I just got comments back from my editor on my next book project. In spite of the fact that I didn’t get home until 9:00 pm, I opened the attachment to read through his suggestions. Some of them were picky but I found myself nodding as I read them. His ideas will definitely make for a stronger book, and he also helped me avoid duplicating material that will be in other books in the series.
If you find yourself frowning and fussing about an editor or agents comments, please remember this. Publishing is a team sport.
When I write a book for Red Line, I am generally working with my immediate editor and the series or managing editor. So there are at least two editors. Just to make things interesting, they also pull in a content consultant. This person has expertise in the topic area and reviews the manuscript to double check factual accuracy. At the late stage that this person gets involved, it can be irritating to have to add information or rewrite a chapter, but I’ve worked with content consultants who gave me access to material that had not yet been published. They had access to the data but I did not. I’ve also had content consultants explain things that I misunderstood.
Working on my own, I can write a really good manuscript. My editors help me bring it to the next level. The content consultant, and the fact checkers who come after, make sure that everything is as accurate as possible.
Alone, I would have a really good manuscript. As part of the team, I have a solid book.
Publishing is a team sport. Remember that when you are reading through an editor or agents comments. No, you don’t have to make every suggested change but remember – they want you to produce the best book possible. In my opinion, it is definitely worthwhile to be a part of a team.
One of the most surprising thing about banned books is just how many books have been challenged. My son’s English teacher wanted to make certain that her students and the parents realized this. She had each student pick a banned book to read and then asked the parents to sign a permission slip. Jared chose Fahrenheit 451. When I signed the permission slip, I commented on it. “Almost every book you’ve had them read has been banned.” She contacted me because she was surprised. No other parent had ever known this. The photos used in this post were taken at my local book store. This is part of their display of banned books.
Before it was my favorite banned book, The Lorax has my favorite Dr. Seuss book. “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.”
I have to admit that I wonder – if you ban Charlotte’s Web because the animals can talk, do you also ban Click, Clack, Moo because they can write and type?
My son was given this banned series by his godmother. Before buying him the books, she asked “Will you read about a girl?” He didn’t even hestitate. “As long as she’s interesting.” He also explained to me that it didn’t matter if the character was a boy or girl. Boring books were not to be read. So why do we think that boys will only read about boys? I suspect it is 90% an adult problem and 10% a young reader problem.
We read the entire series as a family. I myself read every single book. In 6 weeks. Yes, I’m that reader. When people tell me that they don’t approve of the magic, I give them “the look.” “Three of my ancesstress were convicted in Salem.” It is never the response they expect.
And, let me repeat – if you don’t want your child to read a specific book, that is between you and your child. But do not make it an issue for other people’s children. You may be removing the book that, for some reason, I young reader truly needs.
I am currently part of a mentorship program for writers who are working to break into educational publishing. One of the topics that we discuss is selecting samples. Many educational jobs require you to submit a resume and writing samples.
One of the people I’m working with asked how to select what pieces to include. She has a 3rd grade history piece and an 8th grade science piece. Can she use both of these? I told her that it depends based on the original ad.
Start with the Ad
First things first, start with the call for writers. Some are very specific. “We are looking for writers to help create a series on social studies for 3rd graders.” “We need writers for a project focused on science and current events for high schoolers.” For the first ad, her history piece would work. For the second her science piece would be best.
Some ads are much broader. “We have been hired to produce assessment tests for 4 states. “Writers needed to create passages for readers in second grade through high school.” For an ad with this wide a call, she could use both. How do I determine which sample to use when?
Start with the Broad Topic
When selecting samples for a specific call, start with the topic in a rather broad sense. If it is a social studies project, I would submit samples of my history and archaeology writing. For science, I have written about genetics, ecology, and viruses.
Some topic areas are more difficult to do well than others. For example, not everyone can write about science. Perhaps their backgrounds aren’t strong enough. Or it might have trouble explaining things to a younger audience. This is why matching the topic, at least in a broad sense, can be important.
Note the Reading Level
Next check out the reading level for the project. While writing for a specific reading level is a matter of sentence length and complexity, we all have a natural level. Mine is 8th grade. I can write things for an 8th grade audience with very little effort. I can also write for 3rd graders but it takes more work. Working outside of your sweet spot can be tough so match your samples to the call.
Matching your samples to a call for writers is a lot like putting together a puzzle. It takes a little time to figure out which ones are the best match but it is worth the effort since it increases your chance of getting the assignment.
Banned Book Week focuses our attention on attempts across the US to remove or restrict access to books. If this is your first time reading about Banned Book Week, you might want to head over to the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) where they compile and post lists of challenged books. The OIF gathers information on these books three ways – collecting information from media reports and also using information submitted by librarians and teachers across the US.
The Top 10 Challenged Books of 2020 are:
George by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
Sue here: I absolutely loved this book. Yes, there are uncomfortable moments but this is a highly realistic book.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
Sue here: This is the book for young readers. I am reading Stamped from the Beginning by Abram Kendi. I have read the above title yet.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism and because it was thought to promote antipolice views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
Sue here: This was another powerful, amazing book. There is so much Truth contained in this fictional story.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and it included rape and profanity.
Sue here: It has been a very long time since I read this book but it too is powerful and a book I would recommend.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of the author.
Sue here: Another favorite. Have they book looking in my reading notebook?
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote antipolice views.
Sue here: And this is another one I’ve read.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
Sue here: Interesting to me that of all the older titles out there, this is one of two garnering attention. This was one of my son’s favorite books from his high school lit class.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes and their negative effect on students.
Sue here: Racism and anti-racism can both bring down a ban.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Challenged for profanity, and because it was thought to promote an antipolice message.
Sue here: Another really powerful book. My niece beat me to this one – you have got to read this! And she was right. I’m just glad she was able to get ahold of it.
To say a book should not be banned is not the same as saying that it is right for every reader. Matching books to readers is a skill. I guess some people find it easier to hide ideas away. I hope you’ll request one of these titles from your library today.
“You love music. Listen to music while you write.”
So many of my writing friends have play lists for their various projects. They listen to period specific music when writing historical pieces. They listen to culturally appropriate music while working on corresponding stories. I’m sure you get the point. Music is a great way to research your story because people respond so well to music.
But for me that is part of the problem. Yes, I can select music that suits whatever I am writing. But I really like music. I sing along with rock, country, opera, gospel, celtic, and more. Even if I don’t know the language, I can usually figure out a few measures of the melody here and there. Soon I’m humming along.
Even classical instrumental pieces can be a problem. If it is too interesting, I stop and listen. Classical guitar? Pointless. I’m listening to the music, not writing. If I know it too well, I’m humming or singing along.
But I need to meet a deadline today. That means that I had to find something enjoyable but not too enjoyable. And it had to be long enough to help me avoid commercials. Then I remembered that my friend Jane White recommended YouTube because there are entire concertos on Youtube.
My feed includes Liszt, Beethoven, Mozart and Ravel. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to find a tried and true solution to the music problem — Bach cello. I grew up listening to Yo Yo Ma. I am currently listening to suite No. 1 in G. Bach it is until I meet today’s deadline.
What do you listen to when you write? Nature sounds? Music? White noise? I’m interested in hearing what works for my fellow writers as well as what doesn’t and why. I suspect that we are each wired a bit differently!
Odyssey of Love: A Memoir of Seekingand Finding by Linda Jämsén has been compared to Eat, Pray, Love. I get it. There are parallels — both women went around the world to find themselves. But I’m hoping that in the not so distant future Odyssey of Love is the book that another memoir will be compared to. It is just that amazing.
To quickly summarize the story. Linda is happy enough with her job but her personal life is much less fulfilling. Her longterm boyfriend has no interest in marriage although she thought he would propose on her birthday. Instead, her big gift came from her parents in the form of a check that they want the couple to use as the downpayment on a home. When a fortune teller explains that happiness lies in Europe where a Russian religious icon will lead Linda to the man of her dreams (tall, handsome, wearing glasses), Linda makes plans and the adventure begins. Her parent’s check paves the way for her to travels to and live in Hungary. She travels to Greece on vacation with a friend. While in Europe she is also researching her family tree and makes a brief, fateful stop in Helsinki, Finland on the way to Tallinn, Estonia.
My initial attraction to this book was the musical theme. Linda is a musician and lands a place in a chorus that travels all the way to Tel Aviv to perform. I love music, including the classical music that Linda loves, but I know next to nothing about it. If you had asked me who wrote Hungarian Rhapsody, my answer would have been a vacant stare. Now I know it was Franz Liszt. I spent a lot of time listening to Liszt while reading this book.
The fact that Linda’s journey may have been European but didn’t center on London, Paris, or Berlin, also appealed to me. I was eager to learn more about Eastern Europe from the perspective of someone who chose to live there. Linda describes the setting and the people, pulling you into the world she found and loved.
Although she had previously never taught, Linda paved the way for her extended European stay by training as an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher. This plot line also appealed to me because my father’s second career was teaching. Linda held a variety of teaching positions, each one taking her into a different experience and a new story for her eager readers.
Linda’s story is so rich and full that it will pull in a wide variety of readers. There’s romance and travel, music and family history and so much more. Open the cover and you are likely to find a thread that draws you in. That is clearly Linda’s gift.
If I write about something here on my blog, such as writing work-for-hire, but it isn’t what you want to do? Don’t sweat it.
The reality is that there is no one way to succeed as a writer. You can write popular fiction and be a success. You can publish one poem and be a success. You can self-publish a book of short stories and be a success.
Success doesn’t look the same to each of us. I have a friend who self-publishes self-help and works the speakers circut. Her specialty? The Working Woman’s Survival Show and businesses.
I have another friend who self publishes sweet romances while her mysteries are through a small press. She and her brother self publish young adult mysteries together. She also writes for the school and education market. These books are work-for-hire meaning that she sells all rights.
Other writers write essays and creative nonfiction for literary journals. These journals don’t demand all rights but very few of them pay.
But all of these writers are successful. Why? Because there is no one way to be a successful writer. Each of these writers has different goals. If you want to publish essays in literary journals, you have to accept that literary journals seldom pay. If you want your writing in the hands of school children, you can sell your manuscript to an educational pubilsher. Or you can write for a packager like I do. Yes, it means I sell all rights but I’ve got 30 books in school libraries around the US. That’s one of my goals.
To meet your own goals, do these three things.
Think about what success looks like to you. I love writing nonfiction. Work-for-hire for the school and library market is a great fit for me. I have friends who only want to write picture books or novels. Getting them published is their dream.
Read up on the type of writing you want to do. Where are people publishing poetry? Essays? Creative nonfiction? Find out what the publishing conventions are. Learn what accepted practice is NOW, not ten years ago.
Once you’ve learned about this, consider what is acceptable to you. It might make the difference between traditional publishing and self publishing. You may not care if you publish. You just want to finish that manuscript! Whatever. They’re your goals.
Once you know what your goal is and what success looks like to you, you are on your way to find your own path to writing success. If your path isn’t the same as mine, don’t sweat it! We each have our own definition of success.
Today’s post was written for us by Linda Jämsén as one of the stops in her blog tour for her new memoir, Odyssey of Love. Check out her bio below and then read on to see what she has to say about creating a virtual launch.
Linda Jämsén is an American expat writer-musician living in Finland. She grew up in New York, holding a book in one hand while exploring the piano keyboard with the other. Mesmerized by her mother’s playing of the Romantic repertoire, she soon studied piano with her and later graduated with a B.A. in Music from Bard College. Linda is also an avid choral singer and has performed in Hungary, Finland, the UK, and Israel.
During her years in Boston, Linda raised funds for a variety of philanthropic causes and completed the graduate management course at Radcliffe Seminars/Harvard. However, longing to return to her musical roots, in 2001 she moved to Budapest, land of her musical idol, Franz Liszt. There, she volunteered for the Music Academy in his name and received a CELTA certificate from International House, where she then taught English as a foreign language. Her musical, romantic, and travel adventures abroad inspired her to write Odyssey of Love: A Memoir of Seeking and Finding, her literary debut.
Linda lives on an island in Helsinki with her husband, the “tall man with glasses” from the memoir, and their treasured Russian icon. A sequel, Triptych, is in the works.
When I decided to self-publish my first book, Odyssey of Love: A Memoir of Seeking and Finding, last fall,I thought without a doubt that the easing of pandemic restrictions would allow me to host a live launch event the following June 1, my birthday. I imagined a celebration with live music, fanciful decorations, and a buffet of Hungarian food and wine featured in my memoir. I’d read a few scenes from Odyssey, sign some books, and maybe even play a Liszt piano piece or two.
But early in 2021, as Covid-19 variants swept through Finland, where I live, it became clear I needed a new Plan A. At first, I was disappointed at having to reorganize plans, but in hindsight, the virtual launch I organized was the best birthday present I could have given myself. Here’s why:
Friends and family from around the U.S. and Europe were able to attend the event with a zoom link in the comfort of their homes without the added cost of purchasing roundtrip tickets to Helsinki. Over sixty people attended: childhood and college chums, former colleagues, fellow authors, and Hungarian friends I’d met during my time in Budapest. It was heartwarming to see so many dear ones coming together to support my publishing efforts. Unlike a live event, where guests would be moving around and mingling, I also had their undivided attention for one hour.
“Touring” book locations
Since much of my memoir is based in Budapest, I offered viewers a taste of Hungary’s capital city. A local friend there, János, offered to visit and videotape locations from the book, such as the Opera House, the Liszt Music Academy, and the Danube. Then, he talked about events that had transpired (like an unexpected marriage proposal!) at those very spots. For many of us who’d been isolated for a year and a half and missed traveling, János’s tour was a real treat. (See: János on tour above.)
In lieu of a live band, I asked a dozen of my talented musician friends and family members to contribute video clips. The result was nine varied and lively performances featuring singers from Palestine and Greece, a British guitarist, and an Estonian violinist. Even Alfred Hitchcock’s “grandson” made an appearance and played his accordion.
Involving characters from the book
Several of my friends who appear as characters in Odyssey offered to introduce themselves to the other launch guests. One, Ágnes, shared our experiences as members of the Budapest Academic Choral Society and then sang a Hungarian folksong. Another, Gretchen, read an excerpt with me that included dialogue from an encounter years earlier at the Turkish eatery we often visited.
In addition to Budapest, we also “visited” Ephesus, Turkey and a Greek island (photo 4), both settings in the book. At the end of the event, the love song “I Will Be Here” was performed, and a slide show of my wedding day photos was presented. This was the perfect note to end on, as Odyssey is a happily-ever-after love story.
The entire cost of the event was 200 dollars: 140 for the zoom link and 60 for the special launch day banner I hired a designer to create (see banner at top of page). Of course, there may be cheaper online connection options, and you can forgo the banner or make one yourself. I was also fortunate to have two friends help with the technical aspects of the event, including making the final edits. Overall, the virtual launch was much less expensive than hosting a live one, leaving more money for post-launch costs, such as marketing and promotion.
Although I didn’t get to organize my live dream launch event, I’m still savoring the rush I got from the virtual one. To those authors who find themselves in a similar situation, don’t lose heart! You can turn the situation around like I did and organize an even more memorable “kick-ass” celebration, which is how mine was described by attendees afterward.
Tips: Draw your launch guests into your story with photos or videos of your book’s locations. Ask others to join you in reading excerpts from your book, especially if it’s a memoir and your characters are willing to go public. Download music from your book’s playlist to share, or if you have musician friends, ask them to perform pre-recorded songs that relate to your book’s theme. Buy yourself a bottle of your favorite wine or champagne and enjoy your moment. You’ve certainly earned it!
Sue here – Thank you to Linda Jämsén for sharing the story of her launch. Please come back in two days (9/23) to read my review of her amazing memoir!
This week I’m taking part in the blog tour for Odyssey of Love by Linda Jämsén. I hope you’ll stop by again later in the week. On Tuesday, Linda has a guest post for us all on how to launch your book online. And on Thursday, I’ll be reviewing the book.
Below is the book summary. Below that is a graphic with the various stops on the blog tour. This book is definitely one I would recommend!
When Linda doesn’t receive the marriage proposal she had long been expecting from her boyfriend on her 41st birthday, she reluctantly visits a psychic, Angelica, who predicts that Linda will soon leave him for a romantic and music-filled Odyssey in Europe. There, a “Russian icon” will lead to her future husband, a “tall man with glasses.”
Skeptical at first, but eager to explore her Eastern European roots and reignite her passion for music, Linda moves to Hungary, the land of her idol, composer-pianist Franz Liszt. In Budapest, she reinvents herself as an English teacher and joins a chorus. Soon, she’s performing at the Liszt Academy of Music and Tel Aviv’s Opera House.
With Angelica’s vision in mind, Linda vows to “settle down, not settle for,” but is tempted by romantic close calls: Gabi is gorgeous but too immature; David in Amsterdam fits Angelica’s description to a T, but his British reserve needs some defrosting. Liszt look-alike Ádám has it all, including a wife.
With her teaching and singing gigs ending, Linda flies to Finland for one last trip before moving back to Boston. But is her Odyssey truly over, or is it just beginning?
I’m not going to say that I never write fiction. Airstream is probably my third or fourth novel. I’m not sure about the count since one is a chapter book. But I’m much more comfortable with nonfiction. I know how much research I need to do and how long it will take me to draft.
I’m only now discovering how much research is required to write fiction. Maybe it is because I am writing science fiction but it is comparable to researching nonfiction. That said, I have to admit that I didn’t do much of the research before I started writing. Sure, there were a few things I needed to look into.
Before I could decide how far in the future the story needed to be set, I had to know how long it took to irradicate smallpox and for how many years most of our tech would be more or less recognizable. I also had to compare deep space travel to near space, compare fuel sources, and learn something about human hibernation.
All I can say is thank goodness both my husband and son are into space. My son is also a mechanical engineering student. He’s the one I hit up with many of my “what ifs.”
Why didn’t I do more research? Because I don’t like science fiction that is more about the science than it is about the story. Do not give me a lecture on quantum mechanics or the fourth dimension that is framed by a plot. Don’t do it. I’m warning you!
To me, the characters and story are central. Think about it. Genetic engineering was central to McCaffrey’s Pern books but you didn’t get into that until you had fallen in love with the harpers, the dragon riders, and the fire lizards. That’s how I want readers to feel about my story.
Yes, I did research before I started writing. Then I made an outline. Now, as I write, I am doing research. I’ve researched EVA (extra vehicular activity) suits for space walks. I’ve looked into suit propulsion. I know how cable and satellite work. The lunch table has seen more than one conversation about shelf stable foods and space as well as 3-D printing.
Although I needed an understanding of the topic before I started writing, I’m much more comfortable researching as I write vs doing all of the research up front. So how much research will I have to do? I won’t know until I get there, but I sure am enjoying the journey.