Three Reasons I’m Glad Not to Have to Pick My Cover Art

More often than not, writers do not have to pick their own cover art if they traditionally publish.  Some people may not be comfortable with this but I don’t mind.  Why?  Let me tell you.

  1. The Cover Has to Make an Accurate First Impression. The first thing that most people notice about your book is the cover.  And the thing is that many people do judge a book by its cover.   You want to make an accurate first impression.
  2. There are Other People Who Know How to Do This.  I’ve watched how-to videos and various talks on cover design.  They talk about selecting the right image (person, place or object), the right colors and the right font.  They talk about guiding the would-be buyers eye to open the cover and experience the book.  When they say it, I can see what they mean but can I do it?
  3. I am Not One of These People.  At least at this point in my life, I am not one of these people.  When I try to lay out something like a cover or a graphic of some kind, I can tell whether or not it works.  Sometimes all seems well.  Then someone comes along and explains why it doesn’t work.  And then there are those times where I know it isn’t working.  Let me illustrate this.

Back when Duchess Harris and I were working on Hidden Human Computers she had picked out a photo for us to use on the cover.  It was a photo of her grandmother, one of the computers, walking down the street.  She was dressed, as my grandmother would have said, to the nines.   It was a gorgeous photo.

Then the book designer showed us the photo they had chosen.  You can see it on the cover above.  The photo they chose shows one of the women at work.  Since this is a book about them at work as computers, it makes a lot of sense to choose a photo like that.  As soon as I saw it, I knew what it was a better choice.

Do I loathe not getting to choose the photos used in my book covers?  Oh, no.  I’m just glad someone knows enough to do it and do it well!



Three More Reasons to Sign Up for Middle Grade Magic

Way back in February I wrote about 3 Reasons to sign up for this event.  They were 1) great sessions, 2) great speakers and 3) the cost which is FREE.

Now we have three more reasons to sign up –

  1.  Life Today.  Given the requirements to social distancing, travel is all but impossible which is why so many events have been called off.
  2. Feed Your Muse.  So many writers that I know have commented on how hard it is for them to write right now.  Since I’ve had deadlines, I’ve had to find a way to feed my must and writing events are a great way to do this.  At the moment, that means looking for an online opportunity such as this one.
  3. Additional Sessions. School Library Journal, the organization organizing this event, understands just how badly librarians and the whole publishing community needs to be lifted up.  To help do this, they have added onto this event.  It now begins at 9 am ET on April 8th and two sessions have been added.  The first is Early Bird Session 1: Debut Author Spotlight with Claribel A. Ortega, author of Ghost Squad (Scholastic), and Janae Marks, author of  From the Desk of Zoe Washington (HarperCollins).  The second session is Early Bird Session 2: Super Heroics
    with Paul Greci, author of Follow the River (Move Books), K.A. Holt, author of BenBee and the Teacher Griefer (Chronicle), and Kate Karyus Quinn & Demitria Lunetta, co creators of Anti/Hero (DC).

Again, this event is on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.  If you are otherwise occupied and can’t make this event during the scheduled hours, no worries!  All sessions are recorded and available for later viewing.  There are also always a variety of samples including ebooks, teachers guides, activity guides and more.

Whether you are looking for some writing inspiration or ideas for extras to help market you book, sign up.  It is definitely worth the time to explore this event.


Jump Start Your Writing in April: The Poem a Day Challenge

Jump start your writing starting April 1st with Robert Lee Brewer’s PAD – the poem a day challenge.  I like to take part for several reasons.

  1. Something New.  I don’t know about you but I like to try new things.  Poetry is something I don’t write often which makes poetry writing in-and-of itself fairly unfamiliar for me.  But Brewer always pulls in types of poems that I have never heard of before.
  2. Not for Publication.  I’m fairly certain that the vast majority of people who take part are poets so they may try to sell their work at a later date.  Me?  As far as I’m concerned these are writing exercises and not for publication so they are a no stress way to get the words flowing.
  3. Play Time.  Because of this, I can just play around.  I can write something serious, something satirical, or something highly irreverant. For me it is just a chance to have fun with my writing.
  4. Flexible.  The point of the challenge is to get you to write but if you want you can post your attempts each day on the Writer’s Digest Blog.  Post every once in a while or not at all.  It doesn’t really matter.  The only thing is that if you do post you have to be supportive and not hateful.  Unlike some places on the web, Brewer makes it clear that this will not be tolerated.

If you’ve got your kids home with your right now, this would be a fun thing for you to do together.  If you just need a way to get writing each morning, give this a try.  Brewer has a passion for poetry and it is contagious even if, like me, you are not a serious poet.  Let him inspired you!

Here is a link to the challenge guidelines.


The Three Levels of Writing

If this is going to be the new normal for a while, I’m going to have to find a way to make it work.  The boy is attending his college classes from home.  My husband is now my office mate which includes daily 2 pm conference calls which, I have to be honest, seem really pointless.  “Are you all doing your work?  Good boys and girls.”  I have two upcoming deadlines.  Time to get going on my writing.

The Big Picture

When it is time to start a new project, I generally consider the big picture first.  In her post, this is what Barbara Linn Probst calls the macro level.  What is the book about?  For the sake of discussion, I’m going to use People Pray as an example. The macro for this is “a book on global prayer.”

If it was a book of fiction, the macro would include the main character, this person’s goal, and what stands in the way.  Dorothy wants to go home but first has to make her way to the Wizard of Oz.  For your story to work at this level, whether your story is fiction or nonfiction, it has to be big enough for people to care.

This doesn’t meant that it has to be epic – she wants to save a kingdom.  But it does mean that it has to be meaningful.

Step by Step

Next comes what Probst called the mezzo or middle level.  In a novel, this is the scene.  People Pray is a picture book so the messo level is the spread.  What scenes or spreads need to be a part of this story for it to make sense?  This is what I consider when I write an outline.

Something has to happen in each scene or spread.  But it isn’t just a matter of keeping busy.  What happens has to matter to the story.  If you aren’t sure that a scene or spread works, take it out and see if the larger piece works without it.

Word by Word

Last but not least is what Probst calls the micro.  This is the level of individual sentences, words and punctuation.  When I want to make sure that a piece works at the micro level, I read it aloud.  Yes, even something that is book length. Reading aloud helps me here awkward phrasing and parts that are repeatative.

You can have an excellent story idea, the big picture, but without strong scene development and top notch copy editing, it isn’t going to reach your audience.  So when developing a new piece, take it one step at a time.


Book Lovers Marooned

Book videos.  Streamed readings.  How-to draw and more.  The children’s book community is coming out with some pretty amazing things to reach out to young readers who are missing school and no doubt more than a little worried.

I’m going to be writing a series of posts on my Facebook author page – “Dear Book Lovers Marooned.”  I’ll be discussing favorite books, reading and learning.  Here is my first post which you can find on Facebook.

SueBE here. If you don’t know me, I am a nonfiction writer for children and teens. I love reading and writing and helping people find great books.

We are living in a strange world, one we never would have predicted this time last year. With so many young readers home from school, I’m going to be writing a series of posts with them mind. Please share as you see fit.

If any young readers, or adult readers for that matter, contact me with a question or discussion point, I will write about it in my next post. You can comment, message me or e-mail me (

I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my favorite children’s books – The Boxcar Children. I don’t even know how many times I read this book. I checked it out regularly when I was in fifth grade.

That was the year students from my school were bussed across the district. Instead of walking to school, I was bussed across town. It felt like I was heading to the other side of the world. In reality, it was about 20 minutes from home. A lot of families moved away instead of letting their children be bussed. Life felt out of control and strange.

Maybe that’s why I latched onto the Boxcar Children. If you haven’t read it, it is a book about four kids who built a life for themselves in an abandoned train car. They were brave and ingenious and they took care of each other.

What books do you recommend to lift each other up?


3 Things to Know about Querying/Submitting

I just met a deadline Friday and I’d been noodling over sending my work to several agents.  But is now a good time?  That’s something I ask myself on a regular basis but what about now when offices are closing and people are working from home.  So I did some looking online.  Here is what I found.

Send It In.  Yes, there are agents and publishers who want your work.  They may not know what the longterm will bring but now?  They want to read it.  They want to get lost in a good book and they know that young readers will too.  So polish the things you have ready to go and submit.

Check Guidelines. Before you send your work in, be sure to check guidelines.  This is always a good idea but now it is really important.  I put off sumitting to a grant because I didn’t want to mess around with a hard copy submission.  Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t.  It all depended on how I felt when I met this deadline.  Now they are only accepting electronic submissions.  Be sure you are doing what they want you to do NOW and then means checking out those guidelines.

Be Flexible.  You may have things ready to go only to discover that . . . wait?  What?  Another change has taken place.  There’s a lot of that going on right now.  Just take a deep breath and get things ready to go according to what they want now.  Really.  You can do it.

The world is an off beat, confusing place right now and young readers are going to need books that entertain, inform and overjoy.


4 Things to Help You Weather Working from Home

Last week I had a deadline.  My son was on Spring Break.  My husband took the week off.  And then coronavirus.

No, none of us are sick but we have been taking social isolation seriously.  Putting in a fifty hour work week while sharing my office with an extrovert was not ideal but it was not nearly as stressful as I thought it would be. Hopefully he only has to go back to work one or two days next week.  They are shifting to work from home but because of security issues have to use their work computers.

So we’ve been cleaning.  And stirring up dust.  But soon there will be room in here for another computer.  Now if I can avoid taking Sudafed before Monday noon.  I have a doctor’s appointment – again not ideal but I want to get a new inhaler and they are making me come in.

We are all facing a lot of uncertainty and for some of you a big part of it will be because you are working from home.  Here are four things that you can do to make this work.

  1.  Remember that it is work.  You are on the job.  Get dressed.  Keep office hours.  Get the job done which means that you aren’t going to be spending all of your time on social media which leads me to …
  2. Keep your spirits up.  Do things that make you happy.  Spend time outside so that you get some sunlight.  Me?  I’m getting my sun lamp set back up because we had rain and snow today.  I am knitting.  Last night I got my mom’s old sewing machine out and running.  And another way to keep your spirits up…
  3. Stay connected.  I have been making a point of calling one person a day.  That doesn’t sound like much but I really loathe the phone but I also know that my older friends prefer phone calls to Facebook Messenger. I can work with this.
  4. Talk to your boss.  If you and your boss see each other daily, touch base daily at least for a while.  This will help you both align your goals.

While I love working from home, I chose it.  You may end up loving it too especially if you set yourself up for success.


The Most Important Thing to Do for Yourself Right Now

It doesn’t matter if you normally work from home or if you are off your day job for the duration.  We are living in stressful times right now and there is something you need to do for yourself.  Find something meditative to help ease your stress.

No, seriously.  I mean it.  Get off Facebook.  Put down your phone.  And think about what you can do while freeing your mind.

Me? I have two choices.

  1. Make bread.  Cooking in general does not relax me but making bread does.  It is something about working with the yeast and kneading the dough.  I even like the way it smells.   Kneading forward, pulling the dough back, folding it and kneading again.  This is a very meditative action for me.
  2. Handwork.  My mother found sewing as in seamstress sewing relaxing.  Nothing that uses a sewing machine relaxes me, but knitting or crochet are a great way to engage my hands and let my mind wander.  Ha!  I mistyped that as wonder but that too is accurate.  To the right is what I’m working on right now.  This is another way I meditate.

Maybe you are one of those lucky people who can just meditate.  That doesn’t work for me but if I can find something to occupy my hands and just a little bit of my brain – oooooohm.  There I go.

A third choice isn’t meditative but it does help me relax and in general makes me happy.  That is…

3.  Take a class.  Immersing myself in a class is a great way for me to deal with stress.  I’m an enthusiastic learner which explains why I’ve taken classes on everything from evolution and astrobiology to Ancient Rome and the Inquisition. As soon as I meet this deadline, I’m signing up for Science and Cooking.  What can I say?  Food science fascinates me and I’ll probably come away with several book ideas.  This one isn’t meditative but it is enjoyable.

If I haven’t touched on something that works for you, add it in the comments below.


2 No-Cost Gifts to Give Your Writing Self

Sorry for the convoluted title.  I was afraid the word “free” would get caught in a spam filter if it was part of the title.

I honestly don’t know how much writing I would be doing right now if I didn’t have a book due Friday.  But I’ve got two more chapters to finish and then I need to run through a hardcopy edit.  So I’m writing even though my family is home.

As soon as I meet this deadline I’m going to need a pick-me-up. I don’t know about you but learning new things helps me stay positive.  Take advantage of one of these learning opportunities today.

Publisher’s Weekly.  Publisher’s Weekly understands how challenging the current environment is for the writing community.  To help us be “productive and effective,” they are making the magazine available for free electronically starting with the current issue.  Previews of earlier issues are available but only the 3/16 and more recent issues will be available in their entirity.

Blueprint Trials.  Maybe you would be interested in a writing class.  Children’s Book Insider has a series of in-depth classes that they call blueprints.  Trial editions on picture books, chapter books, middle grade and young adult, self-publishing, magazine writing, and more are available for free.

I hope you are managing some quality writing time as well as time with your families.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, off to write.


Three Tips When Making a Video

Friday, I was supposed to audition for Listen to Your Mother.  Writers send in essays and those who are selected get to audition.  Make it through the auditions and you get a spot in the live show.  Tonight, I got an e-mail asking for an audition video.


This is not going to be fun mostly because I hate having my picture taken and listening to the sound of my own voice?  No, thank you.  Alas, I have no choice.

Fortunately, I’ve had some experience making bad videos of myself.  Here are three tips on how to get it right.

  1.  Choose your background carefully.  I know that sounds super picking but you are going to make a better impression if your kids aren’t running by and sunlight isn’t blinding the viewer.  That means that you have to know what is behind you.  Depending on how sunny it is, my plant stand and air plants are a really nice backdrop.  The china cabinet would be good too.
  2. Rehearse.  Especially when you are going to be reading something aloud, run through it a few times.  That way you know when to slow down so that you don’t stumble.  You can also highlight a few spots where a dramatic pause, eye contact with the camer, or other gesture is a good idea.
  3. Try, Try Again.  Unlike a live rehearsal, you can run through it a couple of times.  Do NOT edit your video. They are going to want to see it “as is,” but you can run through it two or three times and pick the best take.

Me?  I’m going try for one where I am in the shot the entire time, the camera isn’t looking down my shirt or up my nose and a don’t knock anything over.  If you know me, you know why I’m saying that.