One Writer’s Journey

May 9, 2018

Negotiating: You Don’t Have to Say Yes

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 9:59 pm
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Some of the writers I know say yes to everything their agent, editor or publisher asks.  In short order, they are unhappy because they feel like they’ve been taken advantage of.  Other writers, perhaps because they’ve seen this, say no.  Most of their publishing relationships are short term. I try to find middle ground, saying yes to some things and no to others.

If the question is about the manuscript itself, I try to always say yes.  That doesn’t mean that I make the requested change with no thought.  It is still my manuscript.  But if someone asks for a change so that the information will be more accessible to the reader?  I take a look at what they are asking.  If their solution doesn’t work, I look for one that will.

If someone asks me to make a change that will make something factually inaccurate, then I say no.

If the question involves money, again I take a look at what is being requested.  When my publisher offered me more for the same terms, I said “Yes, thank you!”  I have since discovered that very few people get that offer.  Why?  Because they say no so often that the relationship doesn’t last long enough to get a raise.

Another work for hire situation paid very little per piece but they were short enough that I could write several a day. The publisher bought enough that I could pay the phone bill every month.  I didn’t have many writing credits yet so this was a big deal.  But then the publisher came to all of us and said that she wasn’t making enough.  She wanted us to work for free.  Um. . . no.  You cannot tell me that you won’t get back to me for two weeks because you are going to your second home, this one in a vacation hot spot, and then ask me to work for free. She tried guilt.  Um, yeah.  You have two houses.  I did not change my answer.

If the point is to create a top-notch manuscript, look for a way to say yes.  You don’t have to compromise your artistic integrity but try to hear what is being said.

If the change is going to reduce your ability to pay your bills?  That’s a good time to say no.



May 8, 2018

Book Covers

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:21 am
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Normally I get really excited when I find the cover art for one of my upcoming books.  This time?  Not so much.  It isn’t the art that is the problem but the topic.

I’m not surprised anymore when RedLine asks me to write a difficult book.  But these were tough.  Part of it was the topic.  Writing about addiction is just really difficult because you have to go after stories of people’s lives falling apart.

But it is also incredibly difficult to research something like this.  Editors and publishers want statistics but accurate statistics are tough to find. First of all, there’s the matter of legality.  Police can gather statistics about the people they arrest, but not those no one even suspects.  Hospitals and treatment centers can collect data on people who seek treatment or are admitted through the ER.  But that leaves a large number of people uncounted.

Add to this the fact that everyone collecting statistics has a bias. Law enforcement wants to show they are providing an essential service as do hospitals and treatment centers.  People who are trying to legalize various drugs, including certain types of steroids, downplay potential problems.  Family members, social workers and more – they’re all biased and understandably so.

But this all contributes to the difficulty in writing about these topics and also the importance.  If a nonfiction writer has a hard time sorting out fact from fiction, so will a young person.  While I’m not excited about the cover art, I’m glad I put in the effort needed to write about these topics.


May 7, 2018

Dealing with rejection

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:27 am

A couple of weeks ago, someone posted in one of the groups that I participate in because she had received two rejection letters.  One from an agent and one from a publisher.  The whole thing had her really, really upset.

Here is where I reveal that I am THAT mom.  You know – the one that tells her four-year-old point-blank that people don’t always give you what you want.  And no, you don’t have the right to be devastated by the whole experience.  Rejection, my darling child and my adorable readers is a part of life.

That said some rejections hurt.  In fact, they just about flatten you.  Maybe the agent asked for a rewrite.  Or the editor requested a full after telling you how much she loved it.  Or your just tired and stressed.  Whatever.  Some rejections are harder to take than others.  But the good news is that there are ways to deal with this including these three.

Know where the piece will go next.  When you submit a piece to an editor or agent, know which publisher or agency is next on your list.  That way you aren’t getting a rejection as much as the opportunity to share your work with someone else.

Prepare a prize.  One of my friends did this and I borrowed the idea from her.  On slips of paper, she wrote gifts prizes she could win when a piece was rejected.  Put the slips in the basket or jar and then draw one when you get a rejection.  Maybe you get to go out for coffee.  Or you get to spend an hour knitting.  Or you go the movies.  Whatever, it has to be something that will make you happy.

Try to ear 100 rejections.  Another way to deal with rejections is to try to earn 100/year.  Do your market research and get your work out there, submitting to and querying agencies, publishers, magazines, etc.  Every rejection that you receive is one more step towards that goal.  If you make your goal, you could possibly reward yourself with a prize.

Rejection is a big part of writing.  You aren’t going to hear yes every time you send something in and that’s okay.  You want to grow and improve and rejection is often the nudge that we all need to do that.

What helps you deal with rejection?



May 4, 2018

Children’s Book Week: Childhood Favorites

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 pm
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As writers, we are often inspired by our own childhood favorites.  I loved so many books.

The Boxcar Children.  The first non-picture book that I read time and time again was probably The Boxcar Children.  I’m not sure when I discovered it, but I remember checking it out again and again in fifth grade.  I’m not sure why the librarian didn’t just get me my own copy.  I loved that the kids were independent and that they upcycled so much.  We didn’t have that word for it, my grandmother would have called it ‘making do,’ but I loved that aspect of this book.

The Borrowers.  It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that this was actually several books because mine was a hardback copy of them all.  But again I love the idea of making something out of something else and the whole hidden world  aspect.

Little House etc.  My mother and I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.  Well, she started them with me and then I took off.  I was a voracious reader. We watched the tv show but I liked the books even better.  Yes, I saw the racist aspects but I saw racist people in the world around me so why would a book be any different?

The Meg Mysteries.  I adored mysteries and had to get special permission to check out the Nancy Drews from the book mobile because they were considered “teen” books.  But even more than Nancy Drew I loved the Meg Mysteries.  Not that I limited myself to these two series. I also read Trixie Belden and something to do with Alfred Hitchcock.  The Three Investigators, maybe?

Anything and everything by Marguerite Henry.  Put a horse on the cover and I would snatch it up.  Write a horse book based on fact and I’d knock someone over to get it.  The only fan letter I ever wrote was the Marguerite Henry.

The tricky thing with old favorites is that they inspire us but we can’t generally use them as mentor texts.  Why?  Publishing and literature have changed so much between now and then.  Be inspired by your childhood favorites but also read what is being published now.  Today’s children are just as hungry for great stories as we were.


May 3, 2018

Children’s Book Week: Books for Every Reader

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:30 am
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My son never enjoyed Captain Underpants.  In fact, as far as I know he never even picked one up.  But then again he didn’t care for Sponge Bob either.  Nope.  He had his own favorites.

I learned this, much to my chagrin, one day at Main Street Books.  We almost never go in without buying something.  So we were pulling books off the shelves and paging through them, looking for favorite authors as well as new treasures.

“Mom, can I have this?”

I was completely ready to say yes when I turned and looked at the book in his hands.  What?  Really?  Ugh.  Before you read any farther please understand that I later became a total fan but my first reaction to David Shannon’s No David!  was no.  I love elaborate nuanced art work.  This.  No.  I love playful texts that are fun to read aloud.  This was insanely short.

“Let’s find you a nice book.”

“I want this one.”

“Why?  Why do you love it?”  I was thinking what’s to love?

“It’s just so beautiful.”

That was not the answer I expected but it did bring home the point that we need a wide variety of books to appeal to a wide variety of readers.  Some readers, like my son, are going to go for books about boys that are into everything and leave chaos in their wake.  Some readers won’t more elaborate stories about a girl with sparkle and flair (Fancy Nancy). Others want books with animal characters that stand in for the children (Yolen and Teague’s Dinosaur books).

And this is why we need a wide range of writers, illustrators and other publishing professionals creating a wide range of books.  What I write is different from what Jeanie Ransom writes and from what Stephanie Bearce writes.  What one reader loves, another just won’t get.  And that’s why we need to promote books and reading vs just our own books.



May 2, 2018

Children’s Book Week: Adults and Children’s Books

I have to admit that I don’t remember it but my parents told the story, and recited the text, often enough that I believed them.  My favorite book was apparently Puffy the Puppy.  “Puffy the puppy is fat and well fed, Puffy the Puppy is asleep in his bed.”  You absolutely must recite those two lines while rolling your eyes every time to book is mentioned.  It was my favorite but I made my parents read it so often that they hated it.

Then there was my cousin Carol and Pinocchio.  My grandfather may have read it so often that he got a little punchy but he had fun with it.  By the time Bumpa was done, Pinocchio was fleeing Chicago-style gangsters complete with gangster accents.

Even before I started writing, I understood that adults are the gate keepers.  This is especially true at the picture book level.  That means you have to throw the adults a bone.  Some authors do this by making their books fun enough to read aloud that the adults don’t entirely mind reading it 87 times in one week.  Let’s  just say that my son may be a college freshman but my husband and I can still recite Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance.  

Another way to offer something to the older reader is with humor.  Young readers will get it at one level but older readers will get something else.  Jeanie Ransom does this with her pun-filled What Really Happened to Humpty Dumpty.  The books of Dan Santat and Jon Scieszka are warped enough to amuse adult readers.  Well, certain adult readers.  The ones like me.

Nonfiction picture books that make use of sidebars also offer something to older readers. Younger readers can stick with the shorter text.  Older readers can build on the experience by also reading the sidebars.

What children’s books do you love that appeal to the adults who share the reading experience with pre-readers?


May 1, 2018

Children’s Book Week: Loving Books Even Before I Could Read

Even before I could read, I loved books and magazines.  My mother had a family medical encyclopedia full of anatomical drawings.  I loved looking at the skeleton, muscle groups, organs, cardiovascular system, etc.  It all fascinated me.

I also had a tendency to kidnap the National Geographic magazine.  I still love the photos it contains.  Animals, people, landscapes, starscapes.  They’re all great.  My father learned that if he wanted to read it, he needed to get to it first.  Not that he minded my choice of “reading,” but he didn’t want to wait.  Apparently I was a rather slow pre-reader.

Every book in the house that had a number of photos was fair game.  That meant that I pulled down book on cacti and the Davis Mountains, Native Americans and regional histories.  I looked through cookbooks and sewing books, manuals and guides.  My uncles beading books for scouts were among my favorites.

Fortunately, my father worked on a survey crew in highschool and still loved maps, because I adored them.  US Geological Survey maps, fire insurance maps, globes and atlases.

Everything visual was on the menu.  I even remember one trip to the art museum when a guard got down on the floor with me as we looked into the lid of a mummy’s sarcophagus.  Even before I could read my own language, I loved looking at hieroglyphs, both Egyptian and Mayan, Chinese pictographs, Hebrew, and more.

All of this may explain why, although I’m a writer vs being an author/illustrator, I always giving my son wordless books as well as I Spy books and other nonfiction books that heavily rely on illustrations and photography.  I think my favorite wordless picture book is still Tuesday by David Wiesner.

Whether you are an author or an author/illustrator, take the time to study wordless picture books.  Our audience isn’t entirely made up of readers and these books are marvels in pacing and story telling.  Images and imagery are both part of the storytelling toolbox.


April 30, 2018

Children’s Book Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
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Guess what today is!  The first day of Children’s Book Week.  Sponsored by Every Child a Reader, the goal is a week-long celebration of children’s books.  Why? Because books and literacy change lives. Established in 1919, Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country.

Every year, events are held nationwide at schools, libraries, bookstores, and more.  The event in my area is in a library.  A library.  I’m lucky because there are well several dozen libraries in three separate library systems in my area – St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles. Check out this map to find an event in an area near you.  Don’t see an event in your area?  Pffft.  Make your own.

Step 1.  Visit your local library and check out some children’s books.  Go with tried and true favorites as well as new titles.

Step 2.  Read.  You can read on your own or you can read aloud to young readers and prereaders.  Imagine the joy of turning someone else on to a great book.

Step 3.  Now have some book-based fun.  This could mean doing a craft inspired by the book, writing a poem based on the book, or acting it out.  Discussions, songs, plays and more.  There’s no end to what you can do.  And then?

Step 4.  Read some more.

Obviously, I’ve kind of got a thing for children’s books.  So this week I’ll spend some time writing about my favorites and how they’ve inspired and informed my work as a writer.  I’ll also be tweeting about children’s books this week.  You can check out my tweets here.  And if you tweet or blog about children’s books this week, be sure to comment with your link below so that we can fall in love with new or new-to-us children’s books.  Let’s celebrate.


April 27, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Outlining Your Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:33 am
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Sometimes I outline. Sometimes I pants.  Admittedly, I pants most often on short pieces, especially nonfiction.  Longer nonfiction has an outline but it isn’t very complete.  I am definitely outlining my current fiction project because it is a mystery and an adult mystery at that.  There is no way I’ll manage to keep it all straight without an outline.

So how do you go about creating an outline in 5 minutes?  You don’t.  Instead you work on it in 5 minute increments.  It isn’t as hard as you might think.  I just completed #2 below and I already have 15 scenes.

  1. Do you have the turning points or big moments in your story?  Jot those down in chronological order.
  2. Do your turning points have complications?  Add those in at the appropriate points in time.
  3. What about things that happened before your story? The essential bits of character back story.  This can help you determine why one character doesn’t trust another and, essential in a mystery, the reasons for all the mistrust. Go ahead and jot those scenes down too in the order in which they happened.  No, they may not all become scenes but that’s okay.  Keep track of them along with your scenes.
  4. Take a good luck at your pivotal scenes.  What is likely to happen before this?  After this?  Write it down.
  5. In my case, I’m working on a mystery.  I need to add the murders events in as well as they fit within the larger timelines.  No, I may not write any of them up, but I need to keep track of them within the larger structure.
  6. Starting from the top, see where you have too great a gap between one scene and the next.  Ask yourself questions to fill them in.

Admittedly I have a love/hate relationship with outlining fiction.  I worry that it will destroy any spontaneity but I also have to acknowledge that especially with a mystery this is essential.



April 26, 2018

Writing Habits: Where Do You Work Best?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:22 am

Monday, I met with a teen book club. This was an online meeting in part because they live all over the country.  Parents and teens sat in on the meeting and asked a wide variety of questions.  Although the focus was Black Lives Matter, several of these young readers also want to write.  One of them asked me where I work best because, you know, some people like to write in cafes.  It wasn’t until after I answered the question and saw his mother’s reaction that I realized it was a bit of a set up.

Yes, I know people who love to write in coffee shops and cafes.  Hip hip hooray for them.  I am not one of these people.

No. No. No. I have to be in my office, alone if possible.

In a cafe, someone will walk past and I have to look up.  Hmm.  Interesting sweater.  That’s a nice looking dessert.  I wonder what it’s called?  Do they have any more?  It really doesn’t take a whole lot to distract me.

Then his mother started laughing.  Oh, I see.  The teens had been making a play that tv and music and people aren’t a distraction when they do their homework.  Sorry.  I didn’t help your case.

But that’s my reality.  I’m easy to distract.

That said, when I focus I pull off amazing things.  I wrote about 13,000 words in one week.  I did not do it in a cafe or coffee shop.  I can pop through a page every 20 minutes or so if I have the information I need.  It takes longer if I have to look something up and then I’m also risking distraction.  But I write hard and fast and then . . .

Shh.  Exhausted writer at rest.

I know this isn’t how everyone works but I know what works best for me.  You?  Maybe you do best in cafe or an airport.


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