WRITING IS A STICKY BUSINESS!

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

In the “About” section of this blog, In the Writer’s Web, we end our mission statement with the following sentence: “We want to provide insight, information, and inspiration to writers everywhere. Because… writing is a sticky business.” I love that last line. But what exactly does sticky mean? The Merriam-Webster online dictionary provides these synonyms: gluey, gummy, tacky, difficult, problematic, sensitive, tough, tricky, complex, complicated, hard, intricate, involved, serious, demanding, exacting, exhausting, stressful, and problematic. Yikes! On the other hand, here are some antonyms from the same site: easy, effortless, manageable, painless, simple, straightforward. So, if writing is a such a tricky-sticky business, why do we do it? Because we love it!

Most of you will agree that the past fourteen months have been extremely “sticky.” It was the epitome of so many of those adjectives I listed above. But the writer in me actually got a lot done. I became unstuck in many ways. I used my new stay-at-home lifestyle to develop a more serious writing practice. I hunkered down in my studio each morning to write and read. I revised a novel, got feedback from trusted critique partners, and revised again. I also dusted off another novel that had been sitting in a virtual drawer and began making some important changes. I attended online classes, webinars, conferences, and book launches. My critique group, The Story Spinners, began meeting on Zoom, twice a month, rather than once, in-person. And my Tuesday writing group, The Nanos, got together for Zoom writing sessions and lunch every week! I can honestly say that my writing, and my writing community, became my biggest comfort during this time of isolation.

But don’t get me wrong. I had many sticky writer moments during the pandemic. At one point, I had to put my novel aside. The events happening in our world today were very similar to what was going on in my historical MG novel. I was disheartened to see how hatred and bigotry still ragee in our communities. On the flip side, I’m even more motivated to get my book out there, not matter how sticky the process might be.

When YOUR writing life becomes sticky, try some of these strategies:

  1. Write something new. A first draft written with abandon, or an early morning writing prompt might just be what you need to get those juices flowing. Journal, draw, make lists!
  2. Try writing in a different genre. If you’re writing picture books, take a stab at a middle grade or a novel in verse.
  3. Interview your characters, both primary and secondary, at various times. They may have changed during the course of your revision. (http://www.rondibooks.com/getting-to-know-my-characters-again/)
  4. Make a map – seriously – draw out where your story takes place with colored pencils or markers. It will help you navigate the details as your characters move through your setting.
  5. Chart out how many times each character appears in your book. Are they all necessary? If the answer is yes, you may need to have them do more so the reader will remember them.
  6. Color-code dialogue, narrative, and description, and see if you have a balance. You can print the pages out and use markers, or highlight with different colors on your computer.
  7. Take classes! I particularly enjoyed workshops with Emma Dryden, Kate Messner, Linda Sue Park, Julie Berry, and Grace Burrowes. I also worked one-on-one with Sarah Aronson and am looking forward to my next class with Susan Campbell Bartoletti. The pandemic has isolated us, but also brought us together. These classes were all available on Zoom along with handouts and recordings.
  8. Have others read your work and take time to digest the feedback. Emma Dryden says that 80% of the feedback will not resonate, 15% will make you think, and 5% will be so on point, you’ll go running to your computer to put in the changes!
  9. Make a list of strong verbs and inspirational metaphors from mentor texts. Then find ways to strengthen your own writing.
  10. Get rid of unnecessary words. I totally overuse: just, that, I think, begin. Also, trim tag lines.
  11. When you’re in the thick of revision, Sarah Aronson suggests writing down what your main character is like at the beginning and end of your book. Have they changed? How? Julie Berry had us write a love letter to our novel. So great! I go back and read this from time to time. It reminds me why I am working so hard to make this book the best it can be.
  12. Have the computer read your manuscript out loud to you. In Word, go to Review and click on Read Aloud. It’s a computery voice, but it still helps you pick up on repetitive sentences and awkward dialogue.
  13. Read books on craft. Even just a chapter or two. And do the exercises suggested.
  14. Read inspirational books about being a writer/illustrator. Here’s one of my favorites:
  15. Read  a wide variety of books, but be current on what’s being published in your genre. With picture books, you can also find read-alouds on Pinterest.
  16. Subscribe to writing blogs (like this one!), join groups on Facebook (especially SCBWI, Sub It Club, and Kidlit411) and connect with other writers/illustrators on Twitter and Instagram.
  17. Take classes and attend workshops. Places to look online: SCBWI regional and national webinars and conferences, local SCBWI regional Connects, Free Expressions, Highlights, Writers Barn, Lighthouse Writers, Writer’s Digest, StoryStorm, ReFoReMo, NANOWRIMO, etc.
  18. THINK about your book. Go for walks, ride your bike, or hang out in the shower. When an idea occurs to you, send yourself a text (or you may forget this little inspirational nugget) and transfer it to your notebook or actual ms when you get a chance.

No matter what – Stick with it, stick to it, and stick it out, because although writing is a sticky business, it is also very, very sweet!

Note: This was the blog I wrote in January before I left my laptop toooooo close to a humidifier. It got… misplaced for a while.

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Filed under craft advice, critique, Main character, Revision process, RMC-SCBWI, Rondi Frieder, WORD NERD, Writing during the pandemic

FINDING SILVER LININGS AND SHARING TIPS

By Susan Wroble

RMC SCBWI’s PAL (Published and Listed) Liaison Rondi Frieder suggested a theme for the group’s March get-together as “Silver Linings from the Pandemic,” but the unexpected silver lining was all the resources and tips the members had to share.

Join a Debut or Launch Group:

If you have a book coming out, find or create a launch group. “It’s a lifesaver,” said Beth Anderson. “I don’t know how I could have made it through a debut year without that type of support,” Julie Rowan-Zoch said. Being able to collaborate and divide the work has allowed Julie’s group to present to a number of conferences and book festivals. The benefits were echoed by Megan Freeman, whose novel-in-verse Alone came out in January, and Jessica Speer, whose debut MG novel on happy friendships was pushed back from 2020 to this July.

Pursue Poetry:

“Poetry is the language of our heart that can come out in hard times,” Claudia Mills said. She tried a verse novel during the pandemic and learned she could write in a whole new way. Claudia suggests Molly Fisk’s occasional online poetry group, where the only rule is that comments must be positive. “I love being in a judgment-free zone.”

For Denise Vega, poetry was also a gateway to writing inspiration. Denise highly recommends Renée LaTulippe’s offerings, including Peek & Critique, a free service offered to all KidLit writers. Peek&Critique’s teaching videos include an introduction to poetry forms, lessons on meter and rhyme, scansion practice, and language-level analysis and critique of your submissions.

Support the Schools:

Many of the PAL members focused on how they could support teachers through this exceptionally difficult year. In her blog, author Julie Danneberg began to really concentrate on providing teaching resources. A therapist as well as an author, Carolee Dean was excited that her new book Story Frames for Teaching Literacy could be a real help for teachers working with kids struggling to read or in special education. Laura Roettinger provides science links for educators on her blog and features interviews with authors.

Carmela LaVigna Coyle had two recommendations regarding schools and author outreach. Scholars Unlimited looks for authors to read and record one of their books for students and families. Their mission is “to support low-income, academically struggling young learners. Contact twachtler@scholarsunlimited.org Carmela also noted that Nest Tijuana, a school and resource for children and families along the border, is in need of books in Spanish.

Beth Anderson suggests working with an Indie Bookshop to do a launch at a school. “There is a real audience of kids for the author, a valuable visit with an author for the kids, and a group for the store to target with their book sales. It’s a win-win-win.” For Megan Freeman, 70% of her school and library visit requests are coming through bookstores. Colorado is so fortunate to have so many great Indies, including Second Star to the Right, BookBar, Boulder Books, The Bookies, Firehouse Books, and of course, Tattered Cover.

Beth also noted that author Kate Messner puts together a list each year of authors and illustrators who are willing to do free events with schools in conjunction with World Real-Aloud Day (next scheduled for 2/2/22!). Lauren Kirstein also mentioned Kate Messner as a fabulous resource with her videos and information on virtual author visits. You can sign up here to be on Kate’s list of authors who offer free 15-minute virtual chats with classes or book clubs who have read one of their books.

Another resource Beth recommends is TeachingBooks.net. This is a free service with original, curated literary resources. Authors and illustrators can post short video clips introducing their books or telling people how to pronounce their name! As an example, here’s RMC-SCBWI Co-Regional Advisor Dow Phumiruk’s page.

Kimberlee Gard also suggests paying attention to special book-related days, like Read Across America Day (the next is 3/2/22). For Kimberlee and many of the PAL members, the ability to do virtual visits in places where you could not connect in person has been a real boost to creativity.

Beth Anderson had great success with An Open Book, a foundation with the goal of connecting authors and illustrators with Washington, DC-area students to build equitable access and nurture a lifelong love of reading. Beth’s presentation was free—but the foundation purchased a copy of her book for every child in the class. She also recommends signing up to be interviewed on the Reading with Your Kids podcast, with host Jed Doherty.

Learn Craft:

For many of the RMC-SCBWI PAL writers, this was a year to delve into craft. A huge silver lining of the pandemic was that so many opportunities became available because they were virtual—you could take classes from anywhere, often at reduced rates. As Fleur Bradley noted, in-person events can be exhausting, and being able to learn the material at the pace and times you wanted was a real blessing. Writers mentioned taking virtual classes and offerings from a number of places, including:

  • SCBWI (You can search by region or through their global events calendar, as most events this year are virtual).
  • The Writing Barn (classes, intensives, and retreats; located in Austin, Texas)
  • The Highlights Foundation (a range of courses, workshops, and retreats; located in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania)
  • Free Expressions (supporting new and experienced writers with professional literary services and workshops)
  • The Inner Circle (a private Facebook group with nearly 10,000 members for new and established writers interested in the craft and practice of writing, offers coaching and accountability)
  • Udemy (offers online courses on pretty much everything; this link goes to their writing courses)

Make Connections:

Making connections, both real and virtual, was a repeated theme. Rondi Frieder is in a group that meets each week just to write. Those meetings, now virtual, continued throughout the pandemic. Laura Perdew measured six-foot distances and opened up her back yard to writers and gets together with other Boulder authors to talk and walk. And many of the authors supplied books to Laura, who was collecting for communities that had been ravaged by the fires. Kimberlee Gard put up a Little Free Library at her new home that really helped foster a sense of community. And many of the authors supplied books to Laura, who was collecting for communities that had been ravaged by the fires.

Fleur Bradley suggested on focusing subgroups and genres. She was able to do a lot of networking through Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. She also noted that Twitter’s ARC sharing groups have been invaluable. Likewise, Megan Freeman was blown away by how generous the MG Twitter community has been in terms of sharing resources.

Fleur and Beth Anderson both mentioned FlipGrid, which is a free video discussion experience. Beth noted that her short author video on FlipGrid led to free conversations with classes—and that those sometimes led to longer, paid presentations.

Stephanie and Jim Kroepfl stayed involved in activities with the Colorado Author’s League, and they discovered the joys of contests when their book Merged was awarded first place in the Science Fiction/Fantasy and Young Adult Fiction category — and then took the grand prize in the 2020 Royal Dragonfly Award by Story Monsters. “Emotionally,” Jim said, “this was a lifesaver!”

Nurture Yourself!

Without a commute, nature writer Susan Quinlan ended up with extra time, which she was happy to spend outdoors. She found that it was a year of experimentation, and she felt especially nurtured by being able to read sites tailored to things that interested her, through sites like Feedly.com.

For Jennifer Mason, the challenge of the year was how to move around a conflict and let yourself stay flexible and live and fresh. When her WFH books were put on hold, she started a mystery podcast for kids, Blister and Muck. She had to keep learning about recording, marketing, and promoting all while writing an unsolvable mystery story.

And if you need some inspiration, Lauren Kerstein had the perfect suggestion—bubble baths! “A bubble bath is like an idea fountain,” Lauren said. “I keep waterproof paper and my phone nearby to jot down ideas. It has solved so many creative problems.”

 

 

Photo by Vika Aleksandrova on Unsplash

 

 

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Deep Dive into Your Target Word Count

As you develop your story, there are so many components to consider and perfect: a strong character arc, varied pacing, stellar dialogue, beautiful descriptions… the list goes on and on. But one factor you must always consider is word count.

If your novel is too short, it might not be considered ‘meaty’ enough for the age group. If your novel is too long, agents and publishers might worry that it has a ‘saggy middle’ or is filled with fluff. And for picture books, the current trend is definitely shorter over longer, but that can look very different depending on the age of the targeted audience and whether the book is fiction or non-fiction.

So what do you do?

First, because this can change over time, research the current trends for word length for the type of book you are writing (type something like “word length for picture books” in the search engine and see what you get). Here’s an article from Writer’s Digest to get you started.

Second, find comparison (comps) and/or mentor texts. Story Spinner Susan Wroble wrote a great post on how to do this.

Third, use a fantastic resource like Accelerated Reader Bookfinder (www.arbookfind.com) to see how those comp and mentor texts measure up when it comes to word count.

When you search for a book, AR Bookfinder will give you a lot of information (short blurb, ATOS book level, interest level, rating, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, subtopics, etc.), but most importantly (for this post) it will give you the specific word count for the book.

This is critical because page length can vary – just think about the difference between a story submitted in 11 point font, single spaced, with ½ inch margins vs. a double spaced, 14 point font, with 2-inch margins. This is why the industry is so specific about the formatting that you use when submitting materials – it gives some consistency about what ‘5 pages’ really means. But when you’re publishing a book, you have no such limitations. The pages can differ in size of the book itself, in margins, in fonts and font size… the list goes on and on. While, in general, more pages means more words, two books that are 250 physical pages can have very different word lengths. Nowhere can you see that more than in picture books.

Here are four examples:

** If you have trouble seeing the table, the information is written at the end of the blog post

 

These are four wonderful books, all targeted to the K-3 reader, but they couldn’t be more different. And that is reflected not only in the way the books are written (prose vs. dialogue, for example) but in the word length. For these four books, the book with the most pages has the smallest number of words. Seeing how your book stacks up in word length to a book similar to yours can give you a good sense as to whether you are hitting the mark.

 

If your picture book is 700 words, and your comp titles all range from 400-500, your book may be too long for your target audience.  If your mentor texts are 45,000  – 50,000 words, and your novel is 17,000 words, again — potential problem. Your book lengths don’t need to be an exact match, but hitting market expectations is important in securing an agent and/or a publisher, or in getting readers if you decide to indie publish.

 

And … don’t use a single text to decide if you are hitting this mark because, just like rules for ‘i before e’ there are exceptions out there. Could your book be double (or half) the expected length and still sell? Of course it could! But make sure when you decide that your final manuscript is really final, you know how your book measures up.

***

If you couldn’t read the table, here is the information on the four picture books:

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Fiction, 32 pages, 341 words

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Fiction, 36 pages, 822 words

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie  Levy, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Nonfiction, 40 pages, 1802 words

 Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems

Fiction, 58 pages, 197 words

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, craft advice, Revision process

Let Me Introduce Myself…and My Meandering Writing Journey

One morning, I woke up with a picture book story fully formed in my head. Characters, dialogue, everything. I got out of bed and grabbed my computer. I wrote down everything I was thinking of and was SO excited. I wrote a picture book!

There was only one problem – the story had no end. My brain had not deigned to give me the solution to the conflict in the story, so I put it away, and left it. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is supposed to be an introduction!

Hello, fellow writers! My name is Mary, and in January I had the extreme good fortune to be invited to join this illustrious group, The StorySpinners. I’ve been writing for a while, but my critique “partners” were friends and coworkers, as well as the occasional paid critique at a conference, so I’d never really had a group of fellow writers who would regularly take a look at my work and give me thoughtful, useful and TRUTHFUL criticism and advice. It has been a blessing. 

A little bit about me – I’m an early literacy librarian, which means I specialize in kids ages 0 – 5 and their grownups and I know a lot about early brain development and what parents and caregivers can do to help their young people get ready to learn to read. I work in a public library, and have been at this career for almost 22 years. I LOVE it, and I LOVE the books that go along with this job. To say that I’ve read a lot of picture books would be an understatement. They are my absolute favorites and it’s long been a goal of mine to one day have one of my books on a library’s shelf. Personally, I gravitate towards silly books – the funnier, the better – but I appreciate a beautifully written story no matter if it makes me laugh or not. 

But until that day in, oh, 2014, I think, I didn’t really believe I was a writer. I write for work, sure, but I’d not done much creative writing at all in my lifetime. 

ACTUAL fake news.

Or so I thought.

Recently I took a dusty box of keepsakes off a closet shelf intending to go through it and get rid of some stuff. Does anyone really NEED to keep birthday cards they got from grandma when they were 7? Probably not. 

In that box, though, I found a few remnants of my earlier writing life. An “article” I wrote for my high school’s fake newspaper, about my Spanish teacher living a secret double life as a famous matador. And a literary magazine from the school’s Writing Club, of which I was apparently the secretary. I had forgotten all about this.

My first rejection! Yay?

I remembered that time in 2nd grade where I wrote my own “autobiography,” including details from my own birth (that were, my mom has pointed out, completely wrong – the doctor did not call HER to tell her it was time to give birth). And that time in 6th grade where my teacher submitted a poem I wrote, mimicking e.e. cummings’ style, to a poetry contest. And that time in 8th grade when an English teacher encouraged me to submit a story to Cricket magazine. I still have the rejection postcard. 

So I guess I’ve been writing longer than I thought. 

At any rate, it took me at least 3 more years to figure out how to resolve that first story, and as soon as I had finished, I was RARING to go. I had joined SCBWI at that point, and had access to THE BOOK, so I read the chapter on querying and got to it.  I sent out 6 queries that month, and, surprising no one, got 3 rejections and 3 non responses. 

Soon after, I posted something on twitter about having written one picture book and starting to query. An established picture book writer, whom I really respect, called me out and said WHOA WHOA WHOA – you really need to have AT LEAST 3 polished manuscripts before you start querying. 

HELLO, RUDE BUT MUCH NEEDED AWAKENING. In my naivete and enthusiasm I had jumped the gun. I really needed to get more stories under my belt, AND make sure they were the best they could be. 

Fast forward to 2021. Lo, these many years later, I am still querying, but with 4 manuscripts I’m really proud of and lots of ideas on the go. I’ve pretty much abandoned that first story that jumped onto the page (mostly) fully formed, but I’m grateful for the push my brain gave me to get to work on fulfilling my dream. I’ve found AMAZING friends and mentors in my local SCBWI chapter, and have been fortunate enough to attend a couple of in-person conferences and have my work critiqued by established authors whose opinions, comments and suggestions mean the world to me.

And now? I am a StorySpinner. And boy am I lucky to be one. In the short time I’ve been involved my stories have already become so much better, and it’s such a joy to read my colleagues’ work and cheer them on. They’re a great bunch – Susan, Beth, Rondi, Karen and Coral – and I know I am, and will continue to be, motivated and moved by their inspiration and guidance. THANK YOU, StorySpinners!

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Filed under Mary Kuehner

SOWING STORY SEEDS FOR KIDS

Her smile is as wide and natural as the 103-acre farm in the background. Clad in a flannel shirt, the woman tells viewers, “Alright, well, we’re inside the tractor now.” After she introduces the two cats watching from outside, she holds up her book cover, THE WISH AND THE PEACOCK; she opens it and announces, “Chapter one, hide-and-seek…” pauses, then reads, Finding lost things on the farm is the world’s hardest game of hide-and-seek. I’ve been searching for Dad’s favorite shovel for weeks.

Meet farmer and children’s book author, Wendy Swore. For the next 15 minutes, Swore reads the chapter, acting out sentences with gestures and animated faces, and changing her voice for each character. Viewers get acquainted with 12-year-old Paige, who lost her father and wants to save her family farm, located on an Idaho reservation. Swore knows her setting. For the past 20 years, she has lived and farmed on the Sho-Ban Reservation, where her husband and five children were born and raised.

Sponsored by her publisher, Shadow Mountain Publishing, Swore’s online read-aloud isn’t just for kids. “They’re for everyone stuck in quarantine!” says Swore. I recently interviewed her about her books and how she juggles farming and writing.

Was farming part of your childhood?

My dad was a crop duster and we moved all around. I got to sit on his lap while he flew his crop duster plane. That was my introduction to agriculture.

What is your first memory of writing?

In elementary school, I had a teacher who was extraordinary. She used to tell us things like, start writing about the color brown without using the color brown. As a fourth grader, that was really mind-blowing! She told me, ‘you’re really good, you should really write more’. I wrote about a Hunter Cheetah. My teacher made me feel like it was as amazing as I thought it was.

When did you start writing professionally?

About 15 years ago, my husband said, ‘you should write a story about the farm’. I sat down and wrote a 90,000 word young adult (YA) novel about this farm thing. He said, ‘no, I meant a little flier-coloring book thing to hand to kids.’ I said, ‘too late’, and I’ve been writing ever since! No one will ever see the 90,000. It was just for fun.

You kept writing. What motivated you?

I went to a writer’s conference and suddenly, my world opened. On a farm, I’m totally by myself, especially during off-season. And…when I started writing A MONSTER LIKE ME, my youngest was 10 years old. He would come home from school and ask, ‘do you have the next chapter ready’? He liked finding typos and wanted to see the screen.

Describe your writing rituals or habits.

I write while sitting on a ball and plug in earbuds, because I have narcolepsy. I don’t struggle with it while farming, but as soon as I stop moving. The ball lets me move around and helps me stay awake while writing; and, I listen to movie soundtracks without words.

Did the Covid pandemic affect your writing in any way?

My son who has Asperger’s wasn’t able to do his schoolwork, unless I was with him all the time. My writing time went out the window and pushed the writing of my new novel into farming seasion, so I was trying to write and farm at the same time. We do 12-hour farming days. When I only had one hour, I needed to get into the zone fast. I used music to pull me into that (mental) place that I need to be to write.

Five kids, plus farming, organizing a popular pumpkin patch and farmers markets… Egads, how do you make time to write?

I call winter my writing season. I average a minimum of half-hour a day and a couple weekends a month. If I only write in winter, then I’m having to re-learn it. So, I do a little in summer. But, my days are very full, so it is difficult to write for long periods. Early in the season is easier, because I can go out and water, then go home and write for several hours. If there is a day when I am not wiped out from farming, I go next door to my best friend’s house on Friday afternoon and we might write till one in the morning. Next door for us means half-a-mile away! We sit next to each other, so we’re totally absorbed in our imaginary world; we stop and brainstorm. It’s fun.

Do you think about your characters and plot while farming?

It’s a creative outlet that can go with me into the field. If I am farming with my children, I’ll say, ‘what do you think about a character who is like this. Then I ask, what do you think is the worst thing that could happen to this character. If I am thinking of a certain part of my story, I’ll say, so this is the situation, this is the character, how do you think this character can get from point A to B’.

You have published two middle grade (MG) novels. Do you have a favorite?

Each one satisfies a different need. A MONSTER LIKE ME was me as a child, a kid with hemangioma (a golf ball-sized protrusion on my face) who was bullied by kids and adults. I like to ask what-if questions when I write. A MONSTER LIKE ME was born because I wondered, what if I believed the people who called me a monster? THE WITCH AND THE PEACOCK was meaningful, because it captures what our life is  like now. Most farms around us have gone to houses. I needed a happy ending.

Congratulations on your new MG coming out in May. How is it different from your others?

STRONG LIKE THE SEA is my first contemporary MG; it’s not directly based on my world. The main character likes codes and figuring things out. That’s the furthest from me right now.

Any advice for writers?

Writing is hard! You have to love the things you’re writing about. I’m interested in people you might think are broken, but you get to know them and there’s more to them. I want kids to learn to love themselves. Even when you don’t have time to write, you can write stories in your head for when you do have the time.

Note: Original prose and photos were printed with the permission of Wendy Swore.

 

 

 

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Filed under Karen McChesney, RMC-SCBWI

A How-To Guide to Twitter Pitch Parties: Reflections by a Twitter Novice

Twitter pitch events provide a way to get the eyes of a potential agent on your work. The traditional submission process involves researching agents and sending off your manuscript— and can feel like a shot in the dark. At a Twitter pitch party, you put your precious manuscript out there, its essence squeezed into 280 characters, and agents come to you.

Sounds great— but daunting to a Twitter novice like myself. I decided to participate in the #PBPitch in February, a pitch party specifically for picture books. But I started my research into the process long before the date of the pitch party.

Years ago, I signed up for a Twitter account but never used it. I reactivated the account and started spending a few minutes a day exploring the platform. It has a lot of the same features as Facebook and Instagram, but with its own twists.

I wanted my Twitter account to focus on children’s book writing (although it was tempting to follow #CatsOfTwitter.) I began to follow children’s book authors and people I know in the writing community. I discovered Twitter soul-mates, published and pre-published picture book authors like myself, who are connecting to the writing community using this platform. As I became more familiar with Twitter, I liked, commented, and re-tweeted posts that I found interesting. Twitter, it turns out, is easy—and is a window into an active and supportive community.

I researched Twitter pitch parties on the internet. Many agents and others have blogs on the topic. It helped to take a free webinar (Julie Hedlund’s “How to Participate in a Twitter Pitch Party) to learn the basics.

Three of my picture book manuscripts were ready for submission. At a Twitter pitch party, you can pitch as many manuscripts as you want, but they need to be ready to send to an agent if you are lucky enough to get a “like” or a “heart” by an agent.

A Twitter pitch is its own writing genre. The 280-character limit on tweets presents a huge challenge. I already had log-lines and elevator pitches for my books. But those were much longer than 280-characters. I wrote and rewrote my tweets, trying to capture the story, voice, and heart of my stories in the limited space. (A helpful tool is a Twitter Character Counter available on the Internet.)

I had parsed my Twitter pitches down to their 280-character essence when I learned the hashtags (#) had to be included in the character count. #s are the way that Tweets are linked to all the other Tweets that include it. Essential to a Twitter pitch party is the name of the event, so I needed to make room for #PBPitch (8 characters). One can also include other hashtags like #NF (non-fiction), #L (lyrical), PB (picture book), DV (diverse voices) to help agents locate the kinds of work they are looking to represent. So I re-edited, making room for important hashtags.

I ran my pitches by my writing group and my family members. Then I posted them for feedback on the 12 x 12 Picture Book website (of which I am a member) and joined a #PBPitch Facebook group and posted them there too. These two forums were extraordinarily useful in seeing how others wrote their pitches and what worked or didn’t work for them. In addition to getting feedback, I also gave feedback to others, which made me really focus on the core elements of a Twitter pitch. I rethought, adjusted, and revised.

Ready or not, the big day arrived. I still was not entirely sure how a Twitter pitch party worked. For me, the best way to learn something is to actually do it, so I posted my pitches on #PBPitch, and waited to see how the day would unfold. I checked my Twitter feed constantly, even obsessively, throughout the day. I wrote comments on other pitches and reposted ones that I liked. I received complimentary comments from fellow writers and friends, who in turn reposted my tweets.

Agents and editors came to the party/Twitter feed throughout the day and reviewed the pitches. If a pitch caught their eye, they “liked or “hearted” the tweet, indicating an invitation to submit a query or manuscript to them. While this is no guarantee the agent will eventually represent you or your work, it is a step in the right direction.

Did I receive the dreamed of and longed for “like” or “heart” from an agent? I did not.

Am I glad I participated in a Twitter Pitch Party? I am.

Will I participate again? Absolutely yes.

After going through the process, I have insight and understanding of what a Twitter pitch party involves. These events provide another way to have access to agents and they could short-cut the submission process if your pitch catches the eye of an agent.

The next #PBPitch is on June 17th, 2021. Hope to see you there!

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SAVE YOUR DOCUMENTS!

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

I started working on this blog a few weeks ago. I picked a topic, made a list of what I wanted to say, did some research, and pounded out a first draft. Then, last Tuesday, I fleshed it out, cut it here and there, and added new content. At the end of my writing session, I saved it to my Desktop and put it in a file in Word. I planned on giving it another read-through on Thursday and posting it on Friday. Everything was right on schedule. Or so I thought.

That same Tuesday night, I took the laptop into our bedroom. Normally, I leave it in the kitchen to charge for the next day. But since I would be skiing on Wednesday with my older son and his friends, I wanted to clear out a few emails before going to bed. It seemed like a good idea. Except for one false move. I put the computer on the nightstand. 

The next morning at breakfast, I opened it up. It was Inauguration Day and I wanted to watch the early morning festivities. Only when I clicked on the start button, nothing happened. The screen was black. Had I really used up a full charge the night before? I didn’t think so. But we needed to get going so I plugged in the computer for another charge and headed to the slopes.

It was a perfect morning – blue sky, fluffy snow, and NO LIFT LINES! Skiing with my son  (who was visiting from New York) was a total delight. After a few hours of enjoying the fresh powder, I went back to the house for lunch. I couldn’t wait to see the swearing in of President Biden and Vice-President Harris. I made a salad, sat down at the kitchen counter, and flipped open the laptop. The screen was still dark. What???? I pressed the “On” button. Nothing. No flashing lights, no chiming boot-up sounds, no sign of life. I picked up my phone and googled “What do I do when my MacBook Air won’t start?” 

I clicked on a video and did everything the guy said: “Press Control/Option/Shift for 7 seconds, press the start button, plug in the charger for 10 more seconds, repeat.” No change. I was beginning to panic so I googled more articles. One stopped me in my tracks. “We’ve bought a baby humidifier for our daughter who lives in our room. And I have my desk with my MacBook nearby. Can this damage my computer?” The answer was a resounding YES!!!!! Alarms began going off in my head. The humidifier in our bedroom was extremely close to the nightstand. Colorado air can be dry, especially in  winter, and I love having hot steam waft around me while I sleep. Unfortunately, this has the opposite effect on a computer.

After blasting the MacBook with a hairdryer and leaving it overnight in an air-tight plastic bag with rice, the possibility of water damage was becoming a serious reality. The next morning, (Thursday) I called Apple Care. “Oh yes,” said Ariana, the cheerful tech-support person. “A humidifier could do that. But don’t worry, I pulled up your account and you have insurance. Would you like to bring it in today? I have an appointment near your zip code at 5:15.” Except the zip code she was referring to was attached to my Denver address. I was in the mountains. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll drive down.” That’s when I remembered the blog. I always back up my longer projects on the Cloud and save them to a flash drive. But this was a shorter piece and it was going to be posted and saved on the Internet in only a few days. I had NOT backed it up. It was most likely gone. 

I drove down to Denver for my appointment at the Park Meadows Mall. Whoa, talk about culture shock. I hadn’t been inside a mall in close to a year. And the Apple Store I remembered no longer existed. After waiting on a socially distanced circle in the hall, I was ushered into a narrow room of white counters with plexiglass coverings and assigned to counter #4. The guy behind the plexiglass had a microphone wrapped around his neck and spoke to me through the speaker on my side of the partition. He scanned the appointment barcode on my phone. “Water damage, right?”  I nodded, feeling like I was in a hospital emergency room. “Well, as you can see, this isn’t a typical store right now. I’ll need to send the laptop out to the diagnosticians. They’ll call you with their findings within 24 hours. Is that alright?” I nodded again, signed something, and left feeling like I had just dropped my child off at preschool for the first time.

The tech assigned to my case called the next morning. “There’s a lot of damage, but we can fix it. Should be ready in four or five days.” Five days? I took a deep breath. “Okay,” I said. “By the way, do you think any of my files can be saved?” There was  a brief silence on the other end. “Hmm, probably not. You could pay extra for a data retrieval, but that will take longer.” “Oh,” I said. “Never mind.”

Part of me was relieved. My beloved MacBook Air could be fixed. And I had insurance, although there is a somewhat substantial deductible with this amount of damage. Still, I could carry on for a week with my old computer, even if it only holds a charge for two hours and heats up like a stovetop. But it wasn’t as bad as I had originally thought. Still, I was unnerved. Finally, the truth dawned on me. I was, like most of us, emotionally and physically attached to my electronic devices. And the main source of this affection was that gorgeous rose-gold MacBook Air.

My younger son would call this a “first world problem.” He would also tell me that I should be using GoogleDocs (which I am using right now) for all my writing. It automatically saves everything. Granted, my three novels and assorted picture book manuscripts are saved on flash drives, the Cloud, Scrivener, and PRINTED OUT and stored in binders. They have also been emailed to critique partners. But I was still upset about the lost blog and began moaning to my always supportive husband. He smiled and said, “Why don’t you write something about not putting a computer near a humidifier?” I laughed. But after speaking with a fellow writer who said, “That’s a really important topic. I don’t back up everything.” I decided to go for it. So here’s my advice if you haven’t gotten it already … BACK EVERYTHING UP ALL THE TIME. Seriously, even your smallest documents. And although I know it goes without saying-   KEEP YOUR COMPUTER AWAY FROM A HUMIDIFIER! 

Update: The computer has been repaired and no files were lost. Whoop, Whoop!

 

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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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Filed under Coral Jenrette, WORD NERD

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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Filed under Karen McChesney, Main character, WORD NERD