Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Let’s Get Help

chicken-1647390_1280.pngMost writers don’t start out thinking they’re going to need technical skills beyond maybe a word processor and email, but in this world of social media and digital submissions, writers either need to learn technical skills or get help.
I’m of a technical mindset and have more technical skills than many writers of my generation, but still I get help. My husband and my daughter have both helped me with website and computer issues. A writer friend taught me how to use twitter and tweetdeck. Please don’t be too chicken to ask for help yourself.
Here’s some things I’ve found many writers don’t know:
How to keep computer files organized. I’ve seen many writers with every file saved on the desktop or in the first level of documents and they have trouble finding what they are looking for. I’ve showed them folders and how you can put folders within folders. Normally each of my projects has its own folder. Here’s how I helped another writer with this issue in this post. It includes some tips on naming documents, too.
How to back up files. When their computer hard drive dies, writers have lost all of their work. Even when you have a crash, you can lose hours of work on your wip. Don’t let this be you. Find out how to preserve copies successfully. The latter portion of this blog post mentions some methods.
How to do an electronic submission, especially when pasting in material. When I was sharing on the topic with a group, one person said that the best tip she got was “don’t enter the to person’s email until you are sure you are ready to send.” This means you can’t accidentally send an unfinished submission. I’ll write up some more details for a future blog post.
How to resize a picture. A writer (or illustrator) needs to submit an illustration, a cover, a headshot and have a large file, but has been requested for something smaller. I wrote this post to specifically help with this problem. I find people often don’t know how to rename the picture with something meaningful either–it’s okay to name it what it is.
How to keep email organized. Some writers keep everything all in the inbox, which makes for an overwhelming number of emails. Folders to save important emails by topic or event or date can be helpful. Or you can have a folder for critiques or projects. Many email programs allow you to set up filters to sort incoming email automatically into folders as well. You might want to do that for newsletters you like to read. As hard as it may be to believe, one gal didn’t realize she could just delete emails she’d read and didn’t need.
New writers often don’t know about standard manuscript format. This is the way editors and agents will want to see manuscript submissions. Follow this link for details.
New to computer users don’t know about Word’s tables or Excel’s spreadsheets. Either can be helpful in keeping track of submissions, agents, chapter summaries, finances, etc. (Although I prefer the latter for finances.)
Sometimes we aren’t even aware we need help. We don’t know there’s a better or easier way. Many years ago I complained about how awkward something was in Word. My husband showed me tables. Wow, it made what I was doing so easy. Since, I’ve used it for forms many times.
So if something isn’t working well for you, ask others, “Is there a better way?” Or search online for “How do I ________?”–there are tutorials, youtube videos, etc. that explain so much. For example, I’ve learned more about html that way.
What have you gotten help with? What do you wish you could get help with?
Comments are welcome.

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Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process, You Are Not Alone

Rejections

no-1532838_1920.jpegRejections are subjective. I know that. I only have to think about books I loved that a friend didn’t like or one they loved that I didn’t like. We all have our own tastes and even moods. But when our manuscript is rejected it often doesn’t feel subjective. We often feel as if we’ve failed.
When those feelings strike me, I have to remember how many published books I read where the story didn’t grab me. Or something turned me off. And these books were loved by an editor willing to spend a lot of time with the manuscript. They’ve been supported by a publishing company as a whole. So if published books can fail an individual, why I am I surprised when my own unpublished manuscript does?
At first page and roundtable critique sessions, I’ve seen how editors and agents just haven’t connected with the writing of a specific piece. One person might “get it” and the others not. Or the panel is split on whether they’d read on.
Ever had rejections that said, “I just didn’t love it enough.”? I have. Some agents/editors have told me things to work on; others haven’t. They are a reminder that I need to keep trying. If you’re getting personal rejections, keep on.
But what if you aren’t getting any personal rejections? That means it’s time to step back and look at your writing.
Many years ago at the SCBWI LA Conference–2009 to be exact–Editor Wendy Loggia shared “seven 7 reasons why your manuscript is declined.” They included:

  • nice writing, but no story
  • too similar to something else she’d edited or in the market place
  • unclear who the audience would be
  • can’t connect to the voice
  • book submitted too early before it was ready
  • project would not stand out on the house list
  • the author is difficult to deal with (Yes, many editors and agents check your social media.)

What she concluded with was “If I can’t give a book my heart and soul, I won’t acquire it.” But note how many of the reasons above are something we have control over: a good story, a clear audience, a professional manuscript, a good attitude.
Here are some tips garnered from a variety of agents and editors that deal with what we control:

  • put your best foot forward – fix those typos and grammar errors
  • have a good hook
  • show, don’t tell
  • Editor Nick Thomas says, “Don’t make the first chapter too long.”
  • have an intimacy with your characters
  • remember cliffhangers make good chapter endings
  • don’t write to trends
  • be passionate about your project
  • got voice? “Always it’s the voice that gets me… The way it makes me feel,” says Editor Christy Ottaviano.
  • make sure your plot is solid
  • share big truths
  • provide opportunity for emotional engagement

And for the querying itself:

  • research the agent(s) you are querying
  • follow submission instructions
  • get the agent or editor’s name right
  • write a good query/cover letter
  • provide good comp titles – this is one of my weaknesses
  • keep your letter to one page

Also, don’t forget that you aren’t alone in getting rejections.
“At times the rejections did get to me, but the will to write always triumphed over the disappointment of rejection.” – Karen Hesse
Shannon Hale said, “I’ve published 20+ books, the last 10 or so of which have all been best sellers, and I still get rejections. All the time.”
“Rejection isn’t a sign of failure. Rejection is a reminder that there’s always room for improvement.” – Ana Hart
Kathryn Stockett said, “I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected.”
Let’s not be ashamed. Let’s press on.

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Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Save Me!

lifebelt.jpgI was helping a new writer and she was confused about versions of her story/article. This is a common problem for many writers as it requires some computer literacy that people often don’t have. Here’s what I suggested to her:

  • Have a computer folder for the book project. Hers was a collection of stories from mission trips to Haiti. Her folder logically says HAITI STORIES.
  • Inside that folder have a folder for each individual story. One of her stories is titled “Anesthesia by Song”–don’t you want to know what that’s about?! Her inside folder where all copies of this story are can simply be ANESTHESIA BY SONG.
  • – I also use this folder to save notes, resources, etc. related to my article or story.
  • – I might have a separate folder labeled NOTES or INFO inside the story/article folder if I have a number of different documents.
  • If you want to have different versions of a story/article, name the files with dates or a number. E.g. Travel Story 4-15-17.docx, Travel Story 5-1-17.docx, Travel Story 1.docx, Travel Story 2.docx. (Or .doc for older computers.) At a glance, you’ll see which is the newest version. You could also label them Travel Story first draft.docx through Travel Story final.docx.

Whether you are on a PC using the file manager (looks like a folder at the bottom of your screen) or on a MAC using Finder, organizing your work helps you know where everything is. The folders within another folder, the files within a folder, all can be in alphabetical order which makes it easy to find the file you need when you need it.
My friend was surprised to hear you can have folders within folders. I liken it to a wide hanging folder in a desk drawer. It can have multiple manila folders. But the computer is even better as you can keep nesting as far as you need.
But how do you save different versions of a document?
There are multiple methods:

  • The one I find myself using the most often is opening the document itself and then clicking on “save as” and adding a version number or date. This leaves my new document open and I can immediately start work.
  • Another option is to go where the file is and make a copy. When you save the copy, the system will add a number to differentiate it or will add the word copy. Then you can rename the copy, open it and get to work.

“Save as” is useful in other ways too.

  • Saving a backup copy to another location such as Dropbox, google drive, a USB device, etc.
  • Saving the first ten pages for a consultation/critique. Of course, you can also copy the first ten pages and paste in a new document, but you probably will lose your headers.

I liked having the “save as” icon on my toolbar, so I can click on it easily.
Another writer expressed this week how she lost six hours of work when preparing a PowerPoint presentation. We’ve all lost work and it is very frustrating. Here’s what I do to help avoid that:

  • Name the document or presentation right away. An unnamed doc or ppt is much more difficult to find if you have a computer crash. I’ve also clicked on “don’t save” when I meant to click on save when closing a document. Arghh!
  • When you save the file that first time, make sure you put it in a logical place so you’ll know where to find it.
  • Save frequently as you work. I suggest every twenty to thirty minutes. (The “save” icon on the toolbar makes this quick and easy. Command/Control S is the keyboard shortcut.)
  • If you’re inserting create commons images you’ve copied from the Internet, I suggest downloading them then insert versus copy and paste. You’ll have the downloaded copies in your downloads folder as a backup.

And speaking of backups… Make sure you are backing up your documents and files. For further info, go to this blog post.

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Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Successful Cover Letters

people-1316380_1280.jpeg
I’ve had students ask to see sample cover letters for magazine submissions, so thought I’d share several of mine here.
Here’s one I wrote for an article that appeared in the magazine KidTime in October 2006. (I’ve redacted some personal information.)


date
Editor name
KidTime
Street address
City, state and zip
Ms. Lastname,
“What is it? An overgrown chestnut? A porcupine egg? A beaver ball? No, although the last two are nicknames for it. What you’re seeing is a larch needle ball.” That’s my opening for an article on the naturally occurring phenomena of larch needle balls. The article might be appropriate for your November theme of “Harvest Time.”
My information comes from an interview and larch ball hunting trip with an experienced collector. In addition, I’ve corresponded with Montana Forest Service and Glacier National Park personnel, Montana scientists, and Seeley-Swan Valley residents. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, nothing is in print about this unusual subject except an article I wrote focusing on the collector for Real People (“That’s Incredi-ball” January/February ’97).
I’ve also had articles published in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Child Life, and others.
Besides the article I’ve enclosed eight color transparencies along with descriptions. Of course, I’ve included a self-addressed stamped envelope for your convenience.
Sincerely,


Obviously, that was a postal mail submission. Here’s an email submission of a short story that sold.


Attn: Conny
Kiah’s mom has just announced they are moving away. Anger bursts out of Kiah like lava spouting out of a volcano. She says she’ll stay and just live with friends. But when Kiah thinks about her friends, none of them seem a good fit. But it isn’t until she figures out the real reason they are moving that Kiah decides to make the best of it and makes up with her mother.
This short story “No Way” is especially appropriate for the older age range of your audience. The length is 1433 words and I can offer you first rights. I’ve pasted in the story below.
My writing credits include over 160 magazine short stories and articles for children and adults. I’ve been published in such magazines as Highlights for Children, Cricket, Jack and Jill, and many others. My recent book projects include three picture books for Unibooks (Korea) and seven e-readers for Compass Media.
Sincerely,


So what do these letters have in common? A brief description of the article or story and my writing credits. I’d usually say the title and word count as well, but see that I didn’t even do so with the article. If you don’t have writing credits, you leave that out. You’ll see in one case I addressed the theme the magazine had for a specific issue, and in the other I mentioned the story would fit the “older range” of their audience.
It’s pretty simple. Some samples you’ll see tell even less about the story. But the basics I usually include are:
• Specific editor’s name (or title specified in the magazine’s writer’s guidelines)
• Magazine name and address for postal mail
• A teaser for the story or article
• What you are submitting – e.g. article or short story
• Title and word count
• If appropriate, why you chose the magazine
• Rights available, if appropriate
• Any applicable background info – e.g. what gives you authority to write the piece and/or writing credits
• For postal mail, SASE for reply or return of manuscript
Letters are single spaced with a blank line between paragraphs. My physical letters have my name and contact information in a footer. It can also follow your name below the signature. And, of course, you want your letter to be free of any errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.

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Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Do It Myself!

Remember the “do it myself!” toddler stage?wagon-988818_1920.jpg No, she doesn’t want help getting dressed. He doesn’t want to be pulled in the wagon; he wants to pull it. Ditto, stroller and pushing it. No, she doesn’t want to hold your hand. And, yes, he’d rather feed himself despite the mess.
If a child never expresses that desire to learn, to do, to be independent, we’d be worried.
So what happens to us in adulthood? Why do we want our hands held? Why don’t we want to do it ourselves?
I was reminded of this recently. I was washing my hands in the restroom at a writer’s conference when a gal came in and said something like this, “Why didn’t they indicate that she only does picture books? I’m a YA writer and that session was a total waste.” When she noticed my faculty name badge, she got embarrassed and left abruptly.
What I wanted to say to her was, “Why didn’t you do your homework? The conference website listed faculty bios. The online schedule and the schedule in our conference packets listed who was speaking when on what topic. Didn’t you read all that?” I’ll admit as faculty, I hadn’t paid much attention to the other speakers beforehand. But that day I’d listened and had learned the editor had “a focus on early childhood-from board books to picture books and beginning readers.” (Quote from her bio.) The YA writer could have chosen one of the other three breakouts instead of choosing to waste her time.
As an instructor of adults who want to write for children, I see adults who want hand-holding or special treatment. They don’t follow the directions for an assignment and when challenged give excuses about how busy they are. Sometimes when we ask a student to redo a lesson, we hear comments such as, “I just want to graduate the course.” I want to say, but don’t, “So, why did you take the course? To learn to write for children? Or to get a meaningless certificate.” If we graduate students without making them do the work, then our teaching, and the course is useless. Hmm, it takes a toddler a lot longer to dress herself than if a parent does it, but she ends up with satisfaction that she did it herself. And the more she practices, the better she gets. I often wonder where the pride in a job well done has gone missing for many adults.
I’ve also organized a lot of conferences and other events for children’s writers and illustrators. Just like there can be deadlines on submitting to editors or agents, we’ll have deadlines for early bird discounts, submitting homework or manuscripts, etc. We know everyone is busy, so we send out reminders of those deadlines. But inevitably a number of people miss deadlines and get upset at the organizers, who are volunteers. Keeping track of deadlines is part of the attendees’ job–their homework.
Over and over at conferences one will hear attendees asking an editor or agent what type of manuscript they want to see. Often with a laugh the answer is “a well-written manuscript.” Yes, the person will usually go on to say what genres appeal the most, etc. But in some ways, what attendees are asking is, “What’s the magic to get published?” There isn’t any. Just like there’s no magic in a baby learning to walk. He tries and fails and tries again. But one day he succeeds and oh, the joy.
Seeing our writing improve because we worked hard can be satisfying. Knowing we did our best to be prepared means we don’t have those “if only I’d…” regrets. Doing our homework can help us have intelligent conversations with faculty members. Which reminds me. I have a conference coming up, I’d better get off and do my homework!

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