Category Archives: craft advice

Receiving Feedback

Critiquing is a critical part of the writing process – getting feedback from others gives us guidance and can shed a light on where we might focus in revision. There is so much we can’t see as the writer of our own work and getting other people’s responses to what we’ve written is truly illuminating.

 

But receiving feedback – literally sitting there while someone tells us what they think about our work –can be hard. Sometimes it can be really hard. It’s great when people say, “I love what you’ve done!” but it can be hard to listen to people say, “Here are the things I think you need to fix.”  It can even be hard when they say, “I love what you’ve done but here are some things to fix.” Someone can love your piece, and it can still need work.

The fact is, even if it it’s combined with positive feedback, receiving critical feedback can be challenging.

Here are a few recommendations for how to handle the moments when your piece is getting critiqued.

  • If your group is reading the piece for the first time while together, allow someone else to read your piece aloud. Hearing where they read smoothly and where they stumble can give great insight as to where you might want to revise at the sentence and word level.
    • No critique partners? Critique partners read everything in advance? Your piece is longer than a picture book or a few pages? Use a Read Aloud function, like you can find in Word – Google docs also seems to have a text to read function
  • Try to take feedback in and listen without getting upset.  It’s very natural to have a knee-jerk reaction to critical feedback. “But that’s not what I meant” or “you’re not understanding” – if they didn’t understand, it might not be on the page the way it is on your head. Try to take in critical feedback without being defensive.
    • If you’re too defensive or upset receiving critical feedback, it may hurt people’s ability to be honest with you in the future.
    • The exception — respond to any kind of clarifying question that will help someone provide feedback from a place of understanding
    • Sometimes one critiquer will say something is missing on the page (a motivation, for example, or an emotion), while another critiquer will have gotten exactly what you were trying to say. In this instance, consider whether what you are trying to get across is obvious enough. It may be. It may not.
  • Relish the positive things people have to say. You need to learn what works in your work. Even if a line is cut or a scene doesn’t make it, if people loved it, find out why so you can replicate.
    • Some people are great at this. For others, it can be really hard to take in the positive. Some people want to skip right over the positive and get to the critical because that’s where the work is, but make notes about what people love, so you can keep those things in your writing, and celebrate those things as the critical feedback comes rolling in.

 

What other recommendations do you have else for those moments during a critique while people are actively giving you feedback?

 

**Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, craft advice, critique, Revision process

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 so similar to what was going on in my historical MG novel. Hatred and bigotry still rage 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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Filed under craft advice, RMC-SCBWI, Susan Wroble

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

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

Be A Word Nerd!

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

You’ve heard it all before. Show don’t tell. Limit your use of adverbs. Create gorgeous metaphors. And the most important writing rule of all – Use strong verbs!!! But this is often difficult to do when you are working on an early draft. When you are further along in the revision process and ready to edit your work for “word choice,” try using some of the following strategies:

Mentor texts

Study outstanding books in your genre. Then, along with paying attention to the development of the main character’s arc and the twists and turns of plot, take note of the author’s exceptional use of language. This might mean underlining or highlighting words as you read. I keep a list of “words I love” on the Notes App on my phone, especially when I am listening to an audio book. I later transfer this list to my manuscript file in Scrivener and keep a second list in Word. Some of these words seep into my subconscious and suddenly appear in my writing. Others do not. That’s when I go back and read through the list again until I find a word that perfectly captures my character’s mood and motive.

Here are verbs from my latest list, taken from Gillian McDunn’s CATERPILLAR SUMMER and Melanie Crowder’s LIGHTHOUSE BETWEEN WORLDS: bristled, buzzed, carved, coasted, hooted, jabbed, jostled, looped, lumbered, lurched, quirked, rasped, rummaged, scowled, scuffled, shuddered, skittered, sloshed, snarled, stumbled, thrashed, threaded, throbbed, thrumbed, trudged, twinkled, whooshed, and withered.

Thesaurus and Websites

A thesaurus can give you a wide variety of words to use in place of your usual fare. But there’s also a website that puts your run-of-the-mill thesaurus to shame. It’s an extraordinary tool recommended by Jessica Brody, author of SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL, called OneLook.com. When I first discovered this site, and put the verb “jumped” into the search box and checked related words, 338 synonyms came up! My favorites were: plunged, soared, bounded, leapfrogged, lunged, rocketed, and zoomed. Another website to check out is https://7esl.com/verbs/#Types_of_Verbs_Verb_Examples. It’s slightly more difficult to navigate, but is a valuable resource for writers in any genre.

If you would like some craft books on this topic, try the seven book thesaurus collection by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (including The Emotional Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus) and Strong Verbs Strong Voice: A quick reference to improve your writing and impress readers by Ann Everett.

Be Creative!

I am a sucker for exquisite descriptions. In the MG novel, CATERPILLAR SUMMER, the main character, Cat, spends the summer at her grandparents’ beach house on Gingerbread Island off the coast of North Carolina. Take a look at these gems that connect us with Cat’s personality as well as the setting of the book: A rainbow of candy, an ocean of worries, freckles polka-dotting his skin, a sky puffed with clouds, a breath of strings, a blizzard of birds, a whisper of voices, fingers of fog, a look that was all sunbeams, a wave of people crushed onto the sidewalk, the world swirled green and gray as tears popped in her eyes. Now come up with your own descriptions, relating them to the characters, themes, and settings in your story.

 

Don’t Rush!

Revising a book is hard work. After you’ve made your unique characters flounder and grow in an interesting setting with an action-packed plot that keeps your reader turning the page, it’s time to polish your writing until it sparkles and shines. The first thing to do is a search for words you overuse. For me, those are often: that, just, really, I think, and very. The technique here is simple: slash or replace. Another strategy is to edit the pages of your manuscript out of order. Create a number grid and randomly choose a page to edit for word choice only. Then color in that number in and move on to another, jumping around on the grid.

If you are a writer, you MUST BE a word nerd. There’s just no avoiding it! Are there techniques and resources you’ve found helpful in your writing practice?

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under craft advice, Revision process, Rondi Frieder, WORD NERD

Marketing Long Before Your Book is Published (And maybe before it is written!)

By Susan Wroble

I used to believe that writing came first, and marketing later. Big Mistake! It is easiest if you learn both simultaneously — they build on each other. Here are a few tips on starting your marketing journey long before your book is published…

Establish writing credentials.

An easy place to start is to write for newsletters. Many groups have regular on-line updates and are delighted to have a member feature or presentation review. For example, when I joined the Denver Rose Society, I knew nothing about growing roses, so I took notes at the meetings. It was easy to turn those presentation notes into short articles for their newsletter. Bonus — I didn’t know the national organization gave writing awards until I got three of them!

Why?

  • Simple — Agents and editors want to see that you write.

Create a blog.

When my writing group, the Story Spinners, created this blog, our goal was simply to push ourselves to learn a new skill. By sharing, we each posted about once a quarter, and we split the costs.

Why?

  • Blogging counts as writing credentials — even if your readership is close to zero!
  • You have a platform that agents and editors can get a feel for your writing and commitment to the industry.
  • A few of the posts have been expanded and been published in paying markets.

Read with purpose.

Read current books in your genre — the key word being “current.” There are blogs for every genre, but one of my favorite ways to find new kids’ books in general (after making friends with librarians!) is through IndieBound, a community of independent local bookstores. IndieBound puts out a quarterly newsletter called “Kids’ Next.” You can pick up a print copy at an independent bookseller, or find it on-line. As an added benefit, it is a fabulous resource for gifts for the kids in your life.

Why?

  • By reading with purpose, you can start analyzing, and learn how other authors have created an arc, or added layers, or built tension…
  • You learn what’s current and what is selling.
  • You learn what is already out there for subjects you want to write about.

Keep a reading log.

Record the author, illustrator (if applicable), publisher, and whatever else is important to you. I find it helpful to snap a picture of the cover. Here’s an example:

Why?

  • You learn the style of various publishing houses.
  • You can track books that are mentor texts.
  • You can track books that are comps for works in progress.

Study and track agents and publishers.

One easy way to research agents and editors is to subscribe to the free twice-weekly Publisher’s Weekly newsletter, Children’s Bookshelf. Other ways to study agents are through the sites Manuscript Wish List or QueryTracker. Here’s a Publisher’s Weekly rights announcement for my friend, author Jocelyn Rish:

Next, track the notices with agents or editors that seem like a good fit for your work. Like my reading log, I created a table in Word. For this table, I record the publishing house, editor, author and title, and the agent who represented the author.

Why?

  • You end up with a perfectly tailored list of agents and editors who represent and publish the type of work that you do.

Use Facebook.

Author Beth Anderson (LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT) recently spoke at the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI’s Denver South Connect & Critique. “I didn’t want to get on Facebook,” she said, “and now I can’t imagine not using it.”

Why?

  • The Groups feature. Instead of scrolling endlessly through a jumble of posts from assorted friends and distant relatives interspersed with ads, you can go directly to a group — think RMC-SCBWI, KidLit411, StoryStorm, 12×12, ReFoReMo, NF Fest…
  • These groups are the easiest places to learn about upcoming events, celebrate successes, and build community. You’ll need that community when your book is ready to debut.

I hope there’s a nugget in this post you find useful. And for you — what are the marketing tips you wish you had known early in your writing journey?

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Filed under craft advice, Susan Wroble

Revising those first ten pages

Edited page from thebookdesigner.com

I keep revising my first ten pages. Over and over again. And for good reason – it’s the first time you interact with a reader, it’s the time when they really decide if they’re going to be invested enough in your story that they’re going to keep reading. You need to establish your voice as an author, establish your main character as someone they will care about, create conflict to keep driving them forward, and on and on.

So much work to do. So much weight that the first ten pages carry – that the first page itself, that the first sentence has to carry.

You work and rework and rework it again. Share it with your crit group, share it with them again.

The right time to shine and polish and edit those first pages can vary for you in your process, and here are two right times to consider.

At the beginning. You basically write and write and rewrite and rewrite the opening until you feel that voice, that excitement, that opening, and then BOOM you rush through and write the whole rest of the book. It’s like a little toy race car that you rev and rev and rev and then whoosh you let it go and you cross the finish line.

This isn’t me. It’s not how I work. And I recommend that, if you take this approach, you make sure that you will eventually let that car go. That eventually you will leave those first pages and that you will finish the rest of your book and that your car has enough gas to get you there.

The second way is – at the very end. This is what I’m doing right now. I planned and plotted out my novel. I drafted my novel, revised it. I gave it to various readers, got their feedback, and revised it again. Now I’m majorly reworking the beginning. Cutting away, slicing away, melding chapters together, cutting chapter two completely, saving just a few lines of important information. Trimming again and again, literally thousands of words. If you’d asked I would have said, no way can my story stay intact if I cut that much. And yet it can. And it’s better. I’m also adding in more voice, making the beginning sound more like the middle where I was really hitting my stride.

There are surely other times to do it, but I think the key is that, if you perfect chapter one at the start of your process, don’t forget to finish your story. And once the book is finished, regardless of how much work you put in, be prepared for how much work you may still need to do on the beginning to get it right.

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, craft advice

Whole Novel Critique

There are lots of opportunities to get a page, a set of pages, scenes, or even chapters critiqued – and then to sit down and polish those sections until they shine. Each of these are helpful and important steps to creating the best possible manuscript. I do encourage you, early in the process, however, to do what it takes to get a full novel critique.

Why?

The key thing in a novel is how your main character changes and transforms. Unless you’re writing something more episodic (and I would argue that even in those types of stories, your main characters do have an internal shift over time), a key factor to whether your story will resonate with readers is what happens to the main character – not their external plot. You can’t get that valuable feedback on how well that shift is working unless someone reads the whole piece.

Plot holes? Can’t find them unless you’re reading extended sections of your novel.

Each of your scenes (even each of your pages!) could be filled with tension and conflict. They could have beautiful description, and zippy dialogue. But maybe your pages don’t have much description at all – and your critique group doesn’t say anything because hey, you just submitted chapter 5, and they’re assuming that the description is there in Chapter 4 (spoiler alert – it wasn’t).

How?

PURCHASE IT: One way to get a whole novel critique is to pay for one – the one you want at the early stage of your novel is a developmental edit. There’s no point in a copy edit (where grammar and typos are fixed) if the story needs to change. If you take classes, some of the teachers also do developmental edits on the side. There are many folks online who do as well (including some folks who are or work with literary agents!) – most will offer a sample of their work, and most are pricey, so really talk through what you want to accomplish and what they plan to deliver to make sure you’re paying for something that will be valuable. Ask questions around depth of edit, whether it’s a letter or inline comments (or both!) and how fast they will deliver. Developmental edits take time (typically weeks).

Here are a couple of ways to get your novel critiqued using the barter system.

NOVEL SWAP: One option is to ask someone to read your novel and give feedback, knowing that you’ll do the same for them in return. Keep in mind that this is a big ask, and that you’ll have to put out the work on the flip side as well. Make sure you’re ready to be grateful, regardless of their feedback, and that you are ready to be gracious in turn. Also be forthright with your word count, for both your sake’s. Think about how to make it feel equitable. Not all books are the same: if one of you wrote a 35,000 word middle grade novel and the other just finished a 155,000 epic fantasy (and you still want to swap!), be prepared for how you can make that work and feel good for everyone involved.

If you’ve met someone who is at a similar level to you at a conference or workshop, you could approach and ask them if they’d be open to reading and giving feedback on your novel and you would do the same for them. Classes (like Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop here in Colorado), especially those that involve getting feedback on pages, can be a great place to meet people and see if there’s someone you want to approach.

If you’re not an active participant of an in-person community, or you’re an introvert who can’t imagine asking someone to do this in real life, you can turn to online writing message boards. I’ve actually read someone’s whole novel and provided feedback when I was active on Absolute Water Cooler. If you’re a member of SCBWI, you could look to get feedback by posting on the Blueboard. I HIGHLY recommend that you engage with the community first before you start asking for folks to read your whole novel.

ADJUST THE FOCUS OF YOUR CRITIQUE GROUP: Already in a critique group? You could totally ask a member of your group if, on the side, they’d be willing to read your full. But you can also shift the focus of the group. In our critique group, we decided that each member could submit a full-length piece one time per year to get feedback from the group. And if you didn’t finish a book that year, you could opt to submit whatever you had – your choice. It kept the flexibility for folks who didn’t finish a book to still have plenty of opportunities to submit shorter works each month, and for others who did finish to get that critical whole novel feedback.

 

Whatever your method, make sure that you’re looking at your novel both in parts and as a whole so that you create the best piece of work that you can.

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, craft advice, critique, Uncategorized