How Book Club Gave Me a New Perspective on Rejection

So many readers. So many books.
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Earlier this week, book club met to discuss a mystery. I hate it when I don’t love the book club book because I make 50% of the recommendations. What can I say? When you get as many industry newsletters as I do, it is easy to drop interesting book titles into a folder.

This time around, I had a really hard time getting into the book. The author used an omniscient point of view and bopped from one person’s perspective to another. Honestly, I think there were five or six point of view characters in the first two chapters and countless more characters introduced. Many mysteries introduce a lot of characters at the outset but jumping from perspective to perspective made it harder for me to fall into the story.

It didn’t help that I talked to someone else before the meeting and she felt the same way. Oh, no.

When we met, the entire group minus one repeated this story. The book was hard to get into.

But that one person? She loved it from the start. She was so into it that she actually read the book in one day.

So what did this reveal to me about rejection? So often we get upset because two editors don’t like our premise. Or they think the main character is hard to like or two-dimensional. Yes, you need to look at those things when more than one person says something, but what if these two editors just aren’t the right one for this book.

Two, five, or eight editors may dislike something specific in your manuscript. Yet, when the right editor reads it, this person falls in love.

Yes, there may be something you need to change, but what we don’t like about a book may well be a matter of personal taste. No more. No less. That shouldn’t have been such a revelation to me. After all, I adore licorice. And, yes, I mean black licorice, the only true licorice.


Creating Problems for Your Characters in the Tech Age

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More than once lately, I’ve heard someone say that in books written pre-2000, so many story problems would have been solved if only the character had a cell phone. And that’s true to a point. Apparently if you write romantic comedy, your characters can simply fail to talk to each other.

But even good romantic comedies create problems for their characters that cannot be solved with a cell phone. How then do you get around the instant solution that a cell phone provides? Let me count they ways.

  1. A character’s phone has no charge. Let’s be real. This happens. Maybe not often but it does happen.
  2. A character loses their phone. They don’t have to lose it forever. It can simply fall out of their pocket in the car and their best friend drives away. Or it can be locked in someone’s office until morning.
  3. One person doesn’t have another person’s contact info. Yes, they can look it up unless this person just happens to have the most common last name on the island or in town.
  4. One or both characters ends up someplace with no cell service. This is really a problem in some areas. My father-in-law’s community has dead zones and everyone who lives there knows where they are. Where we go in southern Missouri has cell service in the winter when there are no leaves on the trees.
  5. The phone can have a fatal accident. My husband drowned his phone in the lake. Didn’t even remember it was in his pocket for several hours. My friend’s husband has dropped his phone in the toilet. Twice. Swim teachers lose phones as do life guards. My son had his phone in a dry bag during a float trip. Someone else opened the bag and didn’t reseal it.
  6. Someone can worry they are being tracked by their phone. If they leave it behind, they can’t use it if they need to make a call.
  7. Someone (probably me) has turned off their ringer.

We often live like we are attached to our phones but really it isn’t that hard to take one out in order to complicate your character’s life.


Proto-Science Fiction

In my reading this week, I came upon a term I had never heard before – proto-science fiction. Am I the only one who hadn’t heard this before?

Many people think of science fiction as a product of modern science, but proto-science fiction is much earlier and may actually have led the way for modern scientific inquiry. It isn’t that proto-science fiction was the only force behind the development of modern science but it helped people imagine other worlds and other ways of living Or people think of “classic” science fiction from the 1960s.

But the books discussed in “The Science Fiction that Came Before Science” by Edward Simon are anything but modern. Often Mary Shelley’s Frankenstien is named as the first. But the article I read included these titles:

Thomas More’s Utopia (1516)
Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627)
Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1634)
The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin (1638)
Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World (1666)
Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines (1688)
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726)

The only book on this list I’ve read is Gulliver’s Travels. What about you?

There are several other books that I would add to the list including:
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Flatland by Edwin Abbott

Soon we will all have access to even more work that precedes classic science fiction. MIT Press has created a series of books called Radium Age and they are all proto-science fiction. I haven’t read any of these books yet but reviewers are gaining access to the galleys online even as I type this. It will be interesting to see what pieces emerge from the vaults (or wherever). I love seeing how people thought we would be living! Of course, it also makes me wonder what we get right and what we get wrong in the stories we right.


Someone Familiar with a Unique Twist: Writing a Picture Book Biography

I love finding a top notch picture book biography. That’s kind of funny because I’m not a huge fan of biographies for adult readers but picture book biographies? Yes, please!

The problem for writers is that they can be a hard sell. Go with someone too remote, and you may well be told that their appeal isn’t broad enough. But go with someone that is well known, like Amelia Earhart, and you are going to be told that your topic has already been covered unless you can find a truly unique angle.

That’s what Jennifer Lane Wilson did when she researched and wrote Soaring in Style: How Amelia Earhart Became a Fashion Icon. Sure, readers are going to hear about some things that other books have covered because Wilson set the scene for her readers. They learn what life was like for young girls growing up in Kansas in the early 1900s. Girls were expected to dress just so and to behave in very specific ways. But then Wilson gets into what made Earhart unique – her sense of adventure and her willingness to take risks in the name of WOW.

The beauty of this biography is that Wilson was able to write about Earhart’s adult life, as a pilot and a woman who designed her own clothes, while connecting it all to her childhood, her risk taking and demand for clothes that let her have adventures. There are probably a lot of other things that Earhart did as as adult that wouldn’t tie as neatly into her childhood. That’s something else that makes writing a picture book biography difficult. Your story has to have kid appeal as well as appeal for the adult book buyer.

Whose story fascinates you? Is it someone who has broad appeal? If they are well-known, can you come up with a unique slant that will appeal to both young readers and adult book buyers? It is a lot for one little manuscript but it is worthwhile when it all comes together.


Promoting Your Book through Writing

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Many of the writers that I know loathe self-promotion. Some of them don’t like social media in general. Others just hate the idea of approaching people to buy their book. Visiting bookstores, getting a table at a craft fair, even renting a booth at a farmers market are possibilities but many writers just hate the thought of being so . . . forward? Crass? Commercial?

When I read Aileen Weintraub’s Writer’s Digest post about writing a pitch letter after you’ve written your book. Curious, I clicked through and realized that what she was talking about was self-promotion. But she was also talking about pitching additional writing.

As writers, we would must rather write than promote our work. But what if we could do both.

In her post, Weintraub talks about approaching various publications to publish an excerpt, review the book or publish a companion piece. A companion piece. That’s writing!

Think about it. You’ve written a book about kitchen science, the chemistry of cooking. It is for teens and tweens and it is going to be out in 9 months. There are so many companion pieces that you could write –

  • Christmas Chemistry – an article on the science of baking cookies.
  • Halloween Science – the science behind pop corn balls.
  • A profile about a scientist who is also a cook or a bio of an inventor who created various kitchen gizmos.
  • A piece on teaching your preschooler to measure and mix which is science for young readers.
  • 4 kitchen chemistry science fair experiments. This could be a kid’s chance to go beyond moldy bread in an early science fair project.

Any piece that is accompanied by an author bio can include information on your book. Impress teachers, parents and scout leaders and you will be on your way to making sales. Self-promotion doesn’t have to be torture. Instead look for ways to do what you love to do.


Celebrating Earth Day Every Day

Earth Day is a big deal around here, meaning my home and office. I work at home so if it is a big deal one place, it is a big deal in the other as well. We use cloth napkins & avoid plastic utensils and straws and paper plates. We recycle and repurpose.

As a writer, I use the library. How is that an Earth Day thing? Think of it as resource management. If I want to read a book, but am unlikely to keep it, I could buy it and then sell it. Or I can borrow it.

Library materials see a lot of use. See? That’s resource management.

But it also a matter of social justice. Not everyone can afford to buy books. If you are middle class, you may well forget that. Or at least that’s the feeling that I get when people discuss book banning. If the book is banned at school, now the kids will go out and buy it and read it.

Maybe. That’s definitely a possibility. But not every would-be reader can buy the book. In my community, 60% of the students qualify for lunch assistance. If you can’t afford food, you aren’t very likely to buy books unless you can find them at Goodwill or another resale shop. And that’s till iffy.

Then there are the kids who can’t buy the book because their parents would have a fit. Think about the LGBTQ reader who could read a book in the library but is afraid to take it home. Libraries are essential to the health of our communities. They help ideas flourish. They help us make better use of our resources. Libraries are definitely an Earth Day thing.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m to celebrate by reading a book. If I’m feeling particularly sassy, it will be a banned book. After all, I’ve got Maus checked out from the library.


Writing about Current Events by Taking a Step Back in Time

I just finished reading Traitors among Us by Canadian Ukrainian author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. It is set in the aftermath of World War II when two Ukrainian sisters, Krystia and Maria, are trying to reach safety in Germany so they can ultimately move to Canada where their aunt and uncle live. They are captured by Soviet soldiers and threatened with deportation to Russia and must find a way to escape.

Skrypuch does so many things right in this book. She builds tension by switching between two points of view, Krystia’s and Maria’s. The pair are separated by the Soviets and one story strand follows Maria and the other follows Krystia. Chapters end at cliff hangers and then the next chapter is in the other sister’s POV.

Skrypuch also does a great job of establishing the setting. The girls are moving through countryside that is new to them. They are imprisoned and later find shelter in bombed out buildings. All around them is rubble and danger and bits and pieces of people’s lives. A scrap of blue cloth makes them think about their mother wearing her favorite blouse while also causing them to wonder about the woman who owned this blouse. They see people living amidst the rubble, taking shelter in the remains of buildings, and searching for food.

Sound familiar?

By the time I finished this book, I had gained insight into the current conflict in Ukraine although I had been reading about Nazis, Soviets, and American soldiers. And the characters could be completely negative about the Nazis and the Soviets without it sounding over-the-top or judgemental.

Last week I wrote about Janet Reid and her response to a question about profitting on what is currently happening to Ukraine. Reid said that she would be willing to look at a historic story about Ukraine but not a contemporary one. It is all just too raw.

And really, this can be the case with any current and ongoing situation. It can be hard to write about an ongoing story with any objectivity so take a step back. Write about what led up to this situation. There is always a backstory. Dive into that. And if you aren’t sure how to make it work, pick up one of Skrypuch’s books. She does an amazing job.


Time Blocking or Pomodoro: A Productivity Technique that Helps You Focus

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When I came upon Chaunie Brusie’s post on time blocking, I didn’t know that I had already used the technique under a different name. Essentially, time blocking means that you set aside blocks of time to do one task or another. Perhaps you set aside 30 minutes to blog, 30 minutes to work on a requested rewrite, and 30 minutes to do e-mail. During each time block, you work on that particular task and no other.

It is a great way to encourage productivity especially if you find that you can spend an entire day writing and not actually write. Instead, you open your file, draw a blank and check e-mail. Then you pop over to Facebook for a second, then back to the manuscript, then open Chrome to search for information on whatever it is you’re writing about. A day spent drifting from screen to screen is often a day where no writing gets done.

I had used time blocking in the past but didn’t have that term for it. I used the Pomodoro technique. This time management system is based on the kitchen timer.  You set the timer for 25 minutes, work through that time, and then take a five minute break.  Follow this with another 25 minutes of work and another break, and so on. 

The Pomodoro technique challenges you to:

  • Figure out, accurately, how many Pomodoro (25 minute time periods) a task takes.
  • Work on concentrating, ignoring outside distractions, for one Pomodoro at a time.
  • Block out the time that you need to get a job done.
  • Work these time blocks into the time you actually have available to work.

This week, I thought that I would be finishing up a manuscript to turn in on Friday. Monday, a rewrite request on the previous manuscript dropped into my in box. Desired deadline? Friday, of course. Fortunately it is for the same publisher, same head editor. Quick negotations led to a new set of deadlines for both projects. Rewrite first. Complete the other draft second.

I’d love to get these done early so that I’m not working two weekends in a row but that means being super productive. Time blocking to the rescue.

So if you’ll excuse me, this Pomodoro is nearly done. I need to get this post up, take my five minute break and then jump into my next Pomodoro.


About the Author: What to Include in Your Biography

Self-portrait by me.

With every book I turn into to my editor, I have to turn in a biography. It would be really easy to go the ho-hum factual route.

“Sue Bradford Edwards is a nonfiction author who writes about culture and history, including the history of ancient peoples. She is the author of 21 other titles from Abdo Publishing including Ancient Maya, Hidden Human Computers, and Cancel Culture. She writes in her St. Louis office, sharing the space with two cats.”

Yes, even though I mention where I live and that I have two cats, this is ho hum. So ho hum. But it does include:

My byline.

Always, always, always include your name. Why? Although it is on the front of the book, the title page, and the Library of Congress information, it doesn’t hurt to remind everyone again. No, really. Some of us are just that bad with names.

My “author title.”

This is where you reveal a bit about what type of writing you do. If you write a variety of work, reveal what is relevant to your audience.


This expands on the type of writing you do. 21 books with a single publisher tells the librarian who bought it that she can go back to Abdo for more of my work.


And don’t forget to advertise some of your other titles. Woo-hoo! You might want to check these out or buy them.

Even for a ho-hum bio this is pretty good, in my opinion, because it is tight and suitable for the audience. My bio on my Women on Writing (WOW) blog posts tells about all of my books, not just my Abdo books, my own writing blog, and the classes that I teach through WOW.

And that’s a hint about what makes a great author bio. Link it to the piece of writing. For Ancient Maya, I talked about my anthropology degree. For Professional Gaming Careers, I wrote about gaming with my son. For The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, I wrote about growing up hearing about this because my father worked in TV news in Lubbock, Texas when it happened. Some topics are more challenging than others but I always link my bio to the book in question.

You don’t send out a boiler plate query letter. Give your readers something special when they read about you at the end of the book.


Rewriting: You Have to Nail the Order of Operations

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Whenever I had to work math problems, I loved applying the order of operations. That’s the order you have to tackle the various steps to get the correct answer. It was like doing a complex puzzle.

Rewriting is much the same. It doesn’t make sense to double check your spelling and punctuation before you tackle the major issues. This week I’ll be rewriting a new manuscript for ABDO. This is the order I tackle the various tasks.

Topic Order

Within the manuscript as a whole and within each chapter, you have to make certain that your information is presented in the correct order. As I’ve heard it explained, you have to build the scaffolding that will allow your reader to understand the final concept.

Because I have to turn in an outline before I get to work, my editors and I usually work out the order of the various topics ahead of time. That said, I may have corrections to make but I generally do that after I outline, as I draft. But I also acknowledge that not everyone does this.

Word Count and Information Density

I used to do this as two separate drafts but now I check my word count and then correct that as I work with the readability. This means that I may be working to add 100 words while making sure I have transitions in place. This is also where I cut out anything that feels repetative. Do i have enough examples to help my readers build that scaffold? If not, this is where I add another. I want to deliver as much information as possible. I pack it in.

Reading Level

Next I check the reading level. I’m generally fairly close when I write for tweens. I may have to bump it up or pull it down by just a little. If I needs to go up, I make sure that I use compound sentences. I look long and hard at my word choice and substitute multisyllable words that paint a more exacting picture. I never substitute just to build up my level. If the reading level is too high, which is generally only a problem when I write for elementary aged readers, I break longer sentences in two. I also replace multisyllable words with shorters words.

Then I print out the manuscript.


Last but not least, I edit a hard copy. I cut wordy bits. I check punctuation. When I sit down at my desk to enter the changes, I read for flow. Sometimes I read aloud to myself. Sometimes I use Speak to read the manuscript aloud. It is an irritating robot-like voice but I hear mistakes that I don’t see.

But this is why order of operations is important. If you check readability before you are finished making your other changes, you may create a smooth manuscript only to tear it up again. Start with the big fixes and work your way down to the smallest.