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

A Fresh Look at Our Writing

refreshment-438399_1280.jpegI was once again reminded how important a fresh look is on a manuscript. This week a writer friend asked me to look at a picture book manuscript that her agent had said was “too mean spirited.” It was a retelling of an old story–good guys against a bad guy–with a very modern twist. I thought it was hilarious. I’d seen several versions and really couldn’t see much to tone down. Then yesterday she showed it to a mutual critique partner who had not seen the story before. She pointed out areas that would soften the story. This third writer had fresh eyes and was so right in her suggestions.
I love this imagery from Arthur Polotnik: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” When we are writing our own view is hindered by smoke. We’re excited about what we’re creating–in love with our characters, our words. Setting aside the manuscript and coming back to it later when the fire has cooled, let’s some of that smoke of infatuation clear.
When we’ve looked at a manuscript over and over and over, we get blind. It’s too easy to skim because we “know” what it says. Suzanne Paschall says it this way, “Tired eyes become blind to errors that jump out to fresh eyes…” Somehow we need a splash of water in the face to wake us up.
Right now I’m going through my own manuscript using comments from my critique group. Mine is a novel in verse and once I gave the complete manuscript to my partners, I’ve didn’t look at it until I got their feedback. (I also tried not to think about the story at all.) Their questions and comments are helping me see it afresh. It helps me see what I know but didn’t put on the page. It helps me see where I wasn’t clear or left out details that will add to the story. It challenges me. And I know it is making my story better.
Soon, I’ll reread the whole story again to get it ready to send out on submission. This time I’ll probably first change the font so it looks different to me. This trick can help fool our eyes into seeing the words afresh.
Do you have other tools you use to look at your writing with fresh eyes? If so, please share in the comments.

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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 The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Online Resources for Children’s Writers and Illustrators

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of writing and/or illustrating sites on the web, and many good ones. Here is a sampling to get you started for 2017.
AE – agents and/or editors
F – fiction
I – illustration
MG – middle grade
O – organizations
PB – picture books
YA – young adult

Agent Query AE
American Library Association O
Check here for information on awards. They have a section of author and illustrator websites, too.
Art of Storyboarding at Temple of the Seven Golden Camels I
American Booksellers Association/ABC Children’s Group O
Bent on Books AE
Children’s Book Insider
Children’s Books
Children’s Book Council O
The Drawing Board for Illustrators I
Edit Minion
Fiction Notes F
Fiction University F
From the Mixed-Up Files… of Middle-Grade Authors MG
Guide to Literary Agents AE
Helping Writers Become Authors
The Horn Book
Institute of Children’s Literature
Jane Friedman
Kidlit 411
Literary Rambles
Literature and Latte – Scrivener
Manuscript Wish List AE
Monster List of Picture Book Agents AE PB
Picture Book Month PB
Publisher’s Marketplace AE
Resources for Writers – including “Writing for Children’s Magazines” and “Educational Markets for Children’s Writers
SCBWI’s Blueboard – for members and nonmembers
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators O
The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar F
The Write Conversation
Write for Kids
Write to Done
Writer Beware
Writer UnBoxed
Writing and Illustrating
Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Children’s Books: The Purple Crayon
YA Books Central YA
If you have others you like, feel free to add in the comments.

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Posted in Market Prep, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Why Twitter?

twitter.jpgTwitter. Facebook. Snapchat. Instagram. Periscope. There are so many options in social media that it can be hard to choose which one(s) to use. If you aren’t on Twitter, don’t know why you as a writer might want to use it, or don’t know what to do with the Twitter account you have, perhaps this post will be helpful.
First, what is Twitter?
An internet discussion/social network where messages are 140 characters long. Some refer to this as microblogging. You can say what you want, whenever you want, and your followers can read it whenever they want. Messages are referred to as “tweets.” Messages can include links to a website or blog, photos or videos, gifs, and polls.
My Reasons for Using Twitter
I started using Twitter to connect with other kidlit writers and to get better acquainted with editors and agents. It’s a good place for those purposes, both which are really about connection.
Find People to Follow
Following someone is how you get to read messages in Twitter. Your Twitter feed, your timeline, is made up of messages posted by anyone you follow, plus messages you send. It’s how you listen in on the conversation. It’s how you join public conversations or start conversations. Messages are in chronological order in your feed with the most recent messages on top.
I started by following some writer friends. Then followed some people my friends followed. Since then I add people I meet, read about, read their books, hear speak, or find through retweets, or through Twitter suggestions. I may or may not follow those who follow me.
If I don’t know anything about a person, I read his/her bio and some sample tweets. Sometimes I follow someone and later unfollow them as their tweets bother me (it could be language, or too much self-promotion, or too much discussion of politics.)
Because I now have an adult ebook out from Clean Reads, I have a Twitter handle for that pen name @SMFordwriter, too. I’ve found that the children’s literature community–just as they are in person–are more open to conversation, helping each other, sharing, etc.–than the adult literature community.
The Conversation: What Do You Say on Twitter?
Answer questions. Here’s an example that @KSonnack posted yesterday: “I need some book recs. #1: for an 8yo who just moved to a new city and is having trouble adjusting. Go!”
Follow links to articles, then comment or retweet the original tweet. (Retweeting means sending the tweet out again from your user name.)
Share articles. This from August 11th: “The 11th hour villain. I agree with this concept. …
Use the heart to “like” what someone says.
Comment on or retweet tweets. Such as: @Corinneduyvis on September 2nd: “Hugely important part of writing for me: my plot notebook. I take pen, paper, and just talk my way through scenes and problems.”
Share good news, links to blog posts, writer quotes, and book recommendations.
Ask questions.
Celebrate others’ good news and sympathize with bad.
Conversations: Private
You can also have private conversations by using DM (direct message) through Twitter. This only works for people who follow you. You can DM a single person or a group. More info here.
Searching Twitter
Twitter is searchable and the main tool to use is a hashtag. Hashtags can be anything anyone creates using the pound symbol (#) followed by a word or words with no spaces, but common ones start becoming known, such as #amwriting or #writingtips or #writingchallenge or #kidlit. Some are just initials or abbreviations that have become great tools.
Some of the most useful writer hashtags for submitting are #MSWL (manuscript wish list), #PitMad (pitch madness), and #PitchWars (a contest).

  • #MSWL also has a website–both the hashtag and the website offer editors and agents to post “what they are looking for.” This is amazing!
  • #PitMad is a chance for writers to pitch manuscripts during quarterly events. Basic information can be found here. One of the most important things about it is that tweeters must also indicate the genre of the manuscript with another hashtag, such as #PB #MG #YA.
  • #PitchWars is a “a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer critiques on how to make the manuscript shine.” See full details for 2016 here. What a deal!

These latter two give you a chance to see if your pitches are working. Do they garner any attention or not? You can often offer different versions to try pitches out.
Search for a specific editor or agent–one you’d like to know more about–by name. You may find links to interviews or blog posts by this person. You may find comments about the agent or editor. If the agent or editor has an account, you can read his/her tweets. Seeing a “I hate squirrels” tweet would let you know not to send a squirrel story to that specific person.
Twitter Lists
One of the tools on Twitter is the ability to assign those you are following to lists. I normally add someone to a list when I follow them. That means if I want to see what Picture Book writers are saying today, I can just see the posts of the people I’ve put on my PB list. (Would need to use Tweetdeck or HootSuite). Lists can be public or private.
Setting Up Twitter
When you sign up for an account, you create a user name or handle–mine is @SusanUhlig, my pen name for my children’s writing. The @ symbol is the common way to indicate a Twitter handle. Once you have someone’s user name, you can view their page by typing in your browser So in my case it would be Once you go to my page, you’ll see Sue (Susan Uhlig) followed by @susanuhlig.
Actions you need to take asap are upload an avatar–usually a picture of you–and create a bio. You don’t have a lot of characters, so keep it short and pertinent. Mine says: “Children’s Book (PB, readers, MG, YA) & Mag Writer. Writing helps/book recs on my site (‘cuz I always have an opinion). SCBWI Oregon. ICL Instructor.” You can see I used some of my bio space for affiliations. I also get to list my location and my website in addition to my bio. Another fun option is adding a header photo, but that can come later. However, often people won’t follow those who do not have an avatar.
Of course, Twitter itself has articles and FAQs that can help you get started.
Once you are set up, you can join the conversation. If you find you are spending way too much time on Twitter, set a timer for how long you want to be on and when it goes off, close that Twitter window.
Making Use of Twitter
You can also set up a Twitter widget on your website that will show a specified number of your most recent tweets. It’s one way to have frequently changing content on your site. (How you do this depends on your website software.)
Someone once asked me if I could explain Twitter in 140 characters. As you can see, I can’t. But I can sure tweet this post.

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

Resizing Photos for Use on Websites

kitten headshotI find fellow writers (and illustrators) who struggle with getting their book cover images and pictures of themselves in the correct format to upload on websites. In fact, they might have as much of a startled look as this little guy does.
Here’s a how to…

  • Determine what formats are acceptable. Most common ones are: jpg (jpeg), png or gif. (This is the ending after your file name.) Most pictures out of a camera will be .jpg. When scanning an image, you can usually choose your format.
  • Check to see the required size for the document or website. Often this will be listed in k or mg (thousand or million). It may be listed in pixels. For example on the website for book covers or profile pictures, it says: “(must be less than 4MB and a jpg, png, or gif).”
  • Save your picture with a new name (or duplicate and rename) and work on the copy, so you don’t lose the original high quality image. VERY IMPORTANT!
  • Crop your picture if necessary before resizing. For a cover image, crop to cover only. For an image of you, it depends what the image is for. Many times you’ll want a head and shoulders shot, versus the whole body.
  • After you resize save your picture under the new name again.

Cropping on a Mac

  • Using FINDER open your duplicate picture in PREVIEW by double-clicking on the copy of the image you want to change.
  • Choose EDIT on the menu bar.
  • Click on SELECT ALL. (dotted lines will show around the image)
  • Sometimes my computer lets me use the mouse pointer as a double-headed arrow to drag the image from corners or sides. Other times, I have to follow the next two steps below. (I’m sorry I don’t why it is different at different times!)
  • Choose TOOLS on the menu bar.
  • Click on CROP and use your mouse to click and drag a frame around the portion of your picture that you want to keep. (The icon for your mouse pointer will be a plus.) You can move the frame in or out by the dots on the sides or corners.
  • When satisfied, go back to TOOLS and click on CROP. Your picture will be “cut down” to the image you want.
  • Happy with your cropping? Go to FILE on the menu bar and click on SAVE. If not, go to FILE and click on REVERT TO and choose the older “new original” file.

Resizing on a Mac

  • Using FINDER open your duplicate picture in PREVIEW by double-clicking on the copy of the image you want to resize.
  • Choose TOOLS on the menu bar.
  • In the popup window click on ADJUST SIZE.
  • You’ll see a FIT INTO ___ PIXELS drop down arrow at the top of the new window. Click on the arrow. Choose 640 x 480 or 320 by 240.
  • Near the bottom of the window a message will flash saying “Calculating Size.” It will tell you how big the picture was and how big it is now. If too small, choose a larger dimension of pixels.
  • Happy with your image size? Click OK to save.

Cropping on a PC – using Microsoft Office Picture Manager
(If you have Microsoft Office products, you probably have Microsoft Office Picture Manager.)

    • Open your duplicate of your picture in Microsoft Office Picture Manager either by opening the program and locating the copy of the image OR using FILE EXPLORER (windows explorer on older PCs to navigate to the copy of the image and right click so you can choose EDIT which will probably open your file with MS Office Picture Manager.
    • On the TOOLBAR at that top click on EDIT PICTURE.
    • In the popup window on the right, choose CROP.
    • Drag black line icons from corners or from each size to crop image. You can move these in or out.
    • Click OK.
    • Happy with your cropping? Go to FILE on the menu bar and click on SAVE. If not, click on UNDO and start over.

Resizing on a PC – using Microsoft Office Picture Manager
(If you have Microsoft Office products, you probably have Microsoft Office Picture Manager.)

      • Open your duplicate of your picture in Microsoft Office Picture Manager either by opening the program and locating the copy of the image OR using FILE EXPLORER (windows explorer on older PCs to navigate to the copy of the image and right click so you can choose EDIT which will probably open your file with MS Office Picture Manager.
      • On the TOOLBAR at that top click on EDIT PICTURE.
      • In the popup window on the right, choose RESIZE.
      • In the new popup window you can choose, PREDEFINED WIDTH X HEIGHT (or Custom width x height or percentage of original width x height)
      • Using the dropdown arrow choose WEB – LARGE or WEB – SMALL, E-MAIL (large or small). After you select one, look at the difference between the old size and the new size. It will show you in pixels!
      • Click OK.
      • Happy with the size? Go to FILE on the menu bar and click on SAVE. If not, click on UNDO and start over.

Windows 10 will open a program when you click on a photo that also allows cropping, but I don’t see resizing. You can get to it by going to Windows icon in the left bottom corner, then clicking on PHOTOS.

      • As before, make a copy of your original picture first!
      • Go to website.
      • Select picture by clicking on browse to find the picture on your computer.
      • Click continue.
      • In the new window you can Crop if needed.
      • After you’ve cropped, rotated, etc., you may make your picture smaller in Resize Your Picture by clicking on the drop down arrows.
      • I wouldn’t recommend Special Effects.
      • Click on I’m Done, Resize My Picture!
      • Now you can View Image or Resume Editing your picture.
      • When happy with it click Save to Disk – you will not get a chance to rename your file, which is why it is so important to have a copy of your original file first.

    • There are also YouTube videos on how to do this.
    • The absolute easiest way to get a good picture of your book cover, is to go to the publisher’s site, or Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and copy the picture from the site. Right click on the picture (PC) or Control click (Mac) and choose Save As. Put the picture where you’ll know to find it.

cropped photo courtesy of

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