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

Are List Serves a Service or a Waste of Time?

The answer–depends how you use them.
Yes, you can be signed up for too many, or for ones that don’t really fit your needs or interests. Or you can waste your time reading and talking too much or on off-topics. (Much of this applies to Facebook pages or groups as well.)
However, I believe that used judiciously, list serves can be useful. There are one-way list serves–basically announcements that provide information. And two-way list serves, which are
online communities. I’m addressing the latter here. Writing (or illustrating) is mostly a solitary activity. Meeting with other creative face to face isn’t always possible, but a list serve can be a good substitute.
Let’s talk about several ways people are involved.
All this means is that people are reading, but not participating in the conversation. They don’t comment, nor start new topics, nor share good and bad news. We call them “lurkers.” Does this mean they can’t get anything out of the posts? Of course not. They can glean lots of information from what others are saying. But…if they have a question and don’t ask it on the list serve, how will they get it answered?
One of my friends had been lurking on a list serve and because I “out”ed that she was there (she had invited me to it), she decided she’d better introduce herself. Nervously, she wrote a post of intro and commented on a topic that the group had been discussing. She asked me to look over her post before she sent it. “Is it okay?” she asked. “Definitely,” I told her. “Go ahead and post.” She did, and guess who commented?! Andy Boyles of Highlights. Just by making an intelligent comment on a list serve she had a short conversation with an editor.
Posting means participating in the conversation. It can include sharing information from good articles or tips you’ve read, links to resources and events, your own posts on a topic from your blog or on a website, information about the publishing industry, etc. It’s a place to ask and answer questions, get opinions or quick feedback, find potential critique partners, learn about opportunities, meet people, and make friends.
List Serve Etiquette
Although on many list serves you are welcome to share about yourself and your successes, on no list serve should your posts be all about you. Remember that word conversation. Don’t shout about “me, me, me.” Instead, engage others by rejoicing with their successes, commiserating when appropriate, etc. Ask and answer questions.
Never attack someone. (Also known as flaming.) If you disagree with something, be polite when expressing yourself. Don’t participate in a long and involved argument; simply state your opinion and move on.
Never make rude comments about another children’s writer or illustrator, editor or agent. Yes, sometimes we gripe in general about a situation, but don’t make libelous statements. You also don’t want to create an overall view of yourself as a complainer. As Thumper says, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” You’ll stay out of a lot of trouble by following that little rule.
If you want to share someone’s words/thoughts from a post on a list serve, ask the author’s permission. It’s fine to share links.
When replying, don’t quote the whole message you are responding to (and definitely not a whole digest).
If you want to start a new conversation, start a new topic instead of commenting on a previous topic. A back and forth conversation is called a thread. Basically, it’s good to keep the same thread under one subject heading.
It’s nice to sign your name. Some lists will ask you to post your email address as well.
Be gracious. People will make mistakes, including you.
Types of Groups
Groups are hosted by a provider, such as Yahoo or Google. They can be open or closed. An open group is one anyone can join. Closed groups are often invitation only, or the person desiring to join must be approved by a moderator. Groups can be by location, genre, organization, work group, or any limitation or category someone dreams up.
How List Serves Commonly Work
Most list serves can be used in three ways:
• Individual emails to your inbox each time someone posts
• Daily digests – a collection of the days posts with headings emailed to your inbox
• Reading posts online
It’s usual to be able to reply to posts via email, to the sender directly, to the whole group or online. Starting a new topic can be done online or by sending an email to the list serves email address.
Some list serves have moderated posts, which can either be someone approving posts before they go “live” or someone who just watches out for problems.
It’s also usually easy to unsubscribe from a list that no longer meets your needs.
Why I Use List Serves
I use them for community, for staying in touch with people I don’t see often, for help and information, and have even gotten job leads.
I’d be interested in hearing what others think about this topic.
(bird on a wire picture courtesy of

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

Reducing Word Count

Reducing word count is especially important to magazine writers and to picture book writers since those types of writings have such low word counts. But, novelists have word limits, too. However, there are other reasons, besides the literal number, to cut words.
To my mind there are four areas to focus on for reducing word count.
First, cutting chaff.
photo courtesy of
grain & chaffChaff from
“the mass of husks, etc, separated from the seeds during threshing”
“something of little worth; rubbish (esp in the phrase separate the wheat from the chaff)”

This applies to all types of writing. Pieces of chaff are those weasel words and overused words. Weasel words slip into our writing no matter what the topic. Some of my personal culprits are: so, then, that, just, really. Overused words I’m responsible for include: looked, turned, as. Here’s authorculture’s list of ten most overused words in fiction. This link includes overused phrases as well as words.
While searching for references, I found another meaning for weasel words in an article by Richard Nordquist: “A modifying word that undermines or contradicts the meaning of the word, phrase, or clause it accompanies, such as ‘genuine replica.'” Or in other words, doublespeak, implying something that is not true or perhaps meaningless. Read the article here.
Adverbs are often chaff. If the verb is strong enough, is the right verb, you don’t need a verb with a modifier. (e.g. dashed versus ran quickly.) But there’s something else we do with adverbs and other phrases and that’s water down our message. Again, turning to an article by Richard Nordquist, I like this definition of hedging: “In communication, a word or phrase that makes a statement less forceful or assertive.” Read the examples, if not the whole article to spot hedge words and phrases.
Adjectives could be chaff, too. A specific noun is better than a nonspecific noun with an adjective. What creates a better picture in your mind? A big car or a Hummer? The big car ran into the small car versus The Hummer crashed into the Smart car–the latter makes me shudder.
Next area, passive writing.
Finding passive verbs and making them more active, not only cuts word count, but livens the reading. (e.g. was climbing versus climbed and started to pedal versus pedaled) I like what the University of Wisconsin says here about active versus passive. Be a Better Writer explains passive verbs and continuous verbs.
I’m going to add “seems” and “seemed” to this category, as well. “She seems to want the dog.” “He seemed mad.” You’re the author. Does she want the dog or not? Was he mad or wasn’t he? Are you wanting the reader to guess? It’s also a form of telling. Let us hear what she thinks about the dog. Show us his anger. It may not actually cut words, but the writing will be stronger.
Third area, tightening.
Each time I reread what I’ve written, I find unnecessary words and/or phrases. (The original said: “I find words and/or phrases that are unnecessary.” Two words cut.) Getting rid of unnecessary words does more than make sentences shorter. The meaning becomes clearer. The writing is less cluttered.
When I tighten, I might cut whole paragraphs or scenes. (First attempt, the sentence was: “When I tighten, I might also have whole paragraphs or scenes that aren’t needed.” Four words cut.) If a paragraph/scene doesn’t “move the story forward,” doesn’t show character, or have important plot details, try reading the story without it and see if it leaves a hole or not.
Sometimes, we only need a simple transition instead of complete details. For example, “He jumped out of bed.” versus “He yawned and rubbed his eyes. After scratching his armpit, the boy flipped back the covers, slid out of bed and landed on his feet.” Yes, the latter is more interesting. But is it necessary to the scene? If every action is described in detail, then we’ll also follow him to the dresser where he opens a drawer and pulls out underwear, a shirt and pants, and puts them on along with his socks and shoes. We could have a whole page before he gets downstairs to breakfast where there’s conflict waiting. Repeat that every day of the story and the reader will be bored because nothing is happening.
In picture books, there’s a special form of tightening. That’s taking out what the illustrator will put in. We don’t usually need to describe the character’s outward appearance in the text–there will be a picture. Ditto, setting.
In picture books we also leave out things that are not important or slow down the story. I remember hearing Pat Zietlow Miller talking about her lovely book SOPHIE’S SQUASH. There’s a marker in the book. Pat said she first had the marker being the marker that Sophie wasn’t supposed to use. But the point of the marker is that it was used to draw a face on the squash. We don’t need the marker’s backstory. The drawn face on the squash is what is important.
We also don’t explain in picture books. In MR. PUSSKINS: a love story by Sam Lloyd, the cat uses a phone and the little girl drives a car. Both work without any explanation or excuse.
The final area to cut is individual words in the next to final draft.
When you are almost done with the manuscript, look at each individual manuscript page and see if you can cut five words, or twenty words. I’ve heard this suggestion from a number of authors ranging from Peg Kehret to Linda Sue Park to Richard Peck. At a recent conference, Richard challenged us to make the first line of the story fit on one line. This tightening strengthens the punch of the words.
Hard work? Oh, yeah. But worth it.

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