Posted in Business Side of Writing, Market Prep, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process

Exciting News for Jasmine and Advice

Guest post on querying.

One of the Facebook groups I enjoy is Sub It Club. I learn from others, help others, and share in the ups and downs. I’m sharing this January 7th post by Jasmine A. Stirling with permission.

Hi everyone! I’m excited to announce that after querying in December, I received ten offers of representation, and am now represented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Birch Path Literary, the force behind books like Wonder, The Lovely War, and The Right Word.

Someone asked me on this forum if I have any suggestions for querying. One thing I would suggest is that you mention some recent projects the agent has done which you’ve read and enjoyed, and which fit well with your work, before you begin your pitch. It’s important for agents to know you understand who they are as an individual, and the kinds of projects they are passionate about. To get this information, I use a combination of Publishers Marketplace and Twitter. On Twitter, I get a sense for what projects the agent is enthusiastic about at the moment. 

Many of the projects listed in Publishers Marketplace are not yet out, so you don’t want to laud a book you obviously haven’t read. Sometimes I mention I’m looking forward to a book that has been announced in Publishers Marketplace but is not yet out. This shows the agent that I’m not just looking at Twitter or their website. They get the sense that I am familiar with industry news.

Take extra time and get familiar with the books the agent is publishing. Agents can tell if you are just querying everyone who might be remotely interested in your work.

Composing a good query letter and strategy takes time and research. Think through anyone you know who might be able to make an introduction. Don’t be afraid to network on Facebook. I did get an introduction through a cold request on Facebook to a very successful, closed agent, who subsequently made an offer.

And finally, this might not make me popular here, but I would take the advice you receive on groups like this with a grain of salt, even if they come from agented authors or moderators. The truth is, the rules of querying, receiving offers, and making choices, are more flexible than you might think. Everyone wants to make sure you find the right agent for you, including agents who are offering to work with you. 

Be respectful, be communicative about your timeline, be honest, but follow your gut and keep trying if you’re not getting the offers you want. There’s no secret police of agents who are going to kick you out of the club for anything you do. Just be a professional, and things will work out fine.

Good luck to everyone and Happy New Year!

Read more about Jasmine and her books on her website. You’ll definitely want to check out her delightful picturebook: A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice.

Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Chronology in Fiction

I always have to laugh at myself when a critique partner points out something in my writing that I usually catch in others’ writing. In this case, it was sentence chronological order. (Or time-order sequence.)

Usually it is clearer to write in a cause and effect order. Examples: The car behind us honked and Dad let up on the brake and drove off. When the dog barked to be let in, she opened the door. In each of these cases, the first action resulted in the person doing the second action. Pretty obvious.

But sometimes when we write, it’s easy to mess up. Here’s what I wrote in a picture book text: She started with Grampa Joe. She fixed up her hair special, put on her best outfit, and popped into his room. I told what the character was going to do—start with Grampa Joe—but showed what she did first before going into his room. My critique partner* wisely suggested: She fixed up her hair special, put on her best outfit, and popped into Grampa Joe’s room. Chronological order not only made the story stronger by reducing telling, but reduced word count from 21 words to 17. (Definitely an important factor in a picture book.)

I think chronology can especially become a problem when using the connecting word “as.” Example: He waved as the school bus pulled away. A reader will assume this is a simultaneous action. But look at this one: Snow fell from the tree as the wind blew. It could be simultaneous. However, thinking cause and effect, probably the wind made the snow fall. In a short sentence like this it may not make much difference, but I think it’s always worth considering whether a sentence or paragraph should be in chronological order.

Does that mean we should never write out of chronological order? Of course not. You’ll see beginnings of novels that foretell terrible things are going to happen. There will be flashbacks, especially in novels for teens and adults. Sometimes stories are written in multiple viewpoints and we see what happens in one character’s life, then move on to what happens in another’s life at the same time. Nonchronology may be used for the purpose of suspense, to reveal character backstory, or for worldbuilding.

But I think for the most part a sentence or paragraph should show the sequence of events in the order they happened.

*Thanks, Carol!

Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Writing Life

Quitter or Go Getter?

Which label would you prefer to chose for yourself? Quitter or Go Getter? Most of us would probably prefer to be listed in the latter category. But quitter isn’t always negative. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first.

            Quitter – this person quits writing when…

…writing is hard
…he receives negative feedback
…marketing is work
…she doesn’t follow the guidelines and everything is rejected
…life is too busy

            Go Getter – this person persists in writing, but…

…she thinks feedback doesn’t apply to her
…is unwilling to make changes
…doesn’t keep adding to knowledge of the craft of writing
…he doesn’t read material for children
…may rush into submitting before ready

Neither camp is a win. But the positive side of each is.

            Positive Quitters – know when…

…a short story, article, picture book, novel just isn’t working and are willing to start over or set it aside
…the story they are working is not one for them to write. (E.g. cultural appropriation)
…they’ve queried/submitted a story with no takers and it’s time to move on
…it’s time to take a break from a project

            Positive Go Getters – know…

…to take feedback and revise
…to try a new genre or audience or category
…to be willing to rework and revise to make a story better, again and again
…to keep learning more about the craft of writing in various ways
…to read material written for children, especially in areas where they write
…when it’s time to submit or resubmit and will do so appropriately
…not to give up too easily

Being positive quitters and positive go getters will help writers continue forward on their paths.

Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Moment-by-Moment

I was recently reminded of the importance of being in the moment. If a scene is important enough to write, shouldn’t the reader get to feel as if they are with the characters while it is happening? I’d say a big resounding YES!

But what does that look like? It’s showing what is happening with action, sensory details, dialogue, thoughts, etc. No glossing over or summarizing, but being on scene with the character. Think immersion experience versus someone telling a story.

Say a fifth grader is walking into his new school cafeteria for the first time. Is this a good, bad, or neutral experience for him? What is he thinking? What sensory details are striking him? How is he reacting? Is he going to meet the guy who’s going to be his best friend or his enemy? Is he going to be invisible or draw everyone’s attention? There are so many possibilities and a generic: “He walked into his new school cafeteria” isn’t going to cut it.

Let’s try a few possibilities:

Or how about this one?

Similar situations, right? But so different because we have a clear picture of what each individual character is experiencing. They and their situations are unique. We learn more about each character than that they are eating lunch in a school cafeteria. Readers want those specifics.

Leave summarizing for transitions or things that aren’t important. For example: He got undressed and went to bed. The next morning after breakfast…

To end, I’d like to share this reminder from Kathryn Sant, “Strong action verbs actually allow our minds to feel the action as if our bodies had performed it.” So, don’t forget to include strong verbs in your moment-by-moment scenes.

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

How to Submit a Picture Book

Your picture book manuscript is written. You’ve revised it again and again, gotten feedback from other writers, revised yet again, and it’s in the current word count range—which these days is mostly under 500 words. (Nonfiction and informational fiction may be longer.) Now what?

The following is advice aimed specifically at writers.

You can submit directly to some publishers—mainly smaller houses.

First, read some of their books. Look at their online catalogs. Does your manuscript look like it will fit with their other books? Has the topic been already done? Do you have a fresh twist? Don’t submit without making sure your manuscript suits their list—not all publishers publish all kinds of picture books.

You might gain special insights by attending a conference, workshop, or webinar where you can hear an editor speak. (And sometimes get a chance to submit to a house normally closed to unsolicited manuscripts.)

Some publishing houses offer subscription newsletters that talk about their newest books—another chance for you to “get acquainted” with them.

When and how to submit.

Always check to make sure you’re reading a publishing house’s most current submission guidelines. Some publishers have windows of open opportunity. Others are open year-round. At times they’ll be closed to submissions entirely. Some only want a query letter—others may accept full manuscripts. A few still want hard copies by postal mail. Most probably want manuscripts via email. Some will ask for the manuscript to be pasted into the emails—others may accept attachments. Yet others may have a form where you paste in your query or cover letter and manuscript. However, they want it sent, you’ll be ahead by completely following directions.

Here are some links to some house’s submission or writer’s guidelines that are currently open:

Albert Whitman & Company

Charlesbridge

Creston Books

Familius

Flashlight Press

Holiday House

The Innovation Press

Page Street Publishing

Sleeping Bear Press

Sterling Children’s Books

Tilbury House Publishers

Any of these could close tomorrow. Research well before submitting. This list is not an endorsement—I’ve just done some research for you.

You can submit to agents who handle picture books.

Often, it is recommended that you have at least three manuscripts ready when you submit—in case an agent asks to see what else you have.

Here’s a great resource: the Monster List of Picture Book Agents.

Again, with agents there will be specific guidelines. For example, some agencies you may only submit to one agent. Certain agents may be closed to submissions, etc. They usually list clients and you may be able to get an idea of the agent’s likes and dislikes from their titles.

How do you decide where to submit?

Take the time to do your homework. Do you like what you see on their website when you are looking at either agents or publishing houses? Have you read their entries on manuscriptwishlist.com or their blogs? Search for interviews. Check Twitter.

Make sure the editor or agent is legit. If you’re an SCBWI member, you can check to see if a publisher is on their list by going to your member page and act as if you are entering a new book. If the house’s name comes up in the search, you’re good to go. If you’re not finding information elsewhere, ask in groups such as Sub It Club or Kidlit411 if someone is familiar with a specific agency or agent.

What’s next?

Prepare your cover letter* or query letter, proof it, and do the actual submitting.

One useful tip for submitting via email is to paste in your letter, paste or attach manuscript, type in your subject as guidelines specify, proofread, THEN when everything looks good, type in the TO: email address. This will avoid accidental sends before you are ready.

Be ready to keep going despite rejections.

*I like this post on writing cover/query letters.