One Writer’s Journey

April 11, 2018

Revision: Taking Advice and Reworking Your Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:41 am
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On Monday, I posted about Kansas Missouri SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators) Agents Day. As part of this event, you got a paid critique from an agent.  Mine was with Adria Goetz from Martin Literary.  She critiqued Drip by Drip, Cave Below, a nonfiction manuscript about a cave.

While she had positive things to say about my manuscript, she also had a big change that she wanted me to make.  Parts of the manuscript were very lyrical.  Yay, me!   But there was also a lot of science.  And I do mean a lot.  She wants me to separate the two so that I have lyrical text and science rich sidebars.

I like this idea a lot.  In fact, I like it so much that it is the way that I originally wrote People Pray.  That said, I took the sidebars out of that manuscript at the advice of an editor who then passed on it.

This is one of those moments when I have a big decision to make starting with Drip by Drip, Cave Below.  I can keep it as is – lyrical bits and science together. Or I can take Adria’s advice and keep the lyrical bits in the main text and separate the science into sidebars.  Or I can just reduce the science which is not going to happen although I am going to create separate sidebars.

But I am also going to take Adria’s advice and use it to rework People Pray.  Why?  Because I’ve been invited to send that one in and I want it to be lyrical and full of the kind of information that will make it a great social science text.

Rewriting based on what you learn at a writing event.  It’s never fast but if you take what you’ve learned and apply it?  You’ve got a much better chance of getting your foot in the door and finding an agent.



September 27, 2017

Side Bars: Bite-Sized Chunks of Info

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:50 am
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I’d love to say that I finished a whole chapter today.  That would sound really impressive.  And I thought I would manage to pull it off when I saw how few comments my editor had on my chapter.  Seven.  You should be able to pop through seven comments lickety split.

Sidebar from The Ancient Maya.

Pfft.  What I hadn’t realized was that one of them was a “big comment.”

Little comments are things like:
Double check this fact.
What country is this in?
Make sure this word is in the glossary.

Big comments take a lot more effort to address.  Big comments are on this scale:
I’m not saying it should be here, but somewhere in the chapter/book, you need to address X.
Cut the preceding two paragraphs and expand on the ideas in this paragraph.
Make sure that your sidebars are spaced evenly throughout the chapter.

This particular comment was the last one.  The one about sidebars.

For those of you who haven’t included sidebars in a manuscript, sidebars are those bite-sized write-ups that provide just a bit more information about something in the chapter, article or book.  A sidebar is offset from the rest of the text often by a box, title, different font, or background color.  This sort of thing is handled by whoever does the interior book design.

Within the manuscript, a sidebar includes a title and is double-spaced.  It looks a lot like the surrounding text.  When I write for Red Line, I set sidebars off by including SB: at the beginning of the title.  The one above would have been SB: Jade.  I also have a fairly tight word count that I need to stay within when I include sidebars.  On my current project there are two sidebar lengths.  Short are less than 100 words.  Long are 150 to 200 words.

The hardest part?  The part that took me so much time today?  When there are multiple sidebars in a chapter, I need to make sure that they are spaced, more or less, evenly from beginning to end.  When there are four, they don’t have to be at the 1/4 mark, 1/2 way, at the 3/4, and at the end.  But most of them can’t be bunched up at the beginning of the chapter either.  When they are, you may have to fold one into the main text and come up with another.

It may not take long to write an individual sidebar, but making sure you have them dispersed correctly is another thing altogether.


June 28, 2016

Sidebars: Formatting and Voice

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:53 am

Ancient Maya sidebar.

Those of us who write nonfiction often use sidebars to include information that isn’t “on topic” enough to go into the main text but can still provide insight into the topic.  In Ancient Maya, my chapter on Maya society includes sidebars on murals that show life in the marketplace and jade.  In The Attack on Pearl Harbor, the chapter on US intelligence efforts has sidebars on Japanese censorship, how the US gathered information on Japanese cryptanalysis, the US military belief that an attack was impossible and how long it took the US to decrypt Japanese messages.

Coming up with these sidebar topics can be a lot of fun but sidebars intimidate new nonfiction writers.  The most common question?  “How do I format them? Where do I include them in the manuscript?”  When a book has chapters, I simply include them at the end of the chapter. The sidebars are double spaced and otherwise formatted just like the other text.
The voice of your sidebar is most often the same as the voice in your main manuscript.  If, in the book design, the sidebars are printed on the page as inserts from academic notes, newspaper stories or something similar, the tone and voice would be consistent with whatever they were supposed to be.  This might mean that the voice would be more academic or, in the case of “yellow” journalism, skewed in that direction.
When it comes to the word count, follow the publisher’s guidelines.  For Red Line and ABDO, I include the word count of the sidebars in the count for the chapter.  Other publishers may have other requirements.
Sidebars are a great way to give your reader just a bit more information.  As I research, I keep track of things that are interesting but are just a bit off topic.  Eventually, many of these things end up becoming sidebars.

June 21, 2016

Extra, Extra: Including photographs, artifacts and more to help sell your manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:05 am
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photo-256888_960_720Recently I read a blog post by agent Janet Reid about a would-be client who wanted to know if she sould include a historic, handwritten resume and a photograph as part of her manuscript.  Wouldn’t these awesome items help the manuscript sell?

Reid’s answer was short and simple.  No.

Her advice to authors was this — create a manuscript that will dazzle your potential editor or agent. Sell your manuscript. Artifacts can become a part of your web site. And she’s right.  These are the kinds of things that I love finding on an author’s web site.  Want to hook me fast — include a photo of a relevent grave stone.  INclude pictures of a recreated village or histori re-enactors.

Maps, timelines and author’s notes can be created after the manuscript does the hard work of hooking the agent. The only time that I include things like this (backmatter) with the original manuscript is when I finish a project for ABDO and they are discussed in the contract.

I have to admit that I really wanted to argue with Reid’s response.  I wanted to . . . but I just can’t quite bring myself to do it.  Why?  Because I’ve seen way too many manuscripts and talked to way too many authors who want to create the flash before they create the manuscript.  What do I mean by creating flash? Paper engineering that will be part of the book.  A website.  A blog with posts by the main character.  The list could go on and on.

Yes, editors and agents want to know that you are willing to help market your work, but a lot of people can come up with marketing ideas and gimmicks. Writers are, after all, idea people.  The reality is that all of the marketing ideas in the world aren’t going to do you any good if you cannot finish a manuscript.

Finish your manuscript.  Hook an editor or agent.  Then worry about adding flash to the finished project.  They will want your help but only after you show them a top- notch manuscript.




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