1 might work as your #5.  But it is also why a top selling author can sell a book that I could not.  People recognize this person’s name and are much more likely to buy the book.  Fair?  Maybe yes, maybe no, but it is fact.