Mentor Texts and Comp Titles

By Susan Wroble

The Story Spinners critique group has a long tradition of having retreats. In 2020, when Covid-19 made meeting in person impossible, we weren’t willing to abandon the tradition. We each picked a topic to present to the others in our first (and perhaps only) virtual format. I choose a topic I needed to learn more about—mentor texts and comp titles.

Author Tara Luebbe defined the difference between mentor text and comp titles in her blogpost for SCBWI Southern California’s Kite Tails last January. The same book might be both a mentor text and a comp—the difference is in how you use it.

 

MENTOR TEXTS COMP TITLES
Are all about… Craft Sales
Can be in… Any genre Same genre as your work
Published… At any time Within the past five years
Serves as a… Template A way to “get” your story

 

Mentor texts are the books that you use to learn how to do something. Perhaps you need help on POV, or pacing, or story arc. Mentor texts are the books you use as guides to learn a writing skill. In contrast, comp titles are books that show where your story belongs in the market. They help identify the target audience and where your book will fit on the shelves.

How to Find Them: So now that you know the difference, how do you find mentor texts and comp titles? Hint: the answer is not to start by broadcasting for help on social media!

To start, spend some type analyzing what you need before you begin the search. For mentor texts, are you looking for help with the humor, with rhymes, with a character arc…? For comp titles, what are the identifying features of your manuscript—its genre, subject matter, formats, type of writing, and tone?

Now that you know what you are looking for, you can begin finding the books. While the way you use mentor texts and comp titles is very different, the process of finding them is similar. Some of the common ways to search include:

  • Children’s Librarians
  • Booksellers
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon, especially the features
    • “Customers who viewed this also viewed”
    • “Sponsored products related to this item”
  • Pinterest lists (these are surprisingly helpful), and
  • ReFoReMo lists (my favorite for picture book comps!)

Using the ReFoReMo Lists:

If you are writing picture books, I highly recommend the free “Reading for Research Month” held each year in March. This month-long picture book study was founded to help PB writers understand the form, market and craft of writing through the reading and study of current picture books. Registration for ReFoReMo typically opens in mid-to-late February, and one of the many benefits of ReFoReMo is their private Facebook group. Searchable lists—perfect for finding mentor texts and comp titles—are in the lists section of the ReFoReMo Facebook files.

Here’s an example of how to use the files: My work-in-progress WHAT’S IN YOUR CAULDRON? is a rhyming and lyrical nonfiction picture book with transformational change (witches to healers). Sometimes, the categories in mentor texts and comp titles will overlap. I might want to look at rhyming books for both mentor texts and comp titles.

I start by going to Facebook, and the ReFoReMo Page:

On the left, near the bottom of the list, you will see “Files.” Click on that. You get a (searchable!) long list, that includes things like:

  • How-to
  • Rule Breakers
  • Cumulative Structure
  • Unexpected Twists
  • Longer PBs
  • Universal Themes
  • Tough Topics
  • Wordless
  • Contradictions in Text vs Illustrations
  • Free Verse
  • Grief and Loss

From here, I will search for rhyming texts. “Rhyming” gets me nothing, but “Rhyme” leads me to this file: Rhymers

From this list, I might look at Elli Woollard’s THE DRAGON AND THE NIBBLESOME KNIGHT. The copyright date of 2016 means I could use this as a comp title, as it has been published within the past five years. Heading over to Amazon, I can use the “Look Inside” feature (it’s not on all books, but if it is there, it is just above the picture of the book cover). Like my work-in-progress, I can see that THE DRAGON AND THE NIBBLESOME KNIGHT is written in rhyming couplets. But the tone, the meter, and the arc are very too different; it is not a good mentor text in any of those areas. However, it might be a good comp.

A further search on THE DRAGON AND THE NIBBLESOME KNIGHT gets me a full reading via YouTube, and I can see that the dragon and knight go from being enemies to being friends. The combination of both a structural match (rhyming) and a thematic match (transformational change) makes this a potential comp title for my manuscript.

Success! And I hope that this post brings you some understanding and success in your search for mentor texts and comp titles as well.

 

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Building your TBR Pile

Stack of Books

A new year is coming, and that means another year of writing and reading goals! I wrote about creating categories around your To Be Read (TBR) list. Nothing beats word of mouth hearing from a friend that they loved a book you must try, or having a bookseller or librarian listen to some of your favorites and make a recommendation or two. But if you’re thinking about reading in specific categories, here are some ideas of where you might look for books to try.

No matter how you find your 2021 TBR books, I wish you a massive and diverse list of books and many happy days and nights of reading!

 

Diverse Books

Diverse books make up a fraction of publishing, yet they are so critical for readers young and old to see themselves, and to see people other than themselves.

We Need Diverse Books has compiled a list of sites that recommend diverse titles – by going to this page you can access many different sites that suggest diverse books.

 

Award-Winning Books

The Newbery was “the first children’s book award in the world… [and is] the best known and most discussed children’s book award in this country.” A full list of award winners going back to 1922 can be found here.

The Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year.

The Caldecott Medal goes “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”

A great list from @sailyreads on Instagram highlights book awards that celebrate diverse authors and stories. Here is how these books are described on their websites.

  • The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth”
  • The Coretta Scott King Book Awardsare given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”
  • “The goal of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literatureis to honor and recognize individual work about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage.”
  • “Awarded biennially, the American Indian Youth Literature Award identifies and honors the very best writing and illustrations by Native Americans and Indigenous peoples of North America. Books selected to receive the award present Indigenous North American peoples in the fullness of their humanity.”
  • “The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”
  • The first and most enduring award for LGBTQIA+ books is the Stonewall Book Awards, sponsored by the American Library Association’s Rainbow Round Table.

 

State/Regional Lists

Consider adding local authors to your list! Almost every state has an award list. “The Colorado Book Awards annually celebrates the accomplishments of Colorado’s outstanding authors, editors, illustrators, and photographers.”

There are also regional awards that highlight specific interests. For example, “the WILLA Literary Awards honor the best in literature, featuring women’s or girls’ stories set in the West that are published each year.”

 

SCBWI

Of course, our beloved SCBWI is a great place to find possible books! You can browse the BookStop, where members’ books are listed. SCBWI has multiple awards as well that are given each year to published books, including the regional Crystal Kite Awards (“a peer-given award to recognize great books from 15 SCBWI regional divisions around the world”), the Golden Kite Award (“the only children’s literary award judged by a jury of peers”), and the Spark Award (“recognizes excellence in a children’s book published through a non-traditional publishing route”).

 

Recommended Books

According to the Goodreads website, they are the world’s largest site for book recommendations. They have a recommendation engine that will make suggestions, you can browse books by genre, and you can see readers’ favorites by looking at the Goodreads Choice Awards, which have finalists and winners broken out by genre.

The Indie Kids’ Next List includes recommendations from indie book stores, where you can read a paragraph about why a particular bookseller recommends that book.

Big bookstores will be happy to recommend you books: you can look them up here, even if you end up checking them out from your local library or purchasing from an independent bookstore. Amazon offers a best children’s books of the year (this one is for 2020), broken out by age group, as well as monthly recommendations.

 

Starred Books

Books are ‘starred’ when specific book reviewers award them a star as part of their review. They are hard to come by, and many excellent books and many popular books don’t receive them. These reviewers include Booklist (published by the American Library Association, also known as ALA),  Kirkus, and School Library Journal (also known as SLJ). Some are subscription-based to see the full review, but a search of the title will usually show if it has been starred. Some publishers will post quotes from these reviewers on their book. These review journals will also publish ‘best of’ lists.

 

Best-Selling Books

There are lists available that include the books that are selling the best over a period of time. Two major ones include The New York Times Bestseller list, which includes books ranked by format and genre, and USA Today’s Bestseller List, which shares the top-selling 150 books, across formats, including bookstores and online retailers.

Indiebound aggregates sales from hundreds of bookstores across the country to create their bestseller list, which is broken down by genre.

Amazon shares their top selling books if you click on Books and then a particular category. So does Barnes & Noble, which will break it down by Kids and YA.

***

This list is by no means exhaustive, or an endorsement – hopefully it will help you find new books to love and give you new ideas of where to search.

Other places you love to look at for book recommendations? Add them in the comments below!

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Facts From a Week in the Life of a Writer

I am ready for a game of Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy! Perhaps, I’ll actually get a few answers correct. No, on the other hand, I have no need for a competition today. After all, trying to get published is plenty of competition for me. I would rather brew up some tea and share a cup of facts and findings from my past week of research for my new young adult novel, a nonfiction kids article, and a picture book. Oh, how lucky I am to be a perennial student, day after day!

Enjoy! (These are not in any particular order):

  • In the 1960’s, farm kids who ran away from home were called, “field rabbits,” because they roamed the roads with no attachment to their parents.
  • According to an FBI report, in 1967, there was a record number of teenage runaways in the U.S. Some 90,000.
  • The Beatles hit, “She’s Leaving Home,” is based on the true story of 17-year-old runaway Melanie Coe. In the 1997 biography PAUL MCCARTNEY: MANY YEARS FROM NOW, McCartney recalled, “We’d seen a story in the newspaper about a young girl who’d left home and not been found…there were a lot of those at the time, and that was enough to give us a story line. So, I started to get the lyrics – she slips out and leaves a note and then the parents wake up. It was rather poignant.”
  • A high school freshman in California has a collection of more than 3,000 library cards.
  • The first library cards were probably issued at membership libraries, 18th Century organizations where members paid fees (and sometimes books from their own collection) in exchange for the right to check out materials.
  • Crows have a unique way of marking the location of their snacks. They don’t bury food; they cover it with a leaf, twig, grass or other item.
  • Ever since their 2020 audition on “America’s Got Talent” TV show, Brothers Gage have made harmonica hip for teens. 15-year-old Brody and 17-year-old Alex have both been playing since they were five. The harmonica-playing, dancing duo perform at events and school pep rallies around Los Angeles.
  • Some researchers believe that in the 1970’s, teens were running TO something, such as communes, freedom, cults, etc., whereas, today, they are running AWAY from things, such as difficult home life.
  • A strong simple first sentence in a YA: “My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.” WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN A CASTLE by Shirley Jackson.
  • A strong simple character name in a YA: Uncle Big. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson, also author of I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN.
  • A beautiful turning point in a picture book: “Feeling unsure, the girl thought the best thing was to put her hear in a safe place. Just for the time being. So, she put it in a bottle and hung it around her neck. And that seemed to fix things…at first.” THE HEART AND THE BOTTLE by Oliver Jeffers, also author of THE GREAT PAPER CAPER and HOW TO CATCH A STAR.
  • In the early- to mid-20th century, most New York City libraries had live-in superintendents. They were known as the families that lived behind the stacks! And, all their kids had 24-7 access to books. One girl used to have sleepovers and in 1965, went on to hold her wedding in the library.
  • Early library cards were also called “tickets.”
  • In 1886, a library card for the Lowell City Library in Massachusetts stated, “Marking of all sorts on books is punishable by statute with fine and imprisonment, and directors will prosecute.”
  • In 1924, Oakland Free Library (CA) issued two different cards: One was “good for any book.” The other stated, “No fiction shall be issued.”
  • Darby Free Library, which started in PA in 1743, is America’s oldest public library.

By the way, a photographer and journalist came up with the idea of Trivial Pursuit while playing Scrabble. Photographer Chris Haney was always open about being a high school dropout, often joking, “It was the biggest mistake I ever made. I should have done it earlier!” The board game artwork was done by 18-year-old Michael Wurstlin.

And, in case you’re wondering… the word trivia is a derivative of trivium. The origin of trivium is, place three roads meet. Oops, I forgot to share: Peril is a synonym for jeopardy.

Hmm, maybe I am ready for questions. Game on! If my answer is wrong and I get the gong, I’ll simply say, “I Should Have Known That!” (a board game for young adults) and brew up another cup of tea.

 

 

 

 

 

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Great Lives in Colorado History Biography Series: Great on So Many Levels!

The “Great Lives in Colorado History Biography Series” offers Colorado’s 3rd and 4th grade students the opportunity to peek into the lives of some of Colorado’s most interesting personalities from the past. In a partnership among the Denver Public Schools Social Studies Department, the Colorado Humanities Organization, and publisher Filter Press, the 33 biographies were written by teachers who were inspired to provide resources to teach Colorado history to their elementary school students.

I was one of those teachers/authors who had the opportunity to participate in the Great Lives project. The three biographies I wrote for the series gave me a foundation for my future work as an author of both children’s books and encyclopedia articles. The experience ignited my passion for detailing the past through lives well lived and introduced me to the pleasure of delving into research that reveals information about a person in the context of their time.

The project was premised on the belief that viewing history through the lens of a person’s life is a meaningful experience for elementary school students. As the students read a biography, they are able to see that ordinary people can lead extraordinary lives. From the humble beginnings, these Colorado luminaries rose to make a difference in history.

Students gain knowledge and appreciation of the struggles and hardships that one person had to overcome, perhaps gaining insight and perspective into their own problems. Students can also be inspired to pursue their dreams or to act in more principled ways with insight from real lives. Understanding a person in the context of history can help students know a specific time and place, as well as stimulate a broader interest in history.

Each teacher wrote a biography of an interesting Colorado historic figure of their choice. The resulting set of books represent of a cross-section of people that include writers, politicians, activists, adventurers, explorers, dissenters, professional people, visionaries, and pioneers who were men and women of all ethnicities.

To write the biographies, we used the same skills we expect of our young students: to identify and locate reliable resources for research, to document those sources, to use appropriate information from the resources, and to convey the information we learned in an interesting and creative way. We adapted our writing to our upper-elementary audience, explaining difficult concepts and using student-centered vocabulary.

Being teachers, we made sure the books were resources that included all the elements of non-fiction that we teach to our students. The books are traditional biographies in the “cradle to grave” format. There are chapter headings, a table of contents, a glossary, an index, pictures with captions, a timeline, a bibliography, an “about the author” page, and a dedication. The books were published in English and Spanish, reflecting our student population.

The result is a full classroom set of age-appropriate, accessible biographies on truly notable and fascinating people from Colorado’s past. Students are able to read and research on their own, learning valuable reading and writing skills. In my elementary school, each student is given their own biography. They read about and study their person, then write a first-person account of the subject’s life. The students dress as their person and tell about “their” lives in a Great Lives in Colorado History event. It is the second-best day of the school year (the first always being the Denver Public Schools Shakespeare Festival.)

My three books in the series were Helen Hunt Jackson: Colorado’s Literary Lady; Ralph Carr: Defender of Japanese Americans; and Felipe and Dolores Baca: Hispanic Pioneers. To this day, four of the people I admire most in the world include Helen, Ralph, Felipe, and Dolores.

The books are available through Filter Press. They are great gifts for elementary students and are a bargain at $8.95 each. The entire set of 33 can be purchased for only $237.00 and would be welcome in any Colorado classroom.

Here is the link to access the series on the Filter Press Website: https://www.filterpressbooks.com/shop/greatlivescolorado/3 

The “Great Lives in Colorado History” Series includes the following bilingual titles:
Augusta Tabor: Enterprising Pioneer
Barney Ford: Pioneer Businessman
Benjamin Lindsey: Father of the Juvenile Courts
Bill Hosokawa: Journalist
Charles Boettcher: Colorado Businessman
Chief Ouray: Ute Chief and Man of Peace
Chin Lin Sou: Chinese-American Leader
Clara Brown: African-American Pioneer
Doc Susie: Mountain Doctor
Elbridge Gerry: The Paul Revere of Colorado
Emily Griffith: Educational Opportunity for All
Enos Mills: Rocky Mountain Conservationist
Fannie Mae Duncan: Entrepreneur
Felipe and Dolores Baca: Hispanic Pioneers
Florence Sabin: Scientist and Teacher
Francis Wisebart Jacobs: Denver’s Mother of Charities
Hazel Schmoll: Colorado Botanist
Helen Hunt Jackson: Colorado’s Literary Lady
Kate Slaughterback: Legendary Rattlesnake Kate
Katharine Lee Bates: Author of “America the Beautiful”
John Dyer: Snowshoe Preacher
John Routt: Colorado’s First Governor
John Wesley Powell: American Hero
Josephine Aspinwall Roche: Humanitarian 
Justina Ford: Baby Doctor
Little Raven: Chief of the Southern Arapaho
Otto Mears: Pathfinder of the San Juans
Ralph Carr: Defender of Japanese Americans
Richard Russell: City Leader
Robert Speer: Denver’s Building Mayor
Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales: Chicano Activist
William Bent: Frontiersman
Zebulon Montgomery Pike: Explorer and Military Officer

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Happy Birthday Books of 2020!

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

On Saturday, November 7, 2020, Denver’s Second Star to the Right bookstore, in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, will host an all-day QUARANTINE BOOK-A-PALOOZA! This virtual birthday party will celebrate the large number of books born in 2020 and feature the local authors and illustrators who created them. There will be five, 45-minute panel discussions organized by genre, including picture books, middle grade fiction, young adult novels, and non-fiction. So mark your calendars, grab a slice of cake or a bowl of ice cream, and join us for this informative birthday party!

Here’s the schedule, a sneak peek at the birthday books, and a link to the Eventbrite site where you can sign up to attend:

PANEL TIMES ARE IN MOUNTAIN STANDARD TIME!

10:30 am – Picture Books

Dow Phumiruk – ONE GIRL

Jolene Gutierrez – MAC AND CHEESE AND THE PERSONAL SPACE INVADER

Carmela LaVigna Coyle –CAN PRINCESSES BECOME ASTRONAUTS?

AJ Irving – DANCE LIKE A LEAF

Ana Crespo – LIA & LUIS – WHO HAS MORE?

11:45 am – Middle Grade Fiction

Lija Fisher – THE CRYPTID KEEPER

Nanci Turner Steveson – LIZZIE FLYING SOLO

Claudia Mills – LUCY LOPEZ: CODING STAR

Fleur Bradley – MIDNIGHT AT THE BARCLAY HOTEL

1:00 pm – More Picture Books

Lauren Kerstein – ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOODNIGHT

Nancy Bo Flood – I WILL DANCE

Beth Anderson – SMELLY KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT

Gregory Barrington – COW BOY IS NOT A COWBOY

Natasha Wing & Stan Yan – SALTWATER SILLIES, THE NIGHT BEFORE ELECTION DAY

2:15 pm – Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels

Jeannie Mobley – THE JEWEL THIEF

Darby Karchut – ON A GOOD HORSE

Jim & Steph Kroepfl – MERGED

Sonja Solter – WHEN YOU KNOW WHAT I KNOW

Linda Osmundson – BONNIE IN-BETWEEN

Samantha Cohoe – A GOLDEN FURY

3:30 pm – Picture Books and Non-fiction Combo

Casey Rislov – LOVE, ROWDY RANDY

Laura Perdew – THE FORT, ANIMAL ADAPTATIONS SERIES

Lydia Rueger – VICTOR AND THE VROOM

Bianca Schulze – DON’T WAKE THE DRAGON

Susan Quinlan – ONE SINGLE SPECIES:Why the Connections in Nature Matter

To learn more about this event, check for last-minute schedule changes, and to SIGN UP, please go to:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/scwbi-quarantine-book-a-palooza-tickets-120538950245

 

 

 

 

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Pro Tips from the PALs

By Susan Wroble, September 2020

The themes that emerged from RMC-SCBWI’s PAL (Published and Listed) member Connect on Marketing Strategies on August 29th, were “build community” and “have fun!” But the PALs also had plenty of specific tips to share—hope you find some of them helpful in your journey!

SUPPORTING OTHERS:

1)         Review books. A simple and effective way to provide support to fellow authors and illustrators is to write a book review. You can use the same review for all sites. Amazon and Goodreads are the two most well-known sites for reviews, but there are plenty of others, including Barnes & Noble, LibraryThing, Shelfari, Bookish, and “What Should I Read Next.” Claudia Mills has set a goal is to review one of her friend’s books each week.

2)         Nominate for Lists on Goodreads. Lauren Kerstein recommended nominating books to be on Goodreads Listopia, because it increases visibility. I learned the process by nominating Laura Perdew’s picture book, The Fort, to a list called “Picture Books About Friendship.” The steps:

  • Log into your Goodreads account
  • Make sure that the book you want to nominate is on your shelf
  • Navigate to lists (under Browse) and scroll down. Find “search lists”
  • Find an appropriate list for the book and go to that list
  • Near the top is a button that reads “Add books to this list.”

3)         Give Shout-outs to others. Julie Rowan-Zoch has a unique—and fabulous—way of giving shout-outs to others. She acknowledges her friend’s birthdays on Facebook with a drawing. As Julie freely admits, the drawings are her daily art practice, but as RMC-SCBWI PAL Liaison Rondi Frieder commented, seeing them with a birthday greeting really makes the day special!

MARKETING/PUBLISHING PLAN:

1)         Spread the Word. “Don’t be afraid to be a little obnoxious!” Fleur Bradley said. You have to let people know that you a book coming out for them to be able to support you! She was nervous about the timing of her book launch in the midst of the pandemic. But she bought some Facebook ads to create awareness and excitement, then hosted a virtual book birthday, complete with cake. Susan Quinlan also spoke of the importance of reaching out. When she did, she was surprised at the number of old friends who wanted to buy her book.

2)         Create a Marketing or Publishing Plan. Jean Reidy created her own publishing plan to send to her publicist. It includes specifics on what she will do online, as well as with conferences and festivals, schools, libraries and bookstores, postcards, and contract marketing. Jean recommended asking if your publisher would pitch you for the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association. It’s a way to get in front of hundreds of booksellers in this region.

As a marketing professor for Colorado Mountain College, Jessica Speer is even more at home in the marketing world than the book world. She created a detailed marketing plan, starting six months before the publication date, and ending six months after. She uses the plan as a storage place for all her marketing ideas, including which podcasts or magazines to pitch.

3)        Join a Promotional Book Group. Several PAL members talked about the many benefits of joining a promotional group. Leslie Vedder said that members of her group found each other through the Publisher’s Weekly rights reports.

4)         Enlist the Bookstores. We are so fortunate that the Rocky Mountain region has phenomenal independent bookstores. Andrea Wang and Dow Phumirik each spoke of the importance of getting to know the bookstores. Dow noted that BookBar and Second Star to the Right are both in need of need of virtual content and appreciate any help. Second Star will be doing an educator’s night in October.

5)         Send out ARCS wisely. Megan Freeman suggested Googling the top ten children’s book bloggers in your given genres. You can find which have the greatest reach before asking if they’d review your book.

6)         Write a Press Release. Former journalist Lydia Shoaf wrote a press release for her book and sent it to her local Arvada paper. At first, there wasn’t much traction, but then it was picked up by surrounding papers. Those links were shared on neighborhood groups. Then it was publicized by the local bookstore—and in the school district newsletter.

7)         Use your Research. Some of Beth Anderson’s best marketing tools were an outgrowth of her research. The museum she asked to vet one of her books then hosted a program featuring her books.

8)         Create a Newsletter. YA author Carolee Dean puts together a monthly newsletter with updates, activities, and tips about writing and working with students. The newsletter, which goes out via email, then points to content on her blog, Twitter, or Facebook pages.

9)         Enter Contests. Linda Osmundson got visibility for her newest book by entering it into contests.

10)       Use your Publisher! Amazon has both a self-publishing arm (Kindle Direct Publishing) and a more traditional publishing arm. Ellen Javernick, whose books are with Two Lions, the Amazon publishing imprint for children up to age 12, said that she has had to do very little—because Amazon is doing the marketing work!

HELPFUL APPS:

1)         Learn to use Apps for Design, Graphics, and SEO. Jessica Speer pointed to Pinterest as a hidden gem, with a lot of success for relatively little effort. Other tools she uses include the design site Canva for graphics, Animoto for videos, and the back plug-in Yoast, a search engine optimization tool that forces you to create keywords and use formats that Google prefers. Jessica went through all of her old posts with Yoast, and is now seeing increased traffic.

2)         Get more Mileage with Posts and Hashtags. Megan Freeman recommends using the social media landing page Linktree, which allows multiple hyperlinks and the ability to go beyond character limitations. She also recommends harnessing the power of hashtags, by researching their numbers of followers.

3)         Sign up for Google alerts. Pat Vojta suggests signing up for Google alerts on your name and the title of your books. She found her book on the front cover of a newspaper that way!

GIVING BACK AND HAVING FUN:

1)         Give Content. As a former teacher, Julie Danneberg is doing everything she can to support teachers in this COVID era—and for her, that means creating content that they can use in their classes to get a break! Her website has a special section just for teachers.

2)         Scour the Pages. Author Carmela LaVigna Coyle studied the art on every page of her books. Unknown to her, there were themes, including frogs and pollinators. Using these, she developed crafts, including bookmarks and finger puppets, that serve as another marketing tool.

3)         Create Videos and Podcasts. Inspired by Trevor Noah, Jennifer Mason launched a storytelling podcast in April, called “Blister and Muck.” At first, she said, the only people who listened were her friends. But then there was a 50% uptick and another. Judy Kundert has been telling stories with her husband acting as videographer. And Gregory Barrington gave a sneak peek at his first, and incredible, book trailer.

Let us know what you find most useful, and add your own tips in the comments. Thanks!

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Writing with Others (at distance)

At this point, you may already have figured out how to navigate working with your writing and critique partners in this time of distancing. Some of us already critique at a distance, so the change is nothing new. But here are a few things you might consider if you’re not already trying them.

The Move to Video Conferencing

We’re all used to the phone, and many of us have used FaceTime or Skype to talk one-on-one to friends and family. Your whole group can meet using one of this video-conferencing platforms, such as Skype, Google Meets, or Zoom. Many of these platforms are free for users to set up meetings, they may just limit the amount of time you can meet before they kick you off.

The benefit of these formats is that you can see multiple people, and they can sign on from anywhere, as long as they have a Wi-Fi connection or a data plan on their phone. For Zoom, the only person who actually needs to sign up to Zoom is the person setting up the meeting – everyone else just clicks a link.

Video conferencing is the closest many of us can come to see our writing friends and critique partners, so I highly recommend it. Here is a link discussing different options (also where the groovy picture came from).

My group uses Zoom, so I’ll talk about that here, but just know there are plenty of options.

 

Ways to Use Zoom

One way to use Zoom is to simply move your regular critique time to this format. You can still see other, talk one at a time, and see facial expressions and reactions. Zoom doesn’t allow for side-conversations, unless you pay extra to have break out rooms. You can use the chat function, but honestly it can be distracting. But Zoom can get you 80% * of the way there for your critique group. * Not an official scientific number

Zoom allows you to share your screen, so if you want to reference specific parts of the manuscript, you can show it to everyone if that’s helpful to draw attention to your point. That could be critical for discussing illustrations, layout ideas, etc.

We’ve also started using Zoom as an accountability tool. I belong to a writing group whose purpose is to get together just to write. We do timed writing sprints, and then visit over lunch. With the pandemic, we’d been doing the writing sprints via text. But we discovered that we did a better job at showing up if we were literally showing up. Now we login to Zoom and show our faces as a way to ensure that we’re working away.

 

SOME ZOOM TIPS

Mute – a lot

Our computers and headphones pick up a lot of background noise. The larger your group, the more distracting it can be. It’s better to stay muted until you want to talk. Just be prepared to start talking and have someone remind you, “If you’re talking to us, you’re still muted.”

 

Gallery View vs Speaker View

On Zoom, you can choose between Speaker View (where Zoom decides who is ‘talking’ and has them in the center of the screen) or Gallery View (where everyone is their own box, very Brady Bunch. I like Gallery View because if you’re eating an apple, or one of your kids shouts something in the background while you aren’t muted, you are taking center stage.

 

Log back in again

If you’re working from free Zoom, your meeting with three or more people will end after 40 minutes (at the time of this blog post). But never fear! If you just log back in again, you can restart it with the same link. So as long as you don’t mind restarting the meeting, you don’t need to pay for Zoom. Make your meeting as long as it needs to be, and then just click the link again if you get booted off.

***

Writing buddies and critiquing partners are so critical to us, as writers and just as people. However you do it, and however often you use it, find a way to stay connected. We’ll be back together again soon! Stay safe, everyone.

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, critique, Office organization

I WRITE, BECAUSE…

I write because it’s my

rock,

church,

wrinkles,

pain,

loudest laugh,

amid deep doubt

on mornings when I’m convinced the birds are singing,

“scrap it, stick with vacuuming.”

Second chance,

even when revision and I aren’t getting along.

Need for risks,

such fun to throw terrible twists at my characters.

Addiction to curiousity

and what, where, when, why,

by the way, how the heck did my research lead to the story of the chef who made the world’s largest dumpling,

and then on to 10 synonyms for said

that I’ll delight in using way too many times.

Decisions,

as complex as Colorado weather

and a one word sentence.

Seeing through lotsa lenses,

each a chance to make metaphors,

as like

and like as.

One what if after what if,

navigating the creative mess I’ve made.

Commitment to writing The End.

Reminder to trust

and hope,

oh, please, may my 10 years of revising

90,000 words make some sense!

I admit, it’s often my desperate attempt to whittle, whittle away at a chunk of wood

seeking the perfect knot

that I want to sand, buff, stain,

repeat;

and often, it’s a return to my rebellious teen,

sneaking up the stairs after curfew

with secrets of my doings deep in my Levi’s pocket;

and often, it’s my science lab,

experimenting with wit,

but, ending up with the same result,

me laughing at my same corny ideas.

Raw truth,

much, much better than any mirror.

Every wee fear,

including those I haven’t met.

Pillow and blanket,

especially when I want to hide from characters that I can’t bear to inform:

“I don’t know if you would laugh or cry over this matter.”

Giddy childhood,

when my four brothers and I wrapped towels around our necks

and raced our bikes two miles to the public pool,

competing all day for the biggest cannon ball splash

and finding enough coins on the concrete to buy Baby Ruth’s and lemon drops.

Freedom,

flying down a mountain on my bicycle at 40 mph,

hearing only air,

only!

Tuner,

honing in on how-to’s,

like my character’s nervous habit,

or, whether she should whine, sigh or snicker.

Adrenaline rush,

when rarely, oh so rarely,

six sentences in a row,

flow,

flow,

as if my character is in charge.

Admission

to the humbling fact,

yes, my characters will lead,

if you would listen,

they’d love to whisper:

“Get your ego out of the way, god damnit!”

Shower,

making sure I scrub deep, bid farewell to the filth and start all over.

Challenge

that wakes, sparks and jests me,

like when I hide dark chocolate in the freezer,

yet, keep avoiding, avoiding

till I must have a bite,

and then, you know what happens next,

I eat the whole bar!

Shovel,

reminding me: dig up, dig up, dig up the muck,

more,

more,

because, beneath is the real stuff, THE story,

arriving at an unexpected reality sign:

“welcome to the story you never knew you were telling!”

My rescue crew,

always ready with a

hug,

wisdom,

feedback,

nudge,

prayer,

a plethora of ideas,

edits,

commas,

periods.

Fresh baked paper

just out of the oven,

ready for my pen to

dabble,

let go,

forgive,

say hello,

how are ya,

goodbye

to mom, dad, brothers, best buds.

Stories

I write,

because,

I always have.

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Filed under Karen McChesney, Main character, Revision process, Uncategorized, WORD NERD

Starting the Conversation: Using Picture Books to Talk to Children About Racism and Protest

We live in a time when we are confronted by the complexities of race and racial identity.

The deaths of Black men at the hands of police officers has challenged our collective consciousness. Recent events have left me simultaneously heartbroken for the tragedies the Black community has endured for so long, yet optimistic that we can change systems of injustice.

As teachers and parents, this moment presents an opportunity to have difficult conversations with our children about racism, discrimination, white privilege, and protest. To move to a more just society, our children must be part of the solution.  We must make sure they grow up equipped with the mindset and knowledge to create a better world.

Fortunately, we are not alone in this effort, because there are many notable children’s books that introduce readers (young and old) to these complicated and emotional topics. These books can be used as a springboard for discussion.

The following picture books about racism and protest—many of them by people of color— will help start the conversations in classrooms, in homes, and among individuals. Although many libraries are closed due to COVID-19, these resources are available at book stores or through your local library’s e-reader programs. Most are also available as videos on YouTube, read aloud by teachers and librarians. Consider buying a book or two to support the important work of these authors and illustrators.

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazard; illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin; Magination Press, 2018. (ages 4-10)

When a Black man is shot by the police in their community, two families discuss the incident. The story helps children to identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives and includes extensive notes to adults, child-friendly definitions, and sample dialogues.

 

Mama, Did You Hear the News? by Sanya Wittaker Gragg; illustrated by Kim Holt; CreateSpace, 2017. (ages 8-12)

Written to talk to children about police violence, this book addresses how Black children, especially boys, can stay safe. Anyone who cares about an African-American boy should share this book with him. That such a book exists is testament to the need for radical change in our society.

 

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester; illustrated by Karen Barbour; Harper Collins, 2008. (ages 4-8)

This beautifully illustrated book highlights that people are more than the color of their skin. It suggests ways to push past biases and stereotypes by focusing on individual stories and the gifts that each person brings to the world.

 

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham; Dorris Press, 2018. (ages 8-12)

This book discusses how power and privilege factor into the lives of white children and how all children can help to seek justice for everyone. The book invites all children to be curious about racism, accept that it’s real, and to work toward justice.

 

Enough! 20 Protesters Who Changed America by Emily Easton; illustrated by Ziyue Chen; Crown Books, 2018. (ages 5-8)

This alphabet book highlights influential protesters, including contemporary ground breakers, like Colin Kaepernick and the Parkland students, who march in the footsteps of historical protesters like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King.

 

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi; illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky; Kokila Press, 2020. (ages 3-8)

Featuring a really darling baby. this board book for toddlers and preschoolers outlines nine ways to build a more equitable world. It contains advanced concepts, so it is also appropriate as a conversation starter with older children.

 

Sometimes People March by Tessa Allen; Balzer and Bray, 2020. (ages 4-8)

People participating in recent and historical social movements are the subject of this  book, with poetic text and lovely water-color illustrations. It explains why people march and how people can act and show concern for the causes they care about.

 

All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger; photos by Chris Bohnhoff; Red Leaf Press, 2014. (ages 3 and up)

This book describes the scientific reasons people have different skin colors and introduces the idea that skin color is just one part of any person. It is filled with colorful photographs that capture the variety of skin tones and encourages children to value our diverse world.

 

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson; Crown Books, 2018. (ages 8-12)

Fifty luminaries of the children’s book writing community, including Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Rita Williams-Garcia, share their experiences and give advice to young people in this anthology of poems, letters, personal essays, and art. The beautiful art and prose work together to empower children to listen, learn, and to work toward a better tomorrow.

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Leaving a Paper Trail

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States in mid-March, our lives changed dramatically. For me, it meant hunkering down with my husband and visiting son, Noah, who had come to Colorado to ski and attend his cousin’s wedding. But after only three days, the ski resorts closed and our niece’s wedding was postponed. Noah, who normally lives in Montreal, was now here for the duration. Canada had closed its borders.

One night, during our second week of family dinners, I suggested digging out the old family videos. Noah was particularly interested in viewing the recording of his 2005 Bar Mitzvah. We all headed into the family room and began hauling out boxes of DVDs, CDs, and VHS tapes from an overstuffed cabinet. What a treasure trove of memories! Our boys’ first steps and birthday parties, family camping trips, even our wedding. Only for some reason, Noah’s DVD, and the outdated VHS tape from his older brother’s Bar Mitzvah in 2002, were nowhere to be found. Were they were behind the photo albums on the  bookshelf in the living room? I went to check. Nope. As a last resort, I went downstairs to my office/writing studio to look in my drawers, bookshelves, and cabinets. Nothing. But the reality of an even bigger problem was suddenly apparent to me. I knew it was there, lurking behind-the-scenes, but I  had ignored it for years. My work space – the creative sanctuary where I write, read, and tutor elementary school students, was a paper disaster!

Let me explain. If you walked into this lovely room (my favorite room in the entire world), you would find shelves of alphabetized books on one wall and an expansive desk on another, complete with an array of pencils, pens, and notebooks alongside my computer. Framed photographs line the windowsill and colorful artwork (many of my own pieces) dot the walls. There are some boxes filled with papers and folders on the floor, but they’re mostly in the corners and out of the way. The  problem, the one that hit me like a brick on this particular night, was hidden inside the drawers and cabinets. Crammed into these closed-up storage areas were notebooks from college and graduate school, years of lesson-plan books, thank-you letters from my former students and their parents, and an overflowing file of homemade cards from my husband and sons. I also had plastic tubs of teaching materials and lots of art supplies.

But the main source of my over-accumulation of paper had nothing to do with my collection of memorabilia, or my life as a teacher. It was my writing!  I had multiple drafts of ALL MY manuscripts, including picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, plays, songs, poems, blogs, and articles. Many had notes attached to them from editors, agents, authors, and critique partners. I had stacks of notebooks filled with revision ideas. There were conference and class handouts, bins of research, hard copies of rejection letters from agents and editors dating back to 2005, and piles of handouts from the SCBWI workshops I’ve organized.

I know what you’re thinking. “How did this get so out-of-control? And haven’t you gone digital?” All I can say is that for me, “out of sight is out of mind.” After I put something in a drawer, it turns into “storage.” I’ve gone digital, but I also print out hard copies of my work when I revise.

I knew my “paper-saving” was out of control. I just never seemed to have the time or energy to deal with it. But life had changed. I was in the middle of a pandemic. What if I died of the corona-virus in the not-so-distant future? Would my loved-ones be willing to sort through the piles in my office or the files on my computer? No way! In fact, they’d probably throw it all out. If I wanted them to keep any of it (so future generations would know how I spent my working life), I needed to leave  a more organized paper trail. And, since I had just given my writing group four weeks to read the latest version of my MG novel, I had a month to do it.

I continued with my established writing schedule – Get up, walk the dog, eat breakfast, and head to the studio. But instead of writing, I gathered my supplies: 3-ring binders in various widths and colors, plastic bins, new file folders, post-it notes, sticky white labels, and a pile of large garbage bags for the mountains of paper I was about to recycle.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Man, oh man, did I like to write! I had a huge body of work. While some of it was really, really bad, much of it was good. And doing all this writing had made me a better writer. But I did not need multiple copies of every draft of every manuscript.
  2. Many editors, agents, and published authors had responded positively to my work and had encouraged me to revise and keep going. I needed to put these tidbits of light and hope in a binder and read through them now and again.
  3. I had attended A LOT of writing conferences and taken A TON of classes. I needed to look through my notes, save the worthwhile strategies, and get rid of the rest.
  4. I did not need to keep all those conference folders. I put the lists of agents and editors in a binder for future submissions and tossed everything else.
  5. Many of my early picture books had potential. And since I am now a better writer, I could rework them.
  6. My plays, songs, and poems needed to be in 3-ring binders for easier access. Especially my fifteen years of original Passover haggadahs and my fifty-plus songs!
  7. It was time to get rid of the lesson-plan books. One per grade level was enough to represent what I had done in my thirty years of being a teacher and tutor. And the student writing and scholarship contests I’ve judged, along with multiple copies of handouts from the teaching workshops I’ve led – gone. Same with the college and grad school notebooks. I saved two, from classes I loved the most.
  8. Although this started out as a paper trail to showcase my life, having my work organized in an accessible way has made me feel way more professional and extremely productive. Yay, me!

And if you’re wondering about those Bar Mitzvah videos, my husband found them three weeks later. They were in a box in a cabinet in our basement on top of some old sheets and blankets. Go figure.

 

 

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Filed under craft advice, Decluttering, Office organizing, Rondi Frieder