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1. Picture Book Contest and Tips

This is the 4th year for the Kids’ Book Review’s Unpublished Picture Book Manuscript Award. They are located in Australia, but this year they have added and International segment, (separate to the Australian segment), with Feedback Sheets.

Plus this year they are introducing a fabulous opportunity for illustrators!

There is a lot of information in the post. Don’t miss the picture book tips at the end of post.

DEADLINE: May 5th 2014

FEE: $25 for Writer’s and Illustrators $15 per illustration

The International Segment

Eligibility: Foreign nationals living anywhere in the world, including Australia, aged 18 or over.

Picture Book Manuscripts: No more than 400 words.

Illustrators: Only electronically submit illustration – $15 entrance fee. One winner will score a manuscript appraisal, a certificate and the chance to have their manuscript viewed by the editors at Penguin Books Australia. There is no guarantee of publication, and normal Penguin manuscript submission rules and timings apply. There is no monetary prize offered for the international segment at this stage.

We will also nominate several Highly Commended manuscripts (no prize).

All entrants will receive a feedback sheet.


The Australian Segment

Eligibility: Australian residents living in Australia or overseas, aged 18 or over.

Three winners will score $150, a manuscript appraisal, a certificate and the chance to have their manuscript viewed by Sue Whiting, Publishing Manager at Walker Books Australia. There is no guarantee of publication and normal Walker Books manuscript submission rules and timings apply.

We will also nominate several Highly Commended manuscripts (no prize).

All entrants will receive a feedback sheet.

Winner must have an Australian bank account to receive prize money.


The International Segment

Eligibility: Foreign nationals living anywhere in the world, including Australia, aged 18 or over.

One winner will score a manuscript appraisal, a certificate and the chance to have their manuscript viewed by the editors at Penguin Books Australia. There is no guarantee of publication, and normal Penguin manuscript submission rules and timings apply. There is no monetary prize offered for the international segment at this stage.

We will also nominate several Highly Commended manuscripts (no prize).

All entrants will receive a feedback sheet.


The Illustrator Segment

Eligibility: Australian residents living in Australia or overseas, aged 18 or over.

We are absolutely thrilled to announce an opportunity for illustrators, as part of our Picture Book Award.

Ten winners will score the chance to have one of their images seen by Walker Books Australia, with a view to showing their full folio. There is no guarantee of contracts/publication and normal Walker Books illustration submission rules and timings apply.

Please note there will be no prize money and no feedback sheets for this section of the Award. Certificates will be emailed to the ten winners.


Manuscript submissions are for picture books of 400 words or less. A word count above 400 will exclude your submission. This word limit is for your story text only and does not include the title, author details or illustration notes.

Illustration submissions are to be made electronically–ONE IMAGE ONLY per entry.

Both published and unpublished creators are eligible. Creator names must be on manuscript and illustration file name. Our judging system remains impartial to creatorship.

If you are an author/illustrator, you can submit an image that correlates with your manuscript submission, however, images and manuscripts will be judged completely separately.

Please don’t submit a manuscript you have submitted to the Award in previous years.

Submissions must be in English.

Submissions—both written and image—must be original and unpublished elsewhere, in any form including electronic, in whole or in part, even heavily edited or re-worked versions. There is a small exception for images–they can be previously published on a personal blog or facebook page, but should not have been part of a publication. If the submitted work—both written and image—is accepted for publication during this competition, KBR must be advised on or before Monday 28 April 2014.

The competition is open to writers aged 18 or over.

Authors: entry fee is A$25 per manuscript.

Illustrators: entry fee is A$15 per image.

This section forms our Terms and Conditions of Entry. By entering this competition, you agree to our Terms and Conditions.


Copyright for all work submitted is retained by the author.

We do not publish or share entries or entrant details with third parties.

At end of competition, all electronic manuscript copies and author/illustrator details are permanently deleted.


We have made changes to the submissions process. Please read these submission requirements carefully and if you still have questions, check our FAQs at the bottom of this post before emailing us. 

Submissions open Monday 3 February 2014 and close Monday 5 May 2014 at 11.59pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. Emails must be time-marked on or before 11.59pm, on 5 May, to be eligible, including those from overseas.

A shortlist will be announced on Monday 9 June 2014. Winners will be announced Monday 23 June 2014. Winners will be emailed shortly before the announcement on KBR.

We ask for emailed submissions only.

If you are an Australian living overseas, PLEASE indicate you are entering the AUSTRALIAN segment of the competition.

If you are entering the INTERNATIONAL segment of the competition, please type ‘KBR Award 2014 INTERNATIONAL’ in the subject line of your email.

Author entries should be emailed as an attached Word .doc or .docx to KBRawardATkids-bookreviewDOTcom with KBR Award 2014 in the subject line. Entries in other formats will be ineligible. The title of your Word document and manuscript should be the same.

Illustrator entries should be emailed as an attached .jpeg or .png file ONLY to KBRawardATkids-bookreviewDOTcom with KBR Award 2014 Illustration in the subject line. Files should be no bigger than 3MB. Entries in other file formats or over 3MB will be ineligible. The title of your image file should include your name.

Please take care when typing the KBRaward email address—it is KBRaward NOT KBRawards. If you do not receive confirmation within 48 hours, we have not received your submission and you will need to resubmit.


The ability to follow our submission format will count towards your overall score.


  • Double line-space your submission
  • Keep the text left-justified and use Arial or Times New Roman, 11 point
  • Make your payment at the same time as your submission
  • Your story title and Word document title should be the same and the document title should also include your name
  • Provide the following information at the top of your manuscript (NOT in the header) and ALSO in the body of your email:

Story Title
Word count: 496
Jane Smith
4 Writer Lane
Booksville Vic 3000
03-9999 1111
INTERNATIONAL (if you are entering the International Segment)
AUSTRALIAN (but only necessary if you are an Australian with an overseas address)


  • put your story or document title in capital letters
  • add any kind of visuals or any kind of formatting, including words in all-capitals, bolding, centering, indents, tabbing, tables, varying fonts and sizes and colours; text should be completely format-free
  • add page numbers or headers and footers
  • divide your story text into ‘Page 1, Page 2′, etc
  • send résumés, synopses, title pages or any other material

Illustrations + Illustration Notes
Please do not send illustrations to accompany a manuscript (but do feel free to enter an image, separately, in our Illustrator section), even if you are an artist or feel they are central to the story. Succinct illustration notes (in brackets or italics, directly below corresponding text) are fine but only if the text doesn’t clearly intimate illustrations.


The ability to follow our submission format will count towards your overall score.


  • Email your .jpeg or .png as an attachment, 3MB or under
  • Add your name to the image’s file title, eg: Flower Kids by Jane Smith
  • Make your payment at the same time as your submission
  • Provide the following information in the body of your email:

Image Title

Jane Smith
4 Writer Lane
Booksville Vic 3000
03-9999 1111 (add country code if you are international)


  • send your image embedded, or provide a link for us to follow
  • send résumés, image explanations or any other material


You will receive a KBR confirmation of receipt shortly after sending your entry—this serves as your entry receipt (along with your Paypal confirmation-of-payment email). If you do not receive the KBR confirmation within 48 hours, we have not received your entry. Please resend or make contact via taniaATkids-bookreviewDOTcom or message us on our facebook page. PLEASE don’t leave it until competition end (or later) to let us know you haven’t received confirmation. 


Multiple entries are welcome, though a fee of A$25 per manuscript and A$15 per image applies. Multiple entries can be submitted together or separately, but please ensure all illustrator/entry information is included with each submission.

Please take the time to submit your final version. We regret that we cannot accept updates.

Please don’t submit a manuscript you have submitted to the Award in previous years. We do feel your entry will be at a disadvantage if you do this. We prefer fresh, unseen work.

Please take the time to follow submission/payment guidelines. The ability to follow guidelines does count towards your overall score.


Cost of entry is A$25 per manuscript and A$15 per image. This is Australian dollars. There is no GST/tax component in this entry fee.

Paypal is now our only accepted method of payment. As such, we have wiped the $2 Paypal transaction fee. You do not need a Paypal account to make payment. All major credit and debit cards are accepted. Payment is fast and easy and safe. www.paypal.com.au or www.paypal.com.

Payment should be made at the same time as manuscript/image submission.

Please send Paypal payment to KBRawardATkids-bookreviewDOTcom, leaving your name and manuscript/image title in the note field. Take care when typing the email address correctly—it is KBRaward not KBRawards. Many payments are not reaching us because the email address is not being typed correctly. Please ensure you type the address exactly – KBRawardATkids-bookreviewDOTcom.

We cannot accept Paypal e-cheques.

International section entrants: Paypal payment must be made in Australian dollars; please do not deduct tax.

We are unable to advise receipt of payment but will be in touch if we find any issues. Your ‘confirmation of receipt email’ and Paypal’s confirmation of payment email serves as your receipt.


All author entrants will receive a feedback sheet (illustrators receive no feedback sheet). Sheets will be emailed within twelve (12) weeks of the end of competition. If you send in multiple entries, you will not receive all sheets at the same time.

Feedback Sheets consist of 10 components, with a total score of 50. Sheets may contain a small amount of written feedback, though this is not guaranteed.

We had exceptional feedback on our sheets last year and hope you find them valuable. We regret we cannot discuss or provide further information on them. Please do contact us if you haven’t received your sheet by 31 July 2014.

See our FAQs below and if you still have any queries, email KBRawardATkids-bookreviewDOTcom. Please email us, as opposed to leaving a comment below.


Golden Rule: don’t use too much dialogue, text or description. Let the pictures do the talking—don’t say what the pictures can show. Cut and cull your text. Be ruthless! If your text is 400 words long, it should be vibrant and intensely edited.

Think carefully about rhythm and flow—this is one of the most common obstacles between a work-in-progress and a publisher-ready ms. Read the work out loud and listen to the way the words work together. ‘Hear’ the beat and flow as you read, and adjust words as necessary.

Don’t attempt rhyme. It is not popular with publishers but if you simply can’t resist, make sure it’s infallible. Two rhyming end-words do not a perfect rhyme make. Rhythm and beat is as important as word rhyme—in fact, even more so. Don’t create awkward sentences with odd word placement in order to make a rhyme; rewrite the entire stanza instead.

Look at your word usage and sentence structure. Is it dynamic and interesting? Does it pull the reader along and make them want to read more? or does the reader stumble or become confused? Does it delight? Does it sound good?

Never talk down to the reader. Use big words. Use unusual words. Use a unique voice. Don’t patronise and don’t explain. Never hammer readers with morals. If you simply must use them, thread them through the story in an imperceptible way.

Unless you want your book to appear like an information brochure, attempting to educate children on social, physical, emotional and mental issues and conditions needs to be done cryptically and cleverly. Add humour. Create an unexpected storyline that intimates things in a subtle way and you will have a winner with kids.

Think about the plot. A good story leads the reader through conflict to resolution in a Beginning Middle Ending way, or in a Cyclical way. Things HAPPEN. Showing someone going about their day and going to bed at night is not a story. It’s an account. Write a story, not an account.

Have a protagonist. Your protagonist, or main character, does not sit by and observe—they action, take part and instigate.

Think outside the square. Cover unusual topics, with untouched themes (avoid monsters, fairies, trucks, mud, grandma dying, rainbows, farmyard animals, dogs and other overdone topics). Use different writing voices and story structure. Do something DIFFERENT.

Think twice about supplying detailed illustration notes. Too many notes absolutely do hamper your text; rely on the reader’s ability to imagine what your words are showing. Only supply notes if the text is very cryptic and needs ‘explaining’, and even then—make notes extremely short.

Look objectively at your story. Is it clear and simple or cluttered and confused? Be wary of submitting something that is wrapped up in your own head and unable to be deciphered by someone else. This happens A LOT.

Have an ending. A PB ending needs to be shocking, surprising, funny, quirky or in some way resolving and/or related to the plot. Around sixty per cent of the ms endings we have seen are either non-existent, confusing or dull. Go out on a top note, not a kerplunk. A great ending demands a repeat reading—and that is exactly what you want.

Write your book for kids, not adults. If you hit the nail on the head for kids, most adults will love it, too.

Keep it simple.

Follow submission guidelines to the letter. With hundreds of entries coming in, these guidelines are there for a reason, even if you don’t understand why. The ability to follow guidelines will be reflected in your overall score.

See our FREE ebookPicture Book Writing Tips for more tips.

Good Luck!

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: authors and illustrators, children writing, Contest, opportunity, picture books, Places to sumit, Writing Tips Tagged: Kids' Book Review, Unpublished Picture Book Manuscript Award, Win editor critique

0 Comments on Picture Book Contest and Tips as of 4/23/2014 1:27:00 AM
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2. Common Problems in Manuscripts

Since I proof, edit, and critique several manuscripts for students, clients, and coaching club members each week, naturally I come across a variety of elements that make a story or article less than it could be.Here are just a few of the most common problems I see, and tips to avoid or correct them:

1) Overuse of participle phrases to begin a sentence. You know what a participle phrase is. It usually begins with a word that ends in the letters “ing.”

Here are some examples:

Tripping over her shoelaces, Mary stumbled onto the sidewalk.

Looking over his shoulder, Jeff called out to Michael, “Be careful!”

There is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with a participle phrase. But when you do it too often, it begins to draw attention to itself and distract the reader from the action of the story.

When you finish writing a story, go back over it and circle all the sentences that begin with a participle phrase. If you have several of these phrases on each and every page, change most of them. Like this:

Mary tripped over her shoelaces, which sent her stumbling onto the sidewalk.

Jeff looked over his shoulder and called out to Michael, “Be careful!”

2) Dislocating or projecting body parts. Yes, many writers actually do this in their stories and articles. The most common example of this is characters whose eyes leave their bodies. Here’s what I mean:

I was angry at Mark. I shot my eyes across the room at him.

Yikes! Poor Mark. Was he left holding those eyeballs, or were they just stuck on the front of his shirt or something?

3) Dialogue that is punctuated incorrectly. The most common example is when characters laugh words. They simply can’t do this.

Try it yourself. Can you laugh and speak at the same time? Not really. Yet, when you use a comma to separate the dialogue tag from the dialogue itself, you are indicating the words were laughed. Here’s an example:

“You are such a comedian,” Mary laughed.

To avoid this mistake, simply use a period after the dialogue, creating two separate sentences. Like this:

“You are such a comedian.” Mary laughed.

It’s easy to avoid these common mistakes once you’re aware of them.

Happy writing!

0 Comments on Common Problems in Manuscripts as of 4/22/2014 6:09:00 PM
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3. Ask an Editor: Villain POVs

Stacy Whitman photo

Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. This blog post was originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

I have to admit, I really hate reading villain POVs. There are so few villains that have any redeemable qualities, and especially starting a book out with the villain’s point of view when they’re murdering and/or plundering just makes me go, “Why do I want to read this book, again?”

This is actually one of the things I hated most about the famous adult fantasy series Wheel of Time, though I love the series in general: I hated the amount of time spent on this Forsaken’s love of naked mindless servants, and that Forsaken’s love of skinning people, or whatever. Yeah, yeah, I get it, they’re irredeemably evil. Get back to someone I’m actually ROOTING FOR, which is why I’m reading the book!

Vodnik sketch

Vodnik, the villain from Bryce Moore’s novel Vodnik

Sometimes it’s important to briefly show the villain’s point of view to convey to the reader some information that our hero doesn’t have, but I find more and more that my tolerance for even these kinds of scenes is thinning fast. Too often it’s a substitute for more subtle forms of suspense, laying clues that the reader could pick up if they were astute, the kind of clues that the main character should be putting together one by one to the point where when he or she finally figures it out. Then the reader slaps their own forehead and says, “I should have seen that coming!”

It’s a completely different matter, of course, when the whole point is for the “villain” to simply be someone on another side of an ideological or political divide where there are no true “bad guys.” Usually this happens in a book in which your narrators are unreliable, which can be very interesting. Often the villain is the hero in their own story, which is far more interesting than a “pure evil” villain—in Lord of the Rings, Sauron is much less interesting than Saruman. Sauron is the source of pure evil, but Saruman made a choice—he thinks, well, evil will win anyway, I might as well be on top in the new world order. There are complications to his motivations.

Tu Books author Bryce Moore (Vodnikrecently reviewed the first Captain America movie and had this to say about how a character becomes evil, which I think is apropos to this discussion:

Honestly, if writers spent as much time developing the origin and conflicted ethos of the villains of these movies, I think they’d all be doing us a favor. As it is, it’s like they have a bunch of slips of paper with different elements on them, then they draw them at random from a hat and run with it. Ambitious scientist. Misunderstood childhood. Picked on in school.

That’s not how evil works, folks. You don’t become evil because you get hit in the head and go crazy. You become evil by making decisions that seemed good at the time. Justified. Just like you become a hero by doing the same thing. A hero or a villain aren’t born. They’re made. That’s one of the things I really liked about Captain America. He’s heroic, no matter how buff or weak he is.

This is, perhaps, the best description of why villain POVs bug me so much: because they’re oversimplified, villainized. And for some stories, I think villainization works, but I don’t want to see that point of view, because it’s oversimplified and uninteresting. When it’s actually complicated and interesting, then it becomes less “the villain” and more nuanced—sometimes resulting in real evil (after all, I doubt Hitler was an evil baby; he made choices to become the monster he became) and sometimes resulting in a Democrat instead of a Republican or vice versa—ideological, political differences between (usually) relatively good people.

But there’s a line for me, generally the pillaging/raping/murdering/all manner of human rights abuses line, at which I’m sorry, I just don’t care about this guy’s point of view. The equivalent of this in middle grade books—where pillages/murders/rapes are (hopefully) fewer—or young adult books is the pure evil villain who’s just out to get the main character because the villain is black-hearted, mean, vile, what-have-you. Evil through and through, with no threads of humanity. (Though honestly if he’s killing people “for their own good” to protect a certain more nuanced human viewpoint, I generally still don’t want to see that from his POV.)

What’s the line for you? Do you like villain points of view? Do you feel they add depth to a story? At what point do you think a villain POV goes from adding nuance or advancing the plot to annoying?

Filed under: Publishing 101, Tu Books Tagged: ask an editor, fantasy writing, Notes from the Editors, writing advice, writing resources, writing tips

4 Comments on Ask an Editor: Villain POVs, last added: 4/21/2014
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4. Reference Links to Help With Query Letter Writing


This illustration of the cute girl with pink glasses above was sent in by Carol Schulman. She is the author of two books on art, both now represented by Schulman Literary in NY.  The first, “The Creative Path: Process and Practice” is a look at creativity from philosophical, psychological and practical points of view.  The sequel: “Art Smarts: A Book to Help You Become a GR8 Artist” is a sequel for children. See more at: http://www.carolynschlam.com/Art_Pages/Illustration/Illustration_info.html

Leslie has been focusing on querying agents and looking for places that had good information about navigating this process. She decided to share some resources she gathered from various writing friends on her blog “Rear in Gear”. She says, “I’m always thankful for their help, and thought I’d pay it forward in a small way.”

Queries Not Questions

by Leslie Zampettis at Rear in Gear.

Here is Leslie’s list, in no particular order:


Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents

Successful Queries (a subsection of the above guide)

Preditors and Editors

Publishers’ Submission Guidelines


SCBWI BlueBoard

 8 Steps to Finding the Right Agent

 Critiquing First Pages and Queries

10 Questions to Ask an Agent

Kidlit.com – Queries

How to Write the Perfect Query Letter

Query Shark

Query Tracker

Writers Market  *This is a subscription service. IMHO, well worth it.

Children’s Writer Newsletter  *Another subscription service. Articles often contain market bib biographies, and every issue contains market profiles. Also well worth it.

  • lesliezLeslie Zampetti has had stories published in online children’s magazines and is now querying agents for her middle grade fantasy novel. A childhood spent in Florida has this transplanted New Yorker frequently dreaming of sunshine – but she enjoys the whirl of the city and its riches, not least of which is the New York Public Library.

    According to most successful authors, the best way to succeed is to plant your tushy in your seat and write. Leslie’s been doing that for some years now and is beginning to see the seeds of her labor blossom. Interested in knowing more? Stop by her blog, “Rear in Gear,” at http://zampettilw.wordpress.com.

Thank you Leslie to sending this to me. It is nice to have a list and it is nice that you were willing to share the wealth. I am sure everyone will bookmark this one.

Talk tomorrow,



Filed under: demystify, How to, list, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: Carol Schulman, Leslie Zampettis, Links to resources, Queries, Rear in Gear

3 Comments on Reference Links to Help With Query Letter Writing, last added: 4/15/2014
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5. A Chat with Karen Benke : Author, Poet, & Creative Writing Instructor

It’s National Poetry Month this April and what better way to celebrate than a chat with author, poet, and creative writing instructor Karen Benke.

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6. Borrowing from Superheroes

Guest Post by Carolyn Howard-JohnsonMy husband—sweetie that he is—brought me a copy of The Smithsonian from his dermatologist's office. So thanks to Lance and Dr. Mantel, I am now a diehard fan of the magazine.One of the articles was inspired by the new movie, Man of Steel. They take up how "superhero origin stories inspire us to cope with adversity."The elements that make superheroes so

0 Comments on Borrowing from Superheroes as of 4/9/2014 6:35:00 AM
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7. April Showers: Water for the Creative Soul from Wesselhoeft

Hi folks, beautiful springtime is here in College Station, Texas. Blankets of bluebonnets, evening primrose, and Indian paint brush are splashed all over the county like a color-crazed artist needed to spruce up the dull browns and greens. So uplifting.

I begin my April Showers series. This is all about what waters my creative soul.  I'm going to discuss the juice of some recent reads. First up comes enrichment from Conrad Wesselhoeft's new book Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways to Fly (HMH).  Here's a short synopsis from Amazon: Seventeen year-old dirt-bike-riding daredevil Arlo Santiago catches the eye of the U.S. military with his first-place ranking on a video game featuring drone warfare, and must reconcile the work they want him to do with the emotional scars he has suffered following a violent death in his family.

This is one kinetic read. Here are two techniques in this book that will open your eyes as you create your own work.

1. Leverage language. This is something that Wesselhoeft always does and this book is no exception. Here in the middle of of bruising narrative, high flying action, and heart-rending despair is a peppering of poetic beauty. Phrasing elevates this story --- "book of Job lousy year," "Something rises in me -- something halfway between a fist and a sob" and "the thing about a journey -- it pops you into focus and sweeps the mess of your life under the rug if only for a brief time." Shy away from bland word choice as you create your works, and you will add brilliance to your stories.

2. Say something. Dirt Bikes... is stitched together with  references to Mozart, Rossini, Martin Luther King, Buddha, Paul of Tarsus, Marcus Aurelius, Emerson, to name a few, and more obscure voices, like John Gillespie Magee, from his poem "High Flight." 

For I have danced the streets of heaven,
And touched the face of God.
Wesselhoeft is circling the idea that "Character is forever." Our choices will scar the world or uplift it. He digs deep into the idea of oversoul from Emerson. Oversoul is the river voices from each soul running together to make an ocean of soul stuff. Wesselhoeft uses many voices within this story to reflect this. Climb on the shoulders of giants as you write and say something. This is the oversoul of fiction.

I have at least a dozen pages of notes of  the lessons I learned while reading this book. I hope you realize that you are in  the battle of literacy as you create your books.  Do whatever it takes to widen the world, to stir up empathy, and a develop a continuing legacy. Use choice language and consider Rodin's "Thinker" at the gates of hell. Be that thinker at the gates. Write stuff that will make a difference.

Thanks for dropping by! I will have more showers next week.

Here is a doodle. "The Wind"

And finally a quote for your pocket.

What lies behind us, and what lies before us are but tiny matters compared to what lies within us. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

0 Comments on April Showers: Water for the Creative Soul from Wesselhoeft as of 4/5/2014 3:59:00 PM
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8. 3 Tips for Finding Writing Inspiration

Guest Post by Mary Jo Guglielmo Are you ready to start a new writing project but are struggling with finding that new story?  I have known a number of writers who can't seem to find a new direction after finishing a big project.  If you're need of some inspiration try one of the following techniques to jumpstart your next writing project. Dream Your Manuscript into Being: If you having

0 Comments on 3 Tips for Finding Writing Inspiration as of 4/2/2014 8:25:00 AM
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9. More Showing, Less Telling


I met Erika Wassall at the end of February at a NJSCBWI get-together in Cherry Hill, NJ. I let the writers there know how open I am to writers sending me articles I could use on my blog. Erika sent me this interesting article below for today’s post. I think you will enjoy it.

More Showing, Less Telling

Really? I mean, what’s the difference? If I say, Billy was sick, then we all know that Billy is sick, right? Isn’t that what’s important?

Why do I have to worry so much about SHOWING as opposed to TELLING the reader what my characters are doing? What difference does it REALLY make?

The best way I’ve learned it is that the difference largely comes down to… all right, so Billy is sick…. But why should I CARE??

We all know we want our readers to care about our characters. Max from Where the Wild Things Are, Harold with his Purple Crayon, all the way up to Katniss and down to Christopher Robin, these characters were tugging at our heartstrings even when they were just picking up a jug of honey.

One of the many ways that we do this is through the special little nuances of the way they do things. Anyone can pick up a jug of honey. But the way Winnie the Pooh does it, now THAT’s special.

We read about his sticky paws and the giant drop of honey dripping down his check. And ultimately, isn’t that why we love him?

It’s all about creating images. Ideally images that are burned into the readers brain so much that it links right to their heart.

For me, the next question was… okay, so how, exactly, do I do that?

How do I really know for sure if I’m showing rather than telling?

Via brainstorming with a few other fabulous writers over at Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 extravaganza, we came up with what is not only a great way to test if you’re showing, but is also a wonderful writing exercise.

It’s fantastically simple too. You say to yourself:

How Can I PROVE It?

So Billy is sick. But if no one TOLD me Bill was sick, how do I KNOW?

Is there snot dripping from his nose? Is there a river of sweat pouring from his temples? Is he frighteningly feverish, maddeningly mopey or curled in a cocoon under his covers?

I know personally, I FEEL more for a child curled up in bed with a snotty nose and his arms crossed in mopey madness than I do for a child who is just… sick.

I use this trick in two ways.

1) When I read over my manuscripts, I ask myself… if I wasn’t the omnipotent narrator… how would I KNOW this was true? How can I create a vivid image where I don’t even have to say the words themselves, instead the reader can SEE it.

2) As an exercise my 12×12 friends and I exchange phrases, and basically say PROVE IT!!! to each other.

Here’s an example:

Johnny hurt his knee.

If I’m looking through a window, watching Johnny play, what happens that proves to me that he hurt his knee?

Johnny crashed to the ground and rolled onto his back, clutching his knee.

Or depending on who I’m trying to portray Johnny as, maybe…

The pain shot up Johnny’s knee and filled his eyes to the brim with tears. But he gritted his teeth and picked up his hockey stick. He wasn’t going to let the other boys know he wanted to quit.

Showing and not telling is a challenge for all writers. But it can also provide some fantastic opportunities to add depth to our characters, and build that emotional connection with the reader that we all strive for.

Here’s a few for you to try. Ask yourself, how can I PROVE this? And see what you can come up with!!

Bobby hated school. 

Theresa wanted to go home. 

Puddles the Poodle couldn’t wait for his boy to get home.

Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Thank you Erika and tanks for offering to do regular posts here on Writing and Illustrating.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: article, inspiration, writing excercise, Writing Tips Tagged: Erika Wassall, Guest Blogger, Julie Hedlund, Less Telling, More Showing

12 Comments on More Showing, Less Telling, last added: 4/2/2014
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10. The Art of Creating Fictional Worlds | Jaleigh Johnson, “The Mark of the Dragonfly”

"I should start by saying that world building, where I get to create a fictional reality from the ground up, is one of my favorite parts of writing. It’s the foundation of a good story. Of course, you want a plot that keeps readers turning the pages—and amazing, memorable characters as well, but those characters also deserve a fully realized world to play around in."

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11. Writing Software for Writers

Guest Post by Anne Duguid Tree Sheets Despite the title, this month's free software choices are not simply for writers. But they are worth mentioning because they can potentially save money and time. I admit being prone to play with new gadgets and ideas. My time savers can soon become time wasters, if I'm not careful. So when I read the recent reviews for Tree Sheets--another planning/ list

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12. Query Tips – Examples – Links

silvialiuPig n Butterlies 2004

This cute little piggy was sent in by Sylvia Liu. Sylvia was selected the 2013 New Voices Award winner by Lee and Low Books and my debut picture book, A MORNING WITH GONG GONG, is scheduled to be published in Fall 2015. She is part of the 2013 Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program and being mentored in illustration by Caldecott-winner David Diaz.


1. Always address your query to a specific person.

2. Make sure you mention the title of your book in third  paragraph.

3. Mention the word count and genre of your book in third paragraph.    

Note: Novels should be 80,000 to 100,000 words. Young adult novels can be significantly less: 40,000-60,000 words. Insert word count and genre at the end of your first “hook” paragraph.

If your novel is 200,000 words – Cut before you query.  No one wants an overweight manuscript. AgentQuery reports unless your manuscript is a historical family saga or an epic science fiction battle, agents hit DELETE on proposed first-time novel over 110,000-120,000 words.

4. Share the reason why you are querying this particular agent. Let the agent know that you have researched them and have a reason for choosing them for representation.

5.  Have someone you know check for typos and grammar mistakes. It is very easy when e-mailing a query letter to click the send button before throughly checking your text.  Writers seem to be in the mode to triple check everything when they snail mail their queries, but since we send so many personal e-mails without closely checking every word, that “Send” button can be easily clicked.  The mistake snail mailing query writers make is forgetting to include their contact information – something you don’t need to include with an e-mail. I know that sounds crazy, but I have seen it when writers have sent me submissions for editors and agents.

nathan bransford book2Need to see an ACTUAL query letter before you’ll know how to write one? Here is the query letter Author (at the time agent) Nathan Bransford:

Dear Ms. Drayton,

As a young literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. I have long admired Inkwell, as well as your strong track record. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, if you searched for a book that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike THE BOOK THIEF (which I absolutely loved), you might just have JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, a middle-grade-and-up science fiction novel that I just completed. Still fun! But no one dies – Mr. Death would be lonely.

Jacob Wonderbar has been the bane of every substitute teacher at Magellan Middle School ever since his dad moved away from home. He never would have survived without his best friend Dexter, even if he is a little timid, and his cute-but-tough friend Sarah Daisy, who is chronically overscheduled. But when the trio meets a mysterious man in silver one night they trade a corn dog for his sassy spaceship and blast off into the great unknown. That is, until they break the universe in a giant space kapow and a nefarious space buccaneer named Mick Cracken maroons Jacob and Dexter on a tiny planet that smells like burp breath. The friends have to work together to make it back to their little street where the houses look the same, even as Earth seems farther and farther away.

JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW is 50,000 words and stands alone, but I have ideas for a series, including titles such as JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE and JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE VACATIONING ALIENS FROM ANOTHER PLANET. I’m the author of an eponymous agenting and writing blog.

I’d be thrilled if you would consider WONDERBAR for representation, and a few other agents are considering simultaneously. Thanks very much, and hope to talk to you soon.

Nathan Bransford

Here are a few other places to look:

Nathan Bransford dissects a really good query letter and extoll its virtues.

Click Here to Visit Galleycat. They have 23 Agent Query Letters That Actually Worked.

Nonfiction writers don’t need to have a completed manuscript.  They only need a proposal before seeking representation from an agent. Here’s are books and places to help with writing a proposal:

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, How to, Process, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: David Diaz, Links to Query letter Info, New Voices Award Winner, Query letter Example, Query Tips, Sylvia Liu

5 Comments on Query Tips – Examples – Links, last added: 3/28/2014
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13. How to Write A Query Letter


You can see from the above illustration by Evi Gstottner that she loves fairytales and folktales. She graduated in 1992 from Byam Shaw School of Art in London and in 2009 she completed her MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge School of Art). Evi was featured on Illustrator Saturday. Here is the link: http://www.kathytemean.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/illustrator-saturday-evi-gstottner/

The goal of query letter is to elicit an invitation from an agent (or editor) to send in sample chapters or the whole manuscript.

A query letter is a ONE PAGE letter with three concise paragraphs: the hook, the mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography.

Don’t stray, if you want to be taken seriously as a professional writer. Keep it simple. Stick to three paragraphs.

Paragraph One is called The Hook: A hook is a concise, one-sentence tagline for your book. It’s meant to hook your reader’s interest, and reel them in.

The first paragraph is your chance (perhaps your only chance) to grab the agent, since many agents will be immediately biased—for good or for bad—within a sentence or two.

If a writer queries via a referral, he will always begin with, “I am writing to you because your client, John Smith, recommended that I do so.” Thus an agent, whether he likes it or not, must take the first sentence seriously, if for no other reason than he risks offending an existing client check or editor. Please do not say this unless it is true. Agents will check and you don’t want to be embarrassed or have someone think you are not trustworthy.

If you haven’t been referred, you could still grab the agents attention with something personal., such as: ”I am writing to you because you represented TITLE by AUTHOR, and I feel my book is similar.”

What will this show?

1. That this is not a random query letter.

2. That you’re approaching him/her for a specific reason

3. That you’ve put a great deal of time and energy into researching the market

4. That you know who the agent represents, and the types of books they have sold.

5.  It will put a positive association into the agents mind, as it will make him or her think of a book they sold.

6. It offers a comparison, allowing the agent to immediately grasp the type of book you’re writing and thus help they agent decide if they want to represent another like it.

7. It shows that you know the market, that you have an objective grasp of what your own book is about and where it fits within that market.

8. It indicates that you’ve put care into your writing.

Referencing one of his/her titles will help accomplish this. But don’t bluff. Noah says, ”If you don’t truly do the research, it will show. I’ve received many letters which referenced a book I sold, but when I read the rest of the query, I realized that their book was not at all similar; it was just a gimmick to get me to pay attention. When an agent realizes this, he will just be annoyed. So when referencing a book, make sure it is truly appropriate. But if you’ve done the research and query a truly appropriate agent and reference a truly appropriate title, then you are already off to a shining head start.”

Agent Query suggests using the when formula: “When such and such event happens, your main character—a descriptive adjective, age, professional occupation—must confront further conflict and triumph in his or her own special way. Sure, it’s a formula, but it’s a formula that works.”

Example:  Bridges of Madison County

When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into Francesca Johnson’s farm lane looking for directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are joined in an experience that will haunt them forever.

Note: Many writers use the “when” formula, so use it as a starting point. Write your basic hook and then spice it up with the “When. Noah says to keep your opening paragraph to one sentence, so if you add a when to the personal approach, make sure it is short.

Example: Non-”formulatic” fiction hook:

The Da Vinci Code A murder in the silent after-hour halls of the Louvre museum reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ.

Paragraph Two—Mini-synopsis: This is where boil down your entire novel into one paragraph and expand your hook. Put in the hard work of practicing and revising, until you get that paragraph to sing the same tune as your whole book. Read the back flap of books you like to get a feel for how to create a juicy paragraph.

Paragraph Three—Writer’s bio: Keep it short and related to writing. If your book revolves around a hospital and you are a nurse, then say that. If you have a published book, been published in some magazines, etc,, or won a writing contest or award, then let the agent know. if you’ve never been published, never won any awards, hold no writing degrees, and have no credentials to write your book, then don’t say it. This just gives you more space for Paragraph Two.

The Closing: Thank the agent for their time and consideration. Let the agent know you have the full manuscript available upon request. Note: Never query an agent unless you have written, revised, and finished your full manuscript.

Tomorrow: Query Tips – Examples and Links.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, Agent, How to, Process, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: Breaking down the Query Letter, How to write a query letter, Noah Lukeman, One page Query letter

8 Comments on How to Write A Query Letter, last added: 3/26/2014
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14. The Query Letter

great-query-jacketFor the last few weeks we have gone over how to format your manuscript and how to write a synopsis. Every week I have pointed you towards agents and what they are looking for, but really the first thing you need to do is hone your skills on writing a great query letter. It is wonderful that more and more agents are accepting query letters via email, but there a perils that come along with this. We are so used to quickly jotting down a few sentences to talk with friends and hitting the send button without thinking, that the same thing can happen when emailing a query letter to an agent. We all need to beware of doing this an approach the query letter with the same respect as the rest of our writing.

Agent Noah Lukeman has written a whole book on how to do this in his appropriately title book, HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER.

Love the way Noah explains this: Most writers put a tremendous amount of effort into their content, spending months or years with their manuscripts, agonizing over word choice, scene order, character development. Yet when it comes time to write a query letter, they will often write something off the top of their head, sometimes with a mere hour’s effort, and let this suffice to represent their work. They rush through the letter process so that the agent can get to the book itself, which they feel will explain everything. They feel that if an agent just sees the writing, nothing else will matter, and that a poor query letter will even be forgiven. This is faulty thinking. For agents, the query letter is all. If it’s not exceptional, agents will not even request to see the writing, and writers will never even get a chance to showcase their talent. For most writers, the query letter—which they rushed through—becomes the only piece of writing they will ever be judged by, and unfortunately, the only chance they ever had. While it may seem as if a query letter is a shallow way to judge an author, I can tell you from an agent’s perspective that it is a very effective tool.

For the professional eye, a query letter is much more than just a letter:

1. It shows the agent whether you are able to exhibit word economy

2. Whether you have a grasp on the nature of your own work

3. Whether you have a realistic grasp on your own background and credentials.

4. For non-fiction: It also demonstrates whether you have a grasp on your market and your competition. A query letter can also serve to warn an agent, to act as a red flag, if for example you are too aggressive, or pitch too many projects at once. The way it physically looks speaks volumes, as does whether you’ve sent it to the right person in the right way. A layman looks at a query and sees a one page letter. An agent looks at it and scans it for 100 different criteria.

This mere page can tell an agent more about the writer and his work than you can possibly imagine.

This week we will talk about what goes into making your query letter stand out and get noticed. Remember: The query letter might be the only thing that agent ever reads of your writing. Remember: Agents have a big pile of other writer’s query letters sitting in front of them and would like to get through that pile sitting on their desk, so small things can be the difference between them saying, “Send more” and “not interested.” But also, Remember: Agents want to find the next great book or else they wouldn’t be facing that pile.

So let’s learn what to do, learn how to avoid the pitfalls that get our letter tossed and signal an amateur.

Noah Lukeman is giving away a .pdf of this book and How to Land an Agent. You can also get it for free on your Kindle at Amazon.

Here is the link for the download: http://www.landaliteraryagent.com/

Here is the layout for this week:


Wednesday: Query Letter Tips – Examples and Links

Thursday: Agent Wishlist

Friday: First Page Critique Results

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, Agent, demystify, need to know, Process, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: Agent Noah Lukeman, The goal of the Query Letter, The Query Letter, What a query letter says about you

5 Comments on The Query Letter, last added: 3/25/2014
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15. Craft of Writing: Conflict Resolution- Upside Down by Eileen Cook

Eileen Cook is the incredibly well known and wonderfully talented author tons of YA contemporary novels, including favourites like GETTING REVENGE ON LAUREN WOOD and THE ALMOST TRUTH, as well as the popular middle grade series FOURTH GRADE FAIRY. Her newest release was YEAR OF MISTAKEN DISCOVERIES and it released in February 2014! We are really excited to have her here today on the blog to impart on you lovely readers some of her worldly advice!

Conflict Resolution- Upside Down by Eileen Cook

In my former work as a counselor I worked with individuals to reduce and address conflict in their lives. I train them to use techniques to diffuse conflict and assist them in creating healthy, happy relationships. In fiction, unlike real life, the opposite it true: we want conflict. No conflict equals no story.

Common feedback from editors or agents is that the story is missing enough conflict. So how do you increase it? The same techniques I use for counseling can be used in fiction, only instead of reducing conflict, they can provide a springboard to take your conflict to the next level.

1. Pick the Right Atmosphere: In real life you want to choose the right environment to have a difficult conversation. You want to choose a place where the individual can focus on what you are saying and not instantly feel defensive, trapped or uncomfortable. In fiction, try and have the conflict happen in the most uncomfortable place and time possible for your characters: in the middle of a school hallway, at work, or in the middle of their solo at the band concert. If your character is about to discover that their boyfriend is cheating on them, when is the worst time for them to get that news? Where is the worst place? Who is the worst person to tell them?

2. Address Issues Promptly and Clearly: While it is better for your relationships to address problem areas before they build up, in fiction a pressure build up is preferred. Let characters stew until they suddenly explode with emotion. Instead of stating clearly what issue you want to have addressed, have your fictional characters dance around the real issue. There is nothing like confusion to make conflict more difficult and increase the chance of misunderstandings.

3. Listen and Maintain Emotional Control: Instead of listening and reflecting on what is said, allow your characters to lash out, even before they might fully understand the situation. Because they are already formulating a response instead of listening, they increase the chance that they misunderstand what the other person is trying to say or do. Conflict is raised one step at a time, and the more emotional the characters become the more likely they quickly move up these steps. This increases the chance they will say something they’ll regret.

4. Avoid Accusations: In real life we encourage people to focus on the situation, not the people. Fiction should follow the opposite behavior. Characters should use “you statements” not “I statements.” You statements put people on the defensive, such as, “you always do this!” I statements are personal and less accusatory, “I feel hurt when this happens.” In real life we often confuse what someone does with what it might mean. We turn: “You didn’t invite me to go with you for dinner” becomes “you don’t want to be my BFF anymore, you want to hang out with them instead!” What meanings does your character put on things that happen?

5. Create win-win situations: In real conflict resolution situations we try to search out areas of common ground. This allows each party to gain something from the solution. In fiction, we want to keep our character’s focus on not what they have in common, but what sets them apart. If your character perceives giving ground means they may risk something, they will fight to win rather than compromise. What does your character think they might lose if they don’t win the conflict?

Taking these top five conflict resolution tips and turning them upside down you can take the conflict between your characters to the next level. While this might make your characters miserable (at least until they get to their happy ending) it will keep readers turning the page.

About The Author

Eileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight different languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. Her latest release, YEAR OF MISTAKEN DISCOVERIES came out in February 2014.

You can read more about Eileen, her books, and the things that strike her as funny at www.eileencook.com. Eileen lives in Vancouver with her husband and two dogs and no longer wishes to be anyone or anywhere else.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About The Book

Friendship is a bond stronger than secrets in this novel from the author of The Almost Truth and Unraveling Isobel.

As first graders, Avery and Nora bonded over a special trait they shared—they were both adopted.

Years later, Avery is smart, popular, and on the cheerleading squad, while Nora spends her time on the fringes of school society, wearing black, reading esoteric poetry, and listening to obscure music. They never interact...until the night Nora approaches Avery at a party, saying it’s urgent. She tells Avery that she thought she found her birth mom—but it turned out to be a cruel lie. Avery feels for Nora, but returns to her friends at the party.

Then Avery learns that Nora overdosed on pills. Left to cope with Nora’s loss and questioning her own actions, Avery decides to honor her friend by launching a search for her own birth mother. Aided by Brody, a friend of Nora’s who is also looking for a way to respect Nora’s legacy, Avery embarks on an emotional quest. But what she’s really seeking might go far deeper than just genetics…

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

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16. Synopsis Check List

CeciliaClarkcherry blossom

This illustration my Cecilia Clark gives us a glimpse of what awaits us after this long cold winter. Cecilia is a budding writer and illustrator from Australia. Her writing and illustrating has been published in anthologies. She is a member of SCBWI Australia and New Zealand(Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FWA) and Romance Writer’s Australia(RWA).  http://ceciliaaclark.blogspot.com.au

Synopsis Checklist:

1.   Is your synopsis between one and three pages?  Double spaced if more than one page?

2.   Does the opening paragraph have a hook to keep the editor or agent reading?

3.   Did you use capital letters the first time you introduced a character?

4.   Did you show your characters goal, motivation, conflict, and growth?

Your synopsis should give a clear idea as to what your book is about, what characters we will care about (or dislike), what is at stake for your heroes, what they stand to lose, and how it all turns out.

5.   Have you hit on the major scenes, the major plot points of your book, and include the ending?

6.   How you gotten to the who, what, where, when and why in your synopsis?

7.   Do you keep the interest level up throughout the synopsis?

8.   Is there good flow between  paragraphs.

9.   Have you avoided all grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes?

10. Do you think you captured the flavor of your manuscript?

See yesterday’s post for synopsis details.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: demystify, How to, list, Process, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: Australian Illustrator, Celcilia Clark, Synopsis Checklist, Synopsis evaluation

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17. Knowing Your Premise Before Sitting Down to Write

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books sent to me from authors that have both traditionally and non-traditionally (be it self-published, P.O.D or any other format out these days) published books from children to main stream. Many I have enjoyed, while others I have walked away with thoughts of how the story could have been better. But the one thing I noticed no matter how the author went about publishing the book is this…the stories I truly enjoyed, related to and found myself lost in as a reader all had a well defined premise.

All well told stories start with a premise. This isn’t me just stating my own belief about writing or how it works for me as an author sitting down to write. This is a hardcore truth we all must face and if we as writers sit down without knowing this premise to our story before our fingers hit the keys—we need to be honestly open to feedback we get before and after we publish our work.

For those new to writing or still learning the ropes, let me explain what a premise is and why it is important to this before sitting down to write—if you truly want to be like the “Great” authors we all cherish—be it Dickens, Wolf, Pearson, King, Rice, Tolkien, Rowling and so on.

In a writing meeting I attended, one of the authors shared the following about premise and I liked it so much, I wrote it down. I now share it with you.
In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, it is explained, “Writing a story without a premise is like rowing a boat without oars.” To go a bit further Carol shared the following:
• The premise is the reason you are writing what you are writing. It is the point you have to prove, your purpose for telling this particular story.
• The premise is NOT a universal truth. It is true only for that novel.

I do need to stress however not to confuse your premise with your stories them. There is a really good article by Rob Parnell at http://easywaytowrite.com/theme_and_premise.htmlthat addresses this.  

When you think of your premise, keep what Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” This quote has always really hit me as an author because as we sit down to write, we are opening our soul to the world. We are sharing bits of ourselves with each word, thought and action our characters take. Each story comes from something deep within us that we either need answered or feel we need to share with others—our original idea or premise.

 You may also notice a premise can be used as your pitch line to an agent or publisher. Premises are also used has the “Hook” on the blurb of most books. Most readers when asking about your manuscript or published book want to know the premise, even if they don’t use this term. As you can see, knowing your premise, keeping it at the front of all your writing and truly letting it guide you through your plot will help you create an original work that will engage and bring your reader deeper into your story.

VS Grenier is an award-winning author & editor, founder of Stories for Children Publishing, LLC, chief editor for Halo Publishing, Int. and also the founder & host of blog talk radio's featured station The World of Ink Network. Learn more at http://vsgrenier.com

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18. 15 Things to Consider When Writing Description

Word PaintingSome of us try to use description language too much in our writing and others need to start thinking about how to use this literary tool more often.

The dictionary defines “describe” as:

To transmit a mental image or impression
To trace or draw the figure of; to outline
To give a verbal account of; to tell about in detail

Used properly it can take your reader into your fictional dream and that is a good thing.

I just bought Word Painting by Rebecca Mcclanahan and thought I would share some of the things she talks about in the first chapter that should give you food for thought. Like I said I just bought it, but so far I am glad I added it to my “How to” books.

1. Descriptive passages create the illusion of reality, inviting the reader to move in, unpack, and move in for a spell. They provide verisimilitude. What John Gardner (author of The Art of Fiction) calls the “proofs” that support and sustain your fictional dream. It is not a bunch of “flowery stuff.” It is not just something we stitch on top of our writing to make it more presentable.

2. Description composed of sensory detail penetrates layers of consciousness, engaging your reader emotionally as well as intellectually. The success of all fiction depends in part on descriptive image-making power.

3. Carefully selected descriptive details can establish you characters and setting quickly and efficiently. It is not merely describing how something looks with visual detail, but also smells, tastes, textures, and sounds.

4. As a framing device, description establishes the narrator’s, or character’s point of view. Shifts in the description frame (or eye) can signal shifts in point of view or a significant change in the character. Description begins in the eye, ear, mouth, nose, and hand of the beholder. Careful and imaginative observation may well be the most essential task of any writer.

5. Well-placed descriptive passages can move your story along, shape the narrative line and unfold the plot. It is not a way to hide from the truth. The world isn’t always pretty. Describe it honestly and face difficult, even ugly, subjects when necessary.

6. Descriptive passages can act as gearshifts, changing the pace of your story – speeding it up or slowing it down, then increasing the story’s tension.

7. Description can serve as a transitional device, a way of linking scene or changing time and place.

8. Description can orchestrate the dance between scene and summary.

9. Description can serve as a unifying thematic device, what Stanley Kunitz calls the “constellation of images” that appears and reappears in a literary work, suggesting the idea or feeling that lives beneath the story line.

10. Description can provide the palette of gradations in mood and tone. Dip you brush in one description and the darkens; in another, and the sun breaks through.

11. The language of you descriptions, its rhythms and sounds, can provide the equivalent of a muscial score for the fictional dream, a subliminal music that plays beneath the story line.

12. Writing descriptively doesn’t always mean writing gracefully. It won’t necessarily make our writing more refine, lyrical, or poetic. Some descriptions demand uneven syntax and plainspoken, blunt prose. Jagged, even. Fragments, too. Slice of chin. Buzz saw.

13. Description doesn’t always require a bigger vocabulary. House is probably a better choice than domicile, a horse is easier to visualize than an equine mammal, and red blood is brighter than the sanguine flow of bodily fluids.

14. Writing descriptively doesn’t necessitate writing more. Description isn’t a steroid, something to make our language bigger and stronger, nor is it an additive promising more miles to the fictional gallon. Sometimes writing descriptively means writing less or disappear altogether.

15. Description rarely stands alone. It should be woven in and seamlessly intertwined with other literary elements. Description isn’t something we simply insert, block style, into passages of narration or exposition. Yes, sometimes we write passages of description. But the term passage suggests a channel, a movement from one place to another; it implies that we’re going somewhere. That somewhere is the story.

Hope this helps.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, Book, demystify, inspiration, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: Description in Your Writing, Rebecca Mcclanahan, Word Painting, Writer's Digest

4 Comments on 15 Things to Consider When Writing Description, last added: 3/12/2014
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19. Call for Submissions: CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop invites writers of all stripes (Poets! Fictioneers! Memoirists! Journalists! Essayists! Dramatists! Genre-benders!) to submit to CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing. Writers are invited to submit their personal aesthetic philosophies and manifestos for the anthology, writing exercises and prompts that have helped to kick-start their imagination, and short essays on the art of writing, reading, and being creative. Please send us a brief (7 pages max) submission in one of the following categories:

I. Credos:

Writing manifestos, rules to live by, artist creeds, hand-written notes to self, aphorisms earned, and personal philosophies on what makes good writing work and why. If you have ever typed or scrawled out a manifesto, we would like to see it. Feel free to send us manifestos for creative writing that you have drawn up for yourself or for your writing group. We accept typed written credos, hand-written lists, and even collages that demonstrate your aesthetic philosophy.

II. Writing Exercises:

We would like you to send us writing exercises, prompts, or any practices that have helped energize and motivate your creative writing practice. Is there a daily ritual you do to kickstart your imagination? Are there writing exercises and prompts that you keep on going back to or to use in class with your students? We are interested in your favorite writing exercises. Please send us original writing exercises or prompts, or please write to us about how your favorite published writing exercises work.

III. Essays on Writing Advice:

We are looking for essays that describe the writing process, essays on creative arts communities, salon culture, and advice on creative writing. What has helped you sustain and catalyze your writing career? What has inspired you, from reading the works of your favorite authors, experimenting with new forms, finding communities of writers, experience with social media and writing, etc.? We welcome any essays on creative writing between 5-7 pages.
Please also include: A brief biography of 200 words or less.

SUBMISSIONS PERIOD: October 15, 2013 - January 15, 2014

Submit here.

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20. Beating Writer’s Block – tips by Alan Dapre

Pesky apostrophes. Writer‘s Block affects one person but we all know WB affects all writers at some point so maybe Writers‘ Block is more accurate. So how to cope with it? Easy. Never pick up a pen again and become a hermit atop … Continue reading

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21. Writing for Children – helpful ideas by Alan Dapre

I’ve had over 50 books traditionally published in a range of genres. A few are plays for teenagers and younger children. Some are linked to characters on TV (such as Brum) and are joke, puzzle, activity and story books. Others are … Continue reading

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22. ‘It’s good to write badly’ – Writing tips from Alan Dapre

It’s good to write badly. Baldly, in my case. Back in the noisy days of  typewriters I was indebted to a strip of white tape that I placed on the paper to strike out mistakes. This was replaced in time … Continue reading

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23. Friday Speak Out!: Retreats! What Are They Good For? (Absolutely Somethin'!)

by Sioux Roslawski

In March I'm going on a writing retreat. A self-made one. Two other writing friends and I are going to cram our laptops and our bodies into my car and head to Conception, Missouri. Specifically, to Conception Abbey...the place where monks create a blissful aura over all who stay there.

No teachers. No frills. No schedule. So if that's what it doesn't have, what does this writing retreat have?

Loads of uninterrupted writing time. A lack of distractions because I don't have to sweep or mop or do dishes. I don't have to cook. I don't have to run after my dog as he hunts for poopsicles to eat in the backyard. And no internet unless I go to the abbey's library (and their hours are limited).

This is what I need now. I'm in the finishing stages of my manuscript (first draft) and am hoping to have it finished by this retreat and get some feedback prior to going...so I can then slash and burn the unnecessary parts and build up what I need to bolster while I'm in Conception.

What I want from a retreat—at least this one—probably differs from what you would desire. However, I do think writers should dig deep to discover what they need from a retreat before signing up for one.

Can you create your own?
If your constructive writer friends can dole out great critique, perhaps you can plan a DIY retreat. Rent a cheap cabin. Beg one of the attendees to give up their basement for a night. Check out the retreat centers—they'll feed you and give you a bed, and the rest is up to the group.

Before packing your bags, agree to what is going to happen. Are there going to be scheduled critique sessions? Where is everybody—are some polishing while others need some inspiration to begin something new? And what distractions/nonwriting activities are going to happen—if any?

Big or Small?
You might benefit from a large regional or national retreat, where you'll be able to network with writers and make new connections. Or, you might be better off working with your writing guild/circle of friends and paying a locally-known writer to lead a small group. Survey what everyone is looking for and where they are. Is everyone working on memoirs and they need a gifted memoir writer to help them fine-tune their voice and create an unforgettable place? Or is everyone a novelist and they would each love to have a pitch-critique session with an editor/publisher?

Be Creative
If time and money are at a premium, think outside the box. Your local library might have a room that they'd let you use. Many art museums have education wings. You could reserve one, and when anyone needs a break from their writing, they could wander through the galleries for more inspiration.

So—don't retreat too deep into yourself and miss out on some productive experiences. Go on a retreat...and watch what happens.

* * *

Sioux Roslawski is a St. Louis third grade teacher and a freelance writer. She's been published in Sasee magazine, eight Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, as well as several Not Your Mother's Book collections. In her spare time she's working on a novel and rescues dogs.

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


0 Comments on Friday Speak Out!: Retreats! What Are They Good For? (Absolutely Somethin'!) as of 2/28/2014 7:30:00 AM
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24. Avoiding Common Mistakes in the First Five Pages

first five pagesWe’ve been talking a lot about how to format your manuscript, so I bought The First Five Pages: A Writers Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman to see what other things might be good to share and already he has reminded me of things I forgot to mention to you that you should do before submitting.

He says, “There are no rules to assure great writing, but there are ways to avoid bad writing.” He also points out that agents and editors don’t read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript.

So obviously, we want to do everything to look good and make our first contact a professional one. We want to make sure our manuscripts do not signal carelessness, sloppiness, ignorance, or defiance of the industry’s standards; that the writer doesn’t care enough to do the minimum amount of research to make a manuscript industry presentable. An editor or agent will assume that the careless presentation continues in the manuscript.

Avoid rejection in the first few minutes by making sure your manuscript is presented properly:

Paper: 8 1/2  x 11 inch standard 20 pound bond white computer paper.

Text: 12 pt. Times New Roman font.  Printed only on one side of the page.

Clean: Do not send out a manuscript that you have sent out to other agents or editors if it appears the slightest bit worn.

Eliminate: Make sure you do not send out a manuscripts filled with boldface, underlined, capitalized, or italicized words everywhere, unless you purposely want to drive the agent or editor crazy.

Printing: Do not try to squeeze the last drops of ink from your printer and send out dim/hard to see and please if anyone still has a dot-matrix printer, throw it out and buy an ink-jet or laser printer.

Spacing: Double spaced lines with 1 inch margins. New paragraphs should be indented and also dialog should always be indented. Make sure you indent enough spaces (8-10 spaces on my computer). Nothing is worse than trying to read a manuscript when the indentations are so slight it is easy to miss them. Leave a half of a page between chapters. Line breaks between paragraphs scream amateur.

Do Not Include: Artwork or illustrations throughout the pages. It screams amateur. You might feel that adding some clip art helps the editor or agent get a feel for what you book is really about, but it is not professional. If you text needs a picture to explain what is going on, then add an illustrator’s note. Try to keep them to a minimum.

If you are an illustrator and have written and illustrated your book and have a book dummy; make sure you mention this in your query and give a website link where they can visit to see your art. You might want develop a page on your website exclusively to give to editors/agents, so they could view it online. Never send in original art.

Rights: When you present a manuscript to an agent or editor you are offering all rights. Do not put “Copyright” on your manuscript. It makes you look paranoid and besides it is not necessary.

Avoid Overuse of: Question marks, exclamation points, and parentheses. The abundant use of foreign words or phrases. Noah also say to avoid the inappropriate use of fancy words; crude of vulgar language or images; graphic blood and sex, but most of all cliché. Doing this in the first five pages can lead to instant rejection.

I think this covers all of the instant cosmetic rejections. Hope this helps.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, Book, demystify, How to, inspiration, reference, rejection, Writing Tips Tagged: Formatting your manuscript, Noah Lukeman, Staying out of the Rejection Pile, The First Five Pages

8 Comments on Avoiding Common Mistakes in the First Five Pages, last added: 3/12/2014
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25. Writing Fantasy: An Article by Author & Film Producer Jules Bass

A fairy tale is a story of marvels and magic set in an unreal world in which the events that take place are beyond the realm of possibility.

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