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

Deciding to Blog?

Often writers want to know whether they should blog or not. It IS a good way to add content to your website, but definitely is not a requirement. In my opinion it’s better not to do it at all than have poor content.

Here are some tips:

  • Commit.
    • Blogging won’t happen unless you make plans for it.
    • If you aren’t going to add to it, why do it?
  • How often to blog? You could plan on weekly, biweekly, or monthly blog posts. Come up with a plan and stick with it.
  • Consider a blog theme.
    • I love recommending books, and post them regularly.
    • I also share advice to writers. It started out with articles I wrote. Someone would ask me a question and I’d say, “I have an article on that” (often written for free for newsletters—sometimes written for pay for first rights). So, I started posting those articles for easy reference on my blog.
    • What are you excited to blog about?
  • Schedule times when you want posts to appear.
    • For example, I have a quote of the week, that I auto schedule to show up on Tuesdays.I often post for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (a group of authors use this and it’s run by Greg Pattridge).I sometimes post on Perfect Picture Book Friday (Susannah Leonard Hill’s blog).My writing related posts go live on other days.
    • When I had a paid blogging job, I had daily and weekly blog posts to do. I scheduled out topics for future weeks to make doing them easier.
  • Advertise your posts.
    • Share where you can, such as on social media, such as Twitter, and include hashtags where appropriate. If you quote someone or talk about their books, tag them if they’re active on that media.If you belong to SCBWI, you can share your blog posts on the Discussion Boards in “What Did You Blog About Today?”Find groups talking about the issues you blog about. Some allow links to blog posts. Some only allow them in comments. But I often find people asking questions in Facebooks posts, and I think, “I wrote on post on that,” so I’ll share a link. Bonus: I’ve made friends by doing this too.
    • Tell your writer friends about your blog and individual posts that you think will interest them.

Sound like a lot of work? It is. But now you’ll perhaps have a better idea of what is involved before you jump in.

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

So, You Want to Write a Book…

I periodically get asked, “How do I get started writing a book?” My first response is questions. “What kind of book? Novel or nonfiction?” Then I ask, “For children or adults?” If for children, I ask for what audience age. For a novel, I may ask what genre. For example, fantasy, contemporary, adventure, romance, sci-fi, mystery, historical, etc.

Until I know the answers to these questions, I can’t help as much. But I can make these suggestions:

  • Imagine where your book would be on the shelf in a bookstore or library. This will help you know what kind of book you will be writing.
  • Read books similar to what you want to write. This helps you know the genre. There are rules for many genres, and you need to know them. And it helps you absorb good writing when you read lots and lots of books.
  • Read books published within the last five years. This helps you understand what publishers are currently publishing in the genre or age category.

For this post, I’m going to focus on writing fiction.

My next suggestion would be to write the pitch for your story. Sometimes called an elevator pitch, sometimes a book summary or a logline—no matter the label it can help you know where you want your story to go. It includes WHO, WHEN, WHAT, and WHY.

I love this article aimed at children’s book writers from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: “Preparing for Online Pitch Contests: How to Write a Killer Logline”by Laurie Miller. Another great resource is this one from a literary agent that has simple examples: “A Pretty Much Foolproof, Never-Fail, Silver-Bullet Query Openingby John M. Cusick. Both of these are specifically aimed at getting attention for your book when trying to sell it. However, it can really help you focus as you write. You can also see samples in pitch contests on Twitter. For example, #PitMad. Check out the website. Next one is March 4th.

If you’re having trouble with the pitch idea, write a character problem statement. For example, Main Character wants to overcome the bullies in his life. It can be posed as a question. Will Main Character be able to overcome the bullies in his life without himself becoming a bully? Here’s a good article with examples: “How to Define Your Characters’ Story Goals” by Kristen Kieffer.

Story Elements for Fiction

Most of us learned about basic story elements in grade school. We probably learned more in middle school and high school. When writing our own story, we may forget some. So, let’s review. Story elements include: Character, Setting, Conflict, Plot, Point-of-View, and Theme. Some lists add Style or Literary Devices. Others add Tone.

You as the writer must know:

  • who your character is (although you may learn more as your write) and what she wants
  • where you are setting the story (our world in contemporary times or historical, fantasy world, etc.)
  • what external and/or internal conflicts the main character will experience (again you may not know all, but should know at least one before you start writing)
  • what will happen in the story (outliners’ plan this out, but even if you don’t outline, you should have some general idea)
  • whose story it is and in what POV will it be told (although authors sometimes write in 3rd person and switch to 1st person in later revisions—just be consistent in the story)
  • the universal ideas in your story (e.g. good wins over evil).

The style you write your story in or the literary devices you use may develop as you write. Ditto with the mood you establish, but if you know tone ahead of time, great!

Writing for Children

I’m going to focus now on writing books for children which can include for young adults.

Here’s a very helpful article on the process: “How to Write a Children’s Book in 12 Steps (From an Editor).” I do disagree with point 6—it depends on the book. And none of his examples seem to be children’s books.

Make sure you know what kids today are like! They are your audience. And especially if writing contemporary, you must show realistic kids for today’s readers. Here’s a great post by author K.M. Weiland: “Necessary Tips for How to Write Child Characters.”

Next? Finish Writing the Book!

First drafts are just that—your first ideas. Revising and editing will come later, if you finish. Here’s a wonderful quote: “Get those ideas down without wondering what will become of them. It’s the habit, not the single idea, that will set you on a creative journey you can’t even anticipate.” – Angela Burke Kunkel.

I’ll end with a link to another helpful article: “6 Tips to Help You Finish Your Book” by K.M. Weiland.

Posted in Before You Begin, Inspiration, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Why Are YOU Doing This?

Why are you writing? (Or illustrating or both?) Do you have an answer?

I have so many students who sign up to take one of the writing courses I teach, then don’t turn in assignments. Two things happen. They either get tired of being nagged and send something in, or drop out. Some do several lessons, then drop the class. Some are almost done with the course, then quit. (And this is a course they’re paying for!)

I get it. I do. Some find this writing gig is much harder than they thought. Many think that writing for children is so simple. Especially picture books. They look simple. Others have life interfere—something has to give and the class is easy to cut.

Mem Fox said, “We need to be honest, right from the start, about why we want to write for children. If we intend to moralise, teach a lesson, patronise, categorise, marginalise, or show off our own brilliance, we are doing it for the wrong reasons and we’ll need to reassess our motives. We are not writing academically de-constructible literature. Nor are we writing as therapy to eradicate our guilt about the world and what we have done to it.”

Writing as therapy is fine, but it’s different than writing for publication.

Hobby or Business?

For me, putting the words on a page is something I do. Yet, I don’t do it only for my own pleasure. I want to affect others, whether it is via entertainment, words of wisdom, or helpful tips. The latter is one of the reasons I blog.

I treat writing like a business. Just like a “regular” job, I show up. I get to work. I write. I read for research purposes. I do other parts of the job, such as record keeping, social media, critiques, etc. Look what Nathan Bransford has said, “The only way to stay sane in the business is to enjoy every step as you’re actually experiencing it. Happiness is not around the bend. It’s found in the present. Because writing is pretty great — otherwise why are you doing it?” I will admit that writing for me is a part time job.

Patricia Wrede said, “Talent is way down on the list of things you need to write; it comes in a distant fourth, after persistence, motivation, and discipline. And the reason is that “talent” is as common as mud; what’s rare is the motivation to sit down and actually do something with it, the discipline to do it regularly, and the persistence to stick with it until it’s finished.”

“Being a writer and eventually a published author is no different than the pursuit of any profession. You have to pay your dues,” Pam Torres said. Treating your writing like a business is part of paying your dues.

I also agree with Vita Sackville-West: “It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.“ I am most happy and satisfied with myself when I write.

SO, what about you?

Posted in Before You Begin, Business Side of Writing, It's Not Just Books, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Answers to Questions about Writing for Children’s Magazines

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How do I get started writing for magazines?
1. First, read a variety of children’s magazines and determine which magazine(s) appeal to you and which age groups attracts you most.
2. Decide what you are drawn to most: fiction, articles, poetry, activities.
3. Read and analyze lots of those pieces–look at more than one issue of your chosen magazine(s).
4. Check out market books and get guidelines and, if available, theme lists/editorial calendars for the chosen magazine(s). Some guidelines are available on-line. Others you may need to write for, enclosing an SASE.
5. Write your piece in a similar tone as the pieces in the magazine. Make sure it fits the word length, etc. in the guidelines. When it’s the best you can make it, submit it. (Don’t start with the hard to get into magazines such as Highlights for Children and Cricket–get some publishing experience first.)
6. Move on to writing another manuscript.
Some people call articles stories, while others only refer to fiction as stories. How do I know what’s what?
I personally differentiate these two by nonfiction (article or essay) or fiction (story), and of course, each of those categories can be broken down more. That said, I will at times call a piece a “true story” versus an article. That usually happens in response to a magazine looking for “true stories about…” Sometimes these are also called true experiences.
When submitting a manuscript, I usually indicate “article” or “nonfiction” for those true stories and “fiction based on a true story” or “fiction” on those I’ve made up.
Should I always send a cover letter with my submission?
I don’t. The reasons I do are:
1. The magazine requests manuscripts with a cover letter.
2. I have more information I want them to know (e.g. why I wrote the piece, or my submission fits a theme, etc.).
3. It might be pertinent for them to know my other writing experience and I don’t think a full résumé is needed.
What do I say in a cover letter?
1. Grab the reader with something exciting – this may be a direct quote from the manuscript, or a catchy line or something about the theme of your piece.
2. Give a brief summary of your story, essay, article.
3. Tell title, genre, word count and rights you are offering. If reprint rights*, tell where and when it has appeared.
4. Mention anything special you are including: color slides, digital photos, sidebars, related websites, etc.
5. Include your writing credits: either “I’m enclosing my résumé” or a list of some magazines you’ve been published in. Don’t apologize for not having credits. Don’t say you’re a first time writer.
6. Bring up other issues that might be important. For example, if a story or article is set in a particular town and you lived there, tell the editor so. If you have experience in a particular job, craft, or hobby, and it relates to your piece, say so.
7. If sending a manuscript by snail mail, mention you’ve included a self-addressed stamped envelope. You may want to include an SASE for their reply instead of for the return of the manuscript. I found I was reprinting manuscripts all the time anyway, and can save postage by sending a smaller SASE. Some publishers are now only replying with acceptances, which in that case you can state something like, “I understand you only reply if interested. You may discard this copy of the manuscript.” This information is usually available through their guidelines.
Note: If sending a manuscript electronically, make sure you follow the directions of “pasted the manuscript into body of the email” or “attachment” as the guidelines say.
8. Close.
Overall, remember to be brief, professional and to the point.
Is writing for children’s magazines for everyone?
Of course not. But it might be for you!
*Want to know more about magazine rights? Read this post.
(image courtesy of pixabay.com and canva.com

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

Picture Book Month

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I once heard an editor say she wanted the following in pictures books:

  • humor
  • unique settings
  • memorable characters
  • emotionally engaging

I doubt every picture book needs humor or a unique setting, although those are great of course, but I bet the ones that last are the ones where we remember the characters and our emotions are stirred.

In honor of the first annual Picture Book Month, here is a sampling of picture books where characters have pulled my emotional strings in one way or another:

These I first read to my daughters:
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban; illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Crictor by Tomi Ungerer
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion; illustrated by Margaret Graham
Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber
The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
One my youngest daughter loved, that I actually found a bit odd:
Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch; illustrated by Sheila McGraw

These I first read to my grandsons:

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg; illustrated by Judith Dufour Love
Library Lil by Suzanne Williams; illustrated by Stephen Kellogg
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman; illustrated by Marla Frazee
Others I love:
Big Bad Wolves at School by Stephen Krensky; illustrated by Brad Sneed
Coyote Steals the Blanket by Janet Stevens
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Mrs. Biddlebox by Marla Frazee
The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill; illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith
See You Later, Alligator! by Laura McGee Kvasnosky
The Wide-Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner; illustrated by Jonathan Lambert
After making this list, I’ve come to the conclusion I’m not reading enough recent picture books. Time to visit the bookstore!

Here are some Best Picture Book lists:
49 brilliant picture books from the past 5 years as chosen by award winning illustrators
Best Picture Books 2010: David Wiesner, Jon J. Muth, Louise Yates and Other Spectacular Illustrators Honored – 10 from the Huffington Post
The Best 25 Picture Books of 2010! – books4yourkids.com
From ‘Brothers Grimm’ to ‘Stuck,’ the 11 Best Picture Books of 2011 – The Atlantic
Best picture books of 2011 – Lindsay Weiss on babycenter.com

Are you sharing your favorite picture books? Or giving them as presents next month?