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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Writing for Teens, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. SCBWI FL Conference Recap #2: Editor Panel

Let’s welcome Mindy Alyse Weiss back…she’s got the scoop from the recent SCBWI FL Conference. And boy, what a scoop it is! It’s chocolate fudge with rainbow sprinkles!

Ever wonder about an editor’s wish list? Wonder no longer! In the Editor Panel, Stacy Abrams, Kat Brzozowski, Aubrey Poole, Laura Whitaker and Andrea Pinkney discussed what kind of projects they’re seeking—and not seeking. There seems to be a trend away from dystopian and paranormal novels in YA.

A Wonderful Editor Panel

Stacy Abrams, Executive Editorial Director of Bliss and Entangled Teen
Contemporary (no paranormal or dystopian). Can have an issue in it, but the book can’t be about the issue.

Kat Brzozowski, Associate Editor, Thomas Dunne Books, MacMillan
Dystopian is hard. Would love a good YA mystery. Comes across as loving dark but does love girl meets boy and they kiss, light romantic contemporary stuff for girls.
With social media, if you do one thing well but don’t like another, don’t force it.

Aubrey Poole, Associate Editor, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Fire
Loves sci fi, YA, not looking at genre really—it’s the stories that stand out within a genre. More experimenting with format. Read more about her wish list here.

Laura Whitaker, Associate Editor, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
She’s tired of dystopian and paranormal YA. She wants to be immersed in a story so much that she’s physically removed from her own issues. She wants to read about real people. Contemporary, original voice. With MG and YA, networking is important. Do a lot of digital marketing initiatives. You can get a huge impact from doing a blog tour. “Help me help you.”

Andrea Pinkney, Vice-President and Executive Editor, Scholastic
More diversity, African American boys, adventure, mystery, fun. Contemporary stories. *You need to normalize and not make it about the problem, even with something like bi-polar.” She’s interested in a novel with a character who has piercing or a lot of tattoos.

A Laura Whitaker

Laura Whitaker, Associate Editor, Bloomsbury

Besides writing a well-crafted story, how do you catch an editor’s attention? Laura Whitaker presented “Dating 101: What Makes YOU Desirable to an Editor”.

Tell her something interesting about your writing journey. What drew you to telling this story? Let her know any cool things you can share about yourself—show what makes you vibrant and unique.

Title—come up with something original that represents your work. If the title is the same when you’re published and there’s a story behind how you arrived at the title, marketing will want it later for a blog/Tumblr piece.

She’ll look at a query for 30 seconds to a minute. First thing should be the hook, then a two sentence synopsis (three if you have to), then info about yourself.

Your website is your calling card—especially for picture books.

Do you tweet out interesting, dynamic tweets? It’s the best way to build connections with other authors, agents, and editors. Twitter is more important for MG and YA.

Interact! Do you write about the process or what you’re working on? Marketing and publicity want to see your social media platform. The more social media, the better—but it is not a substitute for the craft.

Thanks again, Mindy!

Come back on Friday for the rest of the scoop from SCBWI FL. We’ll have vanilla and strawberry for those who don’t like chocolate. (Don’t like CHOCOLATE? Who are you people???)


6 Comments on SCBWI FL Conference Recap #2: Editor Panel, last added: 2/28/2014
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2. Flash Fiction for YA? Y Not?!

flashfictionchronicles

Flash on over to Flash Fiction Chronicles today and I’ll tell you all about writing micro fiction for children!

http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/flash-fiction-for-ya-y-not


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3. Crafting Teen Characters with Respect and Authenticity: Part 2

Making Peace with the Adolescent Pre-Frontal Cortex: Crafting Teen Characters with Respect and Authenticity

Part 2: Teen Traits (5 through 8)

By Jessica Denhart

Risk and RewardIn the part one of this article I talked about the teenage brain and the common teen traits of spotty memory, poor impulse control, the desire to do new things, and spending less time with family and more time with friends. Today we’ll talk about the last four traits that will help you craft authentic young adult characters.

5. Heightened Emotions

The one thing that is working completely in the teen brain is the limbic system, which deals with emotion, and is the part of the brain responsible for “pleasure seeking”. This seems to explain a lot about all of the heightened emotions that we deal with in our teen years. I remember feeling as though the entire world was ending when I had a fight with friends, or didn’t get asked out by the boy I liked.

6. Weighting risk and reward differently than adults.

Journalist David Dobbs points out that “Teens take more risks not because they don’t understand the dangers, but because they weigh risk versus reward differently. In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do” (Dobbs 54).

Not all teenagers try drugs and alcohol. However, because many teenagers will have to handle situations involving drugs, alcohol and sex it is a realistic part of many teen’s lives.  When crafting a character, a writer should ask:

  • Why does my character choose to try this?
  • Why does she choose not to?

Not every teen character has to try these things, but the question should be asked of them.  Not only is the chemistry in their brains screaming for them to try new and possibly dangerous things, their environments are too. For many teenagers these questions will come up, and that is where the writer has to come in and answer the why’s and how’s, otherwise the writer is not being true to her teenage character, nor her teenage audience.

7. Teenager’s brains are wired to go to bed later and get up later.

It is scientifically documented that teenager’s melatonin levels do not start working until up to two hours later than everyone else.[1] Therefore asking a teen to go to bed early and rise early is messing with their brain chemistry. If you have teenagers in your stories consistently waking up early and loving the sound of birdsong, there had better be a really good reason to back it up.

Every human being is different; therefore every teenager is different and deserves to be treated as an individual. We should treat our teen characters as individuals as well. Though steeped in research, these traits are not hard and fast rules. I suggest them as guidelines, something to test your character against for authenticity.

Try examining your teen character through the lens of this knowledge. Ask yourself if you’ve been authentic not only to the character as an individual, but to your character as a teenager. Your teenager should exhibit at least a few of these traits, and if your character seems more adult than teen, ask why. Perhaps there is a good reason and you can back it up in the story. Perhaps your character has had to grow up incredibly fast due to circumstances at home, such as living with a single parent or in a foster home. Consider ways in which some teen traits can still seep through. Perhaps an otherwise very responsible teen decides impulsively to just once sneak out of the house to spend time with friends. There are many ways in which you can be certain to remain true to a teenage character. Maybe your teenager gets bored and decides to take a late night drive, or climb into a boy’s window at 3 a.m. For some teenagers this can be an every now and again thing, for other teenagers they are made of impulsivity. Choosing how much impulsivity to add to your character is part of what makes your character an individual. The same goes for emotional reactions or risk taking behaviors.

8. Rise in compassion and awareness of the feelings of others.

While the brain is re-wiring, it is also making some changes that allow for compassion, understanding and empathy. Teens truly begin to understand the pain of others. It’s important to recognize that while teenagers can be difficult, they can also be understanding and empathetic.

Remember no one person is exactly like another; therefore one cannot really distill the essence of what it means to be an adolescent into a bullet list.

I hope this gives a touch of insight into the teenage psyche and perhaps as a result you have a few more tools with which to imbue your characters with a more authenticity and believability.

Jessica Denhart PhotoJessica Denhart has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a proud Dystropian. She writes Young Adult fiction and middle-grade, which varies from contemporary, to magical realism and “near-future quasi-dystopian”. When she was little she sometimes wanted to be a nurse or a fireman, but always wanted to be a writer. She ran away once, packing a basket full of her favorite books. She throws pottery, loves to crochet, and enjoys cooking and baking. Jessica lives in Central Illinois.

Follow Jessica on Twitter: @jdenhart


[1] Carskadon, Mary A., Christine Acebo, Gary S. Richardson, Barbara A. Tate, and Ronald Seifer. “An Approach to Studying Circadian Rhythms of Adolescent Humans.” Journal of Biological Rhythms 12 (1997): 278-89. Sage. Web. 7 Feb. 2012.

For more information:
Strauch, Barbara. The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids. New York: Anchor, 2004. Print.
Dobbs, David. “Beautiful Teenage Brains.” National Geographic Oct. 2011: 36-59. Print.
Johnson, Sara B., Robert W. Blum, and Jay N. Giedd. “Adolescent Maturity and the Brain: The Promise and Pitfalls of Neuroscience Research in Adolescent Health Policy.” Journal of Adolescent Health 45 (2009): 216-21. Elsevier. Web. 4 Feb. 2012.
Music, Graham. Nurturing Natures: Attachment and Children’s Emotional, Sociocultural, and Brain Development. Hove, East Sussex: Psychology, 2011. Print.
“NIMH · Brain Basics.” NIMH · Home. Usa.gov, 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. <http://www.nimh.nih.gov/educational-resources/brain-basics/brain-basics.shtml>.
Steinberg, Laurence D. Adolescence. 8th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
Frontline Documentary “Inside the Teenage Brain”: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/view/

This blog post was brought to you as part of the March Dystropian Madness Blog Series. 

March Dystropia Madness


9 Comments on Crafting Teen Characters with Respect and Authenticity: Part 2, last added: 4/12/2013
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4. Crafting Teen Characters with Respect and Authenticity: Part 2

Making Peace with the Adolescent Pre-Frontal Cortex: Crafting Teen Characters with Respect and Authenticity

Part 2: Teen Traits (5 through 8)

By Jessica Denhart

Risk and RewardIn the part one of this article I talked about the teenage brain and the common teen traits of spotty memory, poor impulse control, the desire to do new things, and spending less time with family and more time with friends. Today we’ll talk about the last four traits that will help you craft authentic young adult characters.

5. Heightened Emotions

The one thing that is working completely in the teen brain is the limbic system, which deals with emotion, and is the part of the brain responsible for “pleasure seeking”. This seems to explain a lot about all of the heightened emotions that we deal with in our teen years. I remember feeling as though the entire world was ending when I had a fight with friends, or didn’t get asked out by the boy I liked.

6. Weighting risk and reward differently than adults.

Journalist David Dobbs points out that “Teens take more risks not because they don’t understand the dangers, but because they weigh risk versus reward differently. In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do” (Dobbs 54).

Not all teenagers try drugs and alcohol. However, because many teenagers will have to handle situations involving drugs, alcohol and sex it is a realistic part of many teen’s lives.  When crafting a character, a writer should ask:

  • Why does my character choose to try this?
  • Why does she choose not to?

Not every teen character has to try these things, but the question should be asked of them.  Not only is the chemistry in their brains screaming for them to try new and possibly dangerous things, their environments are too. For many teenagers these questions will come up, and that is where the writer has to come in and answer the why’s and how’s, otherwise the writer is not being true to her teenage character, nor her teenage audience.

7. Teenager’s brains are wired to go to bed later and get up later.

It is scientifically documented that teenager’s melatonin levels do not start working until up to two hours later than everyone else.[1] Therefore asking a teen to go to bed early and rise early is messing with their brain chemistry. If you have teenagers in your stories consistently waking up early and loving the sound of birdsong, there had better be a really good reason to back it up.

Every human being is different; therefore every teenager is different and deserves to be treated as an individual. We should treat our teen characters as individuals as well. Though steeped in research, these traits are not hard and fast rules. I suggest them as guidelines, something to test your character against for authenticity.

Try examining your teen character through the lens of this knowledge. Ask yourself if you’ve been authentic not only to the character as an individual, but to your character as a teenager. Your teenager should exhibit at least a few of these traits, and if your character seems more adult than teen, ask why. Perhaps there is a good reason and you can back it up in the story. Perhaps your character has had to grow up incredibly fast due to circumstances at home, such as living with a single parent or in a foster home. Consider ways in which some teen traits can still seep through. Perhaps an otherwise very responsible teen decides impulsively to just once sneak out of the house to spend time with friends. There are many ways in which you can be certain to remain true to a teenage character. Maybe your teenager gets bored and decides to take a late night drive, or climb into a boy’s window at 3 a.m. For some teenagers this can be an every now and again thing, for other teenagers they are made of impulsivity. Choosing how much impulsivity to add to your character is part of what makes your character an individual. The same goes for emotional reactions or risk taking behaviors.

8. Rise in compassion and awareness of the feelings of others.

While the brain is re-wiring, it is also making some changes that allow for compassion, understanding and empathy. Teens truly begin to understand the pain of others. It’s important to recognize that while teenagers can be difficult, they can also be understanding and empathetic.

Remember no one person is exactly like another; therefore one cannot really distill the essence of what it means to be an adolescent into a bullet list.

I hope this gives a touch of insight into the teenage psyche and perhaps as a result you have a few more tools with which to imbue your characters with a more authenticity and believability.

Jessica Denhart PhotoJessica Denhart has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a proud Dystropian. She writes Young Adult fiction and middle-grade, which varies from contemporary, to magical realism and “near-future quasi-dystopian”. When she was little she sometimes wanted to be a nurse or a fireman, but always wanted to be a writer. She ran away once, packing a basket full of her favorite books. She throws pottery, loves to crochet, and enjoys cooking and baking. Jessica lives in Central Illinois.

Follow Jessica on Twitter: @jdenhart


[1] Carskadon, Mary A., Christine Acebo, Gary S. Richardson, Barbara A. Tate, and Ronald Seifer. “An Approach to Studying Circadian Rhythms of Adolescent Humans.” Journal of Biological Rhythms 12 (1997): 278-89. Sage. Web. 7 Feb. 2012.

For more information:
Strauch, Barbara. The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids. New York: Anchor, 2004. Print.
Dobbs, David. “Beautiful Teenage Brains.” National Geographic Oct. 2011: 36-59. Print.
Johnson, Sara B., Robert W. Blum, and Jay N. Giedd. “Adolescent Maturity and the Brain: The Promise and Pitfalls of Neuroscience Research in Adolescent Health Policy.” Journal of Adolescent Health 45 (2009): 216-21. Elsevier. Web. 4 Feb. 2012.
Music, Graham. Nurturing Natures: Attachment and Children’s Emotional, Sociocultural, and Brain Development. Hove, East Sussex: Psychology, 2011. Print.
“NIMH · Brain Basics.” NIMH · Home. Usa.gov, 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. <http://www.nimh.nih.gov/educational-resources/brain-basics/brain-basics.shtml>.
Steinberg, Laurence D. Adolescence. 8th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
Frontline Documentary “Inside the Teenage Brain”: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/view/

This blog post was brought to you as part of the March Dystropian Madness Blog Series. 

March Dystropia Madness


0 Comments on Crafting Teen Characters with Respect and Authenticity: Part 2 as of 4/5/2013 5:36:00 PM
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5. Crafting Teen Characters with Respect and Authenticity: Part 1

(Ingrid’s Note: Yup, it’s April. But I’ve still got three fabulous Dystropian posts to bring you. So it’s now April Dystropian Madness! )

Making Peace with the Adolescent Pre-Frontal Cortex: Crafting Teen Characters with Respect and Authenticity

Part 1: Teen Traits (1 through 4)

By Jessica Denhart

NatGeo_9.2011 coverAs writers of young adult literature, many of us are in an interesting position of no longer being a teenager. We don’t understand what it’s like to be a teenager in today’s world. We’re not cool anymore, we don’t get it…

How can we write about teenagers and get it right, especially now that most of us are no longer on the inside? We can rely on memories. Memories fade and change over time. So I chose to research the psychology of the teenage brain, because that’s where the way we think and feel starts, in our brains.

We were all teenagers at one time. If we try, we can remember what it felt like to have been there, in the thick of adolescence and all of its turmoil.

In my research I discovered that the teenaged brain is still changing, developing and hardwiring. There are so many changes going on in the adolescent brain that often, like an electrical connection that is breaking down, the brain cuts in and out on a teenager at critical times.

1. Spotty Memory

A teenager may have trouble with their memory when it comes to lists of things to do, or directions given to them by their parents or teachers. It can also relate to the ability to remember what to do for homework. What seems like lack of attention or inability to focus is something that can be specifically traced to the, as yet unfinished, wiring of the parietal lobes.

2. Poor impulse control

Teenagers may not be able to hold their emotions in check and scream at or hit someone in an overreaction to a minor incident. They may say whatever comes to their mind first, even if it’s cruel or blunt. They may do something risky due to a lack of impulse control.

3. The overwhelming desire to do new and exciting things.

Teenagers may do crazy things, like diving off of cliffs into water 75 feet below as one of my friends did (and still does). Some drive incredibly fast, which is something that I heard over and over again from friends. Some love the thrill of video games; others enjoy a good scare through ghost stories and scary movies. Some teenagers sneak out of the house to do forbidden activities, like tromping through a graveyard in the middle of the night. Some drink and experiment with smoking and drugs.

4. Teenagers want to spend less time with their family and more time with their friends.

You may recall this part of your own teen years. I remember this time in my life. I didn’t really fight with my parents much. My rebellion against them wasn’t so overt. It was more subtle. It was a slow moving away from caring about their input in my life and spending more time with friends, caring more what they thought. This is very common in the teen years and is a direct result of brain chemistry. The neural hormone, oxytocin is prevalent in the teenage brain making social interactions more desirable.[1] Basically, teenagers want to hang out with their friends and avoid their uncool parents.

Coming up next – Part 2: Teen Traits (5 through 8).

Jessica DenhartJessica Denhart has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a proud Dystropian. She writes Young Adult fiction and middle-grade, which varies from contemporary, to magical realism and “near-future quasi-dystopian”. When she was little she sometimes wanted to be a nurse or a fireman, but always wanted to be a writer. She ran away once, packing a basket full of her favorite books. She throws pottery, loves to crochet, and enjoys cooking and baking. Jessica lives in Central Illinois.

Follow Jessica on Twitter: @jdenhart 


[1] Dobbs, David. “Beautiful Teenage Brains.” National Geographic Oct. 2011:

36-59. Print. (55)

This article was brought to you as part of the March Dystropian Madness Series.

March Dystropia Madness


7 Comments on Crafting Teen Characters with Respect and Authenticity: Part 1, last added: 4/5/2013
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6. Roald Dahl: What Makes a Good Children’s Writer

STORYTELLER: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock cannot be missed, yet for two years I missed it. What is wrong with me? (Eh-hem, this is a rhetorical question, thankyouverymuch.)

Roald Dahl remains one of the most iconic children’s authors of all time, yet he began his career writing macabre short stories based upon his experience in the Royal Air Force during World War II. Just how did he evolve into the fantastical children’s author we all love?

Sheila St. Lawrence, Dahl’s literary agent at the Watkins Agency, is to thank. She realized “the ease in which Dahl could enter a child’s mind,” clearly apparent in his short story “The Wish”. In the tale, a young boy dares to walk across a carpet by stepping only on its yellow portions. Should his foot slip onto another color, he thought he would “disappear into a black void or be killed by venomous snakes.” This story was the only adult Dahl piece to feature a child protagonist to date, and it could not escape St. Lawrence’s attention.

After a disastrous two-year foray into playwriting, St. Lawrence implored Dahl to turn his literary aspirations elsewhere. Yet he ignored her kidlit suggestion, wrote stories that got turned down by The New Yorker, and instead got placed in the far less desirable (but still paying) Playboy.

Dahl’s publisher Alfred Knopf expressed interest in a children’s book, but then dropped a collection of adult stories called “Kiss Kiss” from Knopf’s 1959 list. Dahl spouted some choice words in response, threatening that Knopf would never squeeze a children’s book out of him.

Dahl once again became focused on writing for actors, as he wished to develop vehicles for his wife at the time, screen star Patricia Neal. After all, if Neal was working steadily, her income afforded him more time to write what he wanted to write. There were shows for Hitchcock and a drama series for TV based upon classic ghost stories, produced by Alfred Knopf’s half brother. But when the pilot episode encountered a controversy, the series got permanently shelved and Dahl was forced to return to the idea that evolved into JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH.

I will say “and the rest is history” here, although STORYTELLER is only halfway through Dahl’s life story at this point. So like Sheila St. Lawrence, I implore you to turn your literary aspirations toward it.

But before I go, it would be a shame not to share with you Dahl’s advice to children’s writers, as told to Helen Edwards in an interview for Bedtime Stories exactly 42 years ago:

What makes a good children’s writer? The writer must have a genuine and powerful wish not only to entertain children, but to teach them the habit of reading…[He or she] must be a jokey sort of fellow…[and] must like simple tricks and jokes and riddles and other childish things. He must be unconventional and inventive. He must have a really first-class plot. He must know what enthralls children and what bores them. They love being spooked. They love ghosts. They love the finding of treasure. The love chocolates and toys and money. They love magic. They love being made to giggle. They love seeing the villain meet a grisly death. They love a hero and they love the hero to be a winner. But they hate descriptive passages and flowery prose. They hate long descriptions of any sort. Many of them are sensitive to good writing and can spot a clumsy sentence. They like stories that contain a threat. “D’you know what I feel like?” sai

10 Comments on Roald Dahl: What Makes a Good Children’s Writer, last added: 7/10/2012
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7. Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Conference 2012

In 2008, I had the most nerve-wracking 20-minute drive of my life. My knuckles paled, my stomach gurgled, and my thoughts raced faster than the 35 MPH I could manage to clock on the highway. I was on my way to my first kidlit conference ever: the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Conference. AHHHH! Somebody help me!

Thanks, Ryan. I know you would have, honey. But I digress…

I knew practically nada about writing for kids. I had slipped the first three pages of my middle grade novel into an envelope earlier that summer and waited patiently for the response. Thankfully, I was on vacation for two weeks of the final countdown. It made my vacation go by much more slowly. I recommend this tactic to anyone who needs to wait—go to a beach, plop a lounge chair in the sand, facing the ocean. Or facing Ryan Gosling in surfing trunks.

But when the vacation was over and the car hit our driveway, I jumped out and dashed to the post office. Awaiting me was a thick envelope, and remembering the drill from college admissions, I knew this meant a “yes”!

So off I went. I was so green. (Although I wore a cute purple top.) But when the event was done, I blogged all about it. Hopefully my notes help prepare you for this year’s conference. You can review them all here: RUCCL 2008.

But Tara, what does this all mean?

It means that the RUCCL 2012 Application is now available!

And guess who’s your morning “Success Story” speaker?

As Miss Piggy would say, “MOI!”

Yeah, I was pretty floored they asked me. Trinka Hakes Noble sent me an email saying, “I hope you don’t mind, but I put your name forward as our Inspiration Speaker for the mentee breakfast.  Would you be interested?”

Would I be interested? Are you kidding? Of course I am! Wow! Whoopee! Holy macaroni! Keeno Yaccarino!

Wait a second, what did I just agree to…? Pale knuckles and gurgling stomach again?

Well, I am hoping many of my blog readers will be accepted to the conference this year. Because not only do I want to see you succeed, I’ll need your help during my presentation. (Details to come. No, you won’t need to hold a barf bucket. Well, maybe. OK, don’t quote me on that.)

So polish up those manuscripts! You’ve got until July 2 to postmark them.

And if you have any questions about the conference, please ask away in the comments!


10 Comments on Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Conference 2012, last added: 4/9/2012
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8. How to Become a Children’s Author

If you want to publish a book for children, the first thing you must do is ask yourself why.

Is your motivation to publish a kid’s book one of the following?

  • Your kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/neighbors/students love a story you’ve written.
  • It would be fun to see your name in print.
  • You want to sign autographs.
  • You want to make money, quickly.
  • You want your artist cousin/sister/friend to illustrate it.

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, please read this post. I write this to save you a lot of time and frustration. Because it’s not an easy business. NOT. EASY. AT. ALL.

New writers often believe they can pen one story in an hour or two, never revise it, yet somehow land an agent and a publishing deal—-as if the simple act of writing begets publication.

Hitting one baseball does not mean the Yankees will draft you. Likewise, writing one story does not mean Random House will offer you a contract. Although, keep hitting that ball, make it go higher and farther…learn about fielding and sliding, too…and play seriously for years, and you just might make it.

Everyone believes the first thing they write will be golden and they’ll never receive a single rejection. We are all HOPEFUL. But, everyone is wrong. (Including me!) Trust me, this will NOT happen. It has NOT happened to ANYONE.

The motivation to write a kid’s book should be:

  • You love to write. You were born to write. You can’t NOT write.
  • The child inside you is begging to get out and explore.
  • You love children’s literature and want to contribute worthy stories to the genre.
  • You want to inspire children to read, write, create, imagine and dream.
  • You enjoy learning from children.
  • You want to work hard to establish a career as a kidlit author. You’re in it for the long haul.

Notice fame and fortune have nothing to do with it. That’s something a small percentage of authors achieve. (Yes, authors can have dozens of books in print yet they cannot support themselves through writing alone.)

It takes most children’s writers years to land their first book deal. And selling one book does not guarantee future book sales. Selling each subsequent book can get MORE difficult, especially if one (or more) of your titles do not sell as well as the publisher expected.

I don’t mean to be discouraging. I want to be REALISTIC. Children’s literature is a BUSINESS. And this business is like any other-—it takes hard work, commitment, talent and a little luck, too.

In short, I’ve made more money and worked fewer hours in EVERY OTHER JOB I’VE EVER HAD.

BUT…

There’s no job I’VE LOVED MORE. (Besides being a mom, of course.)

So do it because you LOVE it. You LOVE it like you CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT. Because children don’t deserve anything less than YOUR VERY BEST WORK.

Excellent resources for aspiring children’s authors:


12 Comments on How to Become a Children’s Author, last added: 2/26/2012
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9. Entering The Gay YA Debate - Lucy Coats

"YA Authors Asked to 'Straighten' Gay YA Characters" said the headline in the Guardian on 14th September. I already knew that this story existed from the Twitter #YesToGayYA hashtag, but reading that a (then unnamed) major literary agency in the US would only represent two well-respected authors "on the condition that [they] make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation" really shocked and horrified me.  Malorie Blackman, in the same Guardian article, is quoted as asking the question, "Are we still not over this nonsense?"  Well, aren't we?  And if not, then why not?  We damned well should be. 

Since the original article by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown in the USA, there has been much debate on the subject in the blogosphere and on the social networks, with all the differing viewpoints and arguments brilliantly summed up HERE. You may ask why I'm adding my two-penn'orth, when so much has been written already.  I am not gay (although I have many friends of both sexes who are), and I have not (so far) written a gay character in any of my books. What qualifies me to comment then?  Well, I am a writer.  By definition that means I can and do write about things well outside my own experience.  The novel I have just finished is YA fantasy, set in present-day London, but in my time I have written about pirates, dragons, fairies, mermaids, bears and a long list of mythical beasts and gods.  I also write male teenage characters. I have no actual empirical experience of being any of these things, (although I live with a teenage son, which perhaps allows me to claim a little observational expertise in that area at least!).  If, in my next YA book, one or more of my characters tells me they are gay, I will write their story too--and I'd like to be able to do it without a little nagging voice of censorship in the back of my head telling me that I shouldn't, because 'the market won't buy it'.

The truth is that many teens are gay in varying ways--LGBTQ is the umbrella acronym. Many are confused by this and ashamed, hiding their true natures from their peers, their parents (and even themselves).  Only this week there was a report on the teenage suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer in the US--bullied for being gay, who was told (and this is only one of many dreadful comments) that one of his peers "wouldn't care if [he] died. So just do it

68 Comments on Entering The Gay YA Debate - Lucy Coats, last added: 9/26/2011
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10. New to Children’s Writing? A To-Do List


Agents and editors have told me they occasionally receive calls from writers who are brand new to children’s books. These wanna-be authors ask, “How do I get my book published?”

Kindly folks that they are, these agents and editors don’t slam the phone down. They’ll sometimes spend a few moments providing basic details. But this information can be easily found online. That’s what makes being a new writer so exciting these days: there’s professional advice available via websites and blogs, you just have to search for it. It’s not all so mysterious anymore.

So if you’re looking to launch a kidlit career, I beg you, please don’t call an agent or editor to learn the basics. Let them read manuscripts, sell books and do their jobs. Come here instead…

A New Children’s Writer’s To-Do List:

  1. Write.
    I knew you’d like that one.
  2. Read children’s books.
    Become familiar with the genre in which you write. Understand appropriate length and content for age group. See what’s being published. Don’t follow trends, but know the competition.
  3. Join SCBWI.
    Take advantage of their resources—local chapter events, national conferences, online discussion boards and publications.
  4. Join a critique group.
    Your mother, daughter, spouse, and neighbor’s 2nd grade class are not a critique group. Find fellow writers who work in the same genre as you. They provide support, motivation, and helpful feedback.
  5. Attend workshops, conferences and events.
    Seek out opportunities to learn and network with authors, agents, editors and writing peers.
  6. Read books on the craft.
    Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb
    Writing for Children and Teens by Cynthea Liu
    Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz
  7. Revise and rewrite.
    It’s not going to be right the first time (or maybe even the second or the third). It’s just not. Resist the temptation to submit an early draft to a publisher.
  8. Take time to develop your skill.
    Your writing will improve with practice.
  9. Submit when you have more than one project polished.
    Finished your first manuscript? Keep writing. If an editor or agent likes your manuscript, but not enough to make an offer, they may request other material. Have a few manuscripts at the ready.
  10. Learn to have patience.
    It can take years to write publishable material, sell your first project, and develop a career.
  11. Call yourself a writer.
    Because you are one!

If you have some newbie suggestions, let’s hear them. Please leave a comment.

10 Comments on New to Children’s Writing? A To-Do List, last added: 7/31/2009
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11. Gone Fishin’


gallery_fish

Check ya later, kidlit fans. There’s sand castles, seafood and South Carolina in my forecast.

I’ll be posting again the week of July 6th. Y’all come back now, ya hear? ‘Cause you won’t want to miss an interview with the stupendous Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Or the artistic antics of up-and-coming author/illustrator Ryan Hipp (who contributed the robot fish above). Or the courageous story of YA debut author Albert Borris. Illustrator Kristi Valiant will talk about her latest book, Cora Cooks Pancit. I’ll also share some tips for making your own book trailer before you sell the book. And perhaps my talented friend Michael Sussman will make an appearance… 

It’s all coming in July. And August. It may be summer, but I don’t plan on slowing down.

Well, maybe just a little bit, for now.

takethedareBefore I take off, let me remind you to Take the Dare at Cynthea Liu’s website. There’s fabulous critiques up for auction from kidlit agents, editors and authors. All proceeds benefit Tulakes Elementary, a Title I school in Cynthea’s home state of Oklahoma. So show you care, take the dare!

This week also marks the YA Book Carnival, hosted by Shooting Stars Mag. Nearly 100 giveaways are listed, so go enter and grab a great read!

5 Comments on Gone Fishin’, last added: 7/7/2009
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12. Agent Panel at NJ-SCBWI Conference


Want to be a fly on the wall in an agent’s office? If you were at the NJ-SCBWI conference last week, you got that kind of insider buzz. Some top agents in children’s publishing revealed what’s been sitting on their desks, and more importantly, what hasn’t been submitted.

The agent panel featured:

After brief introductions, the agents welcomed questions. The first attendee (OK, me) wanted to know: “What trends are you seeing in your submissions? Specifically, what are you seeing too often? And what aren’t you seeing?”

The agents were quick to say that vampires were overdone. They’re seeing a lot of fantasy, especially with werewolves and zombies–on their own but also vampire/werewolf/zombie hybrids.

Jill Corcoran added, “I’m seeing a lot of plot-driven manuscripts, but where the character isn’t fully developed.”

The agents thought that paranormal hadn’t yet peaked, while historicals were down. That’s not to say a fantastic historical couldn’t come along and raise the whole genre, but as of now, they weren’t selling well.

They also added, “please don’t send anything about bullies. We’re sick of bullies.” Seems there was a bully article in a prominent parenting magazine (or perhaps it was an Oprah episode?) that began an unwelcomed trend.

Turning their attention to what wasn’t being submitted, Marietta Zacker said, “We’re not seeing a true depiction and representation of our diverse population. Kids aren’t seeing themselves in books and that’s a problem.”

Rachel Orr said, “And please realize there should be other Chinese stories than those about Chinese New Year. And stories about African-Americans that are about something other than slavery.”

Scott Treimel added, “Don’t send a story about three characters from three different races that have adventures.” He said such stories tended to be stereotypical and poorly conceived.

Ms. Zacker emphasized, “Certainly, be true to your voice. But write outside of yourself. Look beyond yourself to the world around you.”

Rachel Orr commented that she sees stories about a kid who moves to a new house far too often.

Scott Treimel wondered, “Where are the stories about the boys who feel weird about their sexuality? What if the girl is aggressive for a change?”

The agents agreed that in regards to sex in YA novels, the sky’s the limit, but it must be organic to the story. Don’t be shocking just for shock’s sake.

An attendee asked if they had been rejected by an agent, but spent several months polishing the manuscript, is it acceptable to submit again?

The agents said that the writer should first look to the agent for a response. Typically, they’ll note if they want to see a revision. And a writer must put the work in before coming back a second time. Marietta Zacker said, “This sounds like common sense, but don’t forget that we remember you. Don’t make us feel like we don’t know you. Please say, ‘I sent this to you six months ago but I’ve revised it…’”

Emily van Beek chimed in with: “Remember that the world owes you nothing. You owe the world your best work.”

In regards to working with an agent, the agents said that their business is all about relationships and trust. “We’re partners in your career. We’re architects for your career. We have a design for you.”

Also remember that an agent has their favorite editors so they’re tuned to the tastes of a few dozen editors, but not all of them. It pays to shop your work around to find the best match.

When the agents were asked what they’re currently working on, books they’re excited about, Marietta Zacker said they are asked this question frequently, “but we always shoot ourselves in the foot when we answer that question. We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. You shouldn’t necessarily send to us just because we liked something in particular. And we don’t want you to write to that preference, either.” Agents have a wide range of tastes. “We don’t know we want it until we read it.”

Emily van Beek talked about the importance of falling in love with a manuscript in order to represent it because they do all work on spec. “We don’t get paid until we sell it.” So her mantra tends to be, “If you can resist it, do. I know that sounds [harsh], but it’s true.” She finds projects she can’t live without. Then she has the passion to sell it.

Interestingly, she told us that Kathi Appelt’s Newbery honor The Underneath took two years and underwent eight major revisions.

Scott Treimel added, “Writing and revising are equally important skills.”

Some agents will help edit your manuscript for submission, others may not be that involved. It depends upon the agent. But remember that your agent is not a critique group. Be sure that you have reliable crit partners and that your manuscript is “polished to within an inch of its life” prior to submission.

So when does an agent know that the manuscript is ready to be submitted to editors? When do they let go? Jill Corcoran said, “When I think it’s phenomenal.”

And to end the panel, Jill Corcoran talked about endings. “I love endings that are expected, but unexpected; surprising but logical.”

And I suppose this is a logical place to end this post. Be sure to check back for more from the conference throughout this week!

10 Comments on Agent Panel at NJ-SCBWI Conference, last added: 6/19/2009
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13. NJ-SCBWI Conference: Richard Peck Keynote


Thirty-eight agents, editors, art directors and acclaimed authors. Two days. Twenty workshop sessions. The NJ-SCBWI is one little conference that packs a writing wallop.

Over the next few days, I’ll share notes from the event, from my own journal and that of writer Natisha LaPierre. So even if you weren’t there, it will feel like you were. (Just surround yourself with friendly folks passionate about children’s books while you read.)

peckThe first keynote presentation by Richard Peck, Newbery award-winning author of The Year Down Yonder, set a serious yet exciting tone for the conference. His unique voice extends beyond his books–when he speaks, he feels as big as a Shakesperean actor, filling the room, enunciating, using his entire body. (It was no surprise to learn that he belongs to a group of authors known as the “Authors Readers Theatre“  who travel the country performing each other’s works.) Charming, witty, it is impossible not to be drawn in by Mr. Peck’s dynamic presence.

“I am a writer because of two boys on a raft,” he began, noting his love of Mark Twain. ”Writers are readers first. Nobody but a reader ever became a writer. Read 1,000 books before you can write one.”

Mr. Peck encouraged attendees to look at other voices in order to find their own. And what does he think about “write what you know?” Rubbish. ”A story is something that never happened to the author,” he said. ”I assure you that J.K. Rowling never attended Hogwarts. Beatrix Potter was never a rabbit.”

A writer’s job is to add hope to reality. A story is always about change, and change is animated by epiphany. In his master class on Saturday, Mr. Peck explained epiphany further. When he asked middle school students to define ephiphany, an 8th grade boy said, “Epiphany is when everything changes and you can’t go back.” Mr. Peck thought that was the finest definition he had ever heard. The teacher informed Mr. Peck that the boy had lost his father, and his mother before that. That boy has been overdosed on reality. Now he needs hope.

yeardownyonder“A lot of fiction is about remembering better days.” The elder characters in Mr. Peck’s books are often patterned after the old men who frequented his father’s filling station in the 1930’s and 40’s. He recalls their conversations and makes “rough music out of real speech.” You can write in the voice of a young character, but have that young person know old people. Children want adults to be strong, but they often can’t find them.

Years ago, the books in his school library were kept under glass and you had to find the teacher for a key. “Consider that metaphor,” he said. “The teacher has the key.” Book are still as precious, but it is up to the writer to make them so. “You can teach children or fear the parent, but you can’t do both. We are the last literature teachers left because we can’t be fired. We’re unemployed!”

Every week Mr. Peck visits the book store and spends an hour perusing first lines. “We live in the age of the sound byte, so you have to ‘byte’ them out front.” He recited the first line of Charlotte’s Web to remind us of its power: “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” Six words on one line ignite the imagination. And then he gave a fine example of voice with M.T. Anderson’s Feed: “We went to the moon to have fun but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

He always travels with a book from the past and a new book. The book from the past reminds him that we’re all links in a chain, while the new title keeps him tuned to what’s coming next. “If we don’t know what publishers are releasing this year, how will we get on next year’s list?” He’s reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, “the greatest argument for writing in first person. It skates too near to the truth.”

Mr. Peck concluded by reminding us that “a story is always a question, never an answer. We can ask the questions that no one else will ask.” Story is the most important gift we can give our youth. Think about that 8th grade boy. “Story might be the companion that a child needs.”

8 Comments on NJ-SCBWI Conference: Richard Peck Keynote, last added: 6/22/2009
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14. CYNTHIA LEITICH SMITH: an Interview with the Author of ETERNAL (and many other books).

 

I am happy to report that Cyn (who owns the award-winning author site Cynsations) agreed to let me interview her to go along with the posting of her new book, ETERNAL, on my site under “Good Books to Share.”

I enjoyed reading ETERNAL. The pace is swift, and the set-up interesting from the get-go. Miranda, the teenage heroine, has a guardian angel. He messes up and she is turned into a vampire. Now her angel has to make amends. But is he committing the ultimate no-no for guardian angels? Is he falling in love with her? ETERNAL kept me turning the pages through a single sitting. For anyone who likes a good love story, as well as for fans of vampire tales.

Cynthia Leitich Smith

book iconHow old were you when you first started seriously writing?

I guess it depends on what you call “serious.” By fourth grade, I was writing poems in my bedroom more evenings than not. I even “bound” them in a homemade book with the help of my mom. By junior high, I was editor of the school paper-a position I had again in high school. By my sophomore year of college, I was spending my summers working in newsrooms. By my third year of law school, I was teaching legal writing. At 28, I quit my “day job” to write fiction for young people.

book icon How many rejections did you get before you got your first acceptance?

I honestly don’t know, but with regard to writing for young readers, my apprenticeship was about two-and-a-half years before my first sale.

book icon How do you make up names for your characters?

With JINGLE DANCER (Morrow, 2000), most of the names are family names. The one exception is “Jenna,” which I simply thought sounded musical with Jenna. Quincie P. Morris in TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007) is named after Quincey P. Morris in Abraham Stoker’s classic novel Dracula (1897). But beyond that, I often look for variety in terms of syllables, vowel and consonant sounds, first letters, etc. or meanings. The name “Miranda” from ETERNAL (Candlewick, 2009) means “miracle.”

book icon When you write do you like quiet, music, or lots of activity around you?

Increasingly, I prefer sort of neutral music-no lyrics, which I generally tune out. It works like “white noise.”

book icon What’s the earliest childhood memory you can think back to? Does it appear in any of your writing?

I remember burning the silver plate off a gold spoon with a candle flame. I think everyone else was eating pie in the kitchen. And no, not so far.

book iconWhat age child do you have in your head? Is there more than one child there?

It’s very crowded-I have a four, ten, fourteen, seventeen, and a nineteen-year-old.

book icon Do you have any regrets about writing for young readers?

Nope.

book icon What do you have hidden in a dresser drawer? (We won’t tell, will we, everyone?)

Nothing too interesting, I’m afraid. My iPod and the key to my treadmill.

book iconWhat do your favorite pair of socks look like?

They feature tiny Texas flags.

book icon Given that you won’t sunburn, and you have lots of water . . . would you rather walk through Death Valley or Mall of America? Why?

Death Valley-scenery and peacefulness.

book icon If you woke up in the morning and found someone’s shoes in your refrigerator, what would you think?

That the cats were growing more sophisticated by the hour.

book iconHave you ever been abducted by aliens? If so, did they wear socks? What did they have hidden in their zormorpholater? And did they tell you the titles of any of their favorite books?

No aliens, faeries perhaps.

book iconWill you name a character in your next book after me?

Maybe, but I can’t promise he/she will be a good guy.

book icon Finally, let’s end up looking toward the future. What’s up next for you? Anything you want to tell us about?

I just finished (I hope) text revisions on the graphic novel adaptation of TANTALIZE, which will be told from the point of view of Kieren, the werewolf hero. I’m also jazzed about the short stories I have coming out this year. “The Wrath of Dawn,” co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith will appear in GEEKTASTIC: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009) and “Cat Calls” will appear in SIDESHOW: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magic, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009).

 

Thanks, Cyn! 

Now to all of you . . . go forth, and read!

Ciao!

Shutta

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15. Toni De Palma Interview & First Giveaway


banyan

Toni De Palma’s debut YA novel Under the Banyan Tree is a New Voices Pick by the Association of Booksellers for Children. She joins me today to talk about her journey to publication. 

First, a little about Banyan:

Irena’s not sure where she’s headed when she runs away—she just wants to leave the trailer she used to share with her mama and daddy far behind. But when she stumbles upon the Banyan Tree motel, something tells her it’s exactly where she’s meant to be. The elderly owner generously welcomes Irena, and the Banyan soon begins to feel like home. But trouble follows Irena wherever she goes, and the Banyan is no different: a mysterious guest, money problems, and secrets from her past soon threaten the stability of her new life. This moving story distills life’s joys and pains, and uncovers just what it really means to be a family.

Toni, your website bio says that you have always dreamed of being a writer, and you’ve accomplished so much with your first book. Can you tell us where Irena’s amazing story began?

The book was a very organic process. I don’t usually work with an outline and even when I jot down notes, I always tend to stray. The idea for Under the Banyan Tree came to me in my first semester of my M.F.A. program at Vermont College. Though I didn’t know it consciously at the time, Irena’s story reflected where I was emotionally in my life. As a young mother, who had given up her job to stay home and be a full time mom, I was feeling a little lost. No job to me meant no identity, no place in the world. I had begun writing, taking classes and submitting, but I didn’t honestly believe I was good enough to be a writer. When my son was five, I read about the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and I knew it was something I just had to do even though it would mean a lot of sacrifice. It might sound weird, but looking back I feel as if the Universe was compelling me to take on the challenge. So like my character, Irena, I sort of ran away (not to Key West, but to Vermont) and I embarked on a personal journey that taught me so much about myself.

After the M.F.A. program, how did you continue on your path to becoming an author? How did you balance motherhood and writing?

Balance? (Laugh, laugh.) What’s that? I’ll be honest. Every day is a struggle. Or come to think of it, maybe it’s not. I’m starting to think that, at least for me, there is a certain amount of normalcy to this ebb and flow, of those periods when I write a lot and those periods when I don’t, times when I rather be cooking or doing laundry and times when all I want to do is sit and write.  

First drafts are always killers for me. I circle my computer like a vulture waiting, waiting. I much rather be revising, especially when I’ve had a great meeting with my writer’s group and they’ve given me feedback that’s stirred up my juices. I also seem to have cycles (maybe it has to do with the amount of serotonin in my system). I seem to write more in the Spring and Summer and drift off when it gets cold and all I want to do is snuggle under a blanket (I read a lot more during those times).  I recently heard John Grisham say that he writes from April to Thanksgiving — a book a year. When I heard him say that, I felt validated.

I think the really cool thing for writers is that they learn what works best for them and to not judge themselves too harshly.

How long did you work on Under the Banyan Tree? How did you go about submitting it?

I worked on Banyan for two years and revised it about eight times (including the revisions I did with my editor). I was really fortunate with how Banyan played out. I submitted it to a few publishers who declined it and then met Margery Cuyler at the Rutgers One-On-One conference. Margery is the editor at Marshall Cavendish Children’s and she read Banyan, liked it, but didn’t feel it was quite right for her list. Margery suggested I send it to Regina Griffin at Holiday House. Margery knew Holiday House because she had been editor-in-chief there. Regina ended up liking it and offered me a contract.

What was it like to get “the call” from Regina Griffin?

I actually got “the call” from an assistant in her office, a nice girl who seemed genuinely delighted for me.  I was happy too, but nervous about what would be expected of me next. 

And what was expected of you next?

Well, a lot more waiting for one thing. From the time I received that first phone call to the time my book was published, close to three years had passed. The revision process was worth the wait though. Regina sent me an extensive editorial letter commenting on broader issues and she marked up the manuscript identifying smaller things I might want to consider. Regina did not make specific suggestions, but rather posed wonderful questions that made me see even more possibilities for my characters’ development as well as some plot points that I had never considered. Working with her made the manuscript better, deeper and I hope more satisfying for the reader.

After such a long (and rewarding) revision process, I’m sure you were thrilled once the book hit the shelves. How satisfying was it to hold the finished copy in your hands? What has surprised you most about being a published author? Is it everything you imagined it to be?

While it was wonderful to hold my book in my hand, it didn’t measure up to the very intimate, very personal moment that occurred when I wrote the last line and knew in my heart that I had brought my character to the finish line of her journey. I’m pretty emotional, so I cried, a great cathartic, super satisfying kind of YES! cry.

As for the post-publishing experience, that has been quite interesting and unexpected. I am fortunate that one of the local seventh grade teachers is using my book as part of her curriculum. After the kids read my book, I go in and do a presentation, then give the kids a chance to ask me questions. I’m always amazed at how the kids interpret the book and make it their own. Some kids get pretty incensed and emotional about the story, sometimes taking a character’s side. To elicit that kind of emotion, even though quite unintended is really cool for me because it makes me feel I’ve done my job. That same teacher has also used my book as a springboard to discuss a whole host of other topics such as the ecology of the Everglades (part of the story takes place there), the dangers of hitchhiking, Ernest Hemingway, and of course, banyan trees.

Toni, I sense that you feel it’s important to savor and enjoy each part of the creative process—it’s more about the journey than the destination. Would you agree? What other words of wisdom do you have for aspiring writers? And what can we expect next from you?

When I first started writing I must admit it was all about my ego and wanting to be a “famous” writer (this makes sense because J.K. Rowling had just hit the scene and her rags to riches story really captivated me). But the more I write and the more I see how my writing has helped me to have certain experiences, I view it as a both an intellectual challenge and a tool that is here to grow me both personally and spiritually.

Advice?  Of course writing a book involves a great deal of skill that a person becomes better and better at each day with practice. Being part of a writer’s group has also been wonderful and reading, reading, reading.  But the practice of writing is not limited to sitting down and hammering away at a keyboard. It involves trying to understand your world, staying curious and asking lots of questions not only with your head, but with your heart. My best writing comes when I’m feeling charged up over something and I just want to understand it.  

Since writing Under the Banyan Tree, I’ve written a variety of other things that are now seeking a home: another contemporary YA novel, a historical fiction Middle Grade, as well as a Fantasy Middle Grade. Obviously, I like experimenting and playing with different genres. I’m also looking for an agent.

Toni, this has been a wonderful interview. You’ve helped me realize that I need to have peace and patience with the creative process.

 

Tara, thanks so much for this opportunity and the great conversation. Writing is sort of like that, a great conversation you have with your reader.

 

One final question. I promised to slip chocolate into my interviews, so what’s your favorite kind of chocolate candy?

 

Funny you’re asking about candy. From the age of five to eleven, I lived over a candy store in Brooklyn and I loved each and every sweet piece. Still do!

 

WOW! You lived above a candy store? That’s every kid’s dream come true! Have you ever written a story based on that experience?

 

Not yet, but who knows where my mind will wander…

 

Toni is generously giving away an autographed hardcover copy of Under the Banyan Tree. Leave a comment and you’ll be entered into the drawing.

 

Blog or Twitter about Toni’s interview, link back here and you’ll get TWO additional entries. Just let me know about the mentions in the comments field.

 

Good luck! I’ll draw a winner one week from today.

Thank you, Toni!

      

10 Comments on Toni De Palma Interview & First Giveaway, last added: 2/3/2009
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16. Jennifer Brown: Funny Girl on the “Hate List”


jennibrownJennifer Brown is a  two-time winner of the Erma Bombeck Global Humor competition and a humor columnist. And yet the premise of her debut young adult novel Hate List (Fall 2009, Little, Brown BFYR), the aftermath of a school shooting as told by the shooter’s girlfriend, sounds very serious.

Jennifer, how did writing humor prepare you for a YA novel? Or are the two styles just separate parts of your personality? (Hmm…are you a Gemini?)

No, not Gemini, but I can still blame the stars: the stubborn Taurus in me won’t let an idea go once it’s popped into my head. We May babies are just bold that way. Or if that Taurus theory isn’t working for you, I can blame the real stars. Paris…? Britney…? Tom Cruise…?

If I’m going to go all serious writer on you, I’ll talk about the “fine line between comedy and tragedy” and point out that most of my humor-writing friends (including myself) are actually really serious people. That when we rant or crack a joke, we’re really digging at and pointing out the things in life that bother us (in real life this would translate to nervous, uncomfortable, misplaced laughter that would make us look a little on the creepy side and make it so we’re not invited to parties very often… not even family parties… uh… not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…) and we tend to do a lot of sitting around and brooding about All That’s Horrible in the World.

But the truth is… I just wrote the story that wanted to be written, regardless of the genre. Writing Hate List was no different experience than writing humor — come up with an idea and run with it. Keep running, even past the Doubt Days and the Days When I Just Give Up — and do it barefacedly and fearlessly.

When you write humor for a living, you get used to criticism. A joke, by definition, has to have a target, which means every time you sit down to write, you stand a pretty good chance of ticking someone off and getting a letter that begins, “Dear Hack Loser, You ruined my life…”. I think this “toughening up” was helpful for me, in that I wasn’t afraid to go out of genre with Hate List and write something that felt so different.

All of that aside… for me there is a real element of hope in Hate List as well. And we humor writers are nothing if not masters of silver linings.

All writers have those Doubt Days. How do you personally work through them to reach your silver lining? What was your toughest moment of doubt? And what was your most recent silver lining?

Probably what makes me push through more than anything is the support I receive from people who’re really important in my life. My agent, Cori Deyoe, is really great at making me feel like I can do anything. I always know I can try new things and have fun and Cori will support it or will tell me when something I’ve tried doesn’t really work (and will do it in a way that keeps me from chucking the laptop through a window and breaking all my pencils in half). My editor at LB, T.S. Ferguson, is also super-supportive of my work. Also, my husband, Scott, never stops supporting and believing in me. My kids, my friends… I want to keep pushing through those days because I want to prove them all right, that I can do this.

I would probably say my toughest moment of doubt was my very first in-person agent pitch ever. She listened to me, was very quiet for a moment, then blew her nose and said, “I can’t imagine anyone who would buy this book.” She proceeded to tell me that I’d never sell a book with my “Midwest voice.” I came home from the conference, cried my eyes out, and shelved the book. It took me a while to get back up and start working on the next one.

There’ve been other tough moments. When a reader responds to a column, not only telling me I stink as a writer, but also questioning my mothering skills or saying I’m a basically bad person, it’s tough. Hard to pick yourself up after that. But deadlines and editors you don’t want to let down help in that process a lot.

ketchupHonestly, though, I can’t imagine ever truly giving up. I can’t imagine a day without writing. It’s just that ingrained in me. The idea of giving it all up is scarier to me than facing those tough days. Believe it or not, this is where my kids are important to my sticking to it — writing is a release and keeps me from noticing when there’s a Crayola mural on the wall or a loose hamster or ketchup on the ceiling (seriously, how do they get food on the ceiling?!). 

My most recent silver lining happened this morning when I opened my email. A humor writer whose blog I just adore (The Suburban Jungle) wrote to tell me she enjoyed my column this week. Made me feel great. When people reach out and tell me that I’ve written something that made them smile or touched them in some way… that’s really all the silver lining I need.

As a mother-writer myself, I find it difficult to find time to write. How do you schedule your days? How do you make time for your writing? How long has the ketchup been on the ceiling?

I’m always careful to define myself as a mom first and a writer second. That way, there’s never any confusion in my mind about prioritizing. And that’s all it really is, juggling being both mom and writer, a matter of prioritizing. Somehow I was blessed by being born with both amazing organizational skills and an ability to be really flexible. Some people call it an annoying combination of anal-retentiveness and air-headedness, but I think “organized” and “flexible” sounds a lot more resume-friendly.

So I let the kids’ schedules really dictate mine. I work around theirs. And I always understand that my working hours may not look the same from day to day, or might not even look the same at 4:00PM as I thought they would when I woke up at 6:00AM. As long as I understand those two things — that my schedule is not mine to make and it may change on me at any moment — I’m not often frustrated by lack of writing time.

Of course, it means I have to be prepared to work always. I might have to stay up till midnight, or later, to work on a chapter, and I might have to get up at 5:00AM. Because of this, there really isn’t a “typical” writing day for me. There also, typically, isn’t such thing as a “day off” for me (even on vacation I’m checking emails on my cell phone during the boring parts of Splash Mountain).

It also helps that I don’t tend to care about things like ketchup on the ceiling so much. In fact, now that I look at it, I think it may have started out as yogurt. 

So how long have you been writing for children? What was the spark that started you on this particular path?

This is really my first attempt at writing for young adults. I’ve always believed that writers should follow their story rather than their genre. In other words, write the story that wants to be written (passion being far more interesting on the page than specialization). If it turns out you fail because it’s not a genre you can do well… you fail. So what? You’ve learned, at least, right?

Because of that, I never had a thought, “I think I’ll try writing a young adult book. Maybe… about a school shooting…” Instead, I followed the story, which popped into my head in the shower one day, like most of my writing ideas do (Oh, how I wish they’d invent a waterproof laptop!). I kind of “knew” in the back of my mind that what I was writing was a young adult story, but I wasn’t thinking about that while writing it. It wasn’t until Hate List was finished that I fully understood what genre I’d been writing in.

crayolaartdesk1I always get my best ideas in the shower, too. Someone once recommended a tile pencil/china marker to me. And I’ve read good things about the Crayola Floating Art Desk, too. (If you like to write in rainbow.)

Can you tell us about the submission process for Hate List? How did you land your agent?

I love to talk about this, because my agent actually found me in the dreaded Slush Pile! You know, the pile of submissions they tell you it’s IMPOSSIBLE to be noticed in? It’s not impossible and I’m proof. I submitted to 3 Seas blindly and it was almost a year later that I got an email from Cori, asking to see a full manuscript for my book. She called me the day after Thanksgiving to tell me she wanted to sign me.

It seems like the submission process for Hate List was lightning-fast. I sent Cori the manuscript and within a few days she was getting really good bites on it from some big publishers. It went to auction and within just a few weeks was sold to Little, Brown. It was very whirlwind, and I wish I’d written some of it down because I don’t remember the details too well now. I only remember her calling me and saying, “So how does it feel to be a published author?” I was in my car and it felt a lot like I was going to wreck into the side of a Mr. Goodcents. When she called to tell me about the “final deal,” I was on my hands and knees, scouring the shower floor. So much for glamor.

Wow, your story comes full circle. It began with an idea in the shower and ended with cleaning the shower. I’m sure all my blog readers are going to be squeaky clean from now on!

 

I’m curious, what happened to that first book pitch you shelved?

That first book, a women’s fiction book, is still shelved. I check in every so often and my main character is still despondently devouring tubs of Chunky Monkey and watching Dr. Phil episodes in a pair of ripped sweats and a dirty T-shirt. She’s not ready to come back out yet, poor thing. I really should explain to her that harsh criticism and rejection is part of the business.
 

 

Now that we know your character’s weakness for chocolate chunks in banana ice cream, what about you? How do you like your chocolate?


In a Cherry Mash!


Jennifer, this has been a fun interview. Thanks for talking with me. Love to have you back when Hate List is released! Good luck!

  

 

twitterFor laughs, follow Jennifer Brown 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

2 Comments on Jennifer Brown: Funny Girl on the “Hate List”, last added: 2/14/2009
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17. Ring, ring! Who is it? “The Great Call of China!”


greatcallofchinaOn February 19, Cynthea Liu, one of the most givingest authors in the children’s writing community, releases her debut novel in the S.A.S.S. series, The Great Call of China.

Just look at that cover! Gorgeous! Here’s a taste of the adventure in store for the main character, Cece:

Chinese-born Cece was adopted when she was two years old by her American parents. Living in Texas, she’s bored of her ho-hum high school and dull job. So when she learns about the S.A.S.S. program to Xi’an, China, she jumps at the chance. She’ll be able to learn about her passion—anthropology—and it will give her the opportunity to explore her roots. But when she arrives, she receives quite a culture shock. And the closer she comes to finding out about her birth parents, the more apprehensive she gets. Enter Will, the cute guy she first meets on the plane. He and Cece really connect during the program. But can he help her get accustomed to a culture she should already know about, or will she leave China without the answers she’s been looking for?

Join me on February 19th as we welcome The Great Call of China to the world! Yeah, it’s like a virtual baby shower!

Do you have a question for Cynthea?

She’s the author of the upcoming Paris Pan Takes the Dare and the must-have writing guide Writing for Children and Teens. She’s the brains behind AuthorsNOW, and mom to an adorable toddler and one critique-lovin’ bunny named Snoop.

Email me at tarawrites at yahoo dot com and Cynthea will answer your questions on release day.

And, if you can, please devote your blog to The Great Call of China on February 19th. Let’s give back to this writer who has done so much for aspiring authors. If you’re in, please leave a comment so I can link to you!

5 Comments on Ring, ring! Who is it? “The Great Call of China!”, last added: 2/16/2009
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18. The Great Call of China Release Party: Giveaways!


You’ve marked February 19th on your calendar, right?

I’m hosting a release party for Cynthea Liu’s debut novel The Great Call of China. And check out the great giveaways! Watch the video!

0 Comments on The Great Call of China Release Party: Giveaways! as of 2/12/2009 7:25:00 PM
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19. The Great Call of China release party!


UPDATE! The winner of the autographed copy of The Great Call of China is Karen Kincy! Congratulations, Karen! Thanks to everyone who entered! Visit CyntheaLiu.com for more about the virtual book tour and new giveaways!

greatcall2

Today’s the day!

 

The release of Cynthea Liu’s debut novel
The Great Call of China!

 

And if you’ve come for the release party…
…you’ve made it to
the right place!
 
 

 

 

We’re celebrating all day long with:

  • An exclusive interview with Cynthea, answering writer’s questions
  • An autographed book giveaway
  • Free-Tique, Teeny-Tique & goody bag giveaways
  • An extended party invitation to Cynthea’s website where you can view behind-the-scenes videos, play games and win The Great “Haul” of China!

Yeah, yeah, there’s some rules. But they’re fun! (Snoop’s in charge.) And they’re after the interview. So let’s get right to it…

cynthea1If you could describe your writing style in one word, which word would it be?
~ Suzanne Young

 

Verbose.  

 

I wish it weren’t true! Other adjectives might be commercial or funny. But that all depends on what I’m writing.

 

What’s your juiciest behind-the-scenes story on the making of The Great Call of China?
~ Jennifer Hubbard

 

The making of THE GREAT CALL was quite uneventful until the very last round of revisions. The publisher requested I shorten the book by about 15K words, and the deadline was 7 days away.  Not long after that announcement, I received my editorial letter for the last round of PARIS PAN revisions, asking for a 20K cut and I had ten days to do that. To top it off, I was a new mother, nursing a six-month-old baby about eight times a day. That’s a lot of numbers, folks!

 

So you can imagine that I subsequently stroked, then regressed into a six-month-old thumb-sucker myself. In the end, I managed to get an extra week, cut down THE GREAT CALL by about 10K words and PARIS PAN by another 10K. It was the toughest three weeks of my writing career.

 

Moral of the story? Don’t be verbose if you can help it! J

 

How do you find the time to write, promote your writing, and be so active in the writing community?
~ Karen Kincy, Jennifer Hubbard,
Bettina Restrepo

 

I have the wonderful help of a college student named Julia who comes in each weekday while I go off to work, build my writing career, and interact with all of you. Though, admittedly, the last couple of months, I’ve been working on just about everything, but the writing.

 

clara_taraAlso I can run on less sleep than I ever dreamed possible. Baby Liu has trained me well!

 

Snoop, of course, also helps out by taking on meals and housecleaning.

 

Do you ever sleep? How did you get to be so awesome?
~ Jennifer Hubbard

 

Aw, that’s sweet! Yes, I do sleep (sometimes with my eyes open). And thanks to Baby Liu and Starbucks’s Caramel Macchiatto, I only need about about 5-6 hours a night.  I do take days off though, which is great for recooperating.
 

What has been a rock bottom moment for you as a writer, and how did you climb higher?
~ Karen Kincy

 

The rock bottom moment came about two years after I started writing. It was February, 2006. I had racked up a lot of rejections, and in that time, I felt like I had been close, but not close enough, you know? I wondered if I would ever sell anything. Sure, I know, many writers go through much more rejection. But that’s all relative. When it’s YOUR dream, when it’s YOUR goal, everything is way worse. It doesn’t matter if it’s two months or 10 years. For me, I had been subbing everything from PB to MG. I thought maybe I should try something else. I put together a YA proposal for a series. What came back? A rejection that stated my writing was “generic” and “lacking pizzazz.”  GASP!

 

That rejection really stung even though the editor had been right about the submission. After that, I promptly made an appointment at get my hair done. I was tired of staring at my rejected-self in the mirror. I was going to dye my hair purple (a tasteful deep shade of purple), and I was confident I would walk out of the salon a better writer.

 

Of course, the new hairstyle didn’t improve my writing, but a group-scream on the Blue Boards helped. I tried to move on, but the rejections continued. Nine months after that, I confessed to my SCBWI regional advisor that I was ON THE VERGE (… of breaking down!) . I even thought about forming a group called ON THE VERGE so we could all drink together. Then the next month, I turned in another revision for PARIS PAN (the fifth major round of revisions), totally unsure of what I was doing.  Seriously, I was thinking I should try something else on as a new career – like becoming an agent, or maybe doing Snoop’s laundry…. Then PARIS PAN sold at auction in a two book deal to Putnam. A  couple of weeks later, the same editor who had called my writing generic bought a different series book I had pitched with my agent. That book was THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA.

 

What was your favorite book as a child? As an adult?

~ Nan Marino

 

I had sooooo many favorites that I can’t possibly pick just one.  But as a kid, I was a huge fan of any book that featured animals. Black Beauty, Trumpet of the Swans, The Mouse and the Motorcycle. The first novel I completed, actually (which is in a metaphorical drawer at the moment) is about a talking dog. 

 

As an adult, I haven’t read anything that has touched me as much as the books I read as a child.  But … I did read HARRY POTTER in my mid-twenties. I just had to see what the hoopla was about, and that book got me in touch with the left-side of my brain again, a side I hadn’t used much since junior high.  So thank you J.K. Rowling for reminding me that I am very much a kid at heart.

 

Do you dedicate a certain amount of time to marketing each day, or a certain day or week? AuthorsNow! is an incredible resource. What plans do you have for its future?

~ Bettina Restrepo

 

I SHOULD be dedicating time each day to marketing, but I am easily distracted! In fact, I think I suck at marketing. Seriously, I don’t really like to pitch my own stuff. The whole idea of walking into an indie bookseller and introducing myself and my books freaks me out. I much prefer to just talk to people online about nothing much. I find Facebook and Twitter—my latest time-sucks–wildly entertaining.

 

As for AuthorsNow!, I just answered that question on Cynsations. In short, my main hope is that the web site continues to grow as a resource, and that more and more book enthusiasts use it to help them find the books they’re looking for! 

 

exhausted-snoopHow old is your bunny Snoop, and where did he come from?
~ Karen Kincy

 

Snoop is about 6 years old now. That makes him a middle-aged bunny, maybe nearing retirement. He was adopted from the House Rabbit Society, an organization that does awesome work for bunnies like Snoop who needed homes. Little known fact: Snoop had actually been adopted by someone else before I came along. Apparently, Snoop had not been getting along with other bunny housemates in his new home. (Can you imagine that?) So he had to be adopted out again.

 

Now he is happily ruling my roost, and he doesn’t even mind Baby Liu all that much. Another little known fact: Snoop used to have a different name, but I didn’t think it fit his personality. He was much too forward and nosy for his old name. Can anyone guess what his old name was?

 

Snoop is uncommonly wise for a bunny. Are there special scientific experiments involved?
~ Jennifer Hubbard

 

Ha! Snoop drinks a powerful shake every morning. Packed with all that leafy-green goodness. Maybe that’s what it is.

 

How did you and Snoop become a critiquing team?
~ Nan Marino

 

It started in my first blog entries in 2005.  I had just come out to the world publicly as a writer, and I felt incredibly naked with only me blogging in my entries. So scary. Snoop stepped in and helped out.  His first spoken word on my blog was … “BURPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!” He still likes to do that now and then.

 

Does listening to Snoop chomp on the manuscripts he critiques help you improve your own writing?
~ Roxanne Werner

 

snoopeatingmsGreat question.  In some ways, it has opened my mind to new ways of writing, but I’m not sure it has influenced my own that much.  Writing style is your unique fingerprint. It’s like you can’t do anything to change that unless you perform major surgery or something. My crit partner Tammi has her own fingerprint as does my other crit partner Beverly. I’ve seen many, many prints, but that doesn’t really improve the way I write. If I see something really good, I just feel depressed about it. I promptly proclaim, Why can’t I write like that?! 

 

So no, sadly I can’t absorb genius from other people’s writing. I can only HOPE that I learn to become that good.

 

Does Snoop feel rejected when you get a rejection? Vannie, aka Pooper Dude (our bunny), absorbs the anxiety of the household, and is skittish for days afterward. How do you both deal?
~ Nancy Viau

 

Yes, Snoop is very tuned in to my emotions. He has offered his furry shoulder to cry on more than once. We find that TV is also great way to take one’s mind of things, as is an uncommonly good veggie buffet. 

 

When are you going to write a story starring Snoop? Does Snoop (or a bunny) appear in either of your upcoming novels?
~ Stephanie Ruble

 

Awesome question. Snoop has yet to star in his own show in my manuscripts. He quite likes flaunting his stuff on the Internet without worrying about being rejected by someone else.

 

Also if you didn’t know, Snoop has written a couple of books about himself already. There’s The Life and Times of Snoop Bunny Bun.  And Feed Me about a Chinese girl who starves one helpless bunny into rebellion. He sold that one in a five-book meal, to Rupert Bun-doch at auction!

 

He is rather talented.

 

Do you have a big book idea inside you that you know you want to write “someday” but its time has not yet come?
~ Jennifer Hubbard

 

 

I have this image in my mind – really it’s just a picture in my head, nothing more - I hope I will write about that picture one day. But no, the time has not come.  When it does, you will know!   

 

How do you ensure that your writing appeals to your young audience?
~ Julie M. Prince

 

I guess I won’t know anything for sure until kids and teens have my books in their hands. While writing the manuscripts though, I focused on putting down stuff that entertained Snoop and me. For younger kids, that usually means something humorous. Bonus, if there’s an element of mystery.

 

For THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA, a young adult book, I tried to write something that reflected what I might have been thinking or feeling when I was a teen.

 

cyntheaxianDid you travel to China as part of your writing process for The Great Call of China?
~ Susan Lorene

 

Yes, I did. I went there twice as a matter of fact. Once during the proposal stage and again before I started writing the rest of the book. My brother lives in Xi’an (where the story is mostly set) and he took me around town. I got to see most of the city’s hotspots. AND I even got to interview a whole class of Chinese teens about relationships, food, school—everything!  You should have seen everyone blush when we discussed romance.

 

Another memorable experience in Xi’an was getting to teach English to a bunch of kindergartners. You should have seen how big the kids’ eyes got when I told them funny stories about Snoop.  They couldn’t believe a bunny likes to watch TV!

 

But it’s true!

 

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
~ Kymberly Pelky

 

When I was really young, I used to declare to my parents that I wanted to be a movie star or a dancer. Then as I got older, somehow I had ideas like “doctor” and “lawyer” in my head. Could it have been years of lecturing from Mom and Dad? I think so. ;)

 

I never thought I’d become a writer until I was 28, when I realized I needed to do something wildly different than the job I had. I was a technology consultant who had spent the last six years flying back and forth between cities, 4 days a week. And if I wasn’t flying, I was fighting heavy traffic for hours on end, and I do NOT do well with long commutes.

 

Now I never have to leave my house unless it’s on fire. YAY!

 

What are your three top tips on how to succeed in this business?
~ Tammi Sauer

 

How to SURVIVE? Or how to succeed? Not sure I’ve got “succeed” down yet. Call me when I’ve won the Newbery, and we’ll talk. Okay, it’s not that you have to win a Newbery to succeed, but really, I feel like I’ve only just begun in this biz! There is still a long road ahead.

 

How to survive though?  I think I have that one covered.  You need to have plenty of perseverance, a thick skin, and a desire to grow and learn.  

 

What do you want readers to know about The Great Call of China before they delve into Cece’s adventure?

~ Tara Lazar

 

Nothing actually. Don’t even read the jacket because I think jackets can be terribly misleading. Just read it and enjoy Cece’s story! Oh, and buy more copies for your friends, and their friends, and their dogs, and their bunnies …. (see? That’s me, doing some marketing. YUCK! I feel so sleezy now!) 

 

 

Cynthea! You’re anything but sleezy! 

 

But hey, I’ll let folks know that The Great Call of China is available online at Amazon, B& N.com, Borders and Indiebound, and in bookstores around the country. Get your copy now before they sell out! cynsig

 

And now…the moment you’ve been waiting for…the prizes!  


Here are the rules! Take it away, Snoop! 

 

snoop-tallTo win an autographed copy of The Great Call of China, please leave a comment by 11:59pm (EST) tonight, February 19th. I, Snoop, will draw a winner with the help of Random.org. And if you’d like to guess my original name, and you nail it, you’ll get two extra entries.  

 

To get a Teeny-Tique or win one of three half-page critiques…plus a goody bag…listen to this…  

 

You know how people say you can lose an editor or agent at line one? Well, here’s your chance to test your first line on me, Snoop. I will render a judgment with a special Teeny-Tique round of TRAFFIC COP.  This means I will render a judgment of RED (stop!), YELLOW (sketchy, and here’s why) or GREEN (You’re a go!). 

So think about your first lines. Don’t think they’re important? 

 

Think again, my friend.

Now, here’s how to enter: 

1. Go to CyntheaLiu.com and click on the “Party Favors” tab. You’ll fill out one form to receive the party favor and the Teeny-Tique. Include your name, email and mailing address. (Your contact info will only be used to send your party favor and to reply to your submission.)
2. In the Party Favor Request Form, there is a field labeled  “Please leave a comment for the Host!”   That is where you will include the book type (PB-picture book, ER-easy reader, CB-chapter book, MG-middle grade, YA-young adult) and the first line of your manuscript. (Example: PB. “This is the first line of my manuscript,” Snoop says.)

3. Click submit and you’re done. Please refrain from saying anything else in that field.

 

 

 4.  Remember your tiquee vows.  

5.  Snoop will respond as soon as possible, but it may take a few days or longer. We don’t know how wild this party’s gonna get. 

6.  To win one of the three half-page tiques, Snoop will close his eyes and chomp at a printed list of people who completed party favor forms. The first three chomped-on names with Snoop’s teethmarks in them win the half-page tiques.   

Failure to comply with the rules may result in automatic disqualification by the Snooper! *GASP!* 

And that’s a wrap! Before you leave, don’t forget to comment for your chance to win an autographed copy! Guess Snoop’s original name (and get it right) to receive two more entries!   Remember, you only have until 11:59 tonight, February 19th!

 

Thanks to everyone for coming!  

 

Enjoy your party favors! 

 

Enjoy The Great Call of China!

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20. Overheard at the NJ-SCBWI Mentoring Workshop


Random comments on the children’s book industry from editors and agents attending the NJ-SCBWI mentoring workshop on February 22:

On THE ECONOMY:

“Things are getting tighter with budgets. As hard as it was to get published, it’s even harder now.”

“Bookstores are cutting down on their inventory. We can’t get as many books in, so we’re not buying as many books.”

“This is not just a correction of the marketplace, it’s a correction of the mind.”

“We’re going to be seeing far fewer advances for mediocre books.”

“But if you’re a new author, you don’t have a poor track record to hurt you.”

“We may see a return to house authors. Authors and publishers will enter a partnership. They’ll help nuture one another and careers will have a steady progression. If you find a house that loves you, they will love you long time!”

On MARKETING & PROMOTION:

“Learn how to market your books. Do school visits. Use social networking tools. Talk to other writers about your book. Talk to everyone about your book.”

“Get to know your publicist and marketing director. They are your friends. But don’t overwhelm them with 17 email messages a day. Let them know you’re their partner.”

“Realize that the books you see up front in the stores are paid for by the publishers through co-op marketing. If they have a talking slip? Paid for. If they’re on an end-cap? Paid for.”

“Become friends with your local librarian and your local bookstores. But always keep your publicist informed about what you’re doing. Don’t go over their head. Don’t go over your editor’s head, either. That’s bad business for everyone involved.”

“Don’t waste people’s time. Don’t send chocolate to all the Borders buyers in the country.”

“With school visits, you’re a celebrity to those kids. Get yourself out there. Build word-of-mouth.”

“Temper your expectations. If you wrote a teen non-fiction book, the big retailers aren’t going to carry it. That’s not their market.”

“Don’t follow today’s trends. Writing for the market in general is a terrible idea.”

“If you’re a picture book writer, don’t start writing a YA about vampires just because it’s popular.”

On EDITORS:

“Editors are always in the market for a well-written book. But I can’t define for you what that is. I know it when I see it.”

“Know what your editor likes. Know who you’re submitting to. I don’t like gross stories.”

“But I do! Send them to me!”

“We like authors who are agented because the work comes in polished.”

9 Comments on Overheard at the NJ-SCBWI Mentoring Workshop, last added: 3/10/2009
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21. A Promotional Adventure: Book Authors Take to the Road


rowanofthewoodPublishing a book can be an adventure, and that’s especially true for Christine and Ethan Rose. Authors of Rowan of the Wood, the husband-and-wife team take to the road in their “Geekalicious Gypsy Caravan” to promote their book.

Released with Austin-based Dalton Publishing last November, Rowan of the Wood became a finalist in USA Book News’ National Book Award for Young Adult Fiction. Even with this recognition, Christine and Ethan knew they would have to take on much of the promotion responsibilites themselves for the book to get noticed.

“We knew that promoting both on and offline was essential in getting our book ‘out there.’ First time authors, especially with a small, independent publisher, have a difficult time getting into bookstores. By visiting bookstores for signings, it forces books onto the shelves and creates an interesting event. We get to go out and talk to our readers face-to-face, so it establishes a connection that we hope will last throughout the series.”

Their first tour lasted three weeks as they visited Louisiana, Texas and Florida, appearing at Renaissance Faires and Celtic Festivals on weekends and at bookstores during the week. Their next planned tour, May to July, will feature stops from Mississippi to Missouri with eight weekend events and 20 bookstores on the schedule. They’re also adding libraries to the intinerary and will tell tales in the ancient Bardic Tradition, with a lyre that Ethan crafted himself. Ambitious? You bet. These folks are passionate about their book–and promoting it.

I asked Christine about the best part of being on tour.

“The best experience is just being on the road! I guess the highlight is when a guy stopped us in a Safeway parking lot (because of the Gypsy Caravan) and bought a book. Another highlight was when we totally sold out of books!”

I was curious about their travels, so Christine offered a tour of the Geekalicious Gypsy Caravan:

Here’s the video on How to Make a Geekalicious Gypsy Caravan with cover artist Ia Layadi. The first coat of green paint peeled right off, and one of the signs printed too short, so lessons were learned along the way.

Indeed, publishing a book can be an adventure. Never were it more true for the Roses. They are a small publisher’s dream come true–artists who are as creative with promotion as they are with their stories.

You can find the Rowan of the Wood intinerary at BookTour.com. Follow Christine on Twitter, or check out her videos from the road by subscribing to her YouTube channel.

7 Comments on A Promotional Adventure: Book Authors Take to the Road, last added: 4/14/2009
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22. QueryFail? Fail. Now it’s QueryDay


queryfailIn early March, several literary agents, organized by Colleen Lindsay and Lauren E. MacLeod, participated in QueryFail on Twitter. They sat at their desks, inboxes open, a pile of envelopes at their side, and then read queries one-by-one, Tweeting examples from undesirable letters: “I know that I have attached a file, but please have a read even though it’s against your policy.”

Lesson #1: follow submission guidelines.

Lesson #2? Even though many writers felt QueryFail was interesting and helpful, there was a considerable backlash from those who felt it was unfair to share query letters meant only for the agents’ eyes. But listen, if you’re an aspiring author, that means you want your words to go into print someday. You have to be ready for the criticism. If you’re not confident about sharing your query letter, perhaps you should try writing another one.

QueryFail2 was all set for yesterday, but it didn’t happen. Instead, we got QueryDay. The guidelines were supposedly the same, but the tone was decidedly different. Agents opened the floor to questions from writers, making QueryDay an interactive event. And because writers became participators, I doubt that anyone who witnessed QueryDay had anything negative to say about it.

Several positive spins emerged. Elana Roth of Caren Johnson Literary Agency announced her first QueryWin of the day early on. She requested “a YA light sci-fi novel. Strong query. Good voice in sample pages.” She was also impressed with a “Smart cookie author/illustrator: did not attach art to email, but pointed me to link of her art online. Win.”

Later on Ms. Roth passed on “a 3,000 word picture book” and a “YA novel set in college. Still on the fence about that. And only 39,000 words.” Writers, you need to know the proper word counts for your genre.

Agents also provided tips. Rachelle Gardner offered, “This may be hard to hear, but I suggest you avoid being in a rush to get published. Take TIME to develop your craft.” Later she confessed, “A query that makes me laugh is a great thing! Whether or not the book is for me, it definitely gets my attention.”

Agent Lauren MacLeod shared information on her preferences: “For the record, I prefer not published to self-published. For me, self-published has to try harder. Others feel differently.” She then explained, “Why my self-pubbed position? 1) I assume it has already been widely rejected by agents, 2) might have already exhausted the market.”

Some themes and suggestions emerged repeatedly, like submitting polished work. Lauren MacLeod announced, “I assume you have edited your work, have a writers group and have shown this to someone who likes it.” Later on, Colleen Lindsay said, “A writer needs to get the manuscript into the best shape possible before querying. An agent’s job is not to handhold or coddle or boost a writer’s self-esteem. An agent’s job is to sell the manuscript.” Editor Kate Sullivan presented this caveat, “Remain open-minded and be ready to revise. You need to be open to changes every step of the way.” Even a polished manuscript can be improved.

The most important thing learned from QueryDay is really quite basic: write a sharp query and follow guidelines.

And just how much time does an agent devote to your query? Lauren MacLeod answered, “A query that is to our guidelines, within normal word count range and my genre? About 5 minutes. These are rare.”

She then summed it up: “More important than anything: WRITE A GOOD BOOK. Good writing, good plot & good voice trump all.” Rachel Gardner agreed, “Fiction writers…it’s ALL about the writing. Nothing’s as important as what’s on the page. If it rocks, nothing else matters.”

Got that? Now if only the word “good” weren’t so subjective…

I collected a number of questions and answers from QueryDay that other writers may find useful. I’ll post separately…coming very soon.

3 Comments on QueryFail? Fail. Now it’s QueryDay, last added: 5/12/2009
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23. QueryDay Questions and Answers


I’ve pulled together some questions and answers from yesterday’s QueryDay on Twitter. I’ve edited this slightly to make it more readable (there’s more room than 140 characters here). The questions are in no particular order and may not include every response. In fact, I’ve removed answers by writing peers to concentrate on agent advice.

I hope this helps you with your query process. Thanks to all the agents and writers who participated!

Will an agent overlook a title she doesn’t like to request proposal/chapters for a query that otherwise caught her eye?

Rachelle Gardner: It’s all about the writing. The story. Yeah, a title can help or hurt your chances, but not make or break.

What are the rules for resubmitting after lots of revision? (We’re talking years since the original sub.)

Rachelle Gardner: Most important rule on resubmitting after revision: Be honest, say it up front.

Is it best to send a query to a few agents at once or just send them one by one?

Rachelle Gardner: I don’t know of any agents who expect or even want exclusivity on queries. On requested partials, yes.

Scenario: Big publisher has full manuscript. They offer contract. How can one query an agent to represent you in this situation? Is it proper?

Colleen Lindsay: It will depend on the offer. Agents are in it for $$$ too, so if the offer isn’t big enough, we won’t care. It takes as much time to work on a $2000 deal as a $20,000 deal. Not every deal created equally. But you should always have a publishing lawyer look over the contract even if an agent won’t rep you.

Greg Daniel: If I were a writer trying to find the right agent, I’d pay for access to Publishers Marketplace.com.

Regarding requested material: What is it that ultimately kills the YES when you read a partial or full that had potential?

Lauren MacLeod: Actually, it goes the other way. I start with probably no & you can move to yes with great voice & writing.

Rachelle Gardner: TOP reason I say “no” to queries is the story doesn’t sound unique, fresh, exciting. The problem isn’t the query, it’s the book. What kills the YES? That’s where it gets difficult and subjective. Does the story grab me and not let go, or not? What about being told “your writing is good” but still no? Remember–dozens of queries in the pile. Can only say yes to a few.

I’d think it’s better not to compare your book to other books and just let it stand on it’s own, meself.

Rachelle Gardner: Listing comparable books is important, it puts yours in context, shows you know your market, helps agent “get” your book.

Would this put you off - if someone spends years perfecting one novel? Would output be a concern?

Lauren MacLeod: No need to tell me in the first place (nothing to gain), but I expect first novels to have had more polish than 2nd.

Greg Daniel: No, wouldn’t concern me.

Why do publishers/agents even bother with email partials? Why not just take the whole manuscript and stop reading if it’s a dud?

Lauren MacLeod: I ask for email partials to manage expectations. I try and write longer & more involved rejections for fulls.

Having a hard time deciding what genre my novel is, should I leave that part out of query or can you suggest a way to help decide?

Rachelle Gardner: You must include the genre. Publisher, bookstore, consumer all need to know! Find books/websites that discuss genre.

How much of it is really who you know? How much of the process relies on you receiving recommendations?

Rachelle Gardner: Referrals definitely help. That’s why you go to conferences and network like crazy. I appreciate referrals from my current clients, editors I trust, and other friends in the industry.

Elana Roth: Connections help. Half my list is from referral, but the other half is from queries.

Greg Daniel: The only recommendations that make much difference to me are writers who are referred to me by my current clients.

Are most agents from NY or CA? Is it okay to query agents in other places? Are they for real?

Lauren MacLeod: With email and phones agents anywhere can get in contact with editors. First and foremost, pick someone you connect with.

Rachelle Gardner: It’s a good point about agent location. The Internet has made it easier for publishing folks to live anywhere.

Should a fiction writer ever mention their education or academic publications?

Lauren MacLeod: It should be mentioned in your bio, certainly, esp. if you are planning on doing more, but it should be a CV.

I’m worried about being relevant to the market…will the super hero novel I’m writing now still be relevant six months from now?

Lauren MacLeod: A great story with dynamic writing will always be relevant. Write good books, don’t worry about trends.

Do I need an agent to get a great book published?

Lauren MacLeod: Not necessarily, but probably to get it in the hands of the editors at the big houses & to negotiate a fair contract.

What are you looking for when it comes to voice?

Colleen Lindsay: Authenticity.

In my YA query, would you want to know if I’ve been mentored by famous YA author?

Kate Sullivan (editor): YES, I would LOVE to know if you were mentored by a famous, accomplished or great YA author in a query/pitch.

10 Comments on QueryDay Questions and Answers, last added: 4/21/2009
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24. First Page = First Impression


pagepenChildren’s book writers were treated to another fun and informative first page session this week in Princeton, hosted by the NJ-SCBWI. Editors Michelle Burke and Allison Wortche of Knopf & Crown Books For Young Readers listened to 30 first pages read aloud as they followed along with each manuscript page. Then they gave their immediate first impressions of the work.

If you’ve never attended a first page critique, it’s a quick way to get a handle on what your peers are writing. A first page session shows you what it’s like for an editor to spend two hours in the slush pile. Common themes emerge. Mistakes reveal themselves. If you listen carefully, you’ll learn how to avoid first page problems and encourage an editor to read on.

So what did the editors say? I encourage you to read on…

Picture Books:

Use varying imagery in picture books. One manuscript conveyed a lot of emotion and the editors didn’t see where the illustrator would take inspiration for art. The same scene through several page turns may lose a child’s attention.

Dialogue needs to match the age of your character. A picture book character shouldn’t sound older than a five- or six-year-old child. Their actions should also match their age.

Cut excess detail in picture books. The first page of the manuscript should reveal a clear story arc. If the manuscript is bogged down with details, it slows the story down. For example, writing that a mother is carrying a napkin to the table and setting it down next to the plate is unecessary (unless that specific action is crucial to the story, and even so, it could probably be illustrated).

Premise and conflict should be apparent on the first page of a picture book manuscript. For example, dialogue between two characters should reveal a story, not just serve as adorable banter.

Every line in a picture book should move the story forward. There’s no room for chatting or extraneous stuff.

Picture books should have a linear approach. Moving back and forth in time can confuse a young child.

With holiday stories, you automatically have to work harder. Stories about specific times of year are a tough sell. There’s a lot of competition and a small sales window.

Some picture book stories are told better without rhyme. If the phrasing is unnatural in rhyme–things you wouldn’t ordinarily say–it can be jarring to the story. One bad line can ruin the manuscript’s chances.

Middle Grade/YA:

The narrator/main character should be the highlight of the first page. One manuscript began by describing a minor character as a way to compare/contrast the narrator. However, when that minor character disappeared from the rest of the page, the editors were confused. Was that comparison necessary to introduce the narrator?

Historial fiction should tell a story. The reader should get a sense of the main character first–how he/she is affected by historial details. Too much fact will bog the story down and lose the character.

Don’t be too reptitive in a novel–get on with the story. If a main character reveals the same thing over and over again on the first page, it feels overdone. Introduce a concept and then move on with the story; don’t circle back paragraph after paragraph.

A first person narrative should have more narrative than dialogue on the first page to take advantage of this device. Plus, the narrative voice and the dialogue voice should match (unless the disconnect is for a specific purpose).

Avoid the stereotypical whiny, displaced, unhappy middle-grade voice. More than one middle-grade manuscript began with a character learning that he/she had to move. The result was a whiny narrator who wasn’t necessarily likeable. Editors warned that they see a lot of the parents-uprooting-child theme, so to rise above the slush, consider a different approach.

Be cautious in stories with several important characters. It’s difficult to write a story with multiple characters because introducing them can sound like a laundry list. Reveal their personalities in a way that’s organic to the story. It also asks a lot of the reader, to keep track of several characters.

Watch tense. The switch from dialogue to narrative in one story felt very abrupt because the dialogue was in past tense and the narrative was in present.

The difference between MG and YA is edgy, gritty. If the main character’s personality feels innocent, the genre might be middle grade, not young adult.

Balance description and dialogue. Dialogue moves a story along fast. Description slows it down. Long stretches of each create a choppy storytelling rhythm.

Make descriptions specific, not generic. One story began with vague details that could be applied to almost any story setting. It wasn’t until further down on the page that the reader learned the unique time and place, something that attracted attention. The editors suggested moving that info higher up.

YA characters should be teenagers. College YA characters and those over the age of 19 can be a tricky sell. That moves the story into adult territory. YA readers need to relate to the characters, and 20+ seems like a lifetime away to a 15 year-old.

Finally, stories should be kid-friendly, not sprinkled with adult sensibilities. One of the editors warned, “this feels like it’s about kids rather than for them.” Don’t let a parental point of view creep into your writing–kids find that creepy.

8 Comments on First Page = First Impression, last added: 5/18/2009
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25. The Pros and Cons of Reading Your Work Aloud


Did you know that words on a page make a sound in your head? Reading expository stretches is like someone whispering in your ear. Too much and it makes you doze off. Page upon page of dialogue can be tiring as well, like listening to a loud, non-stop talker. Blah blah blah. And awkward arrangements will make a reader dizzy and confused. The ears hear what the eyes see.

Words on the page should have a pleasing rhythm or euphony. Words should mix and mingle in our minds to elicit rich imagery. Sure, you might want some words to clash for effect, but overall, clunky language is junky language.   

I enjoy writing in first person because I can become my character. I sometimes speak a scene aloud before committing to paper, to test the sound of the words. (And I’ve even been known to speak with an accent, since my current manuscript is set in the south.)

Reading your manuscript aloud differs from scanning it on the page. Your ears will immediately find awkward passages and stilted dialogue. While reading aloud, you’ll be able to examine:

  • Repetitive phrases. Many writers have crutch words or phrases that they use repeatedly without noticing. Reading aloud can make those redundancies obvious. Even a word used twice on the same page can sound faulty to the ear, especially if it’s an uncommon word.
  • Authenticity of dialogue. While reading, ask yourself, do people talk like this? You might find yourself adding words or skipping some to fit a more natural speech pattern.
  • Wordy descriptions and run-on sentences. Too many adjectives can bog a sentence down. And don’t even get me started on adverbs. That requires a separate post!
  • Pacing. Do you have long passages of description or introspection? Too much dialogue? Is the piece too slow or too fast?

Your body will also give you cues. Do you need to catch your breath? Are you thirsty? That may sound funny, but it was true with one of my early stories. I stuffed my sentences so full of curlicue words that I needed a big glass of water afterwards.

But be forewarned, like any technique, reading aloud does have its cons. A writer may inject a tone or inflection while reading their own work that doesn’t come across on the page. I learned this recently at a first page session when someone else read my story. The humor and liveliness that I intended fell flat.  Was the reader’s performance or my words at fault?

So you might want to consider having a critique partner read your manuscript aloud instead. Even if it’s read in monotone, the meaning should shine through. Are the words doing what you want them to do?

Have a listen; make a revision.

8 Comments on The Pros and Cons of Reading Your Work Aloud, last added: 5/25/2009
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