One Writer’s Journey

February 5, 2019

What Is Given from the Heart

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:37 am
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I have to admit, I’ve never understood it when fans go nuts over a posthumous release of a song or book.  Yes, its nice to have one more piece of work to experience.  I get that.  But what’s the fuss?

Then Monday a book cover on Twitter caught my eye.  When I saw that the author is Pat McKissack I almost fumbled clicking through to read the Horn Book review.

Unlike many people who write for children, I didn’t come into this through teaching or working as a librarian.  My BA is in anthropology, my MA in history.  I earned my second degree because I wanted to learn to research so that I could be a better writer.  But I didn’t study writing in college.

Between degrees, I got married.  I worked days.  My husband worked nights.  When I spotted a continuing ed class taught by Pat McKissack on writing for children it seemed like a pretty good idea.  I had no idea who she was or that she was a name in the field.  Yes, I was that green.

I started writing for children in this class and I haven’t stopped.  Recently I found one of my stories and reread it.  Oh, no.  Really?  I showed that to Pat McKissack?

It was, simply put, dreadful.

Pat looked past what I had managed to get down.  She looked for what the story could be.  And she encouraged us all to read, to stretch, and to keep writing.  Our work was so different but I always remembered what she taught me.  Even when you write from life, you have to change it to make a good story.  Then you’ll have to change it some more because your editor will spot the places where you didn’t communicate clearly or something you said might mislead the reader.  If Pat needed an editor to make her work sing, it seemed only logical that I too would have to make changes.

When she died in April 2017, we hadn’t been in touch for some time.  But I remember thinking, no more books.  There will be no more books.

Then I saw this one.

And now?  Now I get it.



February 4, 2019

Self Publishing: Do You Have What It Takes

I suspect most of us have considered it – self publishing and selling our own work.  With dozens of articles ripe for reprinting, it would be very do-able for me to publish several volumes on horses and how-to books for writers.  I’ve got the material.  I’d just have to put together the actual books.  But would it be worth my while?

Last week, Sneed Collard III authored a guest post on Melissa Stewart’s blog, Celebrate Science.  In his post, Sneed confirmed many things I have long suspected about self-publishing.

To sell, you have to get a glowing review in a big name publication.  Sneed has noted that to sell well, a volume has to be reviewed.  And not just any review will do. It has to come from a big name journal. What does Sneed mean when he says big name? School Library JournalBooklist, or Publisher’s Weekly. Can you get these kinds of reviews?  If not, self-publishing may not be a money-maker for you. Me? My work has been reviewed but not in these journals.

Name recognition.  To get these kinds of reviews, you need name recognition.  Sneed has that at least when it comes to science and nature.  When he branches out and publishes fiction, the book doesn’t sell as well.   He’s self-published four novels.  Only two earned modest profits.  When Children’s Writer was a thriving newsletter, I had name recognition as a how-to writer.  But the newsletters been gone for a while now.

Invest in a team.  To earn money self-publishing, you have to be willing to spend money.  Many self-published books look self-published.  The designs are clunky and amateurish.  And that isn’t just Sneed’s opinion.  Hand me a stack of books and I can generally tell you which are published by traditional publishers and which are self-published.  Book design is tough! Sneed hires not only editors but also a book designer.  His self-published books come in a professional package.

So would self-publishing work for me?  Collard started self-publishing during a recession when book contracts were few and far between. As it is, I make a living writing.  I turn out a book.  I get a check.  If this was to change, it might become more appealing.  Until then, I’ll most likely keep my focus where it is, on educational nonfiction published through established publishers.


February 1, 2019

World Read Aloud Day: Making My Own Short Video

Wednesday my son helped me make my video for World Read Aloud Day. You can see it above.  For a first video, it isn’t bad.

These are the things I did right.

Background. I picked a quiet place in the house.  I thought the window shade would make an okay background.  I don’t want people looking at my fridge or the laundry I need to fold.

Script. I didn’t write a formal script but I knew where I would start reading (the beginning of the book) and where I would stop (second page).  And I practiced which is important with formal taxonomic names for the various animals.

Camera.  We used a descent camera.  This is actually my son’s phone. I’m not sure why he decided it would be “best ” but it does have a really good camera.

This doesn’t mean that everything was perfect.  There are things I would do differently next time.

Closeup.  I think the camera angle is too wide.  A narrower angle would have used the shade as the background or the light blue dining room wall.  I’ll push for this next time.

Script. There will be an actual script so that the videographer knows when I’m done.

Cue!  He wants a silent way to signal me so that everyone doesn’t hear him at the very beginning saying “go.”

Video description.  I need to remember to tell people that they can click the link in the video description to go to the publisher’s page an order it.

Wrap up.  I want to come up with some clever little line to end with. Something that will encourage reading.

All in all, I think I did a pretty good job for a first effort.  I have a Youtube channel so I had to get that all prettied up. The photo now matches my author photo.  The background is the cover of my book.  And the description tells what kinds of videos I make.

What videos to make next?  My goal is to work up to one a week. If there is something book related you would like to see, let me know in the comments.


January 31, 2019

Hot Markets? How to tell if its worth your time

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:02 am
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I read a lot of industry news. I want to see who is publishing what and where my own work might fit into the market.  Several newsletters and blogs I read recommend hot markets “Check these markets out for the opportunity to make a sale.”

But not all “hot markets are created equal.”  Some definitely offer good opportunities for sales.  Others, not so much.  Here is some of what i look for when I’m studying one of these markets.

They are actively acquiring.  It seems obvious but a market can only be “hot” and a possibility if they are buying. If not, it might be a great resource for Sue the Reader but Sue the Writer needs to go elsewhere.

They are a paying market.  Whether you are a published writer or a money-earning professional, great opportunities to publish that offer you exposure but no pay are really only so-so opportunities.  If it is for a cause or organization that you believe in, feel free to donate your time and talent.  Otherwise, think long and hard about giving your work away.

They are acquiring more than a handful of pieces a year.  Recently, I looked into a new-to-me magazine that purchased up to 3 pieces every six months or so.  If I had a manuscript that was a perfect fit, I might have considered it, but I still wouldn’t call it a hot market.  Why?  Because the maximum number of pieces they acquire/year from freelancers is six.  This may be a viable market but hot?  No. I’d call it tepid.

I’m not saying that you should ignore a small market.  But when you see a market listed in a blog, newsletter or magazine, you are going to be competing against everyone else who also saw it listed.  If you have something that is perfect it, send it.  If not, don’t make this market a priority.  Instead, look for one that might publish something you have ready to pitch or submit.


January 30, 2019

Character Emotion: Emotion Ranges from a Little to a Lot

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:28 am
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Character emotion is one of the first things that writers learn to show vs tell.  An angry character yells and stomps.  A sad character cries.  A happy character dances for joy.

But emotions aren’t binary, either on or off.  Sometimes emotions are strongly felt.  Other times they are more subtle.  Part of showing character emotions is learning to express where on a scale of one to ten your character is experiencing this particular emotion. Let’s take satisfaction as an example.  Your character needs to drop something into the mail.  Sealed letter in hand, she hurries to the front door to see the mail carrier stepping up on the porch.  She’s made it.  It’s a small victory so she simply nods her head to herself.  Job well done.

At lunch, she is discussing getting her scholarship application sent out with a friend.  This friend is certain she did it wrong.  “You should have e-mailed it.”  Your character is sure she is right and she’s more than a little tired of this particular friend second guessing everything she does.  While her friend is texting with her latest boyfriend, your character quickly pulls up the information about the scholarship on her phone.  Questions may be e-mailed in but all applications must arrive via snail mail.  She slides her phone across the table and gives a jazz hand salute.  “Ta da! I told you it had to be mailed in.”

Stronger emotion, stronger reaction.

A month later, she’s listening to messages on her phone before she walks to class.  “We’re pleased to inform you that you’ve been selected to receive a full scholarship to state university.”  A full scholarship!  She shrieks, jumps up and down and throws her arms around a passing student – a victory of this magnitude will play out bigger than getting to the mail box before the mailman.

When you are thinking about how to share your character’s emotion, consider not only the emotion but how strongly it is felt.  Will this call for a small, medium or large reaction?


January 29, 2019

Why Elephant and Piggie Are Top Notch Early Readers

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:47 am
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Earlier this week, I read an article by Jodie Rodriguez about the Elephant and Piggie series. Rodriguez wasn’t happy with her children learning to read.  She wanted them to be fluent without the stumbles and the starts and stops.  She wanted them to grasp what they were reading.  As I read her piece, I realized I was reading about what makes a top-notch beginning reader.

  1. Dialogue dependent.  Much of the text in the Elephant and Piggie books comes in the form of dialogue.  There’s just enough to pull readers into the story but not so much per page that they have to spend too much time decoding unknown words.
  2. Pictoral support.  In a picture book, the illustrations expand on the story.  In an early reader, they help the reader decipher various words. The illustrations provide visual cues. Yes, this is something that the publisher has to do but knowing this is part of an early reader can help you craft your story.
  3.  Performance.  Elephant and Piggie can be acted out.  When a reader gets stuck and another reader acts out the text, inflection and emotion can help identify the tricky word.

What does it take to create a story that can be performed?  Actions are verbs.  In a story that benefits from being acted out the verbs are active.  WHen someone gets stuck, another reader has something clear to act out. The text doesn’t say Rose solved the problem. Instead it briefly says what Rose did.

As the author, you also need to limit the number of words you use to create your story.  Words that have been decoded are old friends.  The reader knows these words.  Words that are unfamiliar create an ongoing struggle.  Yes, you want the reader to expand their vocabulary but you want them to stick with the book until the end.

Elephant and Piggie does all of this and more.  One of my favorite characteristics is that no matter how silly and “out there” these two characters are they are obviously real children.  They do real child things.  They express real child emotions.  All of this adds together to create a story that pulls young readers in. As they read these books, young readers build the confidence they need to grow into the next stage of their reading experience.


January 28, 2019

Author’s Copies: Fossils, Fossils and more Fossils

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:31 am
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Saturday, we came home from bald eagle watching to find a package on the porch.  We were expecting a book for the teen’s birthday but this was way too heavy.  It turned out to be not one book but four – my author’s copies, 2 each, of Evolution of Reptiles and Evolution of Mammals.

When my editor contacted me to see if I wanted to write for this series, for me it wasn’t a question of if. Instead it was a question of how many will you let me do.  Behind me in the photo are some of our many fossils.

Way back when the teen was in first grade or so, he took a geology and fossils class at the community college he is now attending.  Every other kid walked out of class one day carrying a fossil the size of a coaster.  Maybe the size of a saucer.  Not my kid.  He came out lugging this fossil (top right).  That’s a cookbook stand that it is sitting on.  It is about a foot across.  When Jr came out carrying this, the professor was right behind him.  “He could pick something smaller if this one’s not okay.”  That was his first real fossil.

Then they went on a hunt through a creek bed.  He managed to fall, soaking himself and coating himself in mud, shoulders to ankles.  But he came out of it with two fossils.  He took the class again and found two more.  All in all, he has an ammonite, a trilobite (both bottom left), a mastodon tooth and part of a turtle shell (both bottom right).

Me? I used to go fossil hunting with my dad and grandad.  I have a wine glass full of crinoids fossils.

And I needed this love of the topic because these were two really hard books to write.  So much new information has been found since I was in college.  Not that I’m complaining.  Working on these books gave me a great opportunity to update my own knowledge.

Now I’m off to finish working on a proposal for a wildlife series.  These two books will help show the editor my enthusiasm for the project.



January 25, 2019

World Read Aloud Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:44 am
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For 2019, World Read Aloud Day is February 1. That’s one week from today.  Whether you are an author, a teacher or just someone who loves books, reading matters.  LitWorld sponsors this global event and gathered statistics on why reading matters.

  • Statistics gathered in 2016 show that 758 million adults – two thirds of them women – lack basic reading and writing skills.
  • The poorly-literate are less likely to participate in democratic processes. Because of this, they have fewer chances to  exercise their civil rights.
  • Illiterate people earn 30-42% less than the literate.

So what can book lovers do to celebrate literature?

  • Take your children to a reading event at the local library.
  • If there isn’t an event scheduled, find a comfy spot in the children’s section and sit down to share a book aloud.  No, you can’t be too loud but that’s okay.
  • Read at a Scout or Youth meeting.
  • If your child is in school, ask if you can come share a short story with the children.
  • Take photos or videos of your children or yourself reading. Share the images on social media with the tag #WorldReadAloudDay.  Don’t want pictures of your children on social media?  Take photos that show the book covers instead of their faces.

LitWorld has a host of ideas including a list of books around certain themes. Check out all they have to offer here and make plans to read aloud next Friday.  Hopefully, with a little help, I’ll have a video to share.


January 24, 2019

Branding: Do You Have One? Do You Need One?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:22 am
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Does an author need to have a brand?  I’ve always been hesitant to say yes an author needs a brand.  Part of this is because I write so many things.  Although all of my books are nonfiction, the audience ranges from third grade to high school. I’m also writing some fiction. How can a range of books this diverse fit within a single brand?

Hint:  I now see that an author needs a brand but that is only because my understanding has grown.

At first, I understood brand in terms of graphics.  Your site, your Twitter account, your Facebook author page should all have a single look.  From colors to font and photo, a single look helps a reader know that they’ve found you.

Its part of the reason that series have a distinct look.  If you are a cozy reader, you will probably recognize this cover.  When I first saw it, the description didn’t sink with the cover.  Weddings?  What do weddings have to do with a Flavia de Luce novel?  But that’s just how good that cover design is.  It immediately says Flavia de Luce.

If you are a Flavia de Luce reader, you know the brand. She’s smart and sassy and willing to break the rules to get to the bottom of things.  She’s self-assured to the point of being abrasive and also incredibly smart.  Science and chemistry will play a part in solving this mystery.

That’s the series brand.  It is the expectations that readers bring to the series.  It is the emotional response.  It is much more than the look of the series.

And because of that I now realize that as long as I deliver the same things to my readers, whether they are 9 or 19, all of my books can fall under one brand.  The key is to figure out exactly what I want that brand to be.  Making sure my social media all has the same look?  Some people might find that tedious but its the kind of graphic challenge I’ve always enjoyed.  And it too can become a very small part of my brand.



January 23, 2019

A Writing Plan: Customization is Key

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:55 am
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The key is to find what works for you.

Monday one of the son’s friends found me in the kitchen. He’s a college freshman who, like many freshman, finds himself adjusting his life plans.  In spite of the common knowledge that boys don’t read and boys especially don’t read fiction, he’s an avid reader who loves teen fiction.  We spend some time talking writing and his agony trying to work writing in around college.

Him: I know you’re supposed to write every day but when I get home from work I’m spent.  I can’t write for an hour.

Me: So write for fifteen minutes.

Him: But I can’t get much done in fifteen minutes.

Me (shrug):  You have to find what works for you.

Oh the joys of being new to the trenches and having the well-meaning tell you exactly how you should do it.  Write first thing in the morning.  Keep your butt in the chair no matter what.  Don’t write without an outline. Slap down a first draft – it doesn’t matter how bad it is.

We spent time discussing plotting vs pantsing.  He’s a plotter.  I’m a pantser who tries to plot.

Him:  If I know where I’m going, how it will end, I can craft the perfect opening.

Me:  I have to write to where I’m going and then come back and write the opening.

Him: So my way won’t work?

Me:  Not for me but that doesn’t matter.

Him: What do you mean it doesn’t matter.  You’ve got books and I don’t.

Sigh.  This isn’t a high fantasy adventure with a keep full of gold and one treacherous way in and only one treacherous way in.  There are as many ways to work as there are writers.  Your writing plan needs to be customized to suit you.  And the funniest part?  What works for you  today probably won’t be what works tomorrow.  And that’s okay.

Customization is key.  That’s what makes it your writing plan for where you are now.  Explore.  Fiddle.  Improvise.  And find what works for you. That is, after all, what we writers do.


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