One Writer’s Journey

August 2, 2019

Self or Independent Publishing: There Is a Cost to Do It Right

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:30 am
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Far too often, when an author tells me that they plan to self-publish the reason is so that they can keep all the money.   I’m not saying that money shouldn’t be a factor, but it shouldn’t be the only factor.  Would I like to make more money on the books I write for the school library market?  Sure.  But could I get my work into school libraries without the publisher?  No.

Writers who are considering self-publishing also need to realize that in addition to getting all of the income they will be incurring all of the cost.  For whatever reason, a lot of new writers seem to think that they have to pay a fee to get various retailers, including Amazon, to carry their work.  While that’s not the case there are several others expenses the independently published author faces.

First is editing.  Even if your critique group is amazing, you are going to want to pay for editing.  A top notch editor will help you identify the places that need more work but they can also help you find inconsistencies or repetitive points in the story.  I suggest the latter because I just finished listening to a book by a big name author.  There were several sections that repeated earlier text word-for-word.

Second is editing.  Seriously, you can’t emphasize this enough.  In addition to what I consider “big picture” editing, the things I discussed in the preceding paragraph, a good copy editor will catch spelling and punctuation errors.

Third is design.  Very few people should design their own books.  Me?  Nope.  I shouldn’t do it.  When I do try to do design work, I can tell it is off but now why or what to do to fix it.  Being able to point to a vague problem isn’t enough.  Someone needs to lay out the interior of the book and also do the cover.

Fourth is design.  Do I seem to be repeating myself? Like editing (listen to your editors!), good design is vital.  When I reviewed books for our local paper, I could sort four cases of books into two piles – traditionally published and self-published. Every once in a while, I would put a poorly designed traditionally published book in the wrong pile.  But I never misidentified a self-published book.  Again, I could never put my finger on why I could tell, but I could.  It is a lot like trying to pass of carob as chocolate.  Thanks but no.  I can tell.

The tools needed for individuals to design their own books have come a long way.  My friend Marella Sands does the design work for Word Posse.  I would let her design my book in a heartbeat. She may be self-taught but she is that good.  Me?  I still shouldn’t do it for myself.  See my note above about being able to tell something looks bad but now how to fix it.

Nathan Bransford recently published a post where he went into the specifics costs of self-publishing.  In addition to my own pet peeves discussed above, he discusses marketing and publishing.  Read his post here.


August 1, 2019

A Matter of Taste: Choosing Just the Right Editor

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:10 am
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Finding just the right editor or agent for your manuscript is often a matter of finding someone with just the right taste. As important as it is to write a top-notch, marketable book, although we don’t like to think about it, taste plays a huge part.

I was reminded of this while reading agent profiles, specifically the profile of Melissa Richeson at Apokedak.  Simply put, she despises birds.  I laughed out loud when I read this, not because I think it is funny but because I totally get it and not everyone does.

Why we expect agents and editors to happily love everything that is well written is a mystery?  We don’t love everything even everything well-written.  Why should they?

Admit it. Among the classic authors, there are two or three you dislike or at least have negative associations with their books.  Mine is Herman Melville.  Way back when I was in college, we undergraduates were periodically compelled to attend guest lectures sponsored by the chancellor.

The only lecture I can remember somehow managed to combine Herman Melville and Abraham Lincoln.  If you don’t get it, don’t worry.  Neither did I.  I spent the entire lecture wondering what I was missing. Did I not get it because I wasn’t a lit major?  Was there some key bit of knowledge that I lacked?  After the lecture, our professor asked for our impressions. This particular professor had no problem with us disagreeing with him as long as we could tell him why but I was still reluctant to share my thoughts. Blessedly an older student stood up.  “Professor, the emperor has no clothes.”

Sadly, every time someone mentions Melville, I think of this experience.  Rational or not, I shy away from his work and most often also from things that are about him.    And yet I’m a fairly rational person.

When you are looking for an agent or editor, find out all you can.  You never know what bit of information will inform you that you should or should not submit your work to a particular person.


July 31, 2019

Easter Eggs: What They Are and Where to Hide Them

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:44 am
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When I say “Easter eggs,” what do you think of?  If you’re hungry, you may be thinking of spring time Easter eggs, either the hard boiled or the chocolate versions.  But in terms of movies, especially movies based on graphic novels, an Easter egg is a pop culture reference hidden in the movie.

One of the best movies for spotting Easter eggs is Ready Player One. And no, I don’t mean that whole bit with The Shining.  That is way too obvious to be an Easter egg. Movie posters that appear as part of the setting, a button or patch on a character’s jacket, a character’s name or a scene that is blocked to mimic the scene in a classic film, those are all Easter eggs.

In Ready Player One, you need to pay close attention to the skins that the various characters wear when they are in the OASIS.  And I don’t mean just their regular character skins.  Instead of paying attention to the main action, look at that skins they wear in battle and you will spot a Gremlin, the Iron Giant, Battletoads, Halo soldiers, and more. Background music and cars in the race scenes are other ways that this movie works in Easter eggs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Easter eggs after reading Alissa Grosso’s column at YA Outside the Lines.  Whenever possible, I try to work Easter eggs into my work even when I’m writing nonfiction.  My favorite place to do this is in chapter subtitles.

But after reading Grosso’s column I’ve started wondering if I should be working Easter eggs into my graphic novel script.  I’m writing this for a picture book audience so anything I work in wouldn’t be for my young readers as much as for the adults who are reading to them.

Some Easter eggs would definitely be the work of the illustrator but I could do something with my character names.  This is definitely something I’m going to be thinking over as I work on my rewrite.


July 30, 2019

Fact-Based Fiction: Writing Fiction Based on Fact

Inspiration comes from many different places.  Museum displays, the movies I see and the books I read all prompt story ideas.  Often these ideas are based on little known people or events.  Once I find something that intrigues me, I have to decide if I’m going to write nonfiction or fiction.

When I am writing for younger readers, I try to end my piece on a hopeful note.  This can be tricky when writing a biography of someone who died young, broke, or as a result of addiction or substance abuse.  Some events in-and-of-themselves are not upbeat or inspiring.

Such was the case of the ship wreck that inspired Chris Van Dusen’s The Circus Ship. In 1836, a circus ship went down off the coast of Maine.  After the wreck, rumors persisted that the circus elephant had survived, making it to show.  Nonetheless, it is believed that most of the animals died.

Warning:  This paragraph contains a plot spoiler!  In light of this morose ending, it isn’t surprising that Van Dusen decided to fictionalize the story.  In his account, not only do the animals all swim ashore, they make places for themselves among the islanders.  When wicked circus owner comes for the animals, the islanders hide them.

Just how much liberty you take with a fact-based story depends on the story you decide to tell.  Van Dusen has created a fanciful world where tigers save children from house fires, alligators make smart companions, and gorillas in hiding wear men’s clothing.

When you write fact-based fiction, whether it is a picture book like this one or a novel, the first thing to remember is that you need to create a story that works.  This may mean adding, subtracting or vastly altering characters. You may have to invent acceptable motivations for character actions.  And the ending has to work.

Again, how far you can go will depend on your story.  When writing historic fiction, you can’t reinvent history, something that you are actually encouraged to do when writing alternate history.  Figure out what story you want to tell, learn about the genre, and do your research. Then set about creating a story that springs to life.


July 29, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:35 am
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Creative Nonfiction Essay ContestDo you write essays?  If so, there is a creative nonfiction essay contest sponsored by Women on Writing.  Sadly, because I work for them, I can’t enter.  But if you have something ready to go, send it in.  They take only 300 entries and the deadline is Wednesday.

Prizes include $500 cash for first place, $300 for second, and $200 for third. Runners up will get Amazon gift cards with coupons for those writers who get an honorable mentions.

What is a creative nonfiction essay?  For this contest it can be any style of nonfiction narrative including  memoir, personal essay, hybrid, lyric, and more.  The topic is wide open. The word count must be between 200 – 1000 words.

Essays may have been published. Submissions are accepted only through e-mail.  Simultaneous submissions (submitted to more than one market at a time) and multiple submissions (more than one essay submitted to the contest) are both acceptable.  There is an entry fee and I don’t remember exactly how much it is although it isn’t very mich, if I remember correctly.

For the complete rules, download the Creative Nonfiction Essay PDF here.

I don’t read for this particular contest but this is a really good opportunity for anyone who writes essays.  Good luck!

July 26, 2019

Social Media Do and Don’t

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:06 am
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First and foremost, to get published, you need a top notch manuscript.  It doesn’t matter if you are a picture book author/illustrator or a young adult author, it is your work that will get your foot in the door.

That said, there are things that will make editors and agents want to slam that door shut.  I’ve had both editors and agents look me up online.  More than one editor has told me that my social media presence encouraged them to make me an offer.  This wasn’t simply because I had a social media presence.  The nature of your presence can also make a big difference.

In addition to wanting to be able to contact you easily, they check out how you behave online.  Simply put, be professional and positive.

In greater detail, avoid rants.  Although each and every rant you post may feel justified at the time, whether you are ranting about a slow editor or the critique group that didn’t like your work, rants paint a picture of someone who is difficult to work with.  They make you look uncooperative and argumentative, the Negative Nancy of the publishing world.

Furthermore, don’t be continually negative.  Sure, we have all spells where we feel like the world is out to get us.  But avoid posts about how bad the publishing world is now compared to when you started.  Don’t pan publishers, editors and agents.

Does this mean that you can’t post less than glorious news?  No.  I’ve posted before about publishers that were closing or filing for bankruptcy. It is important to help fellow authors and illustrators stay informed.  But stick to the facts and try not to spiral into an epic tale of gloom and doom.

Be informative.  Be upbeat.  You can even be a bit irreverent and fun.  Be the kind of person that you want to present to future co-workers.  Quirky is good.  Volatile?  Not so much.


July 25, 2019

Arcadia Children’s Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:19 am
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When you want something, it pays to ask.  The proof?  Arcadia Publishing has recently announced the creation of Arcadia Children’s Books.

“Retailers everywhere are telling us that their customers are hungry for local content, and we keep getting asked to add a hyper-local program for kids. We’re listening to our customers, and we couldn’t be more pleased to have Nancy Ellwood, such a proven and talented children’s publishing leader, joining the Arcadia team,” says Arcadia president and CEO David Steinberger.

Steinberger told PW He told PW, “We are likely to publish books for a range of ages.” Their plans including publishing in a variety of formats and have not ruled out producing books for any single age group.

With more than 20 years of experience in children’s publishing, particularly in children’s nonfiction, former DK editorial director Nancy Ellwood who has more than has been chosen to head up the new endeavor.

“It’s an honor to apply my years of experience to building a new children’s program for Arcadia, America’s leading publisher of books of local interest. We are going to tap into kids’ natural compassion, curiosity and openness, and create books that focus on here, now, home and community,” says Ellwood.  Ellwood will be working from New York and hiring her own team.

Arcadia may be best known for their Images of America series.  They have published a handful of children’s titles in the past but this is their first major commitment to publishing books for children.

For more on this story  in Publisher’s Weekly. 





July 24, 2019

Book Reviews and Recommendations

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:07 am
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A novel I recommend.

I am a ridiculously avid reader.  What do I mean by ridiculously avid?  At any time I am reading:

  • One magazine that stays in the car.
  • One magazine that stays in the bedroom.
  • A book that is on my nightstand.
  • An audiobook for when I am crafting or washing dishes.
  • An ebook (Kindle/treadmill or RB Digital/rowing) for exercise.

You might think that reading this many things would slow me down considerably.  Granted, I also count the picture books I read, but I finished book #90 yesterday.  I don’t bother to keep track of the magazines.

Perhaps because I am such an avid reader, I want other people to love reading too.  This means that when I post about a book on Twitter or Bookshelf, my book review blog, I am recommending the books.  I don’t post about a book just so that I can complain about the ending or the research.  And if there have been highly critical reviews, I don’t agree with them.

So what do I post?

Obviously, what I post on Twitter is going to be short, sweet and to the point.  “I just read XYZ, a great picture book for . . . this novel is a great choice for writers who are studying plot or pacing.”

A picture book I recommend.

When I review a book, I start with a summary of the book.  In fiction, this includes the main character and the story problem.  In nonfiction, this includes the topic and breadth of treatment. Then I go on to discuss who would like the book.  Is it a good book for reading aloud?  A great choice for reluctant readers?  Is it a mystery that fantasy fans would enjoy?  Then I include this information.

If people online have been critical about the book, I might address it.  Maybe.

I have to admit that I don’t tend to read critical reviews.  Often the people who complain about a book and give it only one star don’t seem to have been clear on what the book was about in the first place.  Simply reading the jacket copy would have made it clear that this book would touch on evolution, politics or some other equally terrifying topic.  Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if these same people freaked out each and every morning when the toast pops up out the toaster.  After all, who could have possibly seen that coming?!

Do I love every book I read?  Um, no.  But I am not going to pan a book in public.  There is only so much time in the day.  I’d rather recommend a book I loved.


July 23, 2019

Graphics: When to Include Them When You Aren’t an Illustrator

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:40 am
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Now that Earning, Saving and Investing is up on Amazon, I wanted to talk about one of the challenges I faced in writing this book.

Money is an abstract concept so writing about it is never easy.  I found myself struggling to make my explanations as concrete as possible.  This was especially difficult when I was trying to explain things like simple interest vs compound interest or what type of investment you might consider based on how long you are willing to tie up your money and how great a risk you are willing to take.

When I had roughed out the section on interest, it took me two pages to explain what I wanted the table to include.  “For simple interest, you compound the interest thusly so this space would show X and this space would show Y.”  Explaining compound interest looked like I was trying to write out a calculus problem without using any mathematical symbols other than the numbers themselves.

Finally, I roughed out the table.  The formula for simple interest and the appropriate numbers ran down the left column.  The formula for compound interest and the numbers took up the right column.  The columns were lined up so that readers could compare month by month.  It wasn’t a thing of beauty but it was a lot easier to understand than my long, drawn out explanation.  Along with my table, I noted that I didn’t expect it to go into the text “as is” but here is where I got the formula.

For two other sections I gave up on my “if X then Y” explanations and simply created flow charts.  I worked them up on Illustrator but first I wrote a post-it note for each “space” and laid the tables out on sheets of cardboard.  That helped me see where things would fit on the final chart. Again, I let my editor know that in no way did I consider this final art.  It was just easier to convey the information to her graphically, in much the same way that it would be conveyed to the reader.

Just a little something to think about as you are struggling to describe a chart, table or graph textually.  It might be easier just to mock it up.


July 22, 2019

Onomatopoeia or SFX, Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:12 am
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Just over a week ago, I wrote this post about using SFX in my graphic novel.  If I was writing a picture book, we’d say I was including onomatopoeia.

On Friday I found myself yet again including SFX.  One character was shooting another with a goop gun.  Then there was the girl armed with a marshmallow shooter.  The next spread included a character whose superpower manifested in a huge power surge.  In my head, I can hear the sound.  It starts low in volume and quickly rises in an electrical crackle.  Crackle?  crackLE? (Word hates this last version so much that it changed it four times to “crackle.”)

Sometimes I figure out how to write an SFX by listening to a recorded sound.  That worked for a blender and a vacuum.  But the energy surge was giving me a lot of trouble.  If only I could see how someone else had written it.

I hoped that having more than one source to investigate would help so I did a Google search on “how does an explosion sound” and then “how to write out that sound of an explosion.”  This last one returned a really helpful site, the Onomatopoeia Dictionary.

Type “explosion” into the searchable database yielded twenty-five results.  I adapted one of them to work in my graphic novel.

The site also provides tips for a better search.  If pace doesn’t yield anything helpful, try a synonym such as walk.  Also, use a shorter search term (walk) vs (walking on gravel).  If, on the other hand, you think your word should be included as is, you can click “submit a word” at the top of the screen.

The fifteen most searched words?  Water, car, door, cat, siren, fall, rain, helicopter, drum, beep, dog, alarm, heart, plane and train.

Personally, I think my top choice will always be to listen to the sound and determine my own spelling.  But sometimes my mental pump needs to be primed and I want to see how someone else has written it before I adapt the word to create a sound more accurate to my story.


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