“Do You Worry about Someone Stealing Your Ideas?”

One of my students recently asked me if I worry about someone stealing my ideas if I share a pitch on Twitter. While I wouldn’t post a whole manuscript online as required by some critique events, I don’t worry about posting a pitch. I firmly believe that if you give four writers a prompt, you are likely to get six or seven different stories because someone will have more than one.

My proof? I am someone who checks books out from my library every single week. I see some of them mentioned on Twitter. Others are reviewed in industry publications. Still others are mentioned by speakers at webinars, workshops, and conferences. After the SCBWI Big 5-0 conference, I requested a ridiculous number of picture books. And they all came at once so I sat down and read and read and read.

In this huge stack of books were three stories about babies – Walk On! A Guide for Babies of All Ages by Marla Frazee (Harcourt 2006), The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane Books 2011), and Busy Babies by Amy Schwartz (Beach Lane Books 2019).

Other than the fact that these books feature babies doing baby things, they are very different. Walk On! A Guide for Babies of All Ages by Marla Frazee is written as a motivational guide for babies. “Are you sick of sitting around all day?” It then goes on to instruct babies and what they need to do to perfect walking.

The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee is all about a baby who runs the household. He is seldom happy. He is loud and domineering. He calls frequent meetings – time of day is no barrier.

Busy Babies by Amy Schwartz is a celebration of the many things that babies have to do. Really, babies are quite busy and the variety of tasks range from play time to snack time and every time in between.

Note just how different these three books are. If I tell people that I am writing a baby book, you can bet that my book will be nothing like this and nothing like yours. We each have our own unique way of spinning a story.

You can’t copyright an idea, but you can copyright a story. Still, if it bothers you to post an idea, don’t post a Twitter pitch. There are a vast number of other agents accepting queries.


3 Things to Know about Hi-Lo

Look what arrived on Saturday! Robotics in Health Care is my second hi-lo from BrightPoint Press. This means that although it is for middle schoolers, it is written at a 4th grade reading level.

I just signed a contract to write two more hi-lo titles for Brightpoint. I’m really enjoying writing for this market. If you are new to hi-lo writing, here are four things you need to know.

High Interest Level

Whether you call them Hi-Lo or Hi/Lo, the Hi stands for high interest level. That means that something has to happen and it has to happen NOW. Fiction or non-fiction, these readers aren’t going to wade through set-up and description to get to what matters to them.

The books that I write for BrightPoint are just over 2000 words. This means that I covered the ins and outs of robots in health care in 2000+ words. That’s delivery robots, cleaning robots, surgical robots, and robotic prosthetics. These kids want to read about the same things as their peers.

Low Reading Level

The Lo stands for low reading level. Some of these readers are simply a bit behind. Some of them are reluctant. Some have learning disorders. Like their fellow 8th graders, they want to read about robotic science but it has to be written at a level that is accessible to them.

Sometimes this means having to select a less taxing vocabulary word. Sometimes it means using shorter sentences especially if you have to use a harder word. It often means introducing new information step-by-step.

Linear and Chronological

Whether you are writing nonfiction or fiction, remember that these readers are working hard to read. This means that you need to make things as straightforward as possible. Organization needs to be linear with one section or chapter leading logically to the next.

Depending on what you are writing, it should also be chronological. No matter how clever it seems, beware the flashback!

Not every reader is eager from the start. Some children need to be coaxed into it. If you are interested in writing for this audience, consider hi-lo.


3 Things to Consider When Basing a Picture Book on a Song

The Rice in the Pot Goes Round and Round

I love it when I find a picture book that mirrors a song. My friend Donna Bateman did this when she wrote Deep in the Swamp, a swamp animal counting book that mirrors “Over in the Meadow.” Last week I checked out The Rice in the Pot Goes Round and Roundy by Wendy Wan-Long Shan. The song is obviously “The Wheels on the Bus.” The book is about Chinese culture, food and family.

To write a similar book, keep these three things in mind.

Pick a Well-Known Song

You may love “Fais dodo, Colin” but unless a large number of people know this French folk song, in English “Go to Bed, Colin,” your idea will lose much of its power. It would be better to select a well-known song such as “Frere Jacques” or “The Three Blind Mice.” You want the melody to immediately pop into their heads.

Find What’s Important in the Song

What part of the song does your target audience love. “The Wheels on the Bus” pulls preschoolers in with the motion and movement. Windshield wipers swish but first the wheels go “round and round, round and round.”

Once you’ve found that key element, you are ready to play. What could you do with “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”? The first step is to figure out what young readers love about each song.

Don’t Be Afraid to Go Wide

In using “The Wheels on the Bus,” Shan didn’t simply write a story about a taxi, a train, or even a covered wagon. She kept that all essential circular motion but she wrote about family and food.

What else could you do? Other things that go round and round could include a windmill, a cotton candy machine, or a whirlpool.

Stars twinkle. Bells jingle. Would that work? You might have to play with it to find out. And that’s often a big part of writing a picture book – the sense of play, fun and whimsy.

Pick a song and play around. You might find a story you love.


4 Reasons to Draw Your First Picture Book Draft

About three weeks ago, I wrote a post about drafting your picture book. Among the things I discussed was Marla Frazee’s technique for writers. She recommends that we draw our first draft.

Yesterday I was feeling antsy in spite of a monstrous to-do list. I just didn’t want to do any of that. I wanted to write something new. I’d been noodling over an idea for a board book so I decided to use Frazee’s technique again.

As I drew I realized several things.

Page Turns Matter

I’ve known for ages that page turns matter but sketching a sheet of thumbnails made me more aware of page turns. I caught myself thinking that yes I could go from X spread to Y spread but . . . I really needed to make use of that page turn. I needed a surprise.

It completely altered the way I was thinking about this manuscript.

Pacing Problems

As I worked, I was also noting a few things about the pacing. What I currently have, doesn’t build. It is all over the place. I’m going to have to come up with pacing that not only builds from spread to spread but makes logical sense.

This is going to require another draft.

Disinterest Is a Sign

As I thought about how I could change things up in the next draft, I realized that I never got past this point on the last manuscript I drafted as thumbnails. Apparently drafting it and noodling about the problems had gotten it out of my system.

That’s not a good sign. A story that I can so easily “get over” isn’t a story that is going to grab the attention of an editor or agent. Maybe I can rework it to fix that but . . . do I really want to? I’ll have to think about it.

Parallel Stories

As I created my thumbnails, I realized that I was thinking of text and illustrations almost as parallel stories. One story is told by the text. Another is told by the illustrations and this one expands on the first.

That’s the way that picture books are supposed to work so I have hope that this technique is going to help me create successful picture book manuscripts. Do I dare try it for my graphic novel?


Cover Reveal!

The Who by Sue Bradford Edwards

I am so excited to get to share this with you! Abdo Publishing just released the cover for my January 2022 book, The Who. Click through to see an interior spread.

Books have multiple birthdays.

  • There’s the cover reveal. Check.
  • There’s the day you get your author copies. Waiting . . . waiting . . .
  • And there’s the day it is available for readers to purchase. This one is also in the future.

The book is one in a six book series on Classic Rock Bands. The other bands are The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen and the Rolling Stones.

As much as I love Queen, I’m glad someone else took that one. Writing a book shortly after the movie on Freddie Mercury came out would have meant having to sort out movie facts from . . . facts.

The Stones would have been a lot of fun to do too. But The Who would have been my first choice no matter what. They were my first band-crush. Sure, I came to also love the Stones, Queen, SuperTramp, and the Stray Cats but the Who came first.

The book doesn’t come out until January 2022 so we have a while to wait. I don’t know what you’ll be doing between now and then but in the past 2 weeks, I’ve signed 3 contracts for 3 different books.

One is for third graders. Two more are for tweens but written at a 4th grade level. That makes them hi-lo or high interest level and low reading level. Hi-lo books are tricky because you have to introduce ideas slowly and keep the vocabulary fairly basic. But you also need to write about what interests tweens. When I finish both of these, I’ll have four hi-lo books on my list.

If you are interested in how to write hi-lo, let me know. It is a topic I’d be happy to cover.


3 Reasons to Take Part in #PitMad

In case you are unfamiliar with Twitter, #PitMad is a Twitter pitch party.  During pitch parties, writers tweet pitches that are up to 280 characters long. Agents and editors make requests by liking the tweeted pitch. 

Some are pretty specific. For example, #PBPitch is only for picture books. But in #PitMad, all writing categories are welcome. The next date for the quarterly event is September 2, 2021. The event is 12 hours long, from 8 am until 8 pm EDT.

This means that you have something over a week to perfect your pitches. Why bother?

Editors and Agents Want to Find Manuscripts

If you are unagented, this is an opportunity for you to connect with an editor or an agent. They pop in periodically and search using the hashtag #PitMad. Some may narrow things still further looking for #PitMad #PB or #PitMad #STEM.

But they are looking and this is great way to get an interested publishing professional to request your work.

Broaden Your Social Media Reach

Twitter pitch events are a great way to gain new followers.

Although you can’t like pitches your fellow writers Tweet, you can comment on them. You can also follow them and follow anyone who comments on your pitch. This is one way to expand your reach when your work is accepted and you have good news to share.

Feel Out the Competition

Don’t just tweet your pitches and run. Spend some time on September 2, 2021 reading the pitches from your fellow writers. As your read their pitches, you may note some trends. Perhaps a lot of authors are pitching stories with characters straight out of a Jane Austen novel. Or there may be numerous pitches with Sherlock Holmes, Albert Einstein, or Alexander Graham Bell as secondary characters.

With this knowledge, you can look at your list of ideas. Some may need to be tabled if there seemed to be numerous ideas about a specific topic or with the same setting.

As you consider what to pitch, remember that your work should be polished and ready to go.  Not an idea.  Not a rough draft.  Polished.

Do not flood the Twitter-verse with tweets for your pitch.  You are limited to three tweets per manuscript.  Note, this is per manuscript.  So if you wanted to pitch a cozy mystery and a picture book, you’d still have three each for a total of 6.

Polish your tweets and visit the web site for all kinds of helpful information including a blog.  And, good luck to everyone who participates!


4 Tips for Writing a Cumulative Tale

Shhh! The Baby’s Asleep by Ja-Nay Brown-Wood

Some types of stories come and go but others stick around because they are just so much fun. One of those ever-green story types is the cumulative tale. Young readers love them because, to a point, they can predict what is going to happen next.

Not sure what a cumulative picture book is? Do you remember The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly? She swallows a fly so, as they rhyme goes, perhaps she’ll die. Then she swallows a spider to deal with the fly (she swallowed the spider to capture the fly, perhaps she’ll die), and then a bird to deal with the spider and on and on.

Kids love these stories not only because they are predictable, but also because they are silly and fun. Think of it, first the woman accidentally swallows a fly. Yuck. Then she intentionally swallow first a spider (gag!) and then a bird?   Ridiculous but oh so funny!

Shhh! The Baby’s Asleep by Ja-Nay Brown-Wood is a different type of cumulative tale. Often in a cumulative tale, things accumulate and it all gets bigger.  In Brown-Wood’s book, mama puts baby down to nap and then steps on a the wrong floorboard. Big brother warn’s her to be quiet. Then they warn Dad about his noisy tummy and so on. Lawn mowers, hair dryers and more get silenced. What is it that wakes baby?

Plot spoiler alert: The creak of the sofa when they all sit down.

Think your story through because a cumulative tale needs:

Something to Avoid

The old lady wants to avoid death by fly. The family wants to avoid waking up the sleeping baby. What do your characters want to avoid? It could be painful, embarrassing, or inconvenient.


There have to be a lot of things that could come into play as you add and add to your story. What will the old lady swallow next? What will threaten baby’s nap? If your character is making a BLT, only a limited number of things can go onto that sandwich, but a Dagwood? That offers wider ranging possibilities.

Silly Humor

Young readers will expect silly humor from this type of book. The old lady swallows a horse? Seriously? That’s not even possible. In Brown-Woods book, a lot of the humor comes from the illustrations provided by Elissambura as the characters bend themselves out of shape to avoid waking the baby.


Your story also has to leave room for a surprise ending. We know something is going to wake the baby but what? Brown-Woods picked a tiny little noise after many great big noises don’t do it. She could have chosen something silent like a butterfly. How can you surprise your reader?

The answer will depend on the story you choose to tell. But really? The possibilities are endless.


3 Things Writers Learn by Reading

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

This week, one of the writer’s I follow on Twitter asked how many books we had read so far in 2021. Now, I know that my book total is unrealistic if all you read are novels. I’ve read 154 books so far this year but that number includes novels, young adult and middle grade novels, chapter books, early readers, picture books, nonfiction for various ages and audio books. An awful lot of the books on my list are picture books so don’t get the vapors.

But I was shocked at how many people responded that they had read 6 or 8 books – maybe. Please, if you are a writer, be a reader. It will help you in so many ways.

You’ll develop a feel for language.

Photo by Anna Kanifatova on Pexels.com

Periodically, someone in my critique group or a Beta reader will ask me if I’ve studied poetry. Nope. That’s not to say that I don’t read poetry every now and then, but I’ve never studied it. Yet, my writing is often playful or lyrical, depending on the piece.

I can do this because I have a good feel for language and how words sound. In part, this is because of my love of audio books. Depending on what I am writing, I can make the words sing or lumber along. To develop this you need to read.

Reading helps you study pacing.

The more you read, the more you learn about pacing. You’ll get caught up in the mad rush to catch the villain and you fall back and collect yourself when the main character takes a moment to regroup. The ebb and flow of the stories you read will help you improve the pacing in your own work.

I’m not saying that you won’t have to rewrite. But after you draft one tense scene, such as a rescue, you’ll hesitate to follow it with a chase. And if you do have to follow it with a chase, you’ll know that in some way you need to slow things down for the reader. They’ll need a breather and so will you, the writer.

You’ll encounter books you love and books you don’t.

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

The more you read, the more often you will encounter books that you don’t love. Some of them you won’t even like. Eventually you’ll come to see that not liking a book does not make it a bad book. It just means that you don’t like it. Every book, after all, is not written for every reader.

From this realization, you are only steps away from the reality that not every manuscript is right for every editor or agent. This means that when an agent or editor says “no thank you” they mean “no thank you.” They don’t mean “I hate your work.” They don’t mean “never write again.” This just mean that your manuscript is not a good fit for them.*

If you are going to write, read. You’ll be better off for the experience.


*I have spoken to writers who were told point blank that their writing was rubbish, they should quit, they have no talent, quit punishing the world. Does this mean that the editor or agent is correct? Maybe. Or it could also mean that they are having a really rubbish day. We’ll never know. But do you know what will make you feel better? A good book and a bit of chocolate. Really. It will help.

4 Tips When You Need to “Kill Your Darlings”

Kill your darlings isn’t an invitation to crime. It simply means to cut text from your work.
Photo by NIKOLAY OSMACHKO on Pexels.com

This week, I had to get two chapters out to my critique group. We generally only share 10 pages at a time so that we can fit in work from everyone. My two chapters came in at 12 pages. Time to tighten things up!

Some writers refer to this as “killing their darlings.” The idea is that their words are precious and cutting anything is like killing a loved one.

Generally, it doesn’t bother me to tighten my work. But part of the reason can be explained in Tip #1.

Create a “Stuff” File

When the time comes to cut a paragraph and I find myself hesitating, I open a new document and drop in the cut paragraph. Then I save the document as “Stuff.” Most of my book-length projects contain a stuff file.

This way if I find that I’ve cut something that the manuscript really needs, I can easily recover it. I have to say that this happens less than 25% of the time. But the safety net allows me to snip, snip and snip some more. Try this and see if it helps. But what do you cut?

Dialogue that Runs On and On and On

When my characters starts talking, they tend to go on for quite a while. Individual characters give speeches. Conversations continue for a page or more. And while both of these things can be okay, often it just means that we need to tighten things up. Written dialogue doesn’t correspond to real dialogue. Cut out filler words and sounds – uh, wait a minute, and um can all go. I find that I can often cut full lines of dialogue to create conversations that move faster and thus carry more tension. Snip, snip, snip.

Setting and Description

Sometimes we spend far too much time with description. Generally, there’s no need to describe the ordinary. If your character sets the table with a plate, spoon, fork, and knife for each person, you can simply say that your character set the table.

If, on the other hand, this is a posh setting with multiple plates, glasses, forks and spoons, then it might be worth devoting some time to if it matters to your story. Setting details that get several lines of text need to be vital to the story.

Stuck on Repeat

Some things may need to be said more than once. After all, we may have to summarize a previous event at the beginning of a new chapter, but look out for things that you say again and again and again. You might think that you are creating emphasis. But more often than not, you need to cut.

Sometimes this isn’t even intentional. When I’m rereading my manuscript, I’ll find things that I’ve said two or three times. I look over each instance and save the most vital.

We each have our own wordy-bits. When the time comes to tighten your work, it helps to know what yours are. Then you’ll have a good idea what to delete and drop into the “stuff” document.


Why Writers Should Write vs Going Outside

View from the bluff top. You can see the Illinois River, Swan Lake and abundant farmland.

Leaving the house is hazardous when you are a writer. I’m just over 25% of the way through my middle grade science fiction novel. But this weekend was our anniversary so we went for a drive.

Bad, bad undisciplined writer.

Even those of you who live in the St. Louis area probably won’t recognize this view. This is looking out from one of the viewing platforms in Pere Marquette State Park. Up on the blufftop, you can see the Illinois River, Swan Lake, and farmland. Yep, Swan Lake.

In the center of the photo is a sail boat. It looked much larger in real life!

Once you leave the River Road and drive up the Illinois River to Alton, this is the view. On the right is the Illinois River with tugs, barges, and even sail boats. To the left, bluffs rise above the road and signs that say “Beware Falling Rock.”

In addition to the landscape, there were birds. We saw herons and other wading birds. Honestly, they may have all been herons. We never got a good luck at any of them. In addition to the wading birds, we saw turkey vultures. They rode the thermals, circling high above the bluffs. Sometimes they rocked side to side as if testing out the wind.

Tiny road to the right. Great big, rocky bluff to the left.

As we drove, I found myself thinking. What if those weren’t turkey vultures? What if they were something bigger?

In spite of the fact that I’m about 25% of the way through Airstream, I want to start playing with a new idea. It would be fantasy about a dragon, the local piasa. I don’t know if I would want to write a contemporary fantasy or a historical fantasy, but this idea is trying to turn my head. On the way home, I even found a creepy forest setting along the Missouri River.

Alas, I will be responsible and finish the other one. But this idea is going in my journal! And now I will put my butt in my chair and get to work on my current project.