What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Posts

(tagged with 'Writing Tips')

Recent Comments

JacketFlap Sponsors

Spread the word about books.
Put this Widget on your blog!
  • Powered by JacketFlap.com

Are you a book Publisher?
Learn about Widgets now!

Advertise on JacketFlap

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Writing Tips, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 603
1. Call for Submissions: 2016 Writer's Market and 2016 Poet's Market


Until 11:59 p.m. (Atlanta, Georgia time) on October 20, 2014, I'll be accepting pitches for articles in the 2016 Writer's Market. Sometime in the end of October, I'll start making assignments. If you're interested in pitching an article idea or three, read on.

What I Like
So, what do I prefer? The best way to figure that out is to read a recent edition or two of Writer's Market. (Order the 2015 Writer's Market here). Anyone familiar with the book will know that I'm looking for articles that will help freelancers find more success from a business perspective.

Previous articles have tackled queries, book proposals, taxes, record keeping, business management, and more. If you're an experienced source and can interview other sources, that is ideal. However, I'm unlikely to assign featured interviews with writers (as I tend to tackle those myself).

I'm also not interested in articles on the craft of writing. While I think those pieces are extremely valuable, they're just not a good fit for Writer's Market. If you're in doubt, go ahead and pitch it. Read the full guidelines to learn how.


Running until 11:59 p.m. (Atlanta, Georgia time) on October 15, 2014, I'll be accepting pitches for articles and original poems in the 2016 Poet's Market. Sometime in the end of October, I'll start making assignments. If you're interested in pitching an article idea or three-or submitting original poems, read on.

What I Like
As with Writer's Market, the best way to figure out why I like is to read a recent edition or two of Poet's Market. (Order the 2015 Poet's Market here). Anyone familiar with the book will know that I'm looking for articles that will help poets find more success, including articles on business, promotion, and the craft of poetry-which is one major difference between the two books.

Here's another major difference: I'm seeking previously unpublished poems! Yes, I want article pitches, but I also want poems. I will choose between 10 and 20 to publish.

So get together your article ideas, dust off your previously unpublished poems, and start submitting. But first, read the full guidelines to learn how.

Add a Comment
2. Things I Do (But Am Not Saying You Should, Too)

So, a while back I had a blog post called Things I Don't Do (But Sometimes Wish I Did).

You can read it HERE

I was surprised and delighted that I made a lot of folks feel better and maybe saved you a little money on therapy. You're welcome.

But in that post I promised to write about some things I do do. 

First and foremost, however, it's important to note that I am not telling you that you should do these things.

They are things that help me.

They might not help you.

So feel free to just roll your eyes and move along.

1. I make what I call a story map. You can read about what it is and why I do it HERE.

2. I often draw an actual "map" of my main setting. Clearly, I am no artist (as evidenced below). But this visual is useful when maneuvering a character around the setting.

A map of the setting of On the Road to Mr. Mineo's

Ironically, when the brilliant artist, Greg Call, was sketching a map of the setting for the interior of the book, my editor, Frances Foster, asked me if I happened to have drawn a map. I reluctantly told her I had, but it was, um, a bit primitive. (For a brief moment, I considered redrawing it - or better yet, having someone else draw it.) But I sent my silly map and, magically, here is Greg's version:

3. I use Scrivener.  I think most of my writer friends do, as well. There's so much to love about this program, but one is that it  provides a number of ways to organize a novel visually.

For instance, the corkboard, on which index cards can be arranged, rearranged, color-coded, labeled, etc.

This is The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis
I also love the Outliner feature, which can be customized to include whatever elements are important to you and your novel.

This is a work-in-progress. I've included a brief description of each chapter, along with setting and timeline. You could add characters or emotional arcs or whatever.
I had a computer crash a while back and lost my Scrivener version of On the Road to Mr. Mineo's. Dang it. I'd love to show you that because, since it had 10 points-of-view, Scrivener was invaluable to me. I was able to color code each point of view. I could also take them out of the manuscript and group them together to see how they flowed. (That probably makes no sense, but, trust me, it was very useful.)

0 Comments on Things I Do (But Am Not Saying You Should, Too) as of 9/9/2014 8:14:00 AM
Add a Comment
3. Writing Multiple Points of View | Writing Tips

The main challenge in writing multiple points of view is helping the reader keep everybody sorted out.

Add a Comment
4. Pledge This Before Starting a Thriller Novel

For my next manuscript I plan to write a thriller, so I bought
How to Write a Damn Good Thriller: A Step-by-Step Guide for Novelists and Screenwriters by James N. Frey to study.


I thought you might be interested in James Frey’s list of what to pledge before starting your novel.

A thriller is a pulse-pounding supsense. In the US, mysteries are not considered thriller, though they share some common elements.

In a mystery, the hero has a mission to find a killer.

In a thriller, the hero has a mission to foil evil.

To write a damn good thriller, you need a killer attitude. Pledge to yourself to do the following:

  1. Commit yourself to creating strong conflicts in every line of every scene.
  • Decide you will have fresh, snappy dialogue and not a single line of conversation.
  • Decide to write quickly when drafting. Fast is golden.
  • Give yourself production quotas of at least a thousand words everyday, even if you have a tough day job like kissing up to bad bosses. Three or four thousand would be better.
  • If your significant other complains your thriller writing is taking up too much of you time, get a new significant other.
  • Commit yourself to this: You will not have any major characters that are bland and colorless. They will all be dramatic types, theatrical, driven, larger than life, clever.
  • Create a step sheet for the whole novel or screenplay. You might start your first draft if you know your opening and have an idea for the climax.
  • Trick the expectations of the reader and create nice surprises from time to time.
  • Have your character in terrible trouble right from the beginning, and never let them get free of terrible trouble until the climax.
  • Have powerful story questions operating at all times.
  • End each scene or section of dramatic narrative with a bridge, a story question to carry the reader to the next one.
  • Always keep brainstorming and think about what’s happening off scene.
  • Make charts for the major characters that tell you what they’re doing when they’re not on scene.
  • Try to be fresh. Don’t use the same old cliches.
  • Be sure your prose is colorful and sensuous.
  • Keep the clock ticking and the excitement mounting right to the climactic moment.
  • Talk tomorrow,


    Filed under: Advice, Author, Book, demystify, How to, list, Writing Tips Tagged: How To Write A Damn Good Thriller, James N. Frey, Writing a thriller novel

    0 Comments on Pledge This Before Starting a Thriller Novel as of 9/9/2014 2:23:00 AM
    Add a Comment
    5. Pledge This Before Starting a Thriller Novel

    For my next manuscript I plan to write a thriller, so I bought
    How to Write a Damn Good Thriller: A Step-by-Step Guide for Novelists and Screenwriters by James N. Frey to study.


    I thought you might be interested in James Frey’s list of what to pledge before starting your novel.

    A thriller is a pulse-pounding supsense. In the US, mysteries are not considered thriller, though they share some common elements.

    In a mystery, the hero has a mission to find a killer.

    In a thriller, the hero has a mission to foil evil.

    To write a damn good thriller, you need a killer attitude. Pledge to yourself to do the following:

    1. Commit yourself to creating strong conflicts in every line of every scene.
  • Decide you will have fresh, snappy dialogue and not a single line of conversation.
  • Decide to write quickly when drafting. Fast is golden.
  • Give yourself production quotas of at least a thousand words everyday, even if you have a tough day job like kissing up to bad bosses. Three or four thousand would be better.
  • If your significant other complains your thriller writing is taking up too much of you time, get a new significant other.
  • Commit yourself to this: You will not have any major characters that are bland and colorless. They will all be dramatic types, theatrical, driven, larger than life, clever.
  • Create a step sheet for the whole novel or screenplay. You might start your first draft if you know your opening and have an idea for the climax.
  • Trick the expectations of the reader and create nice surprises from time to time.
  • Have your character in terrible trouble right from the beginning, and never let them get free of terrible trouble until the climax.
  • Have powerful story questions operating at all times.
  • End each scene or section of dramatic narrative with a bridge, a story question to carry the reader to the next one.
  • Always keep brainstorming and think about what’s happening off scene.
  • Make charts for the major characters that tell you what they’re doing when they’re not on scene.
  • Try to be fresh. Don’t use the same old cliches.
  • Be sure your prose is colorful and sensuous.
  • Keep the clock ticking and the excitement mounting right to the climactic moment.
  • Talk tomorrow,


    Filed under: Advice, Author, Book, demystify, How to, list, Writing Tips Tagged: How To Write A Damn Good Thriller, James N. Frey, Writing a thriller novel

    1 Comments on Pledge This Before Starting a Thriller Novel, last added: 9/8/2014
    Display Comments Add a Comment
    6. How to Motivate Readers to Keep Turning Pages | Writing Tips

    It isn’t easy to tackle tension when writing a story, but keeping these things in mind can point you in the right direction.

    Add a Comment
    7. A Dozen Ways to Build Your Confidence as a Writer

    Guest post by Suzanne Lieurance, the Working Writers Coach It's tough being a writer, especially if you're just starting out. Rejection can easily tear down what little self-confidence you have, so here are a dozen ways to build your confidence as a writer: 1. Do Something First Thing Every Morning That Makes You Feel Good About Yourself. It might even make you feel powerful. Go for a jog,

    0 Comments on A Dozen Ways to Build Your Confidence as a Writer as of 9/4/2014 10:54:00 PM
    Add a Comment
    8. Romantic Body Language

    boyandgirlteenMost writers add a little romance to the mix while telling their story. I found this over at http://www.Changingminds.org. It really isn’t a site for writers. It is a site to help us learn the signals people send through body language in order to communicate better, since 50% or more of what we communicate is done with body language. It is a very comprehensive site that covers everything.  

    I figured we could use some of the information to enrich our characters by adding a little BL. It would be a great tool when you want a character to say one thing, while signaling something completely different with their body language.

    Below are some body movements that signal to a person of the opposite sex that you are interested in romance.

    From afar

    From afar, the first task of body language is to signal interest (and then to watch for reciprocal body language).


    The eyes do much signaling. Initially and from a distance, a person may look at you for slightly longer than normal, then look away, then look back up at you, again for a longer period.


    There are many preening gestures. What you are basically saying with this is ‘I am making myself look good for you’. This includes tossing of the head, brushing hair with hand, polishing spectacles and brushing clothes.


    Remote romantic language may also include enactment of sexually stimulating activities, for example caressing oneself, for example stroking arms, leg or face. This may either say ‘I would like to stroke you like this’ or ‘I would like you to stroke me like this’.

    Similarly, the person (women in particular) may lick and purse their lips into a kiss shape and leave their mouth slightly open in imitation of sexual readiness.

    Objects held may be also used in enactment displays, including cigarettes and wine glasses, for example rolling and stroking them.


    Attractive parts of the body may be exposed, thrust forward, wiggled or otherwise highlighted. For women this includes breasts, neck, bottom and legs. For men it includes a muscular torso, arms or legs, and particularly the crotch (note that women seldom do this).

    Faking often happens. Pressing together muscles gives the impression of higher muscle tone. Pressing together and lifting breasts (sometimes helped with an appropriate brassiere) makes them look firmer and larger. Holding out shoulders and arms makes the body look bigger. Holding in the abdomen gives the impression of a firm tummy.

    This is often playing to primitive needs. Women show that they are healthy and that they are able to bear and feed the man’s child. The man shows he is virile, strong and able to protect the woman and her child.


    Leaning your body towards another person says ‘I would like to be closer to you’. It also tests to see whether they lean towards you or away from you. It can start with the head with a simple tilt or may use the entire torso. This may be coupled with listening intently to what they say, again showing particular interest in them.


    A person who is interested in you may subtly point at you with a foot, knee, arm or head. It is effectively a signal that says ‘I would like to go in this direction’.

    Other displays

    Other forms of more distant display that are intended to attract include:

    • Sensual or dramatic dancing (too dramatic, and it can have the opposite effect).
    • Crotch display, where (particularly male) legs are held apart to show off genitalia.
    • Faked interest in others, to invoke envy or hurry a closer engagement.
    • Nodding gently, as if to say ‘Yes, I do like you.’


    • Girl fancies boy and makes eye contact.
    • Boy is attracted and continues eye contact (pursuit).
    • Girl looks away (rejection)
    • Boy looks away (retreat)
    • Girl looks at boy and holds eye contact for longer (pursuit)
    • Girl looks away again (rejection)
    • Boy goes over to girl to say hello (pursuit)
    • Girl plays hard-to-get (rejection)
    • …etc.

    Rejection works because of the Scarcity principle, where we desire what we cannot have.

    Up close

    When you are close to the other person, the body language progressively gets more intimate until one person signals ‘enough’.

    Close in and personal

    In moving closer to the other person, you move from social space into their personal body space, showing how you would like to get even closer to them, perhaps holding them and more…

    Standing square-on to them also blocks anyone else from joining the conversation and signals to others to stay away.


    Imitating the person in some way shows ‘I am like you’. This can range from a similar body position to using the same gestures and language.

    Lovers’ gaze

    When you are standing close to them, you will holding each other’s gaze for longer and longer periods before looking away. You many also use what are called ‘doe eyes’ or ‘bedroom eyes’, which are often slightly moist and with the head inclined slightly down.

    Where the eyes go is important. Looking at lips means ‘I want to kiss’. Looking at other parts of the body may mean ‘I want to touch’.

    A very subtle signal that few realize is that the eyes will dilate such that the dark pupils get much bigger. This is one reason why dark-eyed people can seem attractive. Light-eyed people (typically blue) make the pupil easier to distinguish, so when their pupils do get bigger the signal they send is easier to read.


    Touching signals even closer intimacy. It may start with ‘accidental’ brushing, followed by touching of ‘safe’ parts of the body such as arms or back.

    Caressing is gentle stroking that may start in the safer regions and then stray (especially when alone) to sexual regions.

    Talk tomorrow,


    Filed under: article, Character, inspiration, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: Body Language, Changing Minds, Communicating through Body Language, Romantic Body Language

    2 Comments on Romantic Body Language, last added: 9/3/2014
    Display Comments Add a Comment
    9. Ten Tips to Juice Up Your Protagonist

    Most writers know every story needs a protagonist with a problem, but your MC also needs to be interesting, compelling, and sympathetic to keep the readers wanting more. We want our characters to jump off the page and grab our readers by the throat. Plus, we want our readers to remember and think about our characters and our story long after they close our book.

    Here are ten ways to make your protagonist do just that: 


    1.  MC has a problem that needs to be solved

    Make sure your protagonist is the one with the problem and no one else can solve this problem (or solve it as well as he or she can. The MC has to be central to the entire issue.

    2.  MC has the ability to act

    Don’t let your protagonists go around just reacting to things when they happen. Your MC should make things happen and move the story along through his or her choices and actions. A protagonist who knows what she wants and makes the story happen is a far more compelling character than one who sits around and waits for the story to happen. Make sure your protagonist is more than just someone in the middle of a mess.

    If this is not happening in your book, you need to adjust your story in order to get your protagonist in a position where they can affect the change.

    3.  MC needs reasons to act

    You can always give your MC something to do, but they need to have good reasons for their actions or your story will start to stretch credibility as to why they would get involved in something that clearly don’t care about. If you want to have your protagonist risk their life or happiness, make sure it’s for a reason readers will understand. NOTE: This is where a critique group comes in handy.

    4.  MC needs a compelling quality

    Like I said in the beginning, we want to make our MC interesting. Maybe they’re funny, smart or twisted. Maybe your MC has an unusual talent, skill, or quark. Whatever you choose, there needs to be a quality that makes a reader want to know more. Most times the thing that is compelling is also contradictory, making the reader want to know how these two things work together, thus hooking the reader.

    5.  MC has something to lose

    Just having a reason to act isn’t enough, so think about having your MC lose something that matters. This is a powerful motivating tool that will enable you to force your protagonist to do what he normally wouldn’t. You can have them take risks they would never take if there are consequences hanging over their head. This will make readers worry that your MC might suffer those consequences and lose what matters most to him.

    6.  MC should have something to gain

    An important aspect of the story’s stakes that’s sometimes forgotten or not thought through well enough is giving the MC something to gain. Readers want to see a protagonist rewarded for all their hard work and sacrifice, and a reason for your protagonist to keep going when everything says give up.

    7.  Give Your MC the capacity to change

    The sole of the story is character growth. It’s what turns it from a series of plot scenes to a tale worth writing. Giving your protagonist the ability to learn from his experiences and become a better (though not always) person will deepen your story. Your MC shouldn’t be the same person as they were when the story began.

    8.  MC needs an interesting flaw

    It is the flaws that make your MC interesting. Flaws let you show character growth and give your protagonist a way to improve themselves. Maybe your MC knows about this flaw and is actively trying to fix it, or perhaps he or she hasn’t a clue and change is being forced upon them. This flaw could be the very thing that allows your MC to survive and overcome the problems. Of course, it could also be the cause of the entire mess.

    9.  MC has a secret

    You don’t want your MC to be predictable – boring. A good way to keep your protagonist interesting is to have your MC hide something. Readers will wonder what that secret is and how it affects the story. Having your protagonist be a little cryptic, will keep your readers dying to find out.

    10. MC needs someone or something interesting trying to stop him

    Don’t forget that your protagonist needs an antagonist standing against him. The stronger the antagonist is that goes up against your MC, the more tension, suspense and victory you will provide for the reader. Give the reader a villain they will love to hate. The payoff will be keeping your readers turning the pages and reading into the wee hours of the morning.

    Do you have another tips for juicing up your characters? We’d love to hear it.

    Talk tomorrow,


    Filed under: Advice, article, How to, list, Process, revisions, Writing Tips Tagged: Juice Up Your Protagonist, Ten character Writing Tips, Writing compelling characters

    9 Comments on Ten Tips to Juice Up Your Protagonist, last added: 9/3/2014
    Display Comments Add a Comment
    10. Writing Tip: Raising Plot Tension

    Writing Instruction Video

    Sometimes beginning writers struggle to engage and maintain the reader's interest in their stories. Sometimes this happens because the protagonist solves plot conflicts too easily or too early in the story. Sometimes it happens because the opposite occurs, that it seems to take forever for the hero to solve the problem. This video demonstrates a writing technique that helps writers strike just the right balance in order to raise plot tension, thereby engaging and maintaining the reader's interest.

    For teachers interested in using this video as part of creative writing lessons, the instruction video along with slide handouts that can be used to review the raising tension technique can be found at www.kenbakerbooks.com/raising-plot-tension.html.

    0 Comments on Writing Tip: Raising Plot Tension as of 8/28/2014 5:13:00 PM
    Add a Comment
    11. Can Non-Artists Write Picture Books?

    Picture Book Writing Tip

    Wanting to write picture books, but you  can't even draw a straight line? Don't despair. This video writing tip tells why.

    0 Comments on Can Non-Artists Write Picture Books? as of 8/19/2014 3:51:00 PM
    Add a Comment
    12. Copywriting–3 Things You Must Know About Content Writing

    Writing Web content is rewarding for many reasons. You […]

    Add a Comment
    13. Ask an Editor: Nailing the Story

    In this series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award

    Last week on the blog, I talked about hooking the reader early and ways to write so you have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning. This week, I wanted to go into more detail about the story and plot itself. When teaching at writing conferences, my first question to the audience is this:

     What is the most important thing about a multicultural book?

    I let the audience respond for a little while, and many people have really good answers: getting the culture right, authenticity, understanding the character… these are all important things in diverse books.

    But I think that the most important part of a diverse novel is the same thing that’s the most important thing about any novel: a good story. All of the other components of getting diversity right won’t matter if you don’t have a good story! And getting those details wrong affects how good the story is for me and for many readers.

    So as we continue our series discussing things to keep in mind as you polish your New Visions Award manuscripts, let’s move the discussion on to how to write a good story, beyond just following the directions and getting a good hook in your first few pages. This week, we’ll focus on refining plot.

    Here are a few of the kinds of comments readers might make if your plot isn’t quite there yet:

    • Part of story came out of nowhere (couldn’t see connection)
    • Too confusing
    • Confusing backstory
    • Plot not set up well enough in first 3 chapters
    • Bizarre plot
    • Confusing plot—jumped around too much
    • underdeveloped plot
    • Too complicated
    • Excessive detail/hard to keep track
    • Too hard to follow, not sure what world characters are in

    We’ll look at pacing issues too, as they’re often related:

    • Chapters way too long
    • Pacing too slow (so slow hard to see where story is going)
    • Nothing gripped me
    • Too predictable

    block quote 1Getting your plot and pacing right is a complicated matter. Just being able to see whether something is dragging too long or getting too convoluted can be hard when you’re talking about anywhere from fifty to a hundred thousand words, all in one long file. Entire books have been written on how to plot a good science fiction and fantasy book. More books have been written on how to plot a good mystery. If you need more in-depth work on this topic, refer to them (see the list at the end of this post).

    So we won’t get too in depth here, but let’s cover a few points.

    Know your target audience

    When you’re writing for children, especially young children (middle grade, chapter books, and below), your plot should be much more linear than a plot for older readers who can hold several threads in their heads at once.

    Teens are developmentally ready for more complications—many of them move up to adult novels during this age, after all—but YA as a category is generally simpler on plot structure than adult novels in the same genre. This is not to say the books are simple-minded. Just not as convoluted… usually. (This varies with the book—and how well the author can pull it off. Can you?)

    But the difference between middle grade and YA is there for a reason—kids who are 7 or 8 or 9 years old and newly independent readers need plots that challenge them but don’t confuse them. And even adults get confused if so much is going on at once that we can’t keep things straight. Remember what we talked about last time regarding backstory—sometimes we don’t need to know everything all at once. What is the core of your story?

    Linear plot

    Note that “too complicated” is one of the main complaints of plot-related comments readers had while reading submissions to the last New Visions Award.

    Don’t say, “But Writer Smith wrote The Curly-Eared Bunny’s Revenge for middle graders and it had TEN plot threads going at once!” Writer Smith may have done it successfully, but in general, there shouldn’t be more than one main plot and a small handful of subplots happening in a stand-alone novel for middle-grade readers.

    If you intend your book to be the first in a series of seven or ten or a hundred books, you might have seeds in mind you’d like to plant for book seventy-two. Unless you’re contracted to write a hundred books, though, the phrase here to remember is stand-alone with series potential. Even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was pretty straightforward in its plotting—hinting at backstory, but not dumping backstory on readers in book one; setting the stage for potential conflicts down the road but not introducing them beforetime. Book 1 of Harry Potter really could have just stood on its own and never gone on to book 2. It wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying as having the full 7-book arc, but note how seamlessly details were woven in, not calling attention to themselves even though they’re setting the stage for something later. Everything serves the linear plot of the main arc of book 1’s story. We only realize later that those details were doing double duty.

    Thus, when you’re writing for children and young adults, remember that a linear main plot is your priority, and that anything in the story that is not serving the main plot is up on the chopping block, only to be saved if it proves its service to the main plot is true.block quote 2Plotting affects pace

    In genre fiction for young readers, pacing is always an issue. Pacing can get bogged down by too many subplots—the reader gets annoyed or bored when it takes forever to get back to the main thrust of the story when you’re wandering in the byways of the world you created.

    Fantasy readers love worldbuilding (to be covered in another post), but when writing for young readers, make sure that worldbuilding serves as much to move the plot forward as to simply show off some cool worldbuilding. Keep it moving along.

    Character affects plot

    This was not a complaint from the last New Visions Award, but another thing to keep in mind when plotting is that as your rising action brings your character into new complications, the character’s personality will affect his or her choices—which will affect which direction the plot moves. We’ll discuss characterization more another day, but just keep in mind that the plot is dependent upon the choices of your characters and the people around them (whether antagonists or otherwise). Even in a plot that revolves around a force of nature (tornado stories, for example), who the character is (or is becoming) will determine whether the plot goes in one direction or another.

    Find an organizational method that works for you

    This is not a craft recommendation so much as a tool. Plotting a novel can get overwhelming. You need a method of keeping track of who is going where when, and why. There are multiple methods for doing this.

    Scrivener doesn’t work for all writers, so it might not be your thing, but I recommend trying out its corkboard feature, which allows you to connect summaries of plot points on a virtual corkboard to chapters in your book. If you need to move a plot point, the chapter travels along for the ride.

    An old-fashioned corkboard where you can note plot points and move them around might be just as easy as entering them in Scrivener, if you like the more tactile approach.

    Another handy tool is Cheryl Klein’s Plot Checklist, which has a similar purpose: it makes the writer think about the reason each plot point is in the story, and whether those points serve the greater story.

    Whether you use a physical corkboard, a white board, Scrivener, or a form of outlining, getting the plot points into a form where you can see everything happening at once can help you to see where things are getting gummed up.

    Further resources

    This post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plotting a book. Here are some books and essays that will be of use to the writer seeking to fix his or her plot problems. (Note that some of these resources will be more useful to some writers than others, and vice versa. Find what works for you.)

    • “Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through: Or Plots and Popularity,” by Cheryl Klein in her book of essays on writing and revising, Second Sight.
    • In the same book by Cheryl Klein, “Quartet: Plot” and her plot checklist.
    • The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson
    • I haven’t had experience with this resource, but writer friends suggest the 7-point plot ideas of Larry Brooks, which is covered both in a blog series and in his books

    And remember!


    keep calm and write on

    Further Reading:

    New Visions Award: What NOT to Do

    Ask an Editor: Hooking the Reader Early

    The New Visions Guidelines

    Stacy Whitman photoStacy 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. 

    Filed under: Awards, New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: fantasy, fantasy writing, New Visions Award, plotlines, sci-fi writing, science fiction, writing, writing 101, writing award, writing tips, young adult

    1 Comments on Ask an Editor: Nailing the Story, last added: 8/11/2014
    Display Comments Add a Comment
    14. How to Write a Great Picture Book

    You have a great idea for a picture book. That’s wonderful! Having a great idea is a good start. Having some writing experience is a big plus too. But writing a great picture book takes more than just having a great idea and some writing experience. Writing a great picture book requires work. If you’re serious about writing a great picture book, it pays to do the following:

    1. Read a lot of current picture books. Believe me, picture books have changed since you were little. You have to familiarize yourself with the type, style and personality of picture books that children are reading today. Read as many picture books as you can that have been written in the past year or two.
    2. Do your research. Read different books on the ins and outs of writing a great picture book.  The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books by Harold Underdown is a great resource. There are also a lot of web sites and blogs with good information too, such as www.underdown.org, www.verlakay.com and www.taralazar.com.
    3. Attend writing conferences. Local and national children's writing conferences can be excellent resources for gaining much needed insights on how to improve your writing skills and understanding what makes a great a picture book great.  Conferences are also great places to make contacts with other authors as well as editors and agents. You can find out about various conferences at www.scbwi.org/Regional-Events.aspx.
    4. Join a critique group. A critique group can give you objective advice on your stories. Once again, SCBWI is a good resource for finding out about local critique groups. Even if you’re not a member of SCBWI, the regional coordinator for your area would likely be happy to tell you about critique groups in your area (Visit www.scbwi.org).
    5. Write a lot. Don’t stop with one story. The more you write, the better your writing skills will become. Improve your writing skills even further by taking writing classes or attending writing workshops. Keep on writing.

    0 Comments on How to Write a Great Picture Book as of 8/7/2014 3:18:00 PM
    Add a Comment
    15. Tips on Content Writing - Think Like a Newsman

    This is a guest post that focuses on news articles, but it's important information for the content marketer also. The same strategies are used to create content that first grabs the readers' attention then turns that attention to interest then closes the deal. Tips on Writing For the Newspaper: Think of the Pyramid Guest Post by Janice Gillgren The simplest way to build a news story is by

    0 Comments on Tips on Content Writing - Think Like a Newsman as of 8/6/2014 7:41:00 AM
    Add a Comment
    16. Working Out the Details

    erikaphoto-45Hello again! Jersey Farm Scribe here on…

    PATIENCE: Working out the Details

    Speaking from my own personal situation, I just did a major revision on my chapter book. It brought my story a bit more full circle, drawing some of the ending and pulling piece of it into the beginning.

    Exciting stuff and I love the way it’s reading now.

    But that was a pretty major revision for me, and I’m realizing that in some ways, it’s set me back a good bit. There are parts that don’t flow as well now, character reactions that don’t make sense and redundancies that are just plain annoying.

    While I knew it would happen, to be honest, it’s quite frustrating.

    Grumble, grumble… I JUST went over all this stuff…

    There is a part of me that instinctively desires to push things back the way they were so I can make certain scenes read through properly again.

    Plus, I have this crazy voice in the back of my head. It keeps thinking about the SCBWI conference I attended at the end of June, the people I talked to, the editors and agents who showed interest and who I have this amazing opportunity to submit to. And the voice says:


    Voice absolutely hates the idea of letting too much time go by. It thinks that the agents and editors will wonder… what took so darn long???

    And while you may get different opinions from different people, the logical side of my brain knows that Voice is simply wrong. They knew I had revisions to do, and I’m talking an extra month or two, not years.

    Agents and editors, of all people, KNOW how long revisions can take. All the ones I spoke to, not only understood, but respected writers for taking the time to do revisions correctly and present the absolute BEST manuscript possible.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, deadlines are important, and being realistic is important. In this case, there is no “deadline”. But still, I don’t want the agents and editors who were open to seeing my work to wait an entire year to see it. Largely because the chances of them still remembering who I am drop pretty dramatically. And if at all possible, I definitely want that little light to go on.

    But revisions often lead to more revisions, and I think it’s important to ride that train until it naturally evens out and becomes the story that it’s meant to be.

    So whenever making a major revision, keep in mind that you may end up producing more necessary changes than you expect. And don’t be afraid to change things that may cause large re-writes or entire character redevelopment.

    After every major revision, I remind myself that I need to take the time to do what I call domino revisions

    How did my revision affect the arc and rhythm of the story? Is there too little or too much action at any particular point now? Does a chapter break or mini climax need to be altered?

    How did it affect the characters? Experiences shape our interpretation of everything around us. If a character’s experience changed at in my revision, their reactions to things later on may need to change as well.

    Did my revision involve the scene, timeline, family dynamics… anything where I need to check for congruence throughout the rest of the manuscript.

    The list goes on.

    Manuscripts develop like the people created on their pages. Growing up can take much longer than we’d like, and the stage before we become adults can be the most frustrating part.

    Who hasn’t met a teenager who makes dramatic changes? It’s not easy. But whether they stick with those changes or not, they are often a big part of what shapes them as an adult.

    Our manuscripts need a lot of patience, as they are becoming the living beings they are meant to be. But you know what…. they’re worth it!

    Thank you Erika for another great article to help all of us improve our skills.

    Talk tomorrow,


    Filed under: Advice, article, authors and illustrators, Process, revisions, Writing Tips Tagged: Erika Wassell, Jersey Farm Scribe, Revision Tips

    5 Comments on Working Out the Details, last added: 7/29/2014
    Display Comments Add a Comment
    17. New Visions Award: What Not to Do

    Stacy Whitman photoStacy 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. In this blog post, she discusses what she is—and is not—looking for from New Visions Award contest submissions.

    This year is the second year we’ve held our New Visions Award, a writing contest seeking new writers of color for middle grade and young adult science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Tu Books is a relatively new imprint, and so is our award, which is modeled after the New Voices Award, now in its 15th year of seeking submissions.

    Much like the editors who are in charge of the New Voices Award for picture books, for the New Visions Award, I love seeing submissions that follow the submissions guidelines and stories that stand out from a crowd. I look for science fiction, fantasy, and mystery stories that understand the age group they’re targeted at, with strong characters, strong worldbuilding, and if there is a romance, I hope that it avoids cliches.

    During the first New Visions Award, our readers made notes on the manuscripts explaining what they enjoyed and what made them stop reading, particularly the things that made them not want to read further than the sample chapters in the initial phase of the contest. For the next few weeks, I’ll delve a little further into those things that made readers stop reading, and then we’ll talk about making your writing have the zing that makes an editor want to read more.

    Today, let’s cover the most obvious reasons a New Visions Award reader might stop reading immediately.

    • Main character isn’t a person of color
    • Unclear if main character is a person of color (& not made clear in any supporting materials)
    • Basic formatting rules ignored: single-spaced, no tabs, no paragraph breaks, rules of punctuation ignored to the point it was impossible to read the text
    • Chapters at times seemed to be combined to ensure more text would be read, which made them super long and terribly paced
    • Duplicate submission from the author (stopped reading the duplicate—of course we read the original!)
    • Already read as a regular submission and didn’t see any significant changes
    • Author not eligible (published previously in YA or MG, not a person of color, not based in the US)
    • Book was a picture book (this would be a New Voices submission, not a New Visions submission) or a short story (not long enough to be a novel)

    The obvious solution to making sure your submission is right for this contest is to make sure to read the contest submission guidelines before sending your submission. If you are not a writer of color, or if you live in a country outside the US, we do want to read your manuscript, but not for this contest. Watch our regular submission guidelines for when we’ll open again to unsolicited submissions.

    Make sure you format your manuscript in a way that it can be read. If you’re new to writing, be sure to have someone check it over for typos, correct grammar and spelling, correct punctuation, etc. We won’t reject your manuscript for a typo or two, but there is a point at which the story is no longer being communicated because the reader gets tripped up by the errors. Make sure your manuscript is as clean as you can make it.

    Next time, we’ll talk about hooking the reader with your story. Happy writing!

    Filed under: New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: formatting manuscripts, weneeddiversebooks, writing award, writing contest, writing tips

    0 Comments on New Visions Award: What Not to Do as of 7/25/2014 12:22:00 PM
    Add a Comment
    18. Confessions of a Serial Novelist (Part 2) by Clara Kensie

    Hey gang! Welcome back to the Adventures in YA Publishing series on... serials! Last week, I told you about the surprising pleasures of reading serialized novels. I hope I convinced at least some of you to give serials a try! This week, we’re continuing our discussion by talking about how to write a serialized novel.

    Source: Adam Franco https://flic.kr/p/7BKqTL

    How, exactly, does one go about writing a serial? While revising my RUN TO YOU manuscripts after my publisher's decision to release them as serials, I learned that it takes more than simply chopping a full-length novel into equal parts. Whether you’re an indie author who decides to serialize your books, or you’re a traditionally-pubbed author whose publisher wants to try it, there are certain things you must keep in mind when writing a serial:

    PACING: You must have a strong sense of pacing as you develop the highs and lows that bring the characters and plot to a new level with each installment, but still leave them more to do and learn, giving the reader a breathing point, yet leaving them wanting to know what happens next.

    INSTALLMENT BREAKS: One piece of advice writers always hear is, “Never give your readers a reason to put your book down.” But a serial forces your readers to put your book down after every installment! Therefore, it is imperative to end each episode in such a way that your readers must read the next one to find out what happens next. End your installment in the middle of the action. RUN TO YOU is a thriller with lots of plot twists and life-or-death situations. Many chapters end on a cliffhanger. But a serial’s episodes don’t have to end on a life-or-death cliffhanger, leaving the reader wondering if a character is going to live or die. Emotional cliffhangers can be equally as compelling. You want to end each episode in a way that your readers must know the secret the hero is about to reveal, or which suitor the heroine will choose to bring to the ball, or if the hero and heroine’s relationship will survive the latest turn of events. In fact, though many RUN TO YOU chapters end on a life-or-death cliffhanger, all of its installments end on an emotional cliffhanger.

    BEGINNING THE NEXT INSTALLMENT: To begin episodes two, three, four, etc, you will want to remind your readers what happened at the end of the previous installment. I recommend keeping this very brief; just a few phrases in the opening paragraphs to help them recall what happened last time and to re-establish the mood and tone. But don’t simply give them a bunch of flashbacks. You want to weave in what happened last time in a natural way. The shorter your release schedule—weekly, bi-weekly, monthly—the less reminders you’ll have to give them. (We’ll talk more about release schedules next week, when we discuss marketing your serial.)

    STRUCTURE: Each episode of your serial does not have to be self-contained, but there should be an over-arching plot for the book as a whole: each installment must build toward a satisfying conclusion at the end of the book. While your complete serial should be structured as a typical book, with setup, turning points, climax, and conclusion, you may have to add extra turning points within your overall plot to allow for cliffhanger endings of each episode, or you may have to arrange your chapters so the cliffhangers fall at the installment breaks. I found this to be the most challenging aspect of writing my serials: following the standard structure of a whole novel while putting major turning points or cliffhangers at the installment breaks.

    NUMBER AND LENGTH OF INSTALLMENTS: This point is both a writing issue and a marketing issue. It’s important to understand your market before you determine the number and length of your installments. There is no industry standard: the number of installments varies per serial. In my case, Harlequin Teen determined RUN TO YOU would have three parts per book. Each part has between 99 and 120 pages. Other serials have six, eight, or ten installments per book. There may be serials with even more installments, especially on Wattpad or in fanfic. Generally, the more installments in a book, the less pages per installment. You should keep your audience and your price point in mind as you decide the number and length of your episodes. You want to give your readers an installment that’s short enough to consume in a single sitting, but long enough that leaves them feeling satisfied with both the story and the price they paid.


    So, my friends, now that you are armed with this information, would you ever try to write a serial? If your publisher decided to serialize your manuscript, how would you react: would you run away in tears, or would you be up to the challenge?


    Clara Kensie grew up near Chicago, reading every book she could find and using her diary to write stories about a girl with psychic powers who solved mysteries. She purposely did not hide her diary, hoping someone would read it and assume she was writing about herself. Since then, she’s swapped her diary for a computer and admits her characters are fictional, but otherwise she hasn’t changed one bit.

    Today Clara is the author of dark fiction young adults. Her debut series, the romantic thriller RUN TO YOU, is Harlequin TEEN’s first serial. Book One is First Sight, Second Glance, and Third Charm. Book Two is Fourth Shadow, Fifth Touch, and Sixth Sense.

    Her favorite foods are guacamole and cookie dough. But not together. That would be gross.

    Find Clara online: Website   Twitter   Facebook   Tumblr   Instagram   Goodreads  Newsletter

    About the books

    Good news! The first installment of my serial, RUN TO YOU Part I: FIRST SIGHT, is still free across all e-tailers! 
    In Part One of this romantic thriller about a family on the run from a deadly past, and a first love that will transcend secrets, lies and danger…

    Sarah Spencer has a secret: her real name is Tessa Carson, and to stay alive, she can tell no one the truth about her psychically gifted family and the danger they are running from. As the new girl in the latest of countless schools, she also runs from her attraction to Tristan Walker—after all, she can't even tell him her real name. But Tristan won't be put off by a few secrets. Not even dangerous ones that might rip Tessa from his arms before they even kiss…

    RUN TO YOU is Tessa and Tristan's saga—two books about psychic gifts, secret lives and dangerous loves. Each book is told in three parts: a total of six shattering reads that will stay with you long after the last page.

    Grab FIRST SIGHT now for free, then join Harlequin Teen and a whole bunch of book bloggers and fans at the RUN TO YOU read-along. We're discussing FIRST SIGHT this week, SECOND GLANCE next week, and THIRD CHARM the week after that. We’re having a great time, and we have some fun prizes to give away. Get more details on my blog: http://bit.ly/readR2Y. I’d love to see the Adventures in YA Publishing gang at the read-along!

    For more about each installment of the RUN TO YOU series, click here

    Find RUN TO YOU at your favorite e-tailers, including:

    0 Comments on Confessions of a Serial Novelist (Part 2) by Clara Kensie as of 7/25/2014 9:44:00 AM
    Add a Comment
    19. Ask an Editor: Worldbuilding in Speculative Fiction, Part II

    Stacy Whitman photoStacy 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. Parts of this blog post were originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

    Last week, I discussed why worldbuilding in speculative fiction can be so challenging for authors. How do we introduce a completely new world without infodumping or confusing readers? I gave some examples of worldbuilding done well in popular YA science fiction and fantasy: The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Twilight. In all these cases, the starting point is in some way relatable, or there is something about the character (Tris, Katniss) that hooks the reader. First pages should be character- and plot-driven, and worldbuilding should support rather than dominate. That gives these books an easy entry point and wide appeal.

    There are three primary approaches to worldbuilding:

    Reader learns world alongside character

    Readers of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Twilight figure out the world alongside the main character. Information is spooled out as the character learns it, so the reader doesn’t have to absorb everything at once. This is a low bar for entry, not requiring much synthesis of information. The character is almost a stand-in for the reader.

    Exposition: questions raised, then answered

    What about Hunger Games? Now it gets a little tougher. Suzanne Collins starts out with a perfectly relatable (if a tiny bit cliche) situation, the main character waking up and seeing her family. We get some exposition on Katniss’s family and the cat who hates her.

    But it becomes non-cliche by page 2, when we learn about the Reaping. Ah! What’s the Reaping, you ask? We don’t know yet. Now the bar for entry is raised. There is a question, the answer for which you’re going to have to read further to find out. The infodumpage level is low, but there is still some exposition in the next few pages, letting us know that Katniss lives in a place called District 12, nicknamed the Seam, and that her town is enclosed by a fence that is sometimes electrified—and which is supposed to be electrified all the time.

    Collins’s approach to spooling out a little information at a time is to explain each new term as she goes, but some readers think that feels unnatural in a first person voice because the narrator would already know these things, so why is she explaining them to the reader?

    It depends on the story, in my opinion—Collins makes it work because of how she crafted Katniss’s voice. It is a very fine line to walk—I can’t tell you how many submissions I’ve received that start out with, “My name is X. I am Y years old. I live in a world that does Z,” an obvious example of how this approach becomes downright clumsy when not handled with Collins-esque finesse.

    “Incluing”: questions raised, then reader infers answers bit by bit

    Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, in which the reader is given clues to work out rather than having any new terms explained to them. This approach needs just as much, if not more, finesse. It’s a process that some readers who are new to speculative fiction might stumble over the most, which is why I think there’s so little of it in middle grade and YA fantasy and science fiction. I’ve seen it called “incluing,” which is a silly word, but I don’t know of another name for it and the description of incluing in that Wikipedia link is exactly the kind of worldbuilding I—as a lifelong fantasy fan—prefer to see in the beginning of a book, particularly one set in a world that has no connection to our own, or if it’s in the future of our world far enough into the future that the society is unrecognizable to us, such as the society in Tankborn. Karen Sandler does a wonderful job at incluing readers as we read chapter 1 of the first book in the Tankborn trilogy.

    The prominent example I like to give writers for this kind of worldbuilding is from The Golden Compass. Check out the first paragraph of that book:

    “Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls. Lyra reached the dais and looked back at the open kitchen door, and, seeing no one, stepped up beside the high table.”

    Pullman jumps right into the scene, with Lyra sneaking down the dining hall with her daemon. We’re hooked—she’s doing something sneaky, and we don’t know what. And we want to know. We don’t even know what the daemon physically looks like until paragraph 4, and even then we don’t know why he’s called a daemon or what makes a daemon special.

    What is a daemon, anyway? We don’t know! In fact, this is one of the major conflicts of the book—we need to read more to find out about daemons, and further mysteries are revealed as we read that deepen our understanding of daemons and of Lyra’s world in general. As we discover more clues that intrigue us, we want to know more, and keep reading.

    But the line between intriguing the reader and confusing the reader is very thin, and I would argue that for some readers it’s in a different place than for others. Those of us who are familiar with fantasy might be more willing to patiently wait for more information about daemons because we trust that this author will let us know what we need to know when the time is right. We know that they’re teasing us with this information so as not to overburden us within the first few pages of the book (or, in the case of The Golden Compass, because the reader can’t know what the majority of people in that world don’t know, either).

    Tankborn coverIn situations in which you need to establish a world that’s entirely different from our own, I find that putting a character in a situation that’s somewhat familiar to the reader can help with establishing the unfamiliar. In Karen Sandler’s Tankborn, for example, Kayla has to watch her little brother instead of going to a street fair with her friends. While Kayla calls him her “nurture brother” instead of just her brother, it’s still a situation to which a lot of readers can relate, even if it is set on another planet and her brother is catching nasty arachnid-based sewer toads instead of familiar Earth frogs and toads.

    M. K. Hutchins, author of Drift, approached it in a completely different way. She starts with a dangerous situation—a family on the run from authorities, splitting up. The mother, our main character Tenjat, and his sister Eflet are embarking on a terrible journey that’s almost certain death, setting off on a raft in the middle of the night into an ocean full of snake-like monsters, and leaving the family’s father and smallest brother behind to face unknown punishment. While perhaps no reader has been chased by authorities in the middle of the night, it is a dangerous situation and a parting of family—mixing the familiar (family) with the unfamiliar (a dangerous situation in a completely new setting).Drift

    It’s the difference between showing and telling. Philip Pullman, Karen Sandler, and M. K. Hutchins all show us how their worlds works, rather than pausing to tell us how it works (“in this world, all people are born with an animal companion called a daemon”).

    Telling can work, though, especially in small doses—Katniss’s voice is so conversational that the brief moments of telling in the first few pages of The Hunger Games work, particularly because Collins is mostly showing what Katniss is up to. The brief pauses to “infodump” feel like the reader is being told a story by a storyteller, like a friend telling a story over the kitchen table after a nice big meal would pause and explain something you didn’t understand (a friend who’s a very good storyteller). It’s an awareness of audience that most speculative fiction doesn’t have the luxury of.

    Showing isn’t always better, and telling isn’t always bad, when done right and mixed in with showing. Whichever method you use, remember that sometimes readers will trip over new words so you need to give them as much context as possible without over-infodumping.

    And here is where the art comes in. I can’t tell you what that balance is, but if you look at examples like the ones above, you’ll get a better feel for how much to reveal and how much to hold back in your first few pages—revealing enough to orient your reader and give them a sense of the differences of this world (while grounding them in something familiar like Lyra’s hallway or Katniss’s humble home) while seeking to avoid overburdening them with too much all at once.

    What about you? How have you found the right balance of introducing your world without overburdening the reader? What books do you recommend that do this particularly well?


    Filed under: Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: fantasy writing, science fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, stacy whitman, Tu Books, worldbuilding, writing advice, writing resources, writing tips, young adult writing

    0 Comments on Ask an Editor: Worldbuilding in Speculative Fiction, Part II as of 6/26/2014 5:51:00 PM
    Add a Comment
    20. Free Fall Friday – Sarah LaPolla

    sharonJune illokathy temean art

    This fun illustration was sent in from illustrator Sharon Lane Holm. Sharon is an illustrator/author who has over 20 years of experience in children’s book publishing. She has also written and illustrated 2  apps. available on Itunes, “Kids Counting Kitties 1-10, and Kids Counting Kitties 10-1″; available in English and Spanish.

    Carolyn Chambers Clark, SECRETS, YA Coming of Age

    Logan Spenser roars his convertible across the school parking lot and idles alongside my half-open window. His black leather jacket shines in the morning sun, setting off his chiseled jaw and the beauty of his mocha skin. I’ve seen him in the halls without the reflective sunglasses he’s wearing now. Something buried deep in his eyes tells me he’s been through some rough stuff himself.

    He points his finger at me. “Raz Rinaldi! Thief.”

    Chelsea gawks at me from the driver’s seat as if to say answer him, Her yellow sunglasses make her pale face look even more like vanilla pudding, while her blonde hair lies in perfect order against the shoulders of her expensive sweater.
    “Thief? You’re calling me a thief?” My words tumble out and I want to duck my head, but force myself to pull back my shoulders and glare at him.

    He doesn’t answer me, just laughs and zooms off.

    My face gets hotter while I tick through my actions of the last week and find the worst thing I’ve done is “forget” to do the dishes my stepmother left in the sink. “What’s he talking about?”
    Chelsea, AKA Speed Demon of Ash City High, and the closest thing I have to a friend, shrugs and laughs. “It’s destiny. The hottest guy in school knows your name.”

    I love Chelsea, but she gets everything wrong. “I’m not looking for a hot guy. I have to keep my grades up. You know that.”
    Chelsea laughs. “You are one boring chick. I can’t think of one reason why I like you.”


    Carolyn Chambers Clark, SECRETS:

    A clear strength to the writing here is the dialogue, which feels realistic and not forced. We don’t yet know these characters, but I felt like I had a good sense of who they are on the page. However, I felt the writing was expository at times. For instance, “Something buried deep in his eyes tells me he’s been through some rough stuff himself” felt like leading the reader in a very specific direction. I’d much rather get to know Logan as the story progressed before I saw the narrator jump to this conclusion. Similarly, the description of Logan in the first paragraph didn’t feel authentic to a teen voice, which surprised me given the way the teens actually speak in dialogue. Shining leather jackets, chiseled jaw, and roaring convertibles gave the impression of the 1950s and, to me, the adjectives used in this paragraph felt dated, or at least from an older perspective, as well. I appreciated how quickly the love interest – and possible conflict – was introduced right on page 1, and I’m interested in Raz’s friendship with Chelsea. Though, when Logan calls Raz a “thief” I expected more context. Is this a joke they share? Why is Chelsea so shocked he knows Raz’s name if they seem to have a natural banter with each other? We move on to Chelsea and Raz driving away before we get a chance to learn more about Logan, even though the novel opens with him.


    MARK OF THE SIFTER by Laura Rueckert - YA Contemporary Fantasy

    Deep in my chest, I could feel it: the girl was asleep. The itch to jump into her dream almost overpowered me, but I lingered in the arched entrance hall of Rainthorpe Manor, the mansion we’d used as home base on Earth the last twenty years. A new recruit had died this morning, and Beatrice would bring her by any moment to meet me. Not even the peaceful glisten of snow through the leaded windows could curb my urge to depart, and I leaned around the corner to check the grandfather clock again.

    Beatrice and an older woman with brown, wind-toughened skin materialized in front of me. I nodded to both of them.

    “This is the Head Sifter, Seth,” Bee said, gesturing in my direction.

    The new Sifter’s eyes flicked to Bee and back to me.

    “Welcome.” I didn’t ask her name. The details of her former life had been included in her contract.

    Her voice wavered as she asked, “Are you the one shielding it?”

    I gave a short nod, and her hard face looked like it might crack. “Thank you. It was horrible.”

    Bee caught my eye and raised a finger to show she understood my impatience. “I’ll introduce you to your partner,” she said, drawing the woman from the hall. “And we’ll go over some of your duties.”

    “Thank you!” the woman called over her shoulder, but I was already fading out, diving into the dream world of the destroyer.

    It was time to find the problem. Stealing, cheating, taunting—despite our normal methods, none under my command were having any luck with the girl who was supposed to annihilate my team of Sifters.


    Laura Rueckert, MARK OF THE SIFTER

    I really liked the voice here. It’s calm without being passive, and I feel like Seth is a narrator I can trust. I wondered, though, about the genre, which is labeled as “contemporary fantasy.” To me this read much more like sci-fi, in both tone and in what was being said. The mention of “home base on Earth” and being part of a mysterious group of “recruits” that jump into dreams have an Inception-like science fiction concept. The idea of dream-jumping is an interesting premise, and I like how this opens with Seth’s desire to jump into this sleeping girl’s mind. It tells me a lot about him as a character with very few details. Though, overall, I was left with more questions about this concept than intrigue. Who is the sleeping girl and why is she not mentioned when Beatrice enters the scene? Is Seth no longer with her at that point? I also wanted the phrase “dream world of the destroyer” explained a bit more. Is “the destroyer” a person? A threat? Why is Seth involved? Without context, it’s hard to get immersed in the world, and in sci-fi – and fantasy – that is the key element in attracting a reader on the first page. I needed to know what a Sifter was in order to know who our main character was, and also know enough about his world to want to learn more.


    JUST GO AHEAD by Valerie McCammon, Picture Book

    My annoying big brother, Patrick Robert, doesn’t think I can do anything right.
    I’ll show him.

    I tell him I’m going to swing as high as the sun.

    “You just go ahead and do that, Nick.”

    I pump and I push, flying higher and higher. I’m Astronaut Nick zooming across the Milky Way.

    “Fire the rocket boosters.”

    I gain speed as I dodge whizzing asteroids.

    Clunk! One hits me in the head. [Illo note: acorn falls]

    Patrick laughs and walks away.

    I tell him I am going to sail across the ocean to rescue the tribal princess.

    “You just go ahead and do that.”

    I ready my ship. I hoist anchor, and Captain Nick shoves off.

    “To the Skeleton Coast.”

    The sail billows in the wind as I shout orders to the crew. [Illo note: Swab that deck, sailor. Batten down the hatches, mates. Report to the brig, cadet.]

    Uh-oh. Pirates are boarding. [Illo note: dogs jump in]

    As the hull fills with water, one last command: “Abandon ship.”

    I lunge for shore as Patrick moors the sinking vessel. He sighs as he also rescues the crew.

    I remain confident. I tell Patrick I am sure I can find hidden treasure.

    “You just go ahead and do that.”

    I don my pith helmet and claw through the attic jungle. Patrick trails me from a safe distance.

    Hiss! An anaconda, poised to strike. [Illo note: coiled up garden hose]


    Valerie McCammon, JUST GO AHEAD

    As a picture book concept, I thought this was really fun. I love the idea of a younger brother trying to get the attention of his older brother, and the escalations of each attempt. Though, the illustrator notes left little interpretation for the scene. It’s important to use descriptive language in picture books, but the illustrator should be able to add to that vision with their own. Another thing I liked about this book was that Nick’s first attempt at “swinging as high as the sun” was a realistic thing he’d be doing at a playground, and that in his mind it went to a completely fantastical place. But, the next declaration is to “sale across the ocean to rescue the tribal princess.” This, to me, was the fantastical thing in his head, but didn’t fit the pattern you set up of “real thing vs. imagination.” What also confused me a little bit was the opening line, “… doesn’t think I can do anything right.” None of the scenes that follow really demonstrated him trying to do anything “right” so much as trying to prove he can do something amazing. The phrasing there didn’t really set up what the story was going to be about. That said, I think this is a strong concept overall and can be very fun with a few tweaks for consistency.


    The Outlands, a middle grade novel by Julie Artz

    The first rule the village elders teach us in Graz? Curiosity kills. It’s the first lesson, the last lesson, and just about every lesson in between from what I can tell. They only let up for a sprinkling of history and a dash of survival. I should know. I’m in year seven of this, the final year before apprenticeships start.

    So I’m not surprised to see Curiosity Kills written in tidy script on the whiteboard when I walk into class. I slide my bag under my desk and power on the tablet that’s bolted to the desktop. My fingers trace the graffiti on the wooden surface before swiping at the screen and picking up where yesterday’s notes left off.

    Paper is scarce so we type everything. It’s a good thing, too, because my chicken-scratches wouldn’t pass muster with my teacher, Ms. Imma. She’s standing at the front of the class now in a dress as neat and precise as her handwriting on the board. The wooden shutters of our tiny schoolroom are opened wide, hoping to capture enough breeze to keep us from roasting. Or falling asleep.

    I tap some of her words with a few added “blah, blah, blahs” into my tablet and glance over at Lisbeth, who types like a bird skimming the surface of the creek at a mayfly hatch. Zip. Zip. Zip. She notes every single word, and probably studies them every night before her bedtime prayers. It makes sense, really, because Ms. Imma is her mother.

    Lisbeth is the only one of the year sevens who seems happy with the plan the elders have for her. My best friend, Nico, fidgeting at the desk in front of mine, will dig wells with his father, Aitor. Pablo will tend goats. Both jobs involve hard work and a strict master. Lisbeth will become a teacher. She’ll be perfect after years of practice nagging the three of us.

    Then there’s me. Unlike the others, I can’t follow in my father’s footsteps. He’s already got an apprentice. My brother Rim. I feel my ears getting hot just picturing the glee on Rim’s face.


    Julie Artz, THE OUTLANDS

    I loved the opening line of this, and the opening paragraph overall is strong as well. It sets up an interesting premise and I was curious to read further to find out just why curiosity kills and what, exactly, this apprenticeship was all about. I liked the voice, but did have a few concerns about word choice. For example, “chicken scratch” felt like an old-fashioned phrase that a MG-aged character wouldn’t refer to himself. I also didn’t know whether a “bird skimming the surface of the creek at a mayfly hatch” was supposed to mean very quick or very carefully. This, of course, might be regional, but the phrasing of it also felt like the voice of someone much older. I couldn’t picture a young person speaking that way, particularly with the use of simile and metaphor. It didn’t feel true to the voice we opened with. I also wasn’t sure if this was a futuristic world. Paper is scarce, but they don’t seem to be typing on anything that doesn’t already exist. The jobs that are described for the other Year Sevens feel very rural, but without any futuristic advancements that may exist. It made me wonder if it isn’t futuristic, why is paper scarce and why does curiosity kill? I think the world could be better developed here. I also didn’t see the narrator very much after that opening paragraph. I was curious why the story itself begins here and where the plot of the novel is set into motion.


    Thank you Sarah for sharing your time and expertise with us. We can all learn a lot from reading and first page and hearing what an editor or agent thinks.

    Talk tomorrow,


    Filed under: Advice, Agent, Process, Writing Tips Tagged: Bradford Literary Agency, First Page Critiques, Free Fall Friday - Results, Kids Counting Kitties, Sarah LaPolla, Sharon Lane Holm

    0 Comments on Free Fall Friday – Sarah LaPolla as of 6/27/2014 12:25:00 AM
    Add a Comment
    21. Writing Tip: A Moment Journal

    Hi, folks. Glad you are dropping by. News about PLUMB CRAZY is at the end of the post. Today, I'm going to chat about a little habit I have that others have found interesting.

    I keep records of moments that strike me. For example, today I drove to Navasota to have lunch with my dad at The Wrangler Steakhouse. It was sunshiny when I left and sunshiny when I returned, only somewhere in that one hour, a huge torrential rain storm dumped massive puddles of water on the roadway. Weird.

    And here's another. Yesterday, I was driving down my street and suddenly a huge beach ball rolled across a yard in front of my car and into the street, across another neighbor's yard and then back onto a side street. I watched it until it disappeared. I gave it a whimsical title. Beach ball takes a roll.

    And a last moment, a couple of days ago I was driving down in front of Bryan High school, listening to a talk show about the World Cup and Japanese fans who wave blue trash bags during the match and then clean up after. Arigato gozaimasu, Japanese fans. Right then I drove by a "Big Blue" sign in front of the Bryan High stadium and felt this whole the universe is full of cosmic harmony thing.

    I put all these moments into what I call a moments journal. I keep several journals and to stay organized I buy journals of different sizes. I like long sort of grocery-list-sized journals for moments. Short fat journals for complaining (Ok, those are supposed to be a gratefulness journals. I'm working on that.) I write in my moment journal when I feel like it. It's a total creative exercise. Journal writing keeps my imagination flexible. Maybe my weird habit will spark something in you.

    I will be back next week with a new series. I hope you make tons of creative progress this week.

    Doodle for the week:  Blue girl.

    Quote for your pocket.
    Don’t get it right, just get it written. James Thurber
    Now PLUMB CRAZY news: I recently an article on USA Today: Quirky Girls Need Love Too. I offer some tips that I follow when writing quirky characters. You might want to check that out.

    There is also the ebook giveaway that is still running: Go here. 

    The ebook version of PLUMB CRAZY from Swoon Romance but will be out as paperback soon. Try here for a copy from Amazon US. Here is Amazon UK. Here is Amazon Australia. Here is Amazon Canada. Try here for a copy for your B&N Nook .

    Also consider participating in my upcoming book tour. Here is the link. 

    0 Comments on Writing Tip: A Moment Journal as of 6/28/2014 7:05:00 PM
    Add a Comment
    22. Celebrating Words and Voice

    Writing voice.

    Hard to define.

    Difficult (impossible?) to teach.

    But there's nothing I love more in a book than a distinctive writing voice.

    I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it. Or, more correctly, I know it when I HEAR it.

    And if you think about it, that is really the literal meaning of the word "voice" - something that you HEAR.

    To me, a distinct writing voice is one that sounds unique. It has a rhythm and flow and melody to it that sets it apart from another author's writing voice.

    So here are a few examples of voice that I love:

    From Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall (even the TITLE has a wonderful voice):

    He was homely and plain, and he had a terrible holler and a horrid smell. 


    There will be Sarah’s sea, blue and gray and green, hanging on the wall. And songs, old ones and new. And Seal with yellow eyes. And there will be Sarah, plain and tall.

    From Cynthia Rylant's Missing May:

    Whirligigs of Fire and Dreams, glistening coke bottles and chocolate milk cartons to greet me. I was six years old and I had come home.


    Home was, still is, a rusty old trailer stuck on the face of a mountain in Deep Water, in the heart of Fayette County. It looked to me, the first time, like a toy that God had been playing with and accidentally dropped out of heaven. Down and down and down it came and landed, thunk, on this mountain, sort of cockeyed and shaky and grateful to be all in one piece.

    From Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane:

    Lolly was a lumpy woman who spoke too loudly and who wore too much lipstick.


    The days passed. The sun rose and set and rose and set again and again. Sometimes the father came home and sometimes he did not. Edward’s ears became soggy and he did not care. His sweater had almost completely unraveled and it didn’t bother him. He was hugged half to death and it felt good. In the evenings, at the hands of Bryce, at the ends of the twine, Edward danced and danced.

     From Kate DiCamillo's Flora and Ulysses:

    He looked exactly like a villain.
    That’s what Flora’s brain thought.
    But her heart, her treacherous heart, rose up joyfully inside of her at the sight of him.
     From Natalie Lloyd's A Snicker of Magic:

    I think that’s one of the best feelings in the world, when you know your name is safe in another person’s mouth. When you know they’ll never shout it out like a cuss word, but say it or whisper it like a once-upon-a-time.


    Lonely had followed me around for so long. That word was always perched somewhere close, always staring down at me, waiting to pounce out my joy.

    From Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting:

    The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.




    0 Comments on Celebrating Words and Voice as of 7/2/2014 7:35:00 AM
    Add a Comment
    23. Can You Quantify Successful Writing Style?

    "Needs more adjectives."I ran across an interesting news item in the Writer's Chronicle March/April issue entitled "Scientific Study Claims Ability to Predict Best-Selling Novels." Yes, I will admit there is a small part of me which is intrigued by... Read the rest of this post

    0 Comments on Can You Quantify Successful Writing Style? as of 7/14/2014 9:01:00 PM
    Add a Comment
    24. Pitch is Concept

    artshow jasonSHORE sketch 6

    This Team Sand Castle Contest was illustrated by Jason Kirschner and won Honorable Mention Unpublished Illustrator Award at the NJSCBWI Artist Showcase. http://www.jasonkirschner.com/jasonkirschner.com/Home.html

    erikaphoto-45Hello all! Jersey Farm Scribe here. Last time we talked I was giving you my take away on how to Attack a Conference. I promised I’d tell you some of the specific, tangible things I learned at the NJ SCBWI.

    So here is one of the biggest:


    It seems so simple. But I hadn’t thought of it like this before.

    Pitch IS Concept.

    I took Jill Corcoran’s workshop on concept and selling through to readers. I wasn’t sure what I expected, but I knew Jill is revered for her grasp of plot and revisions. I’ve been over her website A Path to Publishing, quite a few times, and gotten invaluable information from her blog, so I was ready to see what she had to say in person.

    One of the first things that struck me was how interchangeably she seemed to use the words “pitch” and “concept.”

    To me, pitch was what you practice saying over and over to be prepared to present my idea to one of the editors and agents walking around. It was what I put in the beginning of my query letter. That elevator, two or three sentence wrap of what my book was.

    Concept was…. actually, to be honest I hadn’t really thought about it.

    As Jill said in the workshop, and as she explains in the beginning of her free video on PlotWriMo (Revise your novel in a month), the CONCEPT is how you’d convince someone to read your book.

    Okay, so that means it’s what’s the book about, right?

    Well… yes and no.

    If I want to go see a movie, and I have to convince other people to want to go see it, what would I say? What makes it special? What draws me to want to see it? Why should someone else want to see it?

    That’s more than going over the plot. It’s more than what happens, or who the main characters are. It’s what gives the movie meaning, substance, interest and originality.

    And that’s not easy to do in a few sentences!! As Kathy has said, write it all out first. go back to cut and condense.

    But how do we know if we’re cutting the right things?

    In the workshop, a few of us read our “pitch” to Jill. And a common theme in her response was, “You’re not really TELLING me anything. I know you think you are. But you’re not.”

    A lot of it came down to specifics. The pitch has a reader. That reader needs to know what’s going on. It’s a book about heroism! Great. But how so? The kids are going to save the world? Excellent. But WHY? What’s wrong with the world in the first place? Shelby finds herself confused and alone. Okay. But why? And who isn’t? So what’s so special about her confusion?

    So how to attack punching up the concept/pitch? I learned to do three things:

    1) How will a publisher SELL the book? I hadn’t really thought about this before either. At all. It was especially meaningful for me, because I have a chapter book with a surprise ending. Sure, a surprise can be great. But TOO much surprise makes for a pretty weak back flap on the back of book! How do you sell that?

    I don’t want a publisher sitting there thinking. “Yeah, it’s great. But I can’t TELL potential readers why it’s so great or else it’ll ruin the whole thing!”

    You’re looking for a pretty serious commitment from someone, whether it’s an agent, editor, publisher, or even the final buyer of the book. Whatever is going to make them go: THIS IS IT! This is the next book I want to my devote time and money to! That’s your concept. That’s your pitch.

    Then it’s time to examine it closer:

    2) One line at a time:

    I read each sentence of my pitch at a time. Then ask myself, WHY?

    Four fearless friends save a town from despair.

    Okay. There is some element of plot in there. But honestly, the fact is, there is probably millions of stories this could be describing. So let’s see… why? Why do they do it?

    What drives them to do it? How much despair are we talking about? Can I express that level of despair in just a few more words?

    3) One WORD at a time:

    Once I have the sentences I want to say on paper and I’m confident with WHAT they say, it’s time to look at HOW they say it. Am I using the right words?

    We only have so many words we get to use in a pitch. And let’s be honest, as someone brought up in the comments of my last pitch, being specific leads to a longer pitch. It’s just a fact. So every word is even more important. Let’s look at the beginning of that same line:

    Four fearless friends…….

    Four: Does it really matter that there are four of them? Probably not. Maybe I can replace it with something more meaningful.

    Fearless: Really? I couldn’t have done better than that? How did I ever think that sounded good?


    Every single word gets analyzed, condensed, replaced, sometimes even re-envisioned entirely, which ends up leading me back to step one and starting all over again.


    …….Sigh. It’s definitely not my favorite part of the process.

    But Jill’s workshop really made me feel like now, I have a plan of attack, a process, specific, tangible things to look for, to look at and to strikethrough.

    And again, you know I’m a big believer that, well…. our manuscripts are worth it!

    Thank you Erika for another great article to help all of us improve our skills.

    Talk tomorrow,


    Filed under: Advice, article, demystify, How to, Process, Writing Tips Tagged: Erika Wassall, Jill Corcoran, Path to Publishing, Pitch is Concept

    8 Comments on Pitch is Concept, last added: 7/18/2014
    Display Comments Add a Comment
    25. A Little of This, A Little of That...

    I haven't done a links roundup in a while. That's mainly because I'm so far behind on my e-newsletters and other online reading that I've got an enormous backlog to go through. I put all that stuff in a separate email folder and instead of making me... Read the rest of this post

    0 Comments on A Little of This, A Little of That... as of 1/1/1900
    Add a Comment

    View Next 25 Posts