Requested Rewrite: The Final Step

Don’t forget the final step!
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Honestly, I feel like I should be sitting back and sipping a tropical drink. I just finished a requested rewrite in four days. Actually, I did the rewriting in three days. Day four? That was reserved for the final step.

Whenever I get a requested rewrite, I quickly skim the comments a day or so before I plan to work on it. That way I have time to think things over. Even if what my editor wants is a good idea, sometimes it takes me a while to process it. What will this change mean?

Then I make the changes. Some editors ask for very little. The request I just got was four comments on 17 manuscript pages. Something like that is pretty easy to keep track of. The one before that was 54 comments on 45 pages. There is no way I can keep that all in my head at the same time.

Does this mean I start on page one and work to the end? Nope. I do the frontmatter – if the book has it. Next I do the backmatter. Then I step into the chapters. But before I return it to my editor there is one last thing that I do.

I read through every change.

That means that I’m reading through their changes and my changes. Part of the reason that I do this is that I’m dyslexic. Track changes can be a bit much for me to decipher. I correct things I missed the first time around. I tighten the parts that I rewrote. I doubt that I’m the only person who writes a wordy first draft.

But the real reason that I do this? I want to make sure that I didn’t miss something. It happens.

Earlier this week, I read through a rewrite and scrolled from the end of the last chapter to the backmatter. And what did I find? I comment requesting that I replace a sidebar.

As I worked on earlier pages, it has been pushed down onto a formerly blank page. I almost missed it! I scrolled back up, reread the chapter and came up with a new sidebar topic. Not only was it better than the original, it expanded on a topic as requested by the editor.

Before you turn in rewrite in, read through it from start to finish. You might find a typo. You might tighten things up. And you might find something that you simply forgot to do.


3 Skills to Master to Write a Mystery

The book club that I belong to met earlier this week. Our book? The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. This book clearly demonstrated 3 things that you have to conquer if you are going to write mysteries.

A Cast of Characters

First things first, you are going to have to master a vast cast of characters. Osman had quite a task with the murder club (four characters), children of club members (2 characters), friends, spouses and love interests (5+ characters), victims and suspects (overlapping list that I keep losing count of), and coppers (2 main). Each character needs a name, a personality and a relationship with most of the other characters. And many of them are a bit over-the-top in some way. It is what makes mysteries so fun.

But there’s another tricky bit for the author. You have to introduce this ridiculous number of characters to your readers. And you have to do it at a rate and in a way where they won’t be completely lost. It is no small task.

A “Realistic” Setting

I say “realistic” because it doesn’t have to be real in the sense that it is a real place that is on the map and you can drive to. But it has to feel real. It has to be fairly complex with numerous places to look for clues, safe places, dangerous places, and home for all of those characters.

This book starts out in a retirement community. We get to see several character’s apartments, the activity or jigsaw room, the chapel, and more. There’s also the nearby town. Osman didn’t stop there. He took readers out into the countryside to several more English towns and even on an international jaunt.

And all of the settings felt real. We got the sights and smells and sounds. That’s a lot of sensory in put to keep straight.

Plot Threads

Last but not least are the plot threads. I can’t figure out how to discuss this without some spoilers. So, be warned. From here on out there be spoilers! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

There is the murder that starts it all – a former colleague of the developer. Then the developer is killed. Then an extra skeleton is found in the graveyard. Each of these deaths involves a list of suspects and motives.

In addition to keeping all of those straight, you also have to know who was where when. You have to make sure that what you say happened could happen. You can’t have one character in two places at once or zipping from one location to another in the blink of an eye.

And as so often happens in a mystery, there are parts of it that happened years ago. People from way back when need to be tracked down and some of them have gone missing. Or have they? That’s something else to keep track of.

Mysteries are a lot of fun to read and also fun to write. But you have to be detail oriented and you have to keep track as you weave the many threads together to create a compelling story.


3 Things Authors Need to Know about Goodreads

Get on Goodreads!

Many of the authors I know avoid Goodreads. They think it is a land of negative reviews and trolls. Pitfalls lay around every corner.

But yesterday morning I attended one of Allesandra Torre’s webinars about Goodreads, 15 Minutes to Unlock 100M Readers. I don’t know how long this link will be active. She did say that it is up for only a limited time.

If you ever get the opportunity to take one of her free webinars, you should. She is a self-published author who has been on the New York Times best sellers list. When she tells you how to promote yourself on Goodreads, she knows what she is talking about. And her first piece of advice.

Get on Goodreads

If you are an author, you need to be on Goodreads. Aren’t we writers always fussing that people don’t read as much as they should? This is a community full of readers. You don’t have to go looking for them. They are right there and they are looking for information about authors and books.

I know, I know. Goodreads is a confusing place. It always reminds me of a community garage sale. There is just so much there! But it is great place for you to find readers.

And the way to do this is to interact. You know what they say. Social media isn’t just about you. You have to give a little to get a little. So what should you do? Review books.

Reviewing on Goodreads

When you read a book that you really like, review it. This is a great boost for the author, but it is a boost for you as well. The more you participate, the more readers and the algorithm will recognize you. As with Facebook and Twitter, the more activity a post sees, the more it gets pushed forward. The same is true of reviews on Goodreads.

You don’t have to rate the book in terms of stars. More on those pesky stars below. Just write a short paragraphy or two about the book.

Read a few reviews and comment on one or two. “This makes me want to read the book.” “Requested it from my library.” Keep it short, simple and positive.

Positive? Yes. Remember how worried you keep saying that you are about the negativitiy on Goodreads? So don’t be negative. It really isn’t a super negative place. It isn’t all unicorns and lollipops but it isn’t darkness and nightmares either. Many authors think it is more negative than it really is because they don’t understand the rating system.

Goodreads Stars

For whatever reason, when Goodreads was created, they came up with their own star system.

1 star means you didn’t like it. Let’s get real. I don’t like McDonald’s shakes. I would give them 1 star using this system. My husband would give them 4 stars. Same shake.

2 stars mean it was okay. The book that you finished because it was for book club but you didn’t hate it? Yep, that’s probably a 2 star book.

3 stars mean you liked it. That’s right. A book that you liked but didn’t love should get three stars.

4 stars mean you really liked it. I would give The Thursday Murder Club four stars. I really liked the humor.

5 stars mean it was amazing. Did you read it as a library book and then go out and buy it? That’s a five star book.

Don’t let Goodreads intimidate you. Spend a little time there every once in a while. Get to know your favorite authors. Read some book reviews. Get over the heebie jeebies. Because it really is a great place to meet up with readers.


How to Write a Nonfiction Picture Book: Learning from Walrus Song

A couple of weeks ago, an intern at Candlewick Press contacted me to ask if I would review Walrus Song by Janet Lawler, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. Since I wrote about books here and on Facebook (my author page), I asked her to send it along and am I glad I did.

It isn’t often that I reach the end of a book and think, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” But that was definitely the reaction I had to Walrus Song.

What lesson’s can you learn by reading this book?

Keep It Short

192 words. I didn’t count the words in the back matter but I did count those in the main text. It is 192 words long including the walrus song that Ering letters into the illustrations.

And this isn’t a text for preschoolers but K-3.

It is brief but in it you learn how walrus move in the sea and on land, how they find food, what they eat, how they eat, how they communicate, what tusks are used for and more.

You can do a lot with just a few words.

Make It Fun

Lawler and Ering do this in several ways. For one thing, the text rhymes. That’s going to make it fun to read aloud and fun to hear.

In addition, there are the humorous bits. The first line? “Where is Walrus?” The young listener may not get it if they don’t know who Waldo is, but the adult reader is going to laugh.

And when they get to the 2-page spread where you are trying to pick out our walrus among many, they are going to laugh again. The good news is that Ering’s painting makes it possible to pick out our walrus. I won’t tell you how here but I will paste the spoiler in below my signature.

Then there are the games that the walrus play “with” birds. I suspect that they are more like pranks than they are games played with the puffins pictured, but it is funny.

When the reader gets to the pages of walrus song, the fun continues. Not only will the sounds be fun to read aloud but the expressions of the various singers are a hoot!

Give the Story Layers

Layers don’t have to be a plot and subplots. In a picture book it can be the fact that the book is a fun read aloud. Then there’s the humor. There’s all those great facts. Then there are the detailed illustrations that add to the story. Poor, poor puffin.

But these are the things that give a picture book depth. They are what makes an adult willing to pay $17.99 because they know that the book is going to be read again and again.

And that is what we need to do because, as intimidating as it sounds, this book and others like it are our competition.

Are you up to the challenge?


Spoiler alert! Only one walrus is looking directly at the reader.

How to Invoice a Publisher

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While I was taking part in a series of webinars on writing for educational publishers, one of the topics that came up was invoicing. The problem is that you can’t just send the publisher a one line e-mail. “You owe me $500 for activity writing.” “Please pay me $1000 for writing that book.” You need to give the accounting department enough information to know who they are paying and why. So what exactly do you need to include?

Here is my basic invoice in italics.


From:   (Name)  
(Street Address)
(City, State and Zip)
(SS #)

To:    (Publisher Name)  

RE:  (Billing for what?)  Slip the book or article title or the contract number in here.

Description of what you did                                                  $XX.XX

Total Payable: $(Total)
Date of Invoice: (Month, Day, Year)

(Repeat of name and address, city, state zip)

Now for some explanation.  


This is obviously your information.  Be sure to include it and be sure it is correct.  You don’t want your check ending up in someone else’s mailbox, assuming your publisher mails checks. I get paid most often through Paypal and


Who you are billing.  Always include the name of the publisher. If it is a snail mail/hard copy,  I include the addy.  Normally the e-mail is enough.


What is this bill for.  You don’t have to get really specific here.  I include the book or article title.  If I have a contract number that goes here as well. 

Description and $XX.XX

It is important to be as specific as possible about what this bill is for.  When I turn in something to RedLine, the line usually reads something like:

Evolution of Mammals Chapter 1, outline, working bibliography.  $XX.XX

If this is for a series of activities or sample passages, you will most likely have to list them individually. It is a pain but most publishers want more than “15 activities, $25.00/each. That is what I had to do when I submitted a group of activities to Education. com.  It looked something like this:

Felt Heart activity and Photo                        $25.00

Hoop game and Photo                                    $25.00

Counting activity and 2 Photos                     $30.00


Be sure that you get this number right.

Obviously, if the publisher you are billing has different requirements, do what they say! But if they just ask for an invoice, this template will give you something to submit.

Last but not least, be sure to follow the instruction in your contract as to when to submit. Some publishers want the invoice when you have finished the project. Others pay some of the money when you submit the manuscript and the rest when the project is accepted. Some penalize you if you invoice too late.

You want to be paid the full amount so be sure to follow instructions.


Cover Reveal: Writing about Cancel Culture

I love it when I find the cover of an upcoming book online. Here is the cover for my ABDO book, Cancel Culture.

As is so often the case with one of the “Special Reports,” this was a tricky book to write.

First things first, I’m not supposed to take sides. This is supposed to be “nothing but the facts.” I’m actually really good at that and in this case it wasn’t hard to do.

X is the definition of cancel culture.

Y person was cancelled for this reason. It had or did not have an impact.

Second, “Special Reports” are generally current topics. These are the things that you see in the news.

That makes them hard to research. I always start on my library catalogue. When I was researching this book, I found numerous titles about online bullying. Cancel culture? There are books on that topic now but there was nothing when I was doing the research. And none of the books now out are for young readers.

And that’s the best part. This book fills a gap in the market. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!


P.S. My apologies for the short post. I have a book due today. Tappity-tappity-tap. That’s me typing away, making edits and tightening things up.

Picture Book Writing, or Why We Dummy Our Work

Earlier this week, I read an awesome blog post by Tara Lazar, Don’t Sweat the Page Breaks…  In her post, she discusses why we dummy our work. In short, a picture book is a very definite thing. You aren’t just writing a cohesive story. You are writing something with just the write number of page turns to be a picture book. The dummy is the tool that you use to help you internalize that structure.

But what if you’ve never created a dummy? Here is how I do it.

Staple together 16 pieces of paper.  

Wait a minute. Isn’t a picture book 32 pages long. Yes, it is. But 16 pages stapled together tives you 32 pages front and back. You can use half pages or quarter pages. Whatever. I use full sheets of paper because this makes it easier to fit my text on to the page.

A dummy I used to edit my work.
Some spreads hardly change.

Mark off my title page, etc.

These pages generally don’t contain any of your actual story.  There are generally three such pages at the beginning of a picture book. Sometimes the copyright info is on a page at the back of the book.

If this ambiguity makes you uncomfortable, look at some picture books from your dream publisher. Do it how they do it.

Cut my text into blocks.  

These blocks of text will become spreads. Some will be one page spreads. A one page spread is a single page with text and an illustration. It stands independent of the preceding and following pages. Some text blocks will become two page spreads. Two page spreads are one block of text and the accompanying illustration that takes up two facing pages.  

One page spreads are often detailed. They are close ups.

Two page spreads are panoramic. They slow down the pace of the story.

Tape the spreads into the dummy.

I’d love to say that this step is easy peasy. That would be a lie.

Sometimes I have more blocks of text than I have dummy pages. I have to ask myself if each scene is essential. Or is there a scene that can be cut?

Sometimes I run out of blocks of text before I reach the end of the dummy. Have I left scenes out? Or it might be that there isn’t enough story for a picture books. Or I might need to add another attempt to solve my story problem.

Just remember that it is natural for this step to take multiple attempts. And, in the end, the way you dummy it might not be how the editor sees it. That’s why Lazar called her post Don’t Sweat the Page Breaks…


Reading Like a Writer, or the Weekly Library Haul

To the right is a photo of this week’s library haul.

In order of appearance they are:

The Thursday Murder Club. This one is my book club book for next week.

Stealing Home. An interesting looking graphic novel.

History Smashers: The Mayflower. History that hopefully challenges the folklore.

Muddle School. Humorous graphic novel.

Uncommon Grounds. Still more history.

Apollo Murders. A space mystery.

The Smithsonian Book of Space Exploration. Space nonfiction.

Horse Power. A picture book I discovered while looking for something else in the library catalogue.

Beastly Bionics. Browsable nonfiction. I’d like to work on some ideas for this type of book.

Trees. More browsable nonfiction.

My library haul has a tendency to vary from week to week. Sometimes I request books that I see written up in newsletters or articles. Other times I request books that someone else has recommended. Then there are the books that have something to do with ongoing projects or ideas that I’m playing around with.

History and science tend tend to be constants. So do graphic novels and picture books. The beautiful thing is that I can find inspiration just about anywhere. That’s just part of my nature. I’d love to write a browsable nonfiction book. I also adore history. So maybe one of the non-browsable titles in this pile will inspire something of that kind.

When I’m writing fantasy, I don’t tend to read fantasy. I’m not super confident in my fantasy voice and I feel like my reading has a tendency to influence my writing. Mysteries, science fiction and nonfiction don’t pose that kind of problem for me.

I do talk to writers who tell me that they don’t read. “I just don’t like the books that I find.” Really? If you don’t like reading, why are you writing? I just don’t get it. Why not knit or cook or do something else creative.

If you are writing, you should be reading. So, tell me. What is waiting for you at the library?


3 Tips for Writing a Halloween Story

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Yesterday I read Rayne Hall’s Fiction University Post, 13 Tips for Writing a Halloween Story. Not surprisingly, I thought of several additional tips for kid specific slants.

Turn Tradition Sideways

Halloween makes a great setting for a story largely because once you mention it, people are conjuring up a set of stock images – spooky graveyards, haunted houses, and gothic mansions.

Take these traditions and shake things up to create your own story. Instead of being spooky, the graveyard is festive and fun as young ghosts flit from crypt to crypt shouting “Trick or Treat.” What kind of trick would a ghost play on other ghosts.

We think of Halloween as cold and dark. But what about October 31 in the Southern Hemisphere? What would happen if a zombie ended up south of the Equator for Halloween?

It Doesn’t Have to be a Ghost Story

Whether you are writing a picture book or a young adult novel, it doesn’t have to be scary. I’m currently listening to a Halloween romantic comedy. There may be a haunting but even when the hero nearly gets crushed by a statue of his ancestor it is much more funny than creepy.

You can use Halloween as your background for a story of any genre. Don’t be afraid to play around. Write humor or science fiction.

Draw on Your Childhood

Even while you contemplate the world of possibilities, don’t be afraid to draw on your own childhood for your story problem. Maybe your character doesn’t want to wear the costume that four older siblings have worn. My sister was not thrilled to be presented with my witch costume. A certain other person I know what much less excited to be sibling #3 presented with a bumble bee costume.

Yes, a bumble bee.

My friend’s daughter has tree nut allergies. Another family friend was terrified of Halloween decorations long before she could understand what they were. My son had a tendency to make up strange Halloween costumes. One year he was a fire ghost. Another year he was haunted homework.

Love it or hate it, Halloween is sure to conjure up a few story ideas if you give it a chance.


Literary Journalism: Yet Another Name for Creative Nonfiction

Yesterday I watched a video by Simon and Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp. In it, he referred to Susan Orlean as the Tom Brady of literary journalism. Here’s the video if you want to watch it.

Sigh. Really? Another term? Literary journalism. What is it?

If only everyone agreed. According to Karp it is creative nonfiction. But he doesn’t like the term creative nonfiction because it implies that this one type of nonfiction is creative and the rest is not.

According to the Purdue Writing Lab, see the article here, it is a form of creative nonfiction. These essays require research into the topic and, thus, are beyond the immediate world of the writer.

Pfft. These are not especially useful definition in my not-so-humble-opinion.

It helps to start out with an understanding of creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction tells a story.  It may be an essay, a memoir or a picture book, but it is a story.  It just happens to be a nonfiction story.

One of my favorite examples is The House that George Built by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Rebecca Bond. It is a picture book that tells about the steps that were taken by Washington and others to erect what we now call the White House. Everything in the book is nonfiction but the story is told in a creative, engaging way. There are characters. There is a plot, after all those characters have a goal. And there is a setting.

The tricky thing is that you have to find each and every fact. Dialogue? You have to have a source. Setting details? Again, you need that source. You don’t include absolutely everything about a particular topic. After all, you’re telling a story so you leave out those details that don’t fit. But the ones that do are woven together in an engaging nonfiction story.

Given the praise she received from Karp, I’m definitely going to give Susan Orlean’s books a try.