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1. Reaping what you Sow in Life and in Writing…

Have you ever stripped a piece of furniture to give it a new life and a fresh purpose? Recently, I finished a project that I’ve been dragging my feet on, and found the process actually refreshing and satisfying. I inherited my late brother’s trunk, which he in turn inherited from our late father. It was sooo dated that it would have made a great prop for a pirate movie. Yet, there was so much history and character to this trunk, I wanted it for a personal challenge, as well as to have a keepsake from my brother and father. So, after being ‘stuck’ as my hubby called it, in the garage since February, I began to seriously work on my trunk at the end of the August.

Honestly, I really, really hate the stripping process. It’s kind of like editing the first draft of your book. You know you have to grin and bear it to remove the gunk, and get to the bones of the story. So you do it. My elbows and hands are still screaming at me! Slowly, but surely, the old red and gold paint peeled off to reveal the trunk’s original color. The poor thing appeared so naked, so exposed, like a newborn baby with bits of after-birth stuck to it. Sorry for the visual, but it’s true.

Next came choosing the new paint color. I wanted to go with a dark brown—mostly to hide all the flaws in the trunk’s body caused by my scraper. Perhaps I used little too much elbow grease. Hubby helped me with this part, carefully spraying the sides, allowing the trunk time to dry, then giving it another coat. Covering the flaws reminded me of the care a writer takes in creating characters. Like the gouges and grooves in my trunk, your characters NEED flaws because readers must feel some sort of connection with them. Readers WANT to cheer on those flawed underdogs, see them scream, watch them change and grow. And when that connection happens, they wholeheartedly invest in your characters and the hell authors drag them through.

Once the paint was completely dry, it was on to varnishing the trunk. Boo-yah! This was a painstakingly long process, done by hand. But there was no turning back now! I did two coats and allowed the varnish time to dry and hardened. Like revising and polishing your book before submitting for publication (self or traditional), the varnishing step protects and gives a glossy finish to the trunk to give it life. This process reflects something every writer needs to do in order to get the best quality book in the hands of their readers.


Finally came the finishing, the piece de resistance. I wanted the trunk to be cedar-lined. Call me anal (hubby did), I don’t care. I wanted to be able to use the trunk to store bedding for guests, as well as double as a coffee table. I’d already invested quite a lot of time and money into this project—think how much time writers invest in their books, and you’ll understand me completely. So I went all in and did it the way I visualized the trunk that I wanted. This was hubby’s job, as he’s a skilled woodworker and finisher. And he didn’t disappoint. The trunk smelled of cedar (love the smell) and had a fresher, cleaner look to it. Truly an improvement my brother and father would have been proud of!

Speaking of improvements, Book #2 of the Last Timekeepers time travel series, The Last Timekeepers and the Dark Secret was originally written in 2001. There’s been so many revisions and rewrites to this novel that fifteen years later, I’m so proud of the final product. I do hope you get a chance to check it out when this Timekeeper mission is released on October 17th! So grab your spy gear and suit up, the Timekeepers are going undercover in their next time travel adventure! Cheers and thank you for reading my blog!


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2. Resources for New Writers on Publishing and Craft

If you’re a new writer, looking for ways to publish a book can be daunting. It’s great that we live in a time where there’s a wealth of information at our fingertips, but a simple Google search may not get you the results that you’re looking for. So where should a writer go to find resources on how to get published as well as resources on craft?

Below we’ve compiled a list of websites, interviews, and blog posts from our very own editors that discuss writing and the publishing industry. We hope these resources serve as a starting point for any budding writer embarking on their very first writing journey.

as fast as words could fly image
Image from As Fast As Words Could Fly

Advice for New Writers

In this blog post, editor Stacy Whitman answers questions with author Joseph Bruchac about writing, query letters, and publishing. You can also read the full AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on Reddit here.

Hooks, Worldbuilding, and Plot

In this Ask the Editor series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award. The advice she shares includes how to hook the reader early, world building in speculative fiction, and refining plot.

The Revision Process

Once you’ve made it to the editing phase, check out this interview with two New Voices Award Winners, Linda Boyden (The Blue Roses) and Jennifer Torres (Finding the MusicEn pos de la musica), about how their revision processes helped them prepare their stories for the New Voices Award.

The Path to Publication

Every writer’s journey to publication varies, so to share their publishing experience, Authors Debbie Taylor (Sweet Music in Harlem), G. Neri (Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty), and LaTisha Redding (Calling the Water Drum) give writers insight on how different the path to publication can be here.

 Additional Resources

We’ve chosen the following sites as useful places to gain knowledge about the publishing industry and writing. We’ve even added a few links for illustrators. Click here for a list of recommended books for writers.

The Children’s Book Council (CBC)
CBC offers an up-to-date listing of its member publishers and contact names, as well as a diverse range of resources for writers and illustrators.

Picture Book
The online resource for children’s illustrators, publishers and book lovers.

Write for Kids
This site is dedicated to writing children’s books, with message boards and other helpful articles for published and aspiring writers. Recommended by Andrea Huelsenbeck.

Poets & Writers
A more adult-oriented site, but there are listings of calls for submissions for writers, a listserv for people to discuss writing issues, and other resources particularly for writers. They also have a news section where they keep people updated on the most recent happenings in publishing.

Pubishers Weekly (PW)
The electronic version of the print magazine. PW serves as a resource for following the publishing industry.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
One of the largest organizations dedicated to children’s book writers and illustrators. SCBWI produces bi-monthly national and regional newsletters which list awards, grants and articles pertaining to publishing. See the Bulletin for advice on how to promote your first book.

resources for new writersAs we all know one of the best ways to catch an editor’s eye is to submit a grammatically correct manuscript. These should help:

The Elements of Style (online)
Believe it or not, this little manual which is required reading for every writing course is on-line. As far as convenience, I think the paper edition is more portable, but if you’re writing at your computer anyway and need to look something up you’re just a mouse click away.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online)
Now this might not be a necessity, as real live dictionaries are not out of most writer’s budgets. However, you should give it a try.

Websites specifically for illustrators:

The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature
The NCCIL provides recognition of the artistic achievements of illustrators and gallery exhibition of their works.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art 
Collects, presents, and celebrates the art of the picture book from around the world.

The Society of Illustrators
Mission: To promote and stimulate interest in the art of illustration, past, present and future, and to give impetus generally toward high ideals in the art by means of exhibitions, lectures, educational programs, social intercourse, and in such other ways as may seem advisable.

We hope these websites, blog posts, and interviews serve as great resources for any writer preparing their work for publication.

 Is there anything that we missed? Please share in the comments below!

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3. #DVpit is Back on October 5th and 6th!

After the success of the first #DVpit event in April, #DVpit is back for another round of Twitter pitching fun on October 5th and 6th! If you’re unfamiliar with this event, #DVpit is a Twitter pitch contest created to showcase pitches by marginalized voices and help connect them to agents and editors.

While the number of diverse books is increasing, the number of new diverse authors entering the field remains low. Significant barriers remain for authors of color, Native authors, disabled authors, and other marginalized voices. With that in mind, we are excited to share information on this special Twitter event! The information below is cross-posted with permission from literary agent Beth Phelan’s #DVpit website.

#DVpit

A Twitter Pitching Event, Hosted + Moderated by Beth Phelan

October 5, 2016: 8AM – 8PM ET for Children’s and Teen Fiction/Nonfiction
October 6, 2016: 8AM – 8PM ET for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction

#DVpit logo

 

What is #DVpit?


#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.

The first #DVpit took place on April 19, 2016 and was a national trending hashtag. There have been over 15 authors signed by agents as a direct result of this event so far, with editors from small to mid-size to Big Five publishers requesting to receive the manuscripts at submission stage.

#DVpit was covered by Bustle, Salon, YA Interrobang, and multiple blog sites like Lee & Low Blog and Daily Dahlia.

The event was created and is moderated by Beth Phelan, a literary agent at the Bent Agency.


 

When is the next #DVpit?


#DVpit will occur over two days. Please make sure you are pitching your work on the appropriate day; many of the agents and editors will only tune in on a specific day, to see the pitches in the categories they represent/acquire.

October 5th will be for Children’s & Teen Fiction/Nonfiction (picture books, chapter books, graphic novel, middle grade, young adult).

October 6th will be for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction (all genres, commercial and literary).

The event will run on each day from 8AM ET until 8PM ET using the hashtag #DVpit on both days.


 

What kind of work can you submit?


The participating agents and editors will be looking for a variety of work, including all categories of fiction for adults, teens, and children, as well as nonfiction—as long as they qualify per the description here.

Please only pitch your completed, unpublished manuscripts.


 

How do you submit?


The event will be broken up over two days, one for Children’s & Teen Fiction/Nonfiction (October 5) and the other for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction (October 6). Please make sure that you pitch on the appropriate day.

Your pitch must fit the 140-character max, and must also include the hashtag #DVpit.

Please try to include category and/or genre hashtags as well.

We will trust that your pitch is for a diverse book / you are a diverse author, but if you want a quick way to make the diversity in your work more apparent in your short pitch (and you can fit a few more characters), I also encourage you to include an abbreviation as an easier way to get that information across. Examples: OWN (to suggest #ownvoices), POC, LGBT, DIS (disability), IMM (immigration), etc. These codes are up to you—I’m in no place to judge or police how, or even if, you label your experience. Please remember they are optional. You will *not* be at a disadvantage if you don’t include them! If you do want to add, please make the abbreviation as clear and straightforward as possible for our agents/editors.

Please pitch no more than once per hour. You may use the same pitch, or shake things up by using different pitches for the same project. You may pitch more than one project at a time, as long as they are completed and unpublished.

Please do not tweet-pitch the agents/editors directly!

The event will run from 8:00AM ET until 8:00PM ET, so please only tweet your pitches during that block of time, on the appropriate day.


What happens next?


Agents/editors will “like” your pitch if they’d like to see material from you, so please don’t “like” other authors’ pitches. Please also do not retweet. To show support, you can always reply or quote-tweet with compliments.

Each agent/editor will have their own preferences for receiving submissions, so if you get a “like” from someone, please refer to their Twitter feed to see what they ask for, and how you can contact them.

All of these agents/editors are invested in finding more marginalized voices, so if you’re comfortable with it (and ONLY if you are comfortable with it), I encourage you to self-identify in your query, or just simply let us know that the story and/or character(s) reflect your own experience (or even in your pitch if you have the space and the inclination).

If you see that multiple agents/editors from the same company have “liked” your pitch, please contact them directly for their policy on multiple submissions, or reach out to me and I will be happy to find out for you.

Keep in mind that many agents/editors will get sidetracked with their usual work or unexpected crises and may have to revisit the feed after the event is over. So don’t be surprised if you receive “likes” after the period closes!


Our own Stacy Whitman, publisher of our Tu Books imprint, will be participating again this round. So get those pitches ready for October 5th!

If you need help with your pitch, check out these helpful resources here.

For more information, please visit the #DVpit website.

 

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4. Writers Need To Be Who They’re Meant To Be…

How many times have you compared yourself to other writers? Lots, I’d wager. If you write horror, I’m sure you try to measure up to Stephen King. Or if middle grade or young adult is your genre of choice to write, then do you try to be as good as J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyers or Rick Riordan? If you do, you’ll hit a brick wall every time because all those authors are being who they’re meant to be and excelling at it. Sure, they’re the trail-blazers, and many times pacesetters in their genres. But if you constantly compare yourself to bestselling traditional authors or successful indie authors then you’ll never be happy.

Stop. Doing. That.

There’s no magic bullet when it comes to a career in publishing. What you can do is learn to use your strengths and embrace your weaknesses, and then delegate what you can’t do. Choose an author you admire as a pacesetter, but don’t constantly compare yourself to him or her. Learn from them. Watch what they do, and do what you can or what you feel comfortable doing. Take risks, but don’t compromise your integrity. I’m not the greatest public speaker (nor do I want to be). The thought of doing a school visit shakes me to the core. But I’ve moved out of my comfort zone to do them. Not many, but some. On the other hand, I try to go out of my way to help other authors achieve their goals and dreams by tweeting or sharing their books, or hosting them on my blog. After all, there’s strength in numbers!

I read a post from Kristen Lamb about why you should use your author name to build your brand. She shares the formula to create a brand in the post. So using my own name, the formula would go like this:

Name (Sharon Ledwith) + Product (Books: The Last Timekeepers series) + Emotional Experience (the payoff readers receive).

The more books you write and get published, the bigger your platform gets, and the more readers will seek you out. Think about the music industry. If say, Katy Perry (one of my favs) only had a few songs on tap and never bothered creating a body of work, she’d never be the successful singer that she is today. Same with Adele or Justine Timberlake. One hit wonders are just that— they burst onto the scene, and then fizzle out just as fast if they don’t continue to build their brand. So don’t write one book, create a backlist.

When I first started contemplating a career in writing I used Diana Gabaldon (who writes the Outlander series) as a pacesetter. I tried to write thick, juicy books loaded with descriptions and character development like she did. Um. Yeah. Throw me in the time portal now so I can unlearn that. Although I did learn many things from her style and writing, I could never be her. There’s only ONE Diana Gabaldon, and that’s fine by me. I think I’ll concentrate my energies on being Sharon Ledwith, stop comparing myself to other authors, and write more books for my readers to escape to the past and have a blast!


BTW—Speaking of more books, Book 2 in my time travel series, The Last Timekeepers and the Dark Secret comes out October 17th through Mirror World Publishing! It’s been a long time coming and I can’t wait! And if you can’t wait, here’s the Amazon PRE-ORDERlink if you feel inclined to check out my newest time travel adventure. Cheers and thank you for reading my blog! I truly appreciate it!

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5. Thrilled, Eager, and Only Slightly Apprehensive: The Path to Publication

new voices sealIt’s September! And with the opening of a new school year comes the closing of the New Voices Award submissions window. With the deadline just weeks away on September 30, participating writers are putting the finishing touches on their submissions. The ready-to-submit writer has read August’s post about the importance of revision, and revised their cover letter and manuscript correcting all grammatical errors as well as strengthening the voice and structure of their story. If you’re a ready-to-submit writer enthusiastic about sending off your submission, that’s fantastic! But what if you’re a ready-to-submit writer who doesn’t feel ready?

Submitting an original manuscript to a contest can cause conflicting emotions. You may be excited about the possibility of publication, but weary about having your work evaluated by professionals. You may ask yourself: What does it mean if I don’t win? What does that say about my story? These are questions that all writers (even New Voices Award winners) have asked themselves at some point. To ease your apprehension, we interviewed three Lee & Low Books authors whose stories were discovered through the New Voices Award contest but did not win the award.

That’s right. These writers submitted their manuscripts, didn’t win, but were still published. Authors Debbie Taylor (Sweet Music in Harlem), G. Neri (Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty), and LaTisha Redding (Calling the Water Drum) have shared their experiences on the path to publication as well as some inspiring words to help you seal and send that envelope with confidence!

  1. What inspired you to write your story, and what helped you decide to submit it to the New Voices Award?

Debbie Taylor: I was inspired by Art Kane’s famous photograph, Jazz Musicians 1958. My husband is an avid jazz fan and quite the expert. He was delighted when I bought him a black tee shirt featuring the famous photograph. He could name every musician, their instruments, jazz styles, and could relate details of their personal lives.  However, when I asked who the children sitting on the curb might be, he had no clue. I remember asking out loud, “I wonder what those children thought about having all those stars in their neighborhood?” I set out to write a story that incorporated the musicians featured in the photograph. The rich history of the photograph led to some exciting ideas.

I was familiar with many Lee & Low Books and had also read interviews written by two of the editors. I submitted the manuscript and another story to the New Voices Award in September of 2001. Like many folks, I was shocked and saddened by the tragedy of September 11. I remember feeling helpless and depressed, but I also realized that it was useless to wring my hands and weep. So I decided to submit the manuscript to the New Voices Award contest as an affirmation of life and hope.

G. Neri: Yummy came about from a week-long school visit in South Central Los Angeles. It was after the riots, during a gang war that consumed the area. The kids I was working with were so hardened by the events, nothing seemed to phase them. They had been so weighed down by tragedy, nobody was talking. But when we came across the real life story of a kid named Yummy Sandifer, his sad tale made everyone sit up and talk. The discussion of gangs and kids dying led to them opening up about their own hard lives. I was working with gangbangers and trying to rehab them. Me telling them to leave the gangs was meaningless but if I could find a way to show them Yummy’s story, it might scare them straight. I started writing and since the kids I was working with were 7-10 year old non-readers, I wrote it as a picture book. Shortly after that, I met Paula Yoo, who’d just won the New Voices Award. Since I was looking for a way to get this published, she encouraged me to submit.

LaTisha Redding: The memories of my childhood Haitian friends inspired me to write Calling the Water Drum. My friends were new to the United States, navigating a new language, culture and environment. When I wrote this story, I wanted to explore that journey from a child’s perspective. So often stories are told from the point of view of the adult. Adult sacrifices and adult struggles. Children sacrifice and struggle, too, and they don’t have the vocabulary to articulate that experience.

As for submitting my story to New Voices Award, initially, I wasn’t sure where to submit it. Although I knew of Lee & Low, the contest wasn’t on my radar. So after I wrote it, I put it away. Months later, while browsing another writer’s website, it mentioned the New Voices Award and that the deadline was two weeks away. That’s when I remembered my story. I revised it several times and submitted it.

  1. What was it like being contacted by a Lee & Low Books Editor about interest in your New Voices Award submission?


sweet music in harlem
from Sweet Music in Harlem

DT: It was simply thrilling. The e-mail arrived with the subject line “On A Harlem Morning” and “Back Door Sugar.” I was informed that neither of my submissions was selected as a New Voices Award winner or finalist, but there was interest in developing the manuscripts if I was willing to revise them. I felt like I had won the contest. Instead of being disappointed, I was excited at the opportunity to work with an editor, Jennifer Hunt. I was thrilled, eager, and only slightly apprehensive.

I realized it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was pleased that someone recognized the value of the work. I immediately committed to doing whatever was necessary to get the manuscripts ready to resubmit. After months of revision, “Sweet Music in Harlem” was the result. (My other submission, “Back Door Sugar” was eventually published by Cricket Magazine.)

GN: Jennifer Fox contacted me to say that I didn’t win, BUT they’d loved the story. They just felt the format was too young and if I ever considered writing it for an older teen audience, they would definitely be interested. I said I had something and sent them the graphic novel script. Even though they had never done a graphic novel, they connected strongly to the story and a few weeks later, we were off and running.

LR: It was the most exquisite feeling! This picture book is the first story I have ever had published. Like most writers, I had dreamed of the day I would be published with no idea of when it would happen. I didn’t win the Award, so when I received the letter still expressing interest in the story, it surprised me. I read it over and over again, thinking I had misread it. Thankfully, I had read it correctly. I still get excited when I think about that moment. I am deeply grateful to my editor, Jessica, for her insight and guidance. She is a joy to work with and her edits deepened and enriched Calling the Water Drum beyond my expectations.

3. What is something surprising you learned while preparing your story for publication?

DT: I learned the value of story boarding and making multiple dummy books. Making the dummy book revealed the rhythm of the story and allowed me to balance the text. 

I was surprised at the level of investment from my editor. I had expected to revise the work and make changes throughout, but I had not really expected her thorough critiques and her guidance. It was evident that she wanted the book to be a masterpiece. It was like realizing your child’s track coach really wanted your child to achieve his/her personal best.

GN: A funny thing happened while I waited for a response from the competition. A friend was making a graphic novel and showed me the script for his project. Before illustrations, it looked just like a movie script. I had come out of movies and in fact, the first version of Yummy was written as a screenplay. When I saw that, I realized comics were even a better way to go and could reach older ages as well. The format was very cinematic and would appeal to non-readers. I quickly translated my script to a graphic novel and the rest is history.

LR: Two things, actually. First, it surprised me how much additional room was needed for the visual storytelling. When I wrote it, I didn’t think of it from a visual standpoint. For me, the words are the story. But, of course, there’s so much more. The illustrations tell the story just as much as the words and breathe real life into it.

Second, I discovered that with collaboration and publication, what I had considered “my story” was no longer mine, which is as it should be. It belongs to the readers. I knew that intellectually and the publication process has allowed me to experience it.

  1. What advice do you have for writers interested in submitting to the New Voices Award this year?

DT: Use fresh, evocative language to tell a compelling story. Take time to find the right word for each line. Review the manuscript as objectively as possible.

I would also suggest that writers make a simple dummy book, allow trusted friends or critique group members to review the manuscript and make certain to follow submission instructions. Accept that your story is an important one. Take full advantage of this opportunity to have your work seriously considered by Lee & Low.

 Once you have submitted the manuscript, congratulate yourself for taking that important step and start working on another manuscript.

GN: Go for it. Write something fresh and from today. Be innovative and tell stories no one else is telling. If you’re a new voice, let yourself be heard!

LR: Write the story in your heart. Write what moves you, the story that whispers to you in quiet, ‘in-between’ moments, and let it spill out on the page. Don’t be afraid that your story is too heavy or worry that children won’t understand it. Write it and revise it and submit it. You never know what may happen.

With those final words of encouragement and inspiration, we’d like to wish every writer participating in this year’s New Voices Award the best of luck! We look forward to reading your stories!

sweet music in harlem cover

Sweet Music in Harlem by Debbie Taylor is available now! Purchase the book here.

yummy cover

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by Greg Neri is available now! Purchase the book here.

calling the water drum cover

Calling the Water Drum by LaTisha Redding will be available soon! Purchase the book here.

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6. The Heart of Writing: The Revision Process

New Voices Award sealIt’s August and with the New Voices Award deadline approaching in just seven weeks, participating writers may be starting to feel the heat. No sweat! The New Voices Award blog post series has got you covered from the summer sun of stress.

At this stage, you’ve probably got your cover letter and story written down. You’ve also read July’s post on the importance of voice in a story and made your narrative even more engaging to readers. Congrats! That’s two essential checks on the New Voices To-do list –but don’t seal the envelope just yet! Now that your story is down it’s time to begin the revision process.

Revision is an important part of the writing experience. It’s about revisiting what you’ve written, identifying what needs to be strengthened, and rewriting to improve your story. Every writer’s revision process is different so to provide some guidance we interviewed two New Voices Award Winners, Linda Boyden (The Blue Roses) and Jennifer Torres (Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica), about how their revision processes helped them prepare their stories for the New Voices Award.

What inspired you to write your story? Did you write it specifically for the New Voices Award, or was it something you were working on already?

 Linda Boyden: In 1978 my maternal grandfather, Edward Dargis, passed away. I was about to have my last baby and couldn’t attend his funeral 3,000 miles away. Until I went to college, we had lived in the same neighborhood and were very close. He worked at a factory but was happiest in his garden. A few nights after he passed, he came to me in a dream. He stood in a beautiful flower garden, and like Rosalie’s Papa his face was “smooth, not wrinkled.” In the dream he told me to stop grieving because he was happy. From that point on I knew I needed to write this story as a gentle way to broach a tough topic.

from The Blue Roses
from The Blue Roses

Many years later when my husband’s company moved us to Maui, I left teaching and decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer. I enrolled in a community college writing course. The instructor assigned us the task of writing 1,000 words a week so the first draft of The Blue Roses was actually homework! When he returned it he commented, “I wanted to like Rosalie more, but I couldn’t.” That hurt so I put the manuscript away. Months later I rethought and revisited. By the time I learned of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, the manuscript had been through a few revisions. After winning, it went through a few more with my careful editors, Laura Atkins and Louise May.

Jennifer Torres: Finding the Music was inspired by my own childhood—growing up in a noisy family, being close to my grandparents and their stories, hearing mariachi music playing in the background of weddings, birthday parties and other special celebrations. It was also inspired by stories I covered as a newspaper reporter: one, an obituary for a farm worker who gave free mariachi lessons to neighborhood kids on his time off, and another about the sense of community that grew around the mariachi program at Cesar Chavez High School in Stockton, California. I started working on the book long before I learned about the New Voices Award. After researching publishers, I knew I wanted to submit my manuscript to Lee & Low. I went to the website to learn more about the company and to review submission guidelines—that’s when I discovered the award.

What does your revision process look like? At what point in your writing process do you begin making changes?

LB: I write at a certain time every day. When working on a picture book, I rough it out on paper and revisit the next morning. I revise the previous work then create new. Next day, repeat. When it’s almost “good” I print it, read it aloud, and revise more. I love the process: revision is the heart of writing.

JT: I always catch myself wanting to revise as I go, making changes today on what I wrote yesterday. But I try to resist! It’s too easy for me to get hung up on small details that way. I think I do much better work when I’m revising a finished draft. I can step back with a sense of the story’s full scope. The problems stand out more clearly, and, often, so do the solutions.

How often do you share your works-in-progress with other people? Are you part of a critique group or is there someone specific you rely on for feedback?

from Finding the Music
from Finding the Music

LB: I’ve been part of many critique groups over the years. Now, I share with trusted individuals only and generally online. I read most rough drafts aloud to my husband who hears the mistakes. I also share all my picture book manuscripts with one young granddaughter who also has remarkable insights.

JT: I’m not part of a critique group-I think it could be good though! I do have a few friends who I ask to read drafts after I’ve finished a couple of rounds of revision on my own. They’re talented writers—whose styles and voices are nothing like mine—and they give thoughtful and honest feedback. It’s super helpful to me to see my work from someone else’s perspective, especially when the story has been all alone in my head until then.

What is something surprising you learned while preparing your story for publication?

LB: The most surprising part was discovering that authors and illustrators seldom meet, or even have contact. My Lee & Low editors had no problem with illustrator, Amy Cordova, and me communicating. Not only did this collaboration strengthen our book, Amy and I have remained friends.

JT: During the publication process, my editor let me know that Finding the Music would be bilingual (It was initially English-only). This meant some extra editing and paring down, but I was really excited about the decision! What was surprising to me, though, was how adding the Spanish text added so much dimension to the book as a whole. I can’t imagine it any other way now, and it’s a good reminder of how the collaborative nature of the process can do so much to enrich storytelling.

How has winning New Voices Award changed the way you write or revise stories?

LB: Winning the first New Voices Award gave me something I lacked as a writer: self-confidence. Though I understood picture books, I had no training in becoming a writer other than the one community college course mentioned above. Winning also gave me the opportunity to learn from the wonderful editorial staff at Lee & Low Books.

 JT: Coming from a newspaper background, I already had big appreciation for editing and revising as part of the writing process. But at a newspaper, it happens so fast. Winning the New Voices Award and preparing Finding the Music for publication helped me realize how valuable it can be to step back from a project, and approach it again weeks (or even months) later with fresh eyes and perspective.

The Blue Roses by Linda Boyden is available now!

The Blue Roses cover image

Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica by Jennifer Torres is available now!

Finding the Music cover image

For more details about submitting to the New Voices Award please visit the New Voices Award page.

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7. Three Up-and-Coming Writers of Color to Watch Out For

New Visions Award sealThe New Visions Award, given annually by our Tu Books imprint, honors a middle grade or young adult novel for young readers by an author of color who has not previously published a novel for that age group. It was established to encourage new talent and to offer authors of color a chance to break into a tough and predominantly white market.

In addition to our New Visions Award Winner and Honor, this year there were three New Visions Award finalists: Alex Brown (Hate Crime), Hilda Burgos (The Castle of Kings), and Elizabeth Stephens (The Rougarou). Below, they share their writing experience, what inspires them, and what they hope readers will take away from their stories. We are thrilled to introduce readers to these talented writers and can’t wait to see how their careers take shape!

Could you tell us about your story?

Elizabeth Stephens headshotElizabeth Stephens: The Rougarou has been a work in progress for several years now. I drafted the first version of this manuscript my freshman year of college, though it has taken on a life of its own since! In particular, my study abroad experience in Paris, France in 2012 helped shape the details of this novel as did later work experience in Geneva, Switzerland. Whenever I reread my own book, it provides me with a sense of nostalgia – a straight shot of Paris. The infusion of Cajun folklore into the story, I adopted only very recently. I am a native French speaker because I grew up in West Africa and knew that I wanted my main character’s roots to be francophone. At the same time, I have been deeply interested in Louisiana culture since I was thirteen years old and first read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.

Hilda Burgos headshotHilda Burgos: The eleven year-old protagonist of my story, Ana Maria Reyes (Anamay), has a few things in common with me: she has three sisters, her parents are from the Dominican Republic, and she is growing up in the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. I first created Anamay about twenty years ago when I drafted a picture book manuscript about a six year-old girl who was nervous about the impending birth of a new sibling. Then I learned about a chapter book contest, and decided that Anamay’s story could be expanded to include the culture shock I experienced when I was ten years old and first visited the Dominican Republic.

Alex Brown Headshot Alex Brown: My mother immigrated to the US from the Philippines in the 1980s. She left an entire country behind in order to come here and be a nurse. The US has a long history of recruiting nurses from the Philippines, and from what I can tell, it started after the Spanish-American War, with the Pensionado Act of 1903 (wherein certain Filipino citizens came to the US to study). I took a little bit of what she experienced when she first arrived here, and built upon some of the obstacles she faced (including how incredibly badass she is for raising two kids as a single parent in a new country). I also drew from my own experiences growing up – the discord that happens between my main character and her parents when she chooses not to believe the legitimate folktales they tell her – reflects a lot of my feelings as a kid.

Is there anything in particular you hope readers take away from this story?

ES: I certainly hope that readers enjoy the elements of the story that I had most fun crafting: the romance between Chandelle and Reno, the setting in modern day Paris, and the fantastical elements reminiscent of Southern lore never forgotten.

HB: When I was a child there weren’t many books about kids like me: kids who lived in apartment buildings in a city, who spoke one language at home and another one in school, who had frizzy hair and dark complexions. I always looked for something familiar in the books I read. I hope that readers learn something new and expand their worlds when they read about Anamay, and that this knowledge helps them as they meet new people in their lives. I also hope that readers who share some of Anamay’s experiences find comfort in the familiarity of some of the scenes. Most importantly, I hope that readers enjoy the story and are inspired to read more and more books.

AB: I hope that people will start to think about the impact they can have on others. We live in this society where certain things – stereotypes, prejudices, hatred – are way more insidious than they have any right to be. But, with all of the bad, there’s still the possibility that anyone, anywhere, can stand up for what’s right. I’d also feel quite accomplished if people took a moment to pause and think about all of the obstacles and daily struggles that await anyone who immigrates to America. There’s something to be said about the unquantifiable amount of bravery, hope, and grit that it takes to leave one’s whole world behind, all to start a new life in an unfamiliar (and, at times, unfriendly) place.

Is there anything about your writing experience that you’d like to share?

ES: I wrote my first book at the age of eleven. It was a science fiction saga about a young girl picked up by a ragtag group of bandits and transported to other worlds. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of publishing several short works of horror in a number of online magazines and last year, I published my first fiction novel.

HB: I fell in love with language and literature when I first learned how to read.   A well-written book is a work of art. In college I majored in French and Spanish literatures, and I also took English literature and creative writing classes. I wrote stories for pleasure during college and law school, and I took my first class on writing for children after law school. I draw ideas from my life experiences and observations, from stories that I have heard, and from historical accounts and current events.

AB: When I first started to seriously consider writing, I was a co-winner of the Windy City Chapter of the Romance Writers of America’s Four Seasons YA award. A few months after that, I was one of the inaugural winners of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices award. The manuscript that received these cool distinctions was my second, and since then I’ve gone on to write several more, and have quite a few other ideas for new books!


Last year, books by authors of color comprised less than eleven percent of the total number of books published for young readers, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The annual New Visions Award is a step toward the day when all young readers can see themselves in books.

The New Visions Award is open for submissions through October 31, 2016! Please see the full submissions guidelines here.

If you’d like more news regarding the New Visions Award, author interviews, and more, sign up for our newsletter here.

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8. Tackling Titillating Taglines…

Tackle your Readers attention with a great Tagline!
You need to hit readers hard, blindside them with an awesome tagline in order to grab their attention. I cannot overestimate the importance of this. Your tagline, blurb and excerpt are the most important sales tools you have for your book. Choose them wisely.

Every author wants people to read their book, right? Well, they aren't going to find your book unless you put it out there and MAKE them want to read it. Throwing away your tagline and blurb is just like taking your book and throwing it off a bridge in the hopes that someone will fish it out of the ocean, find it, and think it's great. So let's go over developing a tagline that will make readers care enough to pick up your book and purchase it.

A tagline is—or should be—one of the simplest things to create. A tagline is—plain and simply—a one sentence summation of the theme of your book. Something quick and catchy. If you're moving on through publishing by attending conferences and conventions, a tagline is similar to what is called an elevator pitch. What you want to do is to catch a reader's—or an agent's or an editor's—attention with a one-sentence description.

Remember, a PITCH and a TAGLINE are two different things. A PITCH is to get someone to buy your book with the intent to publish it. A TAGLINE is to get someone anonymous, in a bookstore or online, to buy your book to READ it. So your tagline should be about your BOOK.

Here’s the tagline for the first book in my middle grade/young adult time travel series, The Last Timekeepers and the Arch of Atlantis:

“Children are the keys to our future. And now, children are the only hope for our past.”

Is it the best tagline ever? Nope, probably not. But it tells the reader exactly what the theme of the book is. Look at the points it covers—what it tells you about the book. What does that tagline cover?

Children. Keys. Future. Hope. Past.

That's the purpose of a tagline and how to make it work for you. Therefore—homework lesson number one. Sit down and READ your book. You may think you know what it's about, but if you're a writer like me—you don't. READ IT. As you read, jot down notes to yourself. One. Word. Notes. Hit the high points of your book. What themes, what high points do you think sell your book? No—even simpler: what tags or key words are IN your book? Because those are what will sell your book. Readers don't always know what they're looking for in something to read. Your tagline will give them clues.

A few examples of great taglines:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – It takes a graveyard to raise a child.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner – Remember. Survive. Run.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson – Two lives are bridged – and nothing will be the same.

Do you see what all of these taglines have in common? They titillated enough readers to become bestsellers.
 
So that's your first job after your book is written. To sit down and read your book, and to pull a tagline from it. And this is where the elevator pitch and the tagline come together. In an elevator pitch, you've got maybe thirty seconds to gain the interest of an editor or an agent—just as long as it takes the elevator to get to their floor. With a reader, you have your book cover and one sentence—just one sentence—to convince them to click through and read more. You cannot afford to throw that chance away. So a tagline that's trite or vague or boring cannot be an option.

BTW – Here’s a sneak peek at the tagline for the next book in my time travel series, The Last Timekeepers and the Dark Secretset to be released on October 17th 2016:

“Only a true hero can shine the light in humanity’s darkest time.”

Hope I've done my job and piqued your interest! What are some of your favorite taglines? Cheers and thank you for your time and attention today!

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9. Interview: 2013 New Voices Award Winner Sylvia Liu

A Morning with Grandpa cover

May 2016 signified the opening of Lee & Low Book’s seventeenth annual New Voices Award contest! To kick off the season, we interviewed New Voices Award winner Sylvia Liu about her writing process and how she prepared her winning story, A Morning with Grandpa, for the New Voices Award. Learn more  about our New Voices Award here.

What inspired you to write A Morning with Grandpa? Did you write it specifically for New Voices, or was it something you were working on already?

I was inspired by my dad, who was doing qi gong (a mind-body practice involving moving “qi,” or energy, around one’s body through breathing techniques), while we were vacationing together. He taught my daughters his breathing techniques, and that inspired the story of a grandfather teaching his granddaughter both qi gong and tai chi.

I wrote the draft as part of a year-long challenge, 12×12, where the goal is to write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. After I wrote this story, I realized it was a great fit for the New Voices contest.

What did you do to prepare your manuscript for submitting to the New Voices Award?

My critique group gave me excellent feedback that improved my story. I also got invaluable feedback from an agent as part of a critique that came with a Writer’s Digest course.

While writing your story did you encounter writer’s block? What did you do to overcome it?

This was one of the few stories I’ve written where I didn’t experience writer’s block. The initial story came to me very quickly, though it was different than the final form. The first draft was told mainly in dialogue, and one of my critique mates encouraged me to incorporate more lyrical language.

A Morning with Grandpa interior spread

 

A Morning with Grandpa is a story about trying new things. When was a time you tried something new and how did it turn out?

About seven years ago, some friends and I took a women’s surf camp. It was so much fun that we kept going back for several years. At some point, I realized that surfing was not my sport, but my friends and I still occasionally get our boards and go out into the water. Last summer, our beach had several shark sightings so I stayed out of the water for the most part.

Who were some of your favorite writers growing up? Are there any books or writers that inspire you now?

Growing up, I loved reading science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and thrillers. My favorite series as a child was Lloyd Alexander’s Book of Three series. In my teens, I inhaled the entire oeuvres of Agatha Christie, Robert Ludlum, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and Stephen King.

Nowadays, I’m inspired by author-illustrators who tell stories in intriguing and beautiful ways, like Shaun Tan and Gene Luen Yang.

Finally, what advice would you give new writers interested in writing children’s books?

Read as much as you can, both in and outside the genre you are writing in, and read recently published books. As the head of my daughters’ school recently said, good readers make good writers; great readers make great writers. And knowing what is being published today will help you gauge where you are on your writing journey.

Take the time to learn the craft of writing, connect with other authors, and have fun.

 

Sylvia LiuSylvia Liu was inspired to write this story by the playful and loving relationship between her children and their Gong Gong. Before devoting herself to writing and illustrating children’s books, she worked as an environmental lawyer at the US Department of Justice and the nonprofit group Oceana. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and their two daughters. This is Sylvia’s debut picture book.

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10. A Glimpse into my Writing World…

I thought I’d try something completely different (cue the Monty Python music), and give my readers and followers a glimpse into my writing world by asking my ‘author’ self these five fun questions…

1.      Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?
Hmmm…unlimited resources? I honestly don’t know how to answer that because I DO have the perfect writing environment. But if I had a choice, I’d like a condo in Florida for the winter months, so I could continue to enjoy the warm weather all year round! After all, didn’t Hemingway have a place down there? Grin.

2.      Where do you actually write?
I set up a writing office in my home. Since we’re empty nesters, one of the bedrooms was a perfect fit to fill with my book shelves, books, a reading chair, L-shaped desk, computer, printer, and story board. I don’t have a great view, but I figure it helps keep me staring at my computer and pounding the keys. Wink.

3.      How did you come to write The Last Timekeepers series?
Both the idea and inspiration came to me through a dream I had around 1998. In this dream, I saw seven arches, and there were seven people (five kids, two adults) with crystals in their hands, walking up to these arches. It definitely had an Indiana Jones feel to it. At that time, I was writing a paranormal romance (before there was a distinct genre) and had no intention of writing a middle-grade/young adult book like The Last Timekeepers. But this idea kept growing in my mind, and wouldn’t leave, like some mystical force pushing you from behind. So, I thought I’d challenge myself and write a novel—a series—that would appeal to my son, who at the time was the target age of my audience. I’ve always loved the time travel genre, so I imagined the arches I saw vividly in my dream as time portals. It was a no-brainer for me.

4.      What was the hardest part of writing your book, and how did you overcome it?
Hardest part? I think starting from scratch and learning the process of actually writing a book. I’m strong at dialogue, so that part wasn’t a problem, but I lacked in novel structure and how to construct a novel. I had to learn from the ground up, so I went to night classes, joined writing workshops, read books on writing to hone my skills enough to get the first draft done. And then when the book was complete, I had to learn how to edit, revise, and redo. This part of writing a novel is an ongoing work in progress! LOL!

5.      What is your favorite late night snack?
I’m gonna say a bag of party mix—the cheesier the better! I do love my salty snacks! And thankfully, I don’t indulge that often.

The writing business can be messy and hard at times, but it can also be fun and rewarding. Givingreaders a small glimpse into an author’s life can provide an avenue for engagement, life-long connections, and fans for life. Cheers and thank you for reading my post!

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11. #DVpit: A Twitter Pitching Event for Marginalized Authors

While the number of diverse books is increasing, the number of new diverse authors entering the field remains low. Significant barriers remain for authors of color, Native authors, disabled authors, and other marginalized voices. With that in mind, we are excited to share information on this special Twitter event, #DVpit, created to showcase pitches by marginalized voices and help connect them to agents and editors. The information below is cross-posted with permission from literary agent Beth Phelan’s website.   

#DVpit

A Twitter Pitching Event, Hosted + Moderated by Beth Phelan

April 19, 2016
8:00AM EST – 8:00PM EST

#DVpit

What is #DVpit?


#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.


What kind of work can you submit?


The participating agents and editors are looking for a variety of work, including all categories of fiction for adults, teens, and children, as well as nonfiction—as long as they qualify per the paragraph above.

Please only pitch your completed, unpublished manuscripts.


How do you submit?


Your pitch must fit the 140-character max, and must also include the hashtag #DVpit.

Please try to include category and/or genre hashtags in your pitch.

We will trust that your pitch is for a diverse book, but if you want a quick way to make the diversity in your work more apparent in your short pitch (and you can fit a few more characters), I also encourage you to include an abbreviation as an easier way to get that information across. Examples: OWN (to suggest #ownvoices), POC, LGBT, DIS (disability), IMM (immigration), etc.

These codes are up to you—I’m in no place to judge or police how, or even if, you box your experience. If you’ve already perfected your pitch and/or simply don’t see the value in including these codes, please remember they are optional. You will *not* be at a disadvantage if you don’t include them! If you do want to add, please make the abbreviation as clear and straightforward as possible for our agents/editors.

Please pitch no more than once per hour, per manuscript. You may use the same pitch, or shake things up by using different pitches for the same project. You may pitch more than one project at a time, as long as they are completed and unpublished.

Please do not tweet the agents/editors directly!

The event will run from 8:00AM EST until 8:00PM EST, so please only tweet your pitches during that block of time.


What happens next?


Agents/editors will your “like” your pitch tweet if they’d like to see material from you, so please don’t “like” other authors’ pitches. Please also do not retweet. To show support, you can always reply with compliments.

Each agent/editor will have their own preferences for receiving submissions, so if you get a “like” from someone, please refer to their Twitter feed to see what they ask for, and how you can contact them.

All of these agents/editors are invested in finding more marginalized voices, so if you’re comfortable with it (and ONLY if you are comfortable with it), you are encouraged you to self-identify in your query, or just simply let us know that the story and/or character(s) reflect your own experience (or even in your pitch if you have the space and the inclination).

If you see that multiple agents/editors from the same group have “liked” your pitch, please contact them directly for their policy, or reach out to Beth Phelan who can help you find out.

Keep in mind that many agents/editors will get sidetracked with their usual work or unexpected crises and may have to revisit the feed after the event is over. So don’t be surprised if you receive “likes” after the period closes!


Who is participating?


Over 50 agents and editors will be participating, and since this is a public event, more are likely to join in on the day! Our own Stacy Whitman, publisher of our Tu Books imprint, will be participating. See the full list here.

Please be sure to research any agent or publisher that “likes” your pitch. There is no obligation to submit your work to anyone you don’t want to.


For more details and a list of resources to help with your pitch, visit Beth Phelan’s post. Best of luck and happy pitching!

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12. Writing conferences: A Place to Learn the Craft

Looking online for resources as a new writer can be confusing. If you google “how to get a book published,” many of the first results you see are ads for resources that are sketchy at best—pay-to-play publishing, self publishing, vanity publishing. (While self publishing is a valid route, it’s important to know all your options before deciding self publishing is the right way for you.)

Change the query to “how to get a children’s book published” and the results aren’t much better. Eventually you may stumble on the helpful Frequently Asked Questions page for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), an excellent resource for new writers looking to improve their craft and figure out the publication process. But navigating all the resources out there, good and bad, can be tricky.

Sometimes, you need to cut through the layers of information overload and just learn from publishing professionals directly. This is where writing conferences come in—which offer this and much more.

There are many good writing conferences across the United States (and the world). The SCBWI has local chapters that host monthly events, and the regional chapters tend to host at least one writing conference a year to which they bring editors and agents from New York City and elsewhere to teach, network with attendees, and critique their work. Many writers come away from conferences having met multiple like-minded writers with whom they can start a critique group. Other organizations also host more intensive workshops, such as Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, a conference that has gained national acclaim.

Color of Children's Literature Flyer - VERSION V (March 20, 2016; 9h51)While these conferences are excellent general resources—and many of them are working hard to become more welcoming spaces for writers of color—we also recognize that without meaning to, sometimes general spaces don’t give writers of color the support they need in an industry dominated by white editors, agents, and authors. There is something to be said for a conference that begins with a mission to connect writers of color with information about publishing—from publishing 101, to improving craft, to networking with publishing professionals.

One such conference is Kweli Journal’s children’s book writing conference, which is holding its second annual writing conference on April 9 at Scandinavia House in New York City. The conference is only $100 for a full day’s programming (this is a really good price for a conference like this) and more than 25 authors, editors, and agents will be on panels and teaching workshops throughout the day.

The keynote speaker will be Edwidge Danticat, author of the Oprah’s Book Club pick Breath, Eyes, Memory and the YA novel Untwine, among many other acclaimed titles. Our own Joseph Bruchac, author of Quick Picks Top Ten title Killer of Enemies and more than 120 other books, will be there, as will Stacy Whitman, the publisher of our Tu Books imprint. Jessica Echeverria will be at the conference representing our picture book editorial team.

In the morning after the keynote, authors will learn from publishing professionals about how the publishing process works, and what their options are (self publishing, small presses, large publishers, whether you need an agent), and then the afternoon will break out into roundtables and critiques.

For a full list of publishing professionals who will be at the conference, check out the Kweli Journal website. We hope to meet you at the conference!

When: Saturday, April 9, 2016, 8 am — 8 pm

Where: Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10016

Price: $100

Click here to register.

If you are not in the New York City area, fear not. Here’s a list of other writing conferences around the United States that have been recommended by writers we know:

British Columbia, Canada

Surrey International Writers’ Conference

California

SCBWI Summer Conference

Florida

Sun Coast Writer’s Workshop

Massachusetts

New England SCBWI Regional Conference

Oregon

Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writing Workshop

Willamette Writers Conference

Pennsylvania

The Highlights Foundation hosts workshops throughout the year

Western Pennsylvania’s SCBWI conference

Utah

Writing for Charity

Specifically for teens: Teen Author Boot Camp

Specifically for writers of speculative fiction: Life, the Universe, and Everything

Virginia

SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Annual Conference

These are only a small sampling of the excellent writing conferences out there. If you’re going to Kweli, let us know so we can look for you! If you can’t make it, feel free to recommend your favorite writing conference to learn about writing for children and teens.

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13. To-the-point writing advice

The post To-the-point writing advice appeared first on Cathrin Hagey.

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14. How to find and work with a freelance editor


Nathan here! My good friend Christine Pride is a talented freelance editor who has worked for Random House and Hyperion and edited eight NY Times bestselling books. Oh, and I also hired her to edit my guide to writing a novel.

Christine has a wealth of experience, and I'm excited to share her post on how best to work with a freelance editor. 

Thank you Nathan! It’s so nice to be “here” in this vibrant community of writers.

When I decided to leave the “cushy” comforts of corporate publishing in the fall of 2012 to strike out on my own as an editorial consultant, it was with the idea of, among other things, ditching all of the less appealing aspects of the job (endless meetings, office politics, etc.) to focus more on what I love: the actual editing. And true to my wishes, the purity of the work has been a real treat, and incredibly fulfilling and meaningful—beyond what I could even have hoped.

(The freedom to wear loungewear in the office is icing on the cake.)

In the past three years, I’ve worked with more than a hundred writers, across many different genres, to help them refine their projects and improve their craft; to commit to their goals and deadlines, and to navigate through the publishing process, which let’s be honest can be both mystifying and intimidating. I’m so proud of the successes so many of them have experienced and are cheering them the loudest knowing just how hard they’ve worked and how much they’ve invested.

It’s no secret that getting an agent or a book deal is no easy feat. That’s true today more than ever given the changes in the industry, which have left agents and publishers with less of the time, resources and inclination to take a chance on a flyer or to invest in what we would sometimes call, “fixer uppers,” the books that show promise but need quite a bit of editorial work to be ready for primetime. So it’s more important than ever before that when you approach an agent with your work it is as polished, perfected and as salable as possible for you to have the best chance at success.

Meanwhile, the self-publishing marketplace is growing exponentially, and gives writers a wonderful (and often lucrative) pathway to bring their books to readers. But in that landscape too, the bar is high and readers have come to expect that the quality and caliber of the product will be on par with those coming from a corporate publisher.

A professional can offer you the unbiased feedback and narrative insight in terms of what readers, agents and editors are looking for that can take your book from good to great.

That said, though the benefits might be clear, it’s a big decision, and it’s a big investment, of hundreds or thousands of dollars, not to mention your precious time in addressing the feedback and suggestions from your editor. So you want to carefully consider whether it’s right for you and if you decide that it is, to go into the process armed with as much information possible to make the most of the process.

With that in mind, I offer you these tips:

Do your research

As you would if you were looking for a doctor, contractor or nanny, hiring any professional requires you to vet them in terms of their experience, expertise and fit with your particular needs.

It’s always nice to start with a referral, if you know any fellow writers who have successfully worked with an editor. You can also be in touch with literary agents you admire to ask them (or someone on their staff) for a recommendation. Agents often have a team of “go to” independent editors to whom they refer clients (because as I said they often don’t have time to do the editorial shaping themselves, even if they see promise in a project). You can also comb through other resources like writer focused websites (like this terrific one!) or publications like Poets and Writers or Narrative where editors may advertise.

Once you have a name, or a few, you’ll want to Google them and make sure they have solid credentials, a professional presence online and testimonials. Bear in mind that not all editors have the same level of experience. An editor or agent who has worked in the industry is going to have an insider perspective, along with keen editorial insights honed from working in the trenches. Which is not to say that you wouldn’t have a wonderful experience with an editor who hasn’t worked at one of the big publishing houses, but that experience does offer a premium.

It’s always nice to have a chat with the editor (or editors) you’re considering as well, to talk a little more about your project and to get a gut feel for him or her. Do you enjoy talking to this person (after all you will likely be doing a lot of that)? Is this someone you could trust with your work? Do they have experience and/or in interest in the type of book you’re writing?

Many editors will also agree to do a sample edit of ten or so pages. I, personally, don’t think sample edits are a very useful tool since edits are so holistic and it’s the bigger picture feedback on the plot, characters, etc. that’s going to make the most impact on your book. But if you just want to get a sense of what an edit from this person will look like, this could be helpful to you.

Be clear about your needs, goals and expectations 

There are many different points in your writing journey that you may want to consult with a professional editor. Don’t be afraid to tailor the services to exactly what’s going to be most helpful to you; most editors are happy to be flexible in terms of services and collaborative style.

Maybe you’d just like a topline read and some overall honest feedback. Perhaps you need a review of your query letter to make sure it hits the mark. Maybe you’d like to talk through a new book idea before you get too far down the road with it. Or, as is the most common, maybe you have a finished draft and would like the editor to provide detailed margin and line notes and an editorial letter (known as a development edit) to guide your next revision.

Make sure your editor knows your ultimate goals—to get an agent, to self-publish, to hone your craft, etc. Being clear about your goals and expectations will make sure you and your editor have the most productive collaboration.

Be mindful of your budget

A comprehensive development edit is likely going to run you in the range of $1500 and up, depending on a variety of factors. Some editors will charge by the hour and some will offer a flat fee; it’s typical that half will be due when you start the scope of work and half will be due when it’s complete. Don’t be afraid to say to your editor, “Look, I have $2000 to spend here, what’s the best way to maximize that?”

There are ways to cut corners and an editor will often give you different options that are within your budget. You can also shop around because prices can vary from editor to editor based on their level of experience and demand. Also remember that this expense could be tax deductible in most cases—check with your accountant or the IRS.

One way to keep costs down (and to work most effectively) is to polish and perfect your project as much as you can before you invite the help of an editor. This is where your writing group comes in handy or your friend who’s willing to read. This initial (free) feedback can help you address obvious trouble/blind spots, getting you that much farther down the road. Or you may approach an editor for top-line feedback first and then do a preliminary revision for returning to them for a deeper edit. 

Be open-minded and willing to do the work

Any collaboration with an editor is only going to be as good as the work you put into it. Revising and responding to feedback is JUST as important to being a successful writer as raw talent itself. I would argue even more so.

When I was an in-house editor the average book I acquired would still go through two to four more rounds of edits and that was after the author got a book deal! So imagine the rounds of revisions to get it to that point.

Prepare yourself for that and know that a good editor is going to give you a lot of notes, thoughts and ideas and you should have an open mind in terms of any and all feedback and options presented. A teacher, a coach, a friend, a mentor and a writing adviser, the best freelance editors are all of that rolled into one (with a dash of therapist throw in for good measure!)

The right collaboration can be meaningful, productive and get you closer to your writing goals and I hope this information and advice gives you a better understanding of the process and how to make the most of it.

Good luck out there and happy writing!

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15. Writers and Boundaries…

My Writing Womb
Actor/writer John Cleese once said to an audience that in order to be creative, two things must occur: you need to create boundaries, and make time. That’s it. Even if you write or paint or woodwork for one hour, you MUST shut yourself in a space, and let no one in for one hour. Writers would sure benefit from wearing a turtle’s shell so we could withdraw from the world any time we wanted! LOL!

Early mornings are a popular working time for many writers and artists, for a few obvious reasons. If you get up early enough, you can generally count on being free from visitors, phone calls, and other interruptions. And if you go straight to work on your creative project—if you literally put it first in your day—you can guarantee that your working time won’t be derailed by other commitments or temptations.

So how do you acquire that coveted time to write? This has been an ongoing obstacle for many writers, including yours truly. Especially when life gets messy. And trust me, it does! I guess the best advice that I can give is that you need to make sacrifices. Instead of watching three TV shows with your better half, cut back one or two (pick your favorite to watch), then scurry to your writing lair and put your fingers to the keyboard. Lock yourself in your room. Tell your family members that once the door is closed for the set amount of time you’ve chosen, you’re not available. Period. Even if someone screams bloody murder. If you need to, buy earphones, download a music app, and plug in. This will help to keep those distractions out and the words flowing.

Another option is GET OUT of the house and go to your local coffee shop or library. Many authors have chosen this avenue with great success. Libraries have more confining hours, but most coffee shops are open 24 hours. The idea is to create both time and space for yourself to write. Plus, you’ve got fresh coffee or tea on demand, so that’s a bonus!

A more expensive idea if you can swing it is to rent a motel or hotel room for a personal writing retreat. You might be able to get a good deal during off-season periods, or even use those air miles you’ve been saving to cash in on a room. What about using a friend’s home or apartment a few times a week? The possibilities are available, but we have to utilize them.

This upcoming year, I need to make some sacrifices and define my space (physical and emotional) in order to finish writing the next installment of my time travel series (so close!), and start brainstorming the next book. I’m lucky enough to have my own writing office, and there’s no little ones around to knock on the door. Unless my 100 pound yellow Labrador decides to nudge open the door to be fed or walked! I’ve used a timer in the past, but like anything, if it’s not made a habit, it’s not going to work. Self-discipline is the name of the game in this business, that’s for sure! So keep a stiff upper lip, define your writing space and time, and get that book written!

How do you define your boundaries as a writer? Where are some great places you like to write? Do you allow yourself a certain amount of time to write? Would love to read your comments! Cheers and thank you for reading my blog!

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16. Come join us for November writing tips!

 

WGDW #58b

The response has been great! We’ve assembled a nice group of folks who are looking forward to their free daily writing tips all through the month of November.

There’s still time to sign up. Just go here for all the details and to get the free download of TOP 10 MISTAKES WRITERS MAKE. And be sure to tell your other writing pals. The more the merrier!

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17. NaNoWriMo

Turns out I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year.

Of course, I recently wrote a book in which a young Wrimo gets published, Afterworlds, and I’ve been close to the NaNo organization for a while. (I’m on their Writers Board, and here’s a pep talk I did for them.) But I’ve never technically done NaNo itself—writing the first draft of a novel in November.

But now I have this secret project due in early December, and I see that it’s a few days before Halloween. It’s all coming together! So I’ll be posting my word count and chugging along with the rest of you.

If you want to know more about the concept and the organization, click here.

Need some inspiration in telling your own story? Here’s NaNo’s Sarah Mackey speaking at NerdCon about why stories matter:

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18. Your NaNoWriMo Tuneup


The leaves are changing in the northeast and there's a chill in the air. It can only mean one thing: You are about to devote yourself to the greatest writing fest ever scheduled during a month when you are also supposed to spend time with loved ones and eat turkey.

Yes indeed, National Novel Writing Month is nearly upon us once again! Are you going for it? Are you? Are you doing it? Do you hear the pestering in my voice?

Whether you are a first-timer or a veteran, the best advice I have to give you is in the pages of How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel You Will Love Forever. Not only does it have all the tips and organization you need to write the best novel you possibly can, its bright orange cover doubles as a seasonal-appropriate piece of flair for your coffee table.

If you prefer your advice in blog form, I aim to please. Here's a selection of links for new novelists and veterans alike:

For first-timers:


For veterans:

For everyone:

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19. Creativity tip: When you need inspiration, figure out what you need to know


I'm on record saying writer's block doesn't exist.

When I say that, I'm not saying that you won't experience a feeling of idea-lessness or that life circumstances will never get in the way of your writing. Lots of people go through stretches where it is legitimately impossible to write.

What I mean is that most commonly, that feeling of writer's block is just a feeling that you can actually power through.

When you head down that path, the absolute most helpful thing to do is to figure out the problem. Figure out why you can't think of an idea. What is it that you're trying to solve in the book?

Here's what I mean. I'm at a stage in writing my new novel where I legitimately don't know what's going to happen next. And I got stuck. I seriously couldn't think of what to write next. But rather than stare at the blinking cursor of doom, I started creating structure around the problem.

I know that the main character is currently at Point A, and eventually she'll need to get to Point B. So I started cataloguing some of the things that need to happen before Point B. Then I broke it up still further into a series of chapters. I started writing out some of the feelings I want her to experience before Point B, plotting out the ups and downs. I wrote down some of the bigger things I hadn't yet tackled in the narrative but wanted to, such as showing something happening in the broader world.

And I figured out the problem. I need to set a new plot line in motion, and I needed to do more work to get a sense of where she's going before I figure out the next step.

I still don't know precisely is going to happen, but this is the first step toward being unstuck.

Sometimes it doesn't work to confront a lack of ideas head on. It can be far more effective to create some structure around it, figure out what you need to figure out, and then power on through.

Art: Sebastian Hyller by Franz Joseph Winter

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20. How a Writing Contest for Students is Changing the Immigration Narrative

LEE & LOW BOOKS has two writing contests for unpublished authors of color: the New Voices Award, for picture book manuscripts, and the New Visions Award, for middle grade and young adult manuscripts. Both contests, which are now open for submissions aim to recognize the diverse voices and talent among new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing.

In this guest post, we wanted to highlight another groundbreaking writing contest that’s bringing attention to marginalized voices and fostering a love of writing in students: the Celebrate America Writing Contest run by the American Immigration Council. Coming into its 19th year, the Celebrate America Writing Contest for fifth graders has been bringing attention to the contributions of immigrants in America through the eyes and pens of our youngest writers.

In this guest post, Claire Tesh, Senior Manager of Education at the American Immigration Council, discusses the mission of the Celebrate America Writing Contest and how it has helped to shape the immigration narrative.claire tesh

It is impossible to escape the negative vitriol and hateful rhetoric around the issue of immigration that dominates the headlines, talk radio, popular culture, and in some cases the dinner table. In an effort to educate children and communities about the value of immigration to our society The American Immigration Council teams up with schools and community groups to provide young people the resources and information necessary to think critically about immigration from both a historical and contemporary perspective, while working collaboratively and learning about themselves and their communities.

The American Immigration Council developed “Celebrate America,” an annual national creative writing contest for fifth graders, because they are at the age where they are discovering their place in the world both locally and globally. They are also finding their own voice, opinions and ideas through writing, creating and sharing.   Students at this age start making sense of current events; they have a better working knowledge of basic history, and have a sense of global awareness.

Thousands of Entries

“Celebrate America” began 19 years ago with just a couple dozen entries. Today it has grown to over 5,000 entries annually! Since 1997 a total of close to 75,000 students have participated in two dozen cities, in nearly 750 schools and community centers across the nation.

As the lead on the contest since 2006, I have read thousands of entries and have attended numerous events featuring the writers. It is difficult to pick just one example, but in 2008 the winning entry America is a Refuge really showed how much a 10-12 year old can comprehend about the issue. That year, the winner, Cameron Busby, explained to a reporter from the Tucson Citizen that “I want to be a horror writer when I grow up,” and in order to tell the story of America being a place people come to be safe and thrive, he used bits and pieces of some of his classmate’s true horror stories of their own or their family member’s immigration journeys. This excerpt shows the young writer’s entry and how he made sense of injustice and how America has always been a nation symbolic as a beacon for hope:

A small child holds out a hoping

hand,

a crumb of bread,

or even a penny just to be fed

Hoping America is a refuge. A 

child weeps over her mother’s 

lifeless body,

the tears streaming down her

face

Praying America is a refuge.

Part of the reason why it’s a popular contest is because it fits neatly with the fifth grade curriculum and it is easy for teachers to implement by offering timely lessons and expository learning opportunities from classroom visits by experts to interactive web-based games. The contest is unique in that it allows for any written work that captures the essence of why the writer is proud that America is a nation of immigrants and students can express themselves through narrative, descriptive, expository, or persuasive writings, poetry, and other forms of written expressions. The teaching and learning opportunities the contest brings to both the classroom and the community has made it very popular and most teachers who participate do so year after year.In the Classroom

Monica Chun, a teacher from Seattle who has participated in the contest for several years and whose student, Erin Stark, was a national winner in 2013, starts the assignment by asking students to ask their relatives at home a question: “Who was the first person in our family to come to America?” No matter what ethnicity or how recent or distant a family’s arrival be, every student is going to have a unique answer to this question.

Involving the Community

”Celebrate America” encourages youth, families and surrounding communities to evaluate and appreciate the effects of immigration in their own lives. The unique contest includes the following components:

  • Immigration attorneys or trained volunteers visit classrooms, whether in person or virtually. The visitors give short presentations about the history of American immigration and the contributions immigrants have made over the years;
  • Teachers complement the contest by implementing lessons about immigration, social justice and diversity into their curriculum;
  • The American Immigration Council provides classrooms with innovative, relevant, and interactive lessons and resources;
  • Communities organize events, naturalization ceremonies and other celebrations to showcase the local winners;
  • The winning entry from each locale is sent to the national office and judged by well-known journalists, immigration judges and award winning authors;
  • The winning entry is read into the Congressional record, a flag is flown over the Capitol in the winner’s honor and the winner reads their entry at a 700+ person event that celebrates immigration; and
  • In the submissions the youth voice brings hope that there will be solutions to the immigration debate.

The American Immigration Council believes that teachers, parents, and students are essential to building a collective movement toward a better future: in our classrooms, in our schools, and in the larger society.   With the community’s engagement, educators, parents and students can help bridge this divide and approach the issue of immigration with intelligence and empathy.

american immigration council

Contest Impact

The contest has an impact not only in the schools and communities that participate, but also in the halls of Congress. Each year when the winning entry is read into the Congressional Record, it is rewarding to know that our leaders are hearing words of wisdom from a young person who has big ideas and who has chosen to use their voice to invite others to learn about immigration and to celebrate America’s diversity.

When the winning entries are read to new citizens at naturalization ceremonies or at dinner galas in communities of all sizes, almost every attendee has tears in their eyes because the young readers are speaking from their hearts and they represent the future. Each and every year the young writers continue to surprise us with the depth and empathy in their writings whether it is their common sense solutions to an immigration system or the story of their own immigrant background. Any writer, no matter how old and how experienced, should look at these entries to get a sense for authentic voice and various styles of writing. The thousands of students who submit to the contest get recognized in their communities and the affect is exponential because students start in the classroom and their voice continues to be shared within their schools, within their communities and beyond.

The students participating in “Celebrate America” are America’s future citizens, voters, educators and activists and it is truly an honor to shape the contest so that it provides some of the tools to think critically about immigration and to learn to explore the economic and moral effects of immigration policy as they engage in the public debates. But, today as we try to navigate the complicated maze that is immigration law and policy, it is through their incredible choice of words, that they are our guides, our teachers, and our voices of reason.

For further information on eligibility and submission process:

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21. Cheap Villain Killin’

 

The death of a villain can inspire a wide range of emotions, from happiness and gratitude, to sorrow and remorse. I love me a good villain, and some of my favourite story moments are the amazing death scenes some villains are granted. That is, of course, assuming the death is indeed amazing and not an affront to their character arc. I am so in love with the closure of a good villain death that a bad one can ruin the entire story for me.

So without further ado, here are some pet peeves of mine: cheap villain death tropes I’d love to see gone forever, and how they can maybe be flipped around.

Accidental Death

Oftentimes a cheap villain death is the result of a deus ex machina: the hero doesn’t actually have the means to kill the villain because they’re too damn awesome, so the villain accidentally dies when they slip and fall off a cliff during the final fight. Unless the hero has actual control over how the villain dies, such as a clever plan to lure them to the edge, this is the cheapest of cheap deaths.

Accidental death can only work if the villain is immediately replaced by an even greater threat to the hero that has somehow been vaguely hinted at or foreshadowed beforehand so it doesn’t come out of nowhere. Perhaps they’re fighting on an active volcano that suddenly explodes and kills the villain. The foreshadowing is in the fact that it’s active, and the bigger threat is the indiscriminate firebombing and hot ash the hero now has to escape—bigger, because volcanoes don’t think, so the hero can’t guess what its next move might be. This will still feel a little cheap if it’s not well done, however, because as it’s your story, you can choose when the volcano blows, and choosing to kill an antagonist with a natural disaster over which the hero has no control is underwhelming. The other problem in this kind of scenario is that as soon as the hero is out of the volcano’s range, safety is within reach even if the volcano hasn’t been destroyed, compared to the hero still being in constant potential danger if the villain were still alive.

The only good kind of accidental death is when the new threat is worse than the old, it has an active agenda, and it’s not directly connected to the villain. In fact, in these situations, this big annoyance of mine can be totally turned around into something brilliant. If the new threat is something which even the old villain had no concept of, you’re not only effectively upping the ante by making the old villain look like a schoolyard bully, you’re also vastly expanding your universe. If you set up your story well, dropping hints here and there of all the possible people (or monsters) in such a way that a new threat is plausible, you can follow up the old villain with a new, terrifying and vast enemy that will make your hero feel incredibly small and will eventually make the victory that much sweeter. But in this case, the old villain isn’t the true villain of the story; they’re more of a stepping stone. And since stepping stones are not an ending but part of the journey, the old villain’s accidental death won’t feel cheap: it’ll lead to something bigger.

Convenient Stupidity

Death is also cheap when the villain’s intelligence is insulted. More than any, I hate this kind of death the most. If the villain is really smart, the hero’s going to have a hell of a time luring them to a cliff. Unless they have no choice, the odds that smart characters would willingly put themselves in dangerous positions are very low. There is nothing more frustrating than watching an otherwise remarkable and cerebral villain suddenly become a half-wit so that the hero can defeat them. Not to mention it makes the hero’s victory completely hollow. The most satisfying time to defeat an enemy is when their faculties are at full power, anyway. Why blunt their intellect if you’ve worked so hard to write them as smart, effectively making the reader anticipate an ending where they’re finally outsmarted?

The only time this convenient stupidity can be forgiven is in comedy. This kind of thing can make for a good punchline. However, it also relies on your story being a parody. Otherwise, it’s a glaring continuity error and an unfair way of treating both your villain and hero, because following the kill, the hero will develop a reputation of only being able to defeat enemies when they mysteriously become very weak.

Hubris

My final pet peeve is a classic villain trait: arrogance. It’s a frustrating reason for a villain’s death, mostly because it isn’t very original, but also because I have a personal bias toward villains that don’t think of themselves as unbeatable, since people act in more interesting ways if they think they’re being threatened. If we revisit the accidental death scenario, and consider again why it’s better for the new, bigger threat to have little to no connection to the old villain, another reason would be that if the new threat were the villain’s fault, their character becomes an archetype for hubris: “His ego made him blind,” “He thought he could control the strain.” This isn’t a terrible thing, but if manmade threats are the worst possible ones in your world, you could argue that you’re restricting yourself.

They also make for really annoying characters. The ones that yell “I’m invincible!” as they’re dying are pathetic, and I always thought they cast a shadow over the hero’s victory. Not to mention, defeating a villain whose fatal flaw is hubris tends to involve a formulaic take-down by people who ultimately come across as preachy and say things like “You can’t play God,” or “He flew too close to the sun.”

However, hubris can be a genuinely interesting character trait. And there are times when I really enjoy it. But I’ve noticed that every single one of those times, the hubris was something I discovered afterwards upon reflection; something that wasn’t told to me, but that I began to understand as I considered the story from start to finish. In other words, if you’re going to give your villain a god complex, no need to shout it from the hills. Subtlety is a pretty nice touch.

So there they are. Three massive and common villain death pet peeves of my very own. Obviously, they are tailored to my personal tastes. I’d love to hear yours.

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22. 3 Words To The Wise To New Writers

.
Howdy, Campers--Happy Poetry Friday! The link is at the bottom of the page, right below my poem.

Our topic this round is Dear Younger Me. JoAnn started us off by encouraging her younger self not only to carry around notebooks...but to actually go back and mine them for ideas. Esther lovingly reassures her younger self--as she has encouraged me and countless others. Carla talks to her past self when she decided to write what would become her first nonfiction book.

I love this topic. We seem to be universally hard on ourselves. I am constantly giving myself tickets for the things I haven't accomplished...

Are you intimidated by the police in your head?
Have you considered the possibility that you haven't done anything wrong?
So here's what I'd tell my younger self...the one embarking on a voyage to the Children's Book Writers Planet:

Dear Enthusiastic, Younger, Much-Prettier-Than-You-Realize-Right-Now Me,

~ Trust your gut. I know, I know. Your mother kept saying this and you looked at her cross-eyed.

What in the heck does that MEAN?

Well--it means yes, take those classes, read children's literature, find a critique group, attend conferences, read how-to books...

...but give yourself the silence in which to discover that still, small voice within. She's there, I promise. But she whispers. The crazy clutter of our culture makes is hard to locate her (and Honey, it's only going to get worse, believe me. Buckle your seat belt.) 

She knows when that marvelous critique group is sending your story in the wrong direction, when the business advice you just heard from the podium does not fit your work habits or your style or your something-else.

Trust her. Wander with her. She usually doesn't take the well-traveled path.

~ Be patient. Ha ha--that's a good one, right? When you're still in your twenties, your very smart husband will say."Y'know...I think we'll both reach our peak in our 50s and 60s."  HA! He can't be right, can he?

Um...yup.

~ Keep creating content.  That is, keep writing books. Because one day you could look up after visiting 19 gazillion schools, and you'll not only be exhausted to the bone...but your books will begin going out of print. ACK!

So yes, accept invitations to do school visits and teach workshops, because you love teaching.  But be careful not to let them take over your writing time like some big blobby thing.

It's so tempting, isn't it? Your ego is definitely well-fed by those second graders who think you're the Queen of England.
from Morguefile.com

That's all, Kiddo. You'll do fine.

Oh--one more thing: slow down when you read your beautiful kid bedtime stories. I know, I know: you want to get to your work, but trust me...take a breath, take your time, and soak in the pleasure of reading to your kid.

Love,
me

P.S: I know you're not going to take any of this advice. And that's okay, too.

TO MY TEEN SELF
by April Halprin Wayland

Michael is lying.

Michael is lying.
I know that you're flying on wings of romance.
His teeth gleam, he loves you--well, at least at first glance.

But Michael is caught in the web he is weaving
Michael is out the door.
Michael is leaving.
Michael is lying.
Michael is lying.
Oh, dear.
It's coming:

the Niagara of crying.

poem and drawing (c) 2015 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
Thanks to my friend Robyn Hood Black for hosting today!

posted by April Halprin Wayland with the help of that still, small voice within.

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23. New Voices Award Winners on Revising Your Story

New Voices Award sealThis year marks our sixteenth annual New Voices Award, Lee & Low’s writing contest for unpublished writers of color.

In this blog series, past New Voices winners gather to give advice for new writers. This month, we’re talking about one of the most important steps in writing a story: revision.

Question: What does your revision process look like??

pamela tuckPamela Tuck, author of As Fast As Words Could Fly, New Voices Winner 2007

The first tip I would like to give new writers about revision is to understand that there is a difference between revising, editing, and proofreading. Editing and proofreading cover word economy, word choices, and grammatical errors. But true revision runs deeper. Revision is Rethinking, Reseeing, and Reworking your ideas, your voice, and your plot into an engaging masterpiece.

After I’ve written my first draft, I already know that it’s going to be BAD. Too wordy, somewhat disconnected, and possibly even confusing. The idea of it all is to capture those fast and furious and jumbled thoughts on paper in some sort of order, and then mold and shape them into a sensible, readable, and hopefully publishable manuscript.

One of my first steps in revision is making sure I have a steady flow to my storyline. I’m looking for a beginning to hook my reader, a middle to engage them, and a satisfactory ending. I try to make sure I’ve provided explanation to possible questions my readers may have by using subtle descriptions, active verbs, and concise word choices that will paint the best pictures and explain my thoughts. Once my story has taken shape, I call in my “critical crew” (family and friends) to read my first draft. Reading out loud helps me hear my mistakes and/or thoughts and also highlights areas that may not be as clear to the reader as I thought. I can also tell from my critical crew’s feedback, whether or not my writing is making the impact I desire it to make. After pouring my heart out and letting it get “trampled” on by loving, supportive family and friends, it’s time to let the story (and my heart) rest for a while (a few days, a week, a month, or however long it takes). This “waiting period” is a good time to do further research on your topic (if applicable) just in case you run across a fresh idea or different aspect that can be added to enhance the story during the second revision stage.

During the next stage of revision, I’m able to read my manuscript with “fresh eyes.” I try to make sure that what I’ve written says what I want it to say in a way the reader will understand. Then I try to perfect my voice and dialogue to make sure they are as realistic and powerful as they can be. This is when I pull in those editorial and proofreading skills, to challenge myself with better word choices and sentence structures that will give the effect I’m looking for. I incorporate any new research ideas that may clarify or give a little more detail to vague thoughts or ideas. Then it’s time to call in the critical crew again. After another round of reading aloud and analyzing, I repeat the process over and over again, until I feel satisfied with my manuscript as a writer, and the critical crew leaves my heart feeling elated.

paula yooPaula Yoo, author of Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, New Voices Winner 2003

Are you sure you want to see my self-revision process? I’m going to warn you now. It’s really messy. I mean, SUPER MESSY.

There are two stages of revision for me. For REVISION STAGE 1.0, I spend the majority of time just brainstorming. NO actual writing is involved, other than jotting down casual notes. I ask myself tough questions about character motivation, emotional journeys, and voice. I brainstorm a storyline or plot based on what I discover about my character’s journey. This includes using index cards and outlines. For old school longhand, I use both yellow legal pads with a clipboard and my trusty Moleskine notebook. When I’m on my MacBook laptop or iPad, I use my favorite writing software apps – Scrivener, Scapple, Index Card, and Omm Writer.

New Voices Award Winners on RevisionsSo during the brainstorming time, I’m actually constantly revising as I free-associate and slowly build, tear down, and rebuild the structure for my story. This Revision Stage 1.0 of brainstorming is a writing process I was taught as a professional TV drama writer/producer. In TV, writers are not allowed to write the first draft of a script until they have brainstormed the story beats non-stop and have crafted a detailed, solid outline in which every single story point and character emotional arc has been mapped out completely.

Once I’m done with this brainstorming/revision session, I write. There’s no revision here. I just write straight from the heart. It’s raw and messy and inspired.

THEN I enter REVISION STAGE 2.0. This is where I print out what I wrote, find my favorite coffeehouse or library, and curl up on a comfy sofa chair or take over a library study carrel or coffeehouse corner table, and whip out the red pen. Yes, I use red ink. I wear glasses (bifocals too!), so red is just easier for me to read.

I simultaneously line edit (based on my former life as a newspaper and magazine journalist) and also jot down revision notes for the Bigger Picture. Some Bigger Picture revision questions include: Does the character’s inner personality and struggle organically inspire every single plot point and twist in the storyline? Do the story beats align in a logical and structured manner? Is there any “on the nose” dialogue I can tweak to be more natural sounding and even subtextual? Have I grounded the setting in each scene? And so on.

I also handwrite new lines or ideas or snippets of dialogue that float into my brain as I revise.

Once I’m done with this red pen marking mess, I then input everything into the computer in a new file (either a new folder in Scrivener or a new document in Word). Then I make a copy of that revised file and add a new date to it and start fleshing that version out more on the computer.

Then I move onto writing new material (either new scenes or chapters). When I’m stuck or need a break or want to pause and re-examine the new stuff I’ve just written, I print everything out and grab the red pen. Rinse and repeat. :)

In other words, I’m constantly revising. I’m never not revising. I told you, my self-revision process was messy! But it’s worth it in the end when a beautiful book rises out of that big crazy messy pile of red pen marks. :)

glenda armandGlenda Armand, author of Love Twelve Miles Long, New Voices Winner 2006

Once I have completed the first draft of a picture book, I put it away and start working on another manuscript.

I go back to the first manuscript and read it with fresh eyes. As I read it, I make changes. I read it again and again, over the course of days, each time making changes, big and small.

Once I can read the whole thing, without making a single change, I know that it is almost there! I put it away again.

When I come back to it and can read it again without revising, I give it to my sister, Jenny, the retired librarian, to read.

I tell her that I think it is perfect and that she is not going to find a single thing that needs to be changed. Jenny gives me a smug look and says, “Okay.”

Later, we get together and she offers her ideas and critiques. I get annoyed. Why? Because her suggestions are always spot on. I revise based on her opinions, and it always makes the manuscript better (I admit reluctantly).  I keep revising until we both think it is perfect. At that point, I am ready to send it to my agent. She usually offers ideas from her unique perspective that I take into account and revise the manuscript again.

I actually enjoy revising. I appreciate the input of my agent, editor—and my sister (but don’t tell her. It will go to her head).

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24. Oh, What a View!

We're back from a brief camping trip in Wildcat Mountain State Park, where we hiked along nearly empty trails hoping for a glimpse of the Kickapoo River,


looked down on vultures soaring over the valley,


and rested and read in a secluded campsite. 


At night, we stared up at a skyful of stars, warmed by a cozy campfire.

Every once in awhile, I remember the advice I give to students:
  • Walk. The regular motion helps ideas flow.
  • Read. Take time to appreciate the sounds of the words as well as the meaning.
  • Slow down and pay attention. A change in scenery (especially outdoors) can bring inspiration.
Works for me, too!

This week's Poetry Friday Roundup is at Today's Little Ditty.  

JoAnn Early Macken

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25. Sign Up for November Writing Tips!


WGDW #58b

November is novel writing month! I’ve decided to expand the secret gift I was going to send a writer friend of mine, and send out daily writing inspiration and tips to anyone else who would like them! Here are the details. Sign up and let’s write!

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