One Writer’s Journey

August 15, 2018

Pitching Your Idea

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:26 am
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What is it that makes a pitch work?  Is it theme?  Or maybe you should show how action-packed your idea is?  I might have said either of those things a week ago before I saw this meme.

Note: I’ve blurred out the name of the movie.  If you’ve seen this meme and know the movie – patience, please.  But think about it.  Would you say that these themes work for preschoolers?  Given this pitch, I’d have to say no.  No way.  I don’t think so.

But then I saw what movie it was and I had to laugh.  This is Saving Nemo.  Really!  Reread the summary.

If Nemo had been pitched to Disney using that description, it never would have been made.  Nope.  Not that I have any clue how it was pitched, but I imagine that Nemo would have been front and center.  “It’s a story about a clown fish named Nemo who is taken from his father and has to find his way home.” Disney is, after all, focused on family.

And that’s a big part of making your pitch work.  Look at the publisher’s website.  What themes are present in book after book?  Are you looking at a publisher who is all about broadened perspectives or STEM? Then frame your pitch, where appropriate, in those terms.  If you can’t, maybe your piece isn’t right for them after all.

Your pitch is a sales tool and for it to work you have to know what the publisher or agency is buying.  Once you know that, you have an opportunity to make it work to your advantage.




August 14, 2018

Can You Hear Me? Writing to Your Reader

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:53 am
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As I’m working to bring another nonfiction book together, I’m working with a topic that is not in my comfort zone.  I know more than most of my readers but not as much as I want them to know when all is said and done. This means that I’ve been having to learn the topic before I can teach the topic.

The tricky bit?  Finding sources that aren’t trying to impress me with the acadababble – that’s Edward’s household for academic babbling. So much of what I can find is either so simplistic that it isn’t giving me the details that I need or it is written by an expert who is flaunting their expertise.

I read it.  I reread it.  And I still don’t have a clue.

The problem is that this is within my darling husband’s area of expertise.  Why is this a problem?  During his average work day, he discusses this topic but with other professionals. He’s not used to discussing it with the clueless.

The other day, I asked him to explain something to me.

“Mwa Mwa mwa mwa mwa mwa mwa mwa.”  (For those who can’t tell, that’s the sound made by adults in the Peanuts specials.)

“Okay, the problem is that I didn’t get any of that.”

The better your understanding of a topic, the harder it is to explain to a newbie.  So not only do I need to find sources I can understand, I need to find a way to make the topic understandable to your average 7th grader.  Not that 7th graders are clueless but I do have a wee tiny bit more experience than they do.  Finding examples and ways of explaining it that they can understand is a challenge.

Then I have to run the whole thing past my husband. If it makes sense to him and my reader, then all is well.


August 13, 2018

Subplots: How Much Is Too Much?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:24 am
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Since I wrote “Plot and Subplots” about two weeks ago, I’ve been paying special attention to subplots and plotlines in the books I read.  One of the things I’ve been wondering about is how many is too many.

At the moment, I’m reading Breakout by Kate Messner.  Plots and subplots include:

  1. A prison break (that’s the main plot)
  2. Social justice/justice and what it is to be fair
  3. Racism
  4. Friendship
  5. School
  6. A time capsule
  7. And the power of poetry.

That’s seven and it might seem like a lot, especially in a middle grade novel but it works.  It is all tied together neatly and at no point so far am I wondering why?  Why on earth did she think that she had to throw that in too.

I just finished another novel and this time I’m not going to name it because . . . well, you’ll see.  The plots and subplots include:

  1. War
  2. Family and separation
  3. An incestuous relationship
  4. Step-parents
  5. A specific health issue
  6. Anti-immigrant

That’s six total and this book is young adult.  You might think that if Messner could pull off 7 in a middle grade novel that 5 would be easy peasy in YA but it didn’t work out that way.  Every time something new was brought forward I rolled my eyes.  “Seriously? This too?”  I expected to see the kitchen sink on the next page.

Why did it work in one but not the other?  I’m not sure.  I think that part of it may be that I like the main character in Messner’s book and was a lot less sympathetic with the character in the second.  But I don’t think that is the biggest part.  I think it is a matter of grounding your reader.

I knew when Messner’s book was taking place – now – and where – in a small town in upstate New York. I feel like you could plunk me down in the town and I’d recognize it.

While I would recognize the area that key elements of the story took place in the second book, I didn’t feel grounded.  When was it?  Maybe now.  Maybe 5 years from now but I’m not sure.  I know the country but that just wasn’t enough.  I think that not having a firm time element set me adrift and because of this I was a lot less tolerant of numerous plot lines.  Each one just felt like one more thing to keep track of.

The lesson?  Anchor your reader in place and time.  Do that and then you can begin to pull in various plot lines.  Readers are a lot more tolerant when they don’t feel like they’ve been set adrift.


August 10, 2018

Recharging: Especially Important When A Job Is Stressful

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:22 am
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Every now and again I get an assignment that is a bit more stressful than normal.  Sometimes, like with the Ziki Virus book, I’m wading through science in an area that is less familiar and I’m having to learn some of the basics along with the specialized material.  The topic interests me but it is still a lot of work.

Other times it is because I’m working on something brand new, as in they haven’t done a book like this before and my editor and I are figuring it out together.  I love working with her and I know the book will show her talent and skill.  But it is still stressful.

At times like this I know I need to recharge.

One friend does this through gardening.  Hmm. No. I’m more of a black thumb than a green thumb.

Another friend goes on long hikes.  Walks would be more my style.

Me?  I tend to do hand work.  In fact, very few months a group of friends and I get together to make.  We all our evenings Wool Gatherings, named by my husband.  I’ve been doing a lot of crochet like this little bat.  But at the last Wool Gathering a friend taught us to make a net pattern with beads.

And don’t you know that it is in the middle of this stressful project that my beads arrived? I almost told myself, no.  Can’t even open them until this book is drafted.  But then I remembered my tendency to push myself too hard and forget to recharge.  So after I finished my goal for Wednesday, I opened up those beads.

Gardening.  Crafting.  Cooking. Dance. Yoga.  No matter how you do it.  Just make sure you recharge.


August 9, 2018

Book Challenge: 7 Books I Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:46 am
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On Facebook, a number of my friends have been taking part in a challenge to post the covers of seven books that they love.  No explanation.  No reasons given.  So I’ve been noodling over what books I would choose today.  I say today because when I was 25, the list would have been different.  In another five years?  Different still.  But today, these are my seven books.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

What books would you include?



August 8, 2018

Writing Nonfiction: The First Draft, One Hot Mess

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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I’m drafting a new book this week.  This isn’t a picture book.  I can actually create a picture book first draft that isn’t terrifying. I’m not saying it is great but it doesn’t make you want to hide.  A first draft of a 15,000 word nonfiction for tweens?  Oh, what a mess it is.

I have an outline which my editor approved so the basic structure is there.  In draft #1, I fill in the information.  This is everything the young reader needs to learn about this aspect of the larger topic.  That’s it.  I solve the rest in subsequent drafts.  Note the S.  Drafts.  There will be more than one.  The things that I fix include:

Filling in the gaps.  When I wrote the first draft, I mark all gaps WITH NOTES TYPED IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND OFTEN HIGHLIGHTED IN YELLOW.  These are places that I need to add information I couldn’t find.

Double check the order.  I always try to get things down in the right order in the outline but sometimes something that looks perfectly functional in the outline doesn’t work where it is in the manuscript.  I don’t do much moving of sections but this is where it happens.

Cut duplicate information. Sometimes I end up repeating myself.  Often this is because I forget something will be covered in a sidebar and I write it into the main text.  Now is the time to decide where it belongs and get rid of the other.

Creating transitions.  In the first draft, I go from topic to topic.  I don’t worry about it being smooth.  Why? Because I can fix it now.

Fix the word count.  Normally I’m pretty close.  Sometimes I have to cut.  But that’s okay because most everything we write can stand to be tightened.

Reading level.  Because this is educational and part of a series, I have to hit the right reading level.  I’m usually close.  Fortunately, I’ve found which reading level is my natural writing level so I can get by with minor tweaks.

A first draft doesn’t have to be perfection.  It just has to pull information together so that you have something to work with.  Make a mess, then fix it.



August 7, 2018

Audiobooks: Is Listening to a Book Cheating?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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Yesterday, I was poking around Jane Friedman’s blog and read Kristen Tsetsi’s post, “Resolving My Cheater Shame: Listening to Books Instead of Reading Them.” It was a different take for me.

I have absolutely never felt like I was cheating, probably because I don’t listen instead of reading.  I listen to some books and I read others.  There are books that I will listen to, usually adult nonfiction, that I would not read simply because it isn’t tightly written enough to keep me focused on the page.

That said, I do tend to feel odd calling it “reading.”  I catch myself distinguishing between books I listen to and books I read.

I read picture books and early readers.  I do not  listen to them even when audio is available.  The illustrations are just too great a part of the experience.

I listen to more adult books, nonfiction and mysteries, than I read.  I listen while I use my husband’s rower.  I listen while I do dishes and fold laundry.  I listen while I knit, crochet or bead.  Unless I’m learning a new pattern. Sometimes a tricky pattern requires my full attention.

My husband and I listen on car trips.  That’s a big deal for us.  He’s been using it as an opportunity to introduce me to authors he’s reading that I haven’t experienced yet.

Like Tsetsi, I feel bad sometimes when I can’t stand the voice actor and have to turn the book off.  Sometimes it is because the person reads in a monotone and there just isn’t any inflection.  Other times there is too much inflection and they are just over the top.  I gave up on one book last week, and I was almost 1/5 of the way through, because the female main character was a bad ass and the reader played her bad ass to the max and it was just too much bad assery.

Will I read this book in print?  Probably not. I had heard enough of the story to realize that, to me, it felt contrived.

Listening to a book is a different experience than reading it myself.  It is a great way for me to experience books in translation when I don’t know how to say people’s names and place names.  Do I feel like I’m cheating?  No. It isn’t reading but I am experiencing the story and the characters and the pacing.  Not reading, but different.


August 6, 2018

Book Promotion: Where Does Your Book Fit in the Library

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:12 am
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I wish I could remember which editor gave us this piece of advice.  She said that when we submit a manuscript, we should be able to tell the editor what special B&N displays would include our book. If we can do that, we know that there is a market/interest in the subject.  I know she mentioned holidays, but she also discussed back to school and the seasons.

When I saw the above display at my local library, I got all excited. Not only can patrons check out books about music, they can check out instruments too. How cool is this for the authors who have books about music, musicians and song?

If you have the right book, a lending program like this is a dream come true.  Just think about it.  You can pitch a program based on your book, load the program with music or making a simple instrument, and then close with information about the instruments that patrons can borrow.

Throughout my library system, the St. Louis County Libraries, patrons can check out the usual things – books, audiobooks, ebooks, magazines, ezines, music, and movies.  But you can also check out wifi hot spots, telescopes, musical instruments and various science discovery sets. Authors with books on aliens, life on other planets, stars, or the moon could do programs full of astronomy activities and end with information on the telescopes.  Depending on what science kits are available, an author with a book on science or a particular scientist could promote use of the kits.

Show the library how your book and program can be used to promote library use.  Sure the people who come to a library program tend to be library patrons, but librarians love it when you help their numbers.  And, maybe its the nonfiction writer in me, but I get all happy when I see a teen walking out with a telescope.


August 3, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:06 am
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rewriteAt the moment, I’m slapping down two really rough first draft.  Seriously rough. One is so bad that tomorrow I’m going to start this chapter all over again.  But that’s okay because I don’t have a deadline.  This is a something I’m writing for fun.

But the other one? Once I get a draft down, it is time to rewrite.  When I have to rewrite and it just won’t come, I know that I am most likely trying to do too many things at once.  I can’t make sure the order is logical, add more examples, punch up the language, and cut words all in the same pass.  When I try, something gets neglected or I get frustrated and quit.

To keep this from happening, I may a super detailed to-do list.  If you decide to do something like this, make a list and then get to work.  Normally it takes me about five minutes to make the list.  Then I take the rewrite chunk by chunk.

  1.  Fix problems and holes that you marked while writing.  You know the ones.  The note you left yourself says something like – ADD A TRANSITION HERE or COME UP WITH A WORTHWHILE EXAMPLE.
  2. Opening hook of whole manuscript.
  3. Opening of each subsection/chapter.
  4. Conclusion.
  5. Make sure there are enough examples/details.
  6. Punch up those verbs.
  7. Do what it takes to get rid of the adverbs.
  8. Check the main character’s emotional development/story arc.
  9. Repeat #8 for secondary characters.
  10. Is the setting clear and present?
  11. Do the setting details fit the tone/mood of the story at that point?
  12. Are there several sensory details on each page?
  13. Read the dialogue aloud. Does each character sound unique?
  14. Check your dialogue tags.  Can you replace them with beats of action.  This is one of my favorite tasks.
  15. Read the manuscript aloud to double-check voice and flow.
  16. This one is optional but I also check the reading level.  Most of my nonfiction has to be written to a certain range so this may not be essential in your own work.

It looks like a lot, and it is.  But if you want your writing to be top-notch, you need to find a way to work through a rewrite.  Ultimately, you need to find the method that works for you.  Give this one a try.  It just might work.


August 2, 2018

Plastics: What Does Being a Writer Have to do with Single Use Plastics?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:27 am
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Admittedly, the link isn’t something I had given a ton of thought until my writing buddy Jeanie Franz Ransom tweeted about National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic.  She just happened to tweet this as SCBWI members from around the world are heading to LA for the summer conference.  I have no clue how many people attend but it is massive and lasts four days.

Four days of disposable water bottles, plastic straws, utensils and all those name badge covers.  And I’m not picking on SCBWI.  It is an amazing organization.  This was just the event that happened to launch me into thinking about all that plastic.

Expecting SCBWI or any writers organization to solve the problem is ridiculous.  But as writers attending these events we can have a huge impact.  How?  Here are six suggestions.

  1.  Bring a refillable water bottle.  On the plane.  You can’t take it on full of water but you can take it empty and fill it at your destination.
  2. Don’t take straws.  If you simply have to have a straw, pack paper straws.  Don’t like paper straws?  I have a stainless straw that travels with my Yeti cup – car trips only.
  3. Do not take plastic utensils.  When we were cleaning out my dad’s house, I scooped up an old set of mess kit utensils that hook together.  You can also buy gorgeous bamboo sets that come with a spoon, fork and chop sticks.  These are going to go on my Christmas list and live in my purse.  I’m serious.
  4. At the end of the event, turn in your name badge cover.  It sounds like something small and unimportant but seriously.  A 1000 person event is 1000 little plastic name tag covers.  Turn it in so they can reuse it.
  5. All that leaves are my beloved pens.  I say this because I have just discovered pens that I love.  Ah, well.  Time to explore Cross pens that I can refill.  There are also some lovely bamboo pens.  I even spotted a bamboo fountain pen.  I can’t see traveling with that but if you eliminate the water bottles, straws, utensils and name badges?  There’s a lot less guilt involved in that pen that will last you a month.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we children’s writers worked together to drive this movement forward?  Think of all those little minds we can warp to our environmental ways.


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