Why Are Series So Popular?

Earlier in the week, I read Donalyn Miller’s SLJ article on the popularity of series. One of the points that she made was that love of a series can help young readers connect with each other, creating classroom friendships. I had to laugh because I’ve been known to strike up a conversation with someone at the library or bookstore, even the doctor’s office, when I see them carrying a book I love.

I don’t remember making a friend because we had favorite books in common. But I do remember picking up a series because a friend recommended it. That got me into the Lord of the Rings; The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; and the Pern series.

Of all of those, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books were by far my favorite. I wanted to revisit the world. I wanted to spend more time with favorite characters. But most of all it was the dragons and the fire lizards. I was smitten. I binged these books, borrowing from a friend’s family one after the other.

This desire to read one book after the other works for both young readers and the teachers and librarians who are trying to help them build a reading plan. To quote Miller: When readers lack a reading plan for future reading, a series provides an easy-to-follow plan that shortens the lag time between one book and the next.

I’ve never written an entire series on my own. At most, I’ve written two books in a nonfiction series. These books fall under a common theme (hybrid dogs, evolution, historic crimes) but each one is a different topic. For example, I wrote both The Evolution of Mammals and The Evolution of Reptiles. Someone else wrote about fish, birds, insects and amphibians. To create the unified series experience, they have the same number of chapters and common features like sidebars and specific graphics.

Like fiction series, nonfiction series help young readers find multiple books that interest them and thus develop a reading habit. Page by page. Book by book.


Must Haves for an Author Website

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Over the next two weeks or so, I’m going to be updating my author website. Okay, let’s be real. I’m going to be redoing my site. More or less from scratch. It is dated. It badly needs updating. And I’m tired of not having my blog be part of my site.

The best way to fix this is going to be to turn my blog INTO a site. Yikes. What am I getting myself into?

One of the things I need to decide is what my site should include. Here is my current list.

Home Page

This page let’s people know where they are online. There is, after all, someone with a comparable name who is a New Zealand politician.

What’s New

Upcoming books, classes, and more. This would also be the place to include new material on the site such as when I add book videos, teaching guides and the like.


More of this right here.


This is who I am. My background. Why and when I started writing. Am looking for some different questions to add here.


A list of my books including covers, title, ISBN, and description.


Information on the classes I teach. So far I have one on research and one on writing nonfiction. It looks like I will also be adding yet a third class, this one on submitting your work.

Contact Info

A contact form, perhaps my email addy, and the various places where you can find me online.

Later Additions

The above is what I plan to start with. But I will follow that with information on my critiques/editing services, a media kit, and a page of downloadable content.

Is there anything that I’m forgetting?


Check Out This Free Chapter and Other Ways to Promote Your Work

Writing may not be rocket science but Jamie Krakover is both a rocket scientist and an author. You can read the first chapter of her novel, Tracker220. Just follow the link from her website.

I took special note of Jamie’s chapter since I’m currently doing the prewriting on a new project that also happens to be science fiction. It will be my first journey into the stars. But a free chapter is a great way to pull readers in. What else can you do to promote your work?


Another way to get the word out is through a video book trailer. Fortunately Jamie also has a video trailer and I have to say she got my husband’s attention with this. I don’t know how Jamie did her trailer but there are free programs that, with a bit of play and learning, can help you create eye-catching trailers.

Teaching Guides

If you want your book to find a home in the classroom, consider making up a teacher’s guide. Perhaps the best way to do this is to find one you like online and use it to help you lay out your own. This will give you ideas about what to include (discussion questions, writing prompts, art projects, and more). Don’t forget to include Common Core Standards.

Gifts for Your Readers

Why is this not a part of the teaching guides? Because you might also want to have something for your young readers. A friend who is an illustrator posts coloring pages. Another friend posts trading cards. These aren’t print cards but ecards that young readers can print if they feel so moved but either way it is something for them to have. Book marks, book plates and more can be distributed electronically.

What you do to promote your book will depend on the book itself. Take a look at what you’ve written and the audience. A free chapter won’t work for a picture book but a coloring page or puzzle page would.


Taking Part in PBPitch

PBPitch stands for Picture Book Pitch. During this daylong opportunity, you can pitch your picture book on Twitter. Agents and editors will look at your pitch, and, if they are interested, they will like it.

It doesn’t matter if you are writing fiction picture books are nonfiction, submitting your work is a drag.  You have to research publishers/editors/agents, polish your query, and send out just the right combination of things.  Honestly, I’d almost rather clean out a closet.

The next opportunity to take part in PBPitch is Thursday, 10/29/2020. The event is organized and operated by Debra Kempt Shumaker, PJ McIlvaine, Mette Engell, and Mandy Yates. 

You can use up to 280 characters in your pitch. That is, after all, the Twitter limit. But the shorter your pitch is the better. There are going to be a huge number of people pitching their work. Keep it short and more people will read your pitch.

Don’t wing it. You are competing against people who have been planning to do this for months. Make sure you have a polished pitch ready to go.

You can pitch more than one manuscript but you can only pitch each manuscript twice – once in the morning (before 2 pm) and once in the afternoon (after 2 pm). Although you can pitch your book twice, you cannot use exactly the same tweet both times. No, this doesn’t mean you polished your pitch for no reason. In the morning lead with your tag (#PBPitch) and in the afternoon close with your tag.

Because all of the manuscripts being pitched are picture books, the variety of tags are more limited than in many pitch parties. Definitely use the tag #PBPitch so that when agents search for it they find your work. You might also use:

#NF = Nonfiction
#C= Concept
#L= Lyrical
#I= Interactive
#OWN (Own Voices)

For more information, check out the PBPitch web site. And good luck!


Why Your Picture Book Must Appeal to Young Readers and Adults

When you write a picture book, you have two create something that appeals to both young readers and adults. If it doesn’t appeal to young readers, they won’t be willing to sit through it time and time again. Given the cost of picture books, this willingness is essential.

But young readers aren’t the one who pay for picture books. Nor are they the ones who read them aloud. Because of this, picture books have to appeal to the adult reader as well.

Pick up Ame Dyckman’s Dandy to see how this is done. Quick summary: Dandy is the story of Daddy who wants to get rid of the weed in his yard but his daughter, Sweetie, loves Charlotte (aka the Weed).

How does Ame create a story that appeals to the adult reader? The whole story revolves around an adult situation – curb appeal. Daddy’s perfect lawn has been marred by a weed. Daddy doesn’t want to look bad in front of his friends, the other dads, and they are ready to judge him based on his lawn. This is a motivation that adult readers will understand.

Fortunately, Ame is just the author to make a story about curb appeal appeal to young readers as well. This is where I get into heavy duty spoilers. If that’s going to bother you, move along to another post. If you can deal with that and want to learn more about creating picture books read on.

This story has kid appeal in abundance. First things first, even young children understand peer pressure. They all know someone who wants to talk them into something. They’ve all had a group of friends try to convince them to do something.

But the silliness of the story will also appeal to them. Sweetie is in love with a weed. Sweetie and Daddy are lions. Charlotte is a dandelion. Charlotte is anthropomorphic. She and Sweetie read together, have a tea party and more. She even gives Daddy sass with her leaves acting like arms, hands on her hips, and more. The portrayal of the sassy weed is purely in the illustrations as is the way Daddy’s attempts to get rid of Charlotte snowball. You need to read this book for the Monster-Truck Riding Lawnmower.

This book is wacky and silly and still manages to pack an emotional punch. With so many layers, readers will be sure to come back to a story like this again and again.

Read it and learn!

Learn a bit more about the book by checking out my video review below.


5 Ways to Work Red Herrings into Your Story

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For those of you who don’t know the term, a red herring is a false clue. It points the reader and the detective in the wrong direction in a mystery. I’ve been listening to and reading dozens (really) of mysteries this year. Here is what I’ve seen.

The Helpful Villain

One of the most common ways to mislead your readers, and your detective, is to have the killer accuse someone else. This person is so very helpful. They want to make sure this horrid person gets caught. They may not even be on the detective’s radar as the suspect and they are determined to keep it that way.

Misplaced Guilt

I just finished A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas. In this story, several characters life to protect someone else or because they have a guilty secret they want to hide. Their lies eventually draw the detectives interest as their stories unravel. They aren’t guilty of the murder but they do distract the detective at least for a little while.

Reading It Wrong

Often a character or characters will tell the detective that X was a wonderful person. Or X was a horrible person. Their beliefs are entirely mistaken but this is because they are missing a key fact. Again, this misleads the detective and the reader until this key fact is found.

Strong Motive But No

Give a character a very strong motive to have murdered the victim. It works even better if this character is someone who is hard to like. Everyone wants this person to be guilty even though they aren’t.

Detective’s Experience Gets in the Way

Maybe the detective has a history with one of the suspects. Or, recently assaulted by an ex-boyfriend, she’s suspicious of his friends. Put something in the detective’s past that makes it too tempting to focus on a particular suspect.

Whenever you write a mystery, you have to find a way to mislead your reader. It works best if you can mislead your characters at the same time. Yes, the murderer (or thief) knows who-done-it, but everyone else is muddying the waters.


4 Must-Haves when Writing a Query Letter

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I don’t know about you, but I’d almost rather write a second manuscript than write my query letter. You’d think I’d never seen one before! Fortunately, I found a wonderful security blanket in this video by two BookEnds literary agents.

Don’t forget to include these four things:

Dear Correct Name

Honestly, this makes a lot of sense. I hate it when people call me Susan. Or Mr. But it doesn’t have to be tricky. Just address the letter to the agent by name. Dear Jessica Faust. Dear James McGowan. Easy enough.


This one doesn’t seem too bad. This is what I am sending you. Fans of X and Y will be drawn to the humor . . . what? That’s right. Comp titles.

What should I compare Baby Browz to? A book with a toddler or baby main character? I could, but the humor in my book is different from those. Instead, I found a title with irreverant humor and another that breaks the fourth wall. Phew.

Query Blurb

This section is from one to three paragraphs long. Think of it as the back cover copy for your book. What makes your story stand out? What are the key components? Faust even recommended mimicing the back cover copy of one of your comp titles.

Nope. I tried it but it didn’t work.

Instead, I reread my manuscript and pulled out a couple of key lines. I rearranged things, added a bit here and there so that it all made sense. Phew. Finally I had something that summarized my story and was also in the voice of my manuscript.


This is not the time to write a birth to death, comprehensive biography. What do you include? Sales if you have them, professional memberships, and anything from your life experience that makes you the ideal author for this book.

For whatever reason, this is the paragraph my students have the hardest time developing. They want to tell the agent that their students/grandkids/gerbils loved the book. Don’t do it.

It all sounds easy enough. And yet each and every time I have to do it, I panic. I have to look up how to do it. Only then does it start coming together.

Maybe next time it will be easy peasy?

Yeah, I don’t think so either.


Download Keep Calm and Carry on Children TODAY

One of my book buddies, Sharon Mayhew, has a great opportunity for readers. Today (10/21/2020) you can get a free copy of her historic fiction title, Keep Calm and Carry On, Children. Click here to go to Amazon and download it onto your Kindle.

Don’t have a Kindle? Neither do I. I use the Kindle PC app to read on my laptop. For me it just makes more sense to use a machine I already own. I don’t read much electronically at least not for fun. I read quite a bit this way for work.

There are several different Kindle apps available.

  • To read on the Cloud.
  • To read on a PC or Mac click here.
  • You can also get it at the Google app store or the Apple app store but I’ll let you sort that our yourself.

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children is a book about the child evacuations in England during World War II. Sharon was inspired to write this book based on stories her grandfather told her. Hows that for a source?

A lot of the books for young readers about World War II skew older than Keep Calm and Carry On, Children. That was one of the things that I enjoyed about it. As a middle grade book, it was informative without being graphic or scary. A younger child could experience the time period without being exposed to anything too . . . whatever. You know what I mean!

If you enjoy the book, be sure to leave a review on Amazon. That’s a great way to help other readers find books to love. And this really is a service to writers. Help their books in the metrics and help other readers find their titles.


Motivation: Why You Need to Know about Maslow’s Need Hierarchy

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Whether you are writing a picture book or an adult novel, motivation matters. Whether your character’s goal is to win a place on the first flight to Mars or to set off a glitter bomb in her supervisor’s office, your reader will want to know why.

They will want to know because motivation comes from the backstory that makes your character three-dimensional and real. Since I’ve said backstory, you may be thinking it has to be complex.  Don’t go there yet.  Instead think of it in terms of Maslow’s Need Hierarchy.  Psychologist Abraham Maslow created this hierarchy to explain why we do what we do. 

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At the base are basic needs for survival: food, water, shelter, sleep, safety.  Do these most basic needs fit our Mars trip or glitter bomb goals? Survival could be used to explain both.  In the journey to Mars, perhaps this new colony is the hope for human survival.  The glitter bomb?  What if the supervisor set your character up for failure, cheated them out of a promotion, and the money/security that went with it? 

These basic needs aren’t the only ones Maslow discussed. Once a person’s basic physical needs are met, a person is driven by psychological needs. These include love, friendship, accomplishment, acceptance, and self-esteem.

A character isn’t likely to venture into this second level if their most basic needs have not been met. But if those basic needs have been met, move on up to the second level. In addition to being a matter of survival, the journey to Mars would be a great accomplishment. Maybe the supervisor played an wretched prank on your point of view character, To restore her self-esteem, she may feel the need to plan her own prank – hence the glitter bomb.

If you know what motivates your character’s goals, you can drop bits and pieces into the story. These will provide backstory, make your character more realistic, and keep your reader involved in the story.


5 Things To Remember When Writing a Mystery

Amazon.com: The Likeness (9780143115625): French, Tana: Books

I just finished reading the transcript of an NPR interview with authors Tana French and Louis Bayard. I have to admit, I latched onto it because I love reading books by French. So it was interesting to hear how these two authors work. I came away with 5 key points to writing a mystery.

Write It Bit by Bit

French didn’t worry whether or not she could write a full mytery novel. She wrote the opening with the kids playing in the woods. Then she wrote the next bit. And then the next. Soon she had a whole chapter. She wrote the novel section by section without obsessing with the idea of a Whole Novel.

Know the Character

As an actor, French starts with character. In the Woods and The Likeness feature a deeply flawed main character. He may be intelligent and sensitive but he’s also a hot mess. In fact, he’s such a mess that he can’t help but lie both to himself and the reader. Any mystery is going to be a lot more intriguing if your main character is part of the problem.

Create a Mystery that Fits the Time

French also reminded writers that they need to create a mystery that suits the time period in which their story was set. A noble would have much less sway over a “common person” today than they would have had 100 years ago. Serial killers were a huge concern in the 1990s but are less so today. Choose carefully.

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard

Know How Detection Worked at that Time

Bayard reminded listeners that a 18th century detective wouldn’t be a detective in the modern sense. Detecting wasn’t even a thing. Reasoning through a crime was a new idea.

Reading a Mystery Is Different from Writing a Mystery

Bayand loves to read series mysteries, specifically Alexander McCall Smith. But writing a mystery? No. He admits that he would quickly become bored if he had to work with the same characters book after book.

Mysteries are complex but these two authors are noteworthy for their abilities to pull readers. Check out the entire interview here and pick up more information on how to craft your own mysteries.