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Summer is settling in and this month marks the halfway point of the submissions window for our New Voices Award, an annual writing contest for unpublished authors of color. If you’re an aspiring writer working to submit a children’s book manuscript, you’ve probably got the basic elements of your story (characters, setting, and plot) figured out already. You may even have most of the story written down. If so, kudos! But a story is more than words on a page. It’s the voice behind the words that drives the narrative and keeps the reader engaged.
Unsure of how to tackle this essential yet elusive story element? Fear not!
Last month we interviewed New Voices Award winner Sylvia Liu about her path to publication. In this next blog post, New Voices Award Winner Patricia Smith and New Voices Award Honor Hayan Charara share their experiences with shaping voice while tackling the difficult themes in their award-winning titles Janna and the Kings and The Three Lucys.
What kind of writing did you do before entering the New Voices Award and how did that experience influence your story writing?
Patricia Smith: I’d been a professional journalist, but my primary mode of writing at the time was poetry. I think I became a poet after taking on some of my father’s storytelling skills. When he came up from Arkansas to Chicago during the Great Migration, he brought with him something I like to call “the tradition of the back porch.” Every day ended with a story from him that opened up new worlds, stretched the boundaries of my imagination and taught me that language was so much more than what I was learning, or not learning, in school.
But I don’t think my father’s stories inspired Janna as much as my father himself did. I was that little girl sitting in the barbershop, fascinated at all the magic found there, but it was my father–not my grandfather–who let me tag along with him every Saturday. I was an adult when my father died–and Janna was a way to explore that sense of loss, of the world not being the same. Also, although I’m a diehard sentimental, I never really knew my grandfather. So I wanted to explore that warmth that I imagined between a grandfather and grandchild.
Hayan Charara: I published my first poem when I was nineteen, so it’s been almost twenty-five years since I began writing poetry. Some of my poems tell stories, and all of them use a good deal of imagery to get across both meaning and feeling. Without storytelling and imagery, The Three Lucys simply couldn’t exist.
What inspired you to write your story as a book for children?
PS: I’m the dictionary definition of a daddy’s girl, so a few things were in play. I needed to express the singular and enduring type of love I felt for him. Although he was gone by the time the book was published, I was writing it for him–he died before he could see that I’d become a writer, which is something I promised him when I was very young. And I really wanted to capture that special time in a special place, the barbershop–a place that has been so pivotal, and so nurturing, in so many black communities.
HC: I first wrote about the events that take place in The Three Lucys a few years earlier in a poem originally titled, “Lucy”. I changed the poem’s title to “Animals,” and it appears in my new poetry book, Something Sinister. Generally speaking, I write poems, in part, to figure something out, either about myself, the people I know, or the world I live in. While I don’t always find an answer, I find that I have a better sense of these things than I did beforehand.
Despite the poem, I still had questions about the war, and most of them had to do with my little brother who lived through its events. Like Luli, he was six years old when the war broke out. I hadn’t yet thought very deeply about how he and other children might have experienced war and its aftermath.
I might not have tackled these questions with a children’s book if not for Naomi Shihab Nye, the poet and children’s book author. For years, Naomi had been urging me to write a children’s book, and for almost all of that time I didn’t feel ready to do so. Then, at a café in San Antonio, she handed me an announcement for the New Voices Award and said, simply, “You need to write a story for children.” This time, I felt ready.
Did the voice for your story come naturally, or did you experiment with different points of view while writing?
PS: Because I envisioned myself as Janna, and because my father’s voice is so clear in my head, the writing came easily. Actually, I had held on to the New Voices call for some time, moving the notice around and around on my desk. I work best when there’s an anvil swinging over my head, so I didn’t begin writing until I had no choice–a day or so before the deadline. I didn’t panic, because I knew the story so well.
HC: Before The Three Lucys, I had no practice writing children’s stories, and it had been years since I last read one. I went into writing the story very clumsily, not really knowing what I was doing or how it would turn out. Depending on who is asked, that’s either the most natural or unnatural way to write a story.
Though I wrote the story in one sitting, it took several revisions before I started to think of it as finished. All along, the voice remained relatively unchanged; the same goes for the points of view. What did change through each revision were the details and descriptions, the sort that would bring to life the experiences of the people in the story, as well as their deeper emotions.
For example, none of the early drafts brought out in a powerful and memorable way the moment that Luli realizes he will never again see one of the three Lucys. At best, the scene was nothing more than a description. I hadn’t gotten at how Luli felt.
I took months to arrive at an image that expressed the kind of sadness that comes with the loss of a loved one. Luli tells us, “My heart feels as heavy as an apple falling from a tree.” Sometimes, we get lucky and an image like that comes quick. Sometimes, it takes a long time, but I still feel lucky when it happens.
Both Janna and the Kings and The Three Lucys discuss heavy themes. What challenges did you face when creating the right tone/ voice for your main character as they experience tragedy and cope with its effects? How did you overcome these challenges?
PS: It didn’t feel like a challenge. I feel like I’m forever processing the loss of my father, and a lot of what I hoped the world will be without him is much like what the world turns out to be for Janna. I wanted to acknowledge his loss, but to have my life be full of him. I was writing from the perspective of a child, but the feelings were very much my own–an adult woman still suffering the loss of her best friend.
HC: The hardest part of writing this story was separating myself from it. I had all sorts of feelings, thoughts, and responses to the war itself, to war in general, and to the loss of a loved one. My mother died when I was a young man, for example, and that experience altered me forever.
I knew that I would be coming at this story with a lot of ideas and emotions already in place. On the one hand, this is a good thing because it meant that I was prepared to write the story. On the other hand, it was clear to me that I had to come at this story from a perspective very different from my own. After all, the story is about a child’s experience, not an adult’s, a fact I had to remind myself about often and be reminded about just as often by those who read drafts of the story.
Finally, what advice would you give to new writers interested in tackling heavy themes in their stories for children?
PS: We constantly underestimate children. The world they live in is sporting sharper edges; and each day they adjust, their perspectives deepen, and they grow thicker skin. Children suspect these heavy stories even if we’re not ready to tell them. I think the key is remembering to revel in the myriad possibilities of language, to never downplay the role of imagination, and to always, always look for an unexpected entry point into the story. I don’t mean to sugarcoat–just write the story in a way you’ve never heard it. Your readers will be so enthralled by the way the story unfolds that its content becomes something more than just “that difficult topic.”
HC: When I wrote The Three Lucys, my wife and I didn’t have any children, only cats and dogs. You don’t have to explain anything to a cat or dog—you can, of course, and I think it’s a good thing if we talk to our animals. With cats and dogs, no matter what you say, they always listen. There’s practically no pressure at all to get it right. It’s really hard to screw up.
We’re parents now, to a four-year-old and a five-year-old. And I’ve realized that I am talking to them all the time about heavy themes, mainly because they bring them up. Every so often, one of them will ask me something like, “Will you die before me?” or “Can I live with you forever?” Or, even harder to answer, “What is the universe?”
When my boys ask me these kinds of questions, I feel like every one of them is an opportunity for me to say exactly the wrong thing. Obviously, these are also opportunities for growth and knowledge (for them as much as for me). When I talk to them about anything, not just heavy stuff, I try to do so honestly and in a way that doesn’t terrify or confuse them. I’ve also realized that, no matter how much I try to protect them, difficult and at times ugly realities will still make their way into their lives. This happens to all children, all the time. When it comes to helping children understand and get through difficulties, parents and teachers are usually the first-responders. And writers are often right there with them. We can be, at least. As a parent, I know that I often rely on writers—on children’s books—to help me out, not only with the heavy stuff, but the simple stuff, too. So I hope that more writers will tackle the big issues. It’ll make all our lives a little better.
I love Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s thesaurus books for writers. I think they help us when we’re stuck, remind us to use all our senses and find just the right descriptions, and prompt us to dig digger. So I was excited to hear that they have two new books out: The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Rural Setting Thesaurus. And they’re celebrating with prizes! Read this guest post by Angela and Becca for more info. And if you haven’t already tried one of their books, I suggest you do. They are great tools for your writer’s toolkit.
There’s nothing better than becoming lost within the story world within minutes of starting a book. And as writers, this is what we’re striving to do: pull the reader in, pull them down deep into the words, make them feel like they are experiencing the story right alongside the hero or heroine.
A big part of achieving this is showing the character’s surroundings in a way that is textured and rich, delivering this description through a filter of emotion and mood. It means we have to be careful with each word we choose, and describe the setting in such a way that each sight, sound, taste, texture, and smell comes alive for readers. This is no easy task, especially since it is so easy to overdo it—killing the pace, slowing the action, and worst of all, boring the reader. So how can we create a true unique experience for readers and make them feel part of the action while avoiding descriptive missteps that will hurt the story?
In fact, swing by and check out this hidden entry from the Urban Setting Thesaurus:Antiques Shop.
And there’s one more thing you might want to know more about….
Becca and Angela, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, are celebrating their double release with a fun event going on from June 13-20th called ROCK THE VAULT. At the heart of Writers Helping Writers is a tremendous vault, and these two ladies have been hoarding prizes of epic writerly proportions.
A safe full of prizes, ripe for the taking…if the writing community can work together to unlock it, of course.
When asked for a list of key contacts who will support their upcoming book, many debut authors panic. “I don’t really know anyone,” they will say. But the truth is that most authors already have a large network of people at their disposal who will gladly assist in promoting their upcoming book: their friends and family. While these people probably can’t purchase a whole print run alone, a book can benefit from their support in some essential ways. Knowing the best ways to approach this group and maximize their impact is the key.
The most important thing to remember is that friends and family want to be supportive. This bears repeating as many authors, particularly introverts, can feel a little skittish about self-promotion, even–or especially–to the people with whom they are closest. The key is to approach things in a professional and organized way, so that friends and family feel empowered to take small steps that will help support your career. Here are some concrete ways that you can leverage your community to promote your book:
Start building your contact list early. Create a list of email and snail mail addresses for your friends, family, and professional contacts–anyone who you think would be interested in the release of your book. Beginning your list early allows you to spend time making it as comprehensive and accurate as possible, so you don’t have to scramble to put it together when your book is released. It’s also helpful to let your publisher know that you have this list ready and how large it is, since it may impact whether they order promotional materials like postcards for your book launch.
Give people an opt-out. Once your contact list is ready to go, send an email to everyone a month or more before your book is released. In the email, let people know that you are excited about the release of your upcoming book, and you will be sending periodic email updates. End by saying that if anyone does not wish to receive your updates, they can email you to be taken off the list at any time and you won’t be offended.
Create a separate Facebook page for your Author account. Many authors worry about spamming Facebook contacts with news of their book. The best way to address this is to create a separate Facebook “Fan Page” for your author account. Once you have created the page, invite all of your Facebook friends to like it–and then invite them a few more times, for anyone who missed it. This way, you can share news of your book freely with a group that you know is interested. Even so, you should periodically share author news with your personal feed for anyone who may not have carried over.
Send more than one email. Many authors will send an email to friends and family when a book is released, but won’t follow it up with anything else. This isn’t enough, since one single email can easily get lost or forgotten. Mark in your calendar to send a follow up email 2-3 months after your book is released. This is a great time to remind people it’s available, and to ask those who have already purchased the book to write reviews. You can also send an email if your book wins a major award, goes into paperback, or receives a big publicity hit. Don’t overemail, but remember that your friends and family want to know when great things are happening!
Encourage contacts to leave reviews. One of the biggest things that friends and family can do to support your career, besides purchasing your book, is to leave reviews of the book on major book review and purchase sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble. Building up reviews on these sites can go a long way in improving the visibility of your book. Tell your contacts that if they loved your book, you would appreciate it if they could take a few moments to write a review on one or more of the sites above. Most people will be happy to do so, they just need to be asked.
Mine your contacts for their contacts. Don’t be afraid to ask family and friends for help connecting with the right people, especially if you are new to publishing. Want to connect with a journalist at your local paper? See if you know anyone who might have a contact. Interested in doing local school visits to build up your experience? Let your friends with children know you are willing to visit local schools, and ask them to pass the word on. You’d be surprised at the people your friends and family may be able to connect you to, if you ask them.
Remember that knowing a published author is exciting, and your network of family and friends will want to help get the word out about your book. By asking for their help in small, organized ways, you can maximize their impact without putting them in an uncomfortable position or making them feel burdened. And that way, everyone wins.
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.
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 Enemiesand 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
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.
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.
A Twitter Pitching Event, Hosted + Moderated by Beth Phelan
April 19, 2016
8:00AM EST – 8:00PM EST
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!
Poems in the Atticis a collection of poetry that creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be. We interviewed master poet Nikki Grimes on her process for writing poetry and if she has any tips to share.
In Poems in the Attic, the reader is introduced to free verse and tanka styles of poetry. Why were you drawn to the tanka form?
Poetry, for me, has always been about telling a story or painting a picture using as few words as possible. Haiku and tabla are forms that epitomize that. I’d previously played with an introduction to haiku in A Pocketful of Poems, and I have long since been intrigued with the idea of incorporating tanka in a story. Poems in the Attic provided such an opportunity, so I jumped on it.
Many readers are intimidated by poetry or think it is not for them. For people who find poetry difficult, where would you recommend they start?
Start with word play. I sometimes like to take a word and study it through the lens of my senses. Take the word “lemon”, for instance. What is its shape, its scent, its color? Does it make a sound? Does it have a taste? How would you describe that sound, that taste? Where is a lemon to be found? What does it do or what can you do with it? In answering such questions, in a line or two in response to each question, one ends up either with a poem or the makings of a poem.
Is there something people can do to be “good” at writing poetry? Where do you find inspiration when you get stuck?
There are a few answers to that question.
Read poetry voraciously. If you aspire to write good poetry, you must first know what that looks like.
Practice, practice, practice. Writing is a muscle that must be exercises, no matter the genre.
Play. Build your vocabulary. Experiment with a variety of forms. For too many trying poetry, rhyme is their default. But rhyme is bot synonymous with poetry. It is merely one element of it. Explore metaphor, simile, alliteration, assonance, and all the other elements of poetry. Think interns of telling a story and painting a picture with words. These practices will lead you somewhere wonderful.
Summer is almost there! That means that the sixteenth annual NEW VOICES AWARD is now open for submissions. Established in 2000, the New Voices Award was one of the first (and remains one of the only) writing contests specifically designed to help authors of color break into publishing, an industry in which they are still dramatically underrepresented.
Change requires more than just goodwill; it requires concrete action. The New Voices Award is a concrete step towards evening the playing field by seeking out talented new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing.
The contest is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a children’s picture book published.
The deadline for this award is September 30, 2015.
For more eligibility and submissions details, visit the New Voices Award page and read these FAQs. Spread the word to any authors you know who may be interested. Happy writing to you all and best of luck!
Prompts are all around us. When I do school visits, I refer to the place where our imaginations live as the “Cosmic Goo,” and urge them to wander outside looking and listening to the wonders that spark our imaginations to awake. Nature is a never-ending source of writing inspirations. Because I am a voracious reader, I glean phrases from the books I devour. Since the end of 2011, I have written a poem a day as the means to jump-start my prose writing. I use many of the phrases I’ve underlined in the books I own for my daily poetry prompt.
My favorite writing prompt is to write from the point of view of an animal. It’s a writing exercise I teach in my writing classes as well. I love this writing exercise not only because I’m an animal lover and Crazy Cat Lady (ha) but because it forces you to think from the point of view of someone who is definitely NOT YOU. You have to know and embody the nature and physicality of the animal character, and it forces you to look at story and emotion with a new perspective. It’s a great exercise for point of view writing, and it helps me when I do write another children’s book because I am very conscious of writing from a child’s perspective, which is so different from mine as an adult.
I don’t really write from prompts, but what I try to use as a guideline for all my writing is the use of sensory details: Seeing, Hearing, Feeling, Smelling and Tasting. It’s not always relevant to include all of these details, but it’s good to include at least 3 within a scene. If I feel that I can’t move forward in a story, I’ll “step inside” my character and try to figure out what “I” am seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling or tasting at that point. If my character is neutral, then it’s time to rewrite the scene.
I enjoy finding and thinking about interesting writing prompts, but I don’t have a favorite. I have to confess, when it comes to writing prompts, I usually don’t get past the “thinking about it” stage. However, I used to work for a daily newspaper, and I learned from that experience how valuable it can be to cultivate a habit of writing – in a structured way – every day. And I turn to newspapers, sometimes, when I’m stuck or need a place to start. Headlines can make for some pretty great prompts. Direct quotes are even better – like an overheard piece of conversation. Here’s one that helped me pull FINDING THE MUSIC into focus: “He wanted to rest in peace, but with music.”
Summer is already here! That means that the third annual NEW VISIONS AWARD is now open for submissions! Established by Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes middle grade and young adult books, the award is a fantastic chance for new authors of color to break into the world of publishing for young readers.
The New Visions Award writing contest is awarded for a middle grade or young adult manuscript, and is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published. The winner will receive a $1,000 cash prize and a publication contract with LEE & LOW BOOKS.
Ink and Ashesby Valynne Maetani, the first New Visions Award winner, was named a Junior Library Guild Selection and received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.
One tip I learned from a fellow author was that a good story comes “full circle”. Your beginning should give a hint to the ending, your middle should contain page-turning connecting pieces, and your ending should point you back to the beginning.
The advantage I had in writing As Fast As Words Could Fly, is that it was from my dad’s life experiences, and the events were already there. One tool that helped me with the plot was LISTENING to the emotions as my dad retold his story. I listened to his fears, his sadness, his excitement, and his determination. By doing this, I was able to “hear” the conflict, the climax, and the resolution.
One major emotion that resonates from my main character, Mason, is confidence. I drew this emotion from a statement my dad made: “I kept telling myself, I can do this.” The challenging part was trying to choose which event to develop into a plot. My grandfather was a Civil Rights activist, so I knew my dad wrote letters for my grandfather, participated in a few sit-ins, desegregated the formerly all-white high school, learned to type, and entered the county typing tournament. Once I decided to use his typing as my focal point, the next step was to create a beginning that would lead up to his typing. This is when I decided to open the story with the idea of my dad composing hand-written letters for his father’s Civil Rights group. I threw in a little creative dialogue to explain the need for a sit-in, and then I decided to introduce the focal point of typing by having the group give him a typewriter to make the letter writing a little easier. To build my character’s determination about learning to type, I used a somewhat irrelevant event my dad shared: priming tobacco during the summer. However, I used this event to support my plot with the statement: “Although he was weary from his day’s work, he didn’t let that stop him from practicing his typing.” His summer of priming tobacco also gave me an opportunity to introduce two minor characters who would later add to the tension he faced when integrating the formerly all-white school.
The second step was to concentrate on a middle that would show some conflict with typing. This is when I used my dad’s experiences of being ignored by the typing teacher, landing a typing job in the school’s library and later being fired without warning, and reluctantly being selected to represent his school in the typing tournament.
Lastly, I created an ending to show the results of all the hard work he had dedicated to his typing, which includes a statement that points back to the beginning (full circle).
Although the majority of the events in As Fast As Words Could Fly are true, I had to carefully select and tweak various events to work well in each section, making sure that each event supported my plot.
I’m a huge fan of outlines and have a hard time starting even seemingly simple stories without one. An outline gives me and my characters a nice road map, but that’s not always enough. Once I had an outline for Finding the Music, it was really helpful to visualize the plot in terms of successive scenes rather than bullet points. I even sketched out an actual map to help me think about my main character Reyna’s decisions, development and movement in space and time.
Still, early drafts of the story meandered. There were too many characters and details that didn’t move the plot forward. When stories begin to drift like that, I go back to my journalism experience: Finding the Music needed a nut graph, a newspaper term for a paragraph that explains “in a nutshell” what the story is really about, why it matters. Finding the Music is about a lot of things, but for me, what it’s *really* about is community—the community Reyna’s abuelo helped build through this music and the community Reyna is part of (even though it’s sometimes noisier than she’d like). I think Reyna’s mamá captures that idea of community when she says, “These are the sounds of happy lives. The voices of our neighbors are like music.”
Once I found the heart of the story, it was a lot easier to sharpen up scenes and pull the plot back into focus.
This 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 aspiring writers. This month, we’re talking about what “voice” means to an author.
When discussing the various elements of writing craft, “voice” seems to be the most difficult to pin down. You can’t plot it on a chart or even clearly define what the word means, and yet it is one of the most important elements of a story. Editors (and readers) are always looking for strong, distinct voices. It is an invisible string that echoes throughout a story and pulls the reader in. And when an author or character’s voice is nonexistent or inconsistent, it is the first thing we notice.
Voice builds trust between the author, characters, and readers. To develop a strong voice that will ring true, an author needs to understand both the story and him/herself as a writer. What is the tone of the story? Who are your characters? If a key feature—gender, age, cultural background—of the main character changes, would the voice change? It should! There are many ways to approach “voice,” and below, Linda Boyden and Paula Yoo share their techniques.
The Blue Roses was my first published book. I had written many picture book manuscripts prior to it, most of which are still gathering dust and mold, but now I see how that process was vital for me to evolve as a writer. I developed the voice of this main character, Rosalie, by experimenting.
I wrote many versions of the book. I considered writing it inthird person, having one of the adult
characters do the narrating for about a nano-second; in my heart I knew this was Rosalie’s story and no one else’s, but that didn’t stop me from more experimenting. I tried having her voice be that of a child, but Papa’s death would have been too harsh an experience for a child to deal with objectively. Instead, Rosalie narrates as her adult self, after having had enough time to smooth the edges of her loss. So experiment until you understand the heart of your character; that’s where you’ll find their true voice.
For me, voice comes out of nowhere. I can’t predict when I will find the “voice” of my story. Voice is not only the way my main character narrates the story (his/her style of speaking, their point of view, their personality) but also in the tone of the entire story (humorous, tragic, touching). Sometimes I find my “voice” AFTER I do a ton of research and preparation, such as figuring out the story beats and plot twists and the character’s emotional journey/arc. Sometimes the voice finds ME first—I’ll just start writing a story from the point of view of a character that has taken over me because he/she has something important and unique to say. Ultimately, I think “voice” for me comes from my heart. What moves me emotionally when I write? What about a story or character makes me laugh or cry? For me, “Voice” is the heart of my story—what emotions do I want to bring out in not only in my readers but also in myself? You can write a book that has the most original and surprising plot, the most compelling and fascinating characters, and a unique setting. But if there is no EMOTION, then that book falls flat. That’s where “Voice” comes in—“Voice” determines the emotion behind the story. I wish I could give a more specific answer with facts and evidence, but when it comes to writing from the heart, there is no formula.
This post is part of an ongoing series at The Open Book answering questions about book marketing and publicity.
One of the questions I get most often from authors—both new and experienced—is, “Which social media platforms do I have to be on?” There are a lot of ways to answer this question but I want to start by addressing the question itself, which is often phrased in exactly this way. The answer is: you don’t have to be on any social media platforms that you don’t want to be on. Social media can help you connect with new readers, raise your discoverability, and sell books, but it can also be a drain on your time, attention, and ideas. Social media is not for everybody, and not every platform is for every writer. So the first thing to do is let go of the guilt and pressure you feel to be on every social media platform that exists, posting content in real time. Almost no authors can pull this off and it’s not worth losing your sanity to attempt it.
With that in mind, the question to ask becomes not “which platforms do I have to be on,” but “which platform(s) would benefit me most to be on, and which are the best fit for me?” When considering where to be on social media, the number one thing you should ask yourself is whether a particular platform will be enjoyable and sustainable to you. Here are some things to consider:
How often do I want to post?
Realistically, how often will I have time to post?
What kind of content do I enjoy posting most? (i.e. do I enjoy curating content by others, creating my own content, or a mix of both)
What subjects will I be posting about?
How much time will I be able to dedicate to each post?
Am I text-driven or image-driven?
Do I want a platform that is very interactive or less interactive?
While you could make any platform work for you no matter how you answer the above questions, it helps to find the platform that’s the best fit for you, so social media can become an activity you enjoy instead of a slog or obligation. So, here’s a rundown of some of the most popular social media platforms and a couple things to consider about each:
TWITTER: Ideal frequency of posts: At least once a day, preferably more Type of content: Mixture of curation and new created content Time commitment: Surprisingly high Interactivity level: Varies, but higher interactivity is recommended
Twitter is a weird social media platform- even though it’s been around for several years now, it can still be hard to describe, and even harder to understand the purpose of. Think of Twitter as the world’s biggest cocktail party, happening online 24/7 without end. It can drive you crazy, but it’s also a great equalizer: where else can you tweet to celebrities and have them answer you directly? Where else can readers and authors come together so seamlessly?
Twitter is what you make of it: you can have a minimal presence there and use it mostly for “lurking,” but the truth is that unless you are very, very famous, you will get almost nothing out of Twitter unless you are on it frequently and using it in a very interactive way. Yes, it can be overwhelming and a total time suck, but it can also be a nice break from your other projects and an easy way to key yourself in to important conversations going in within the industry.
Bottom Line: If you want to do it right, Twitter takes a lot of time and attention – but the rewards can be big.
FACEBOOK: Ideal frequency of posts: once a week minimum Type of content: More created content than curation Time commitment: Low-medium Interactivity level: Medium-high
Remember when Facebook was a novelty? Over the years it’s morphed into something more akin to an Internet staple, right alongside Google. If you’re not on Facebook, you’ve probably been met with shock and awe more than once. If you are already on Facebook, you may think you’ve already got this one in the bag. However, there’s an important distinction that needs to be made here between personal pages and fan pages. As an author and therefore a public figure, you should absolutely have a separate Facebook account for your author persona apart from your personal Facebook account. This allows you to build a following, tweak your privacy settings, and save your family and friends from seeing posts about your book in their feed all the time (unless they want them).
Once you set up a fan page, what you post and how often is up to you. Unlike Twitter which is really pretty useless if you’re not using it frequently, I think there are still benefits to having a Facebook fan page even if you only update it every couple of weeks – it’s a way to allow people to demonstrate that they like you, and allows them to “subscribe” to get updates from you. It won’t let you meet new people as easily as Twitter does, but it can help you build a stronger relationship with your fans, and that’s always a nice thing.
Bottom Line: A little effort can go a long way when it comes to Facebook, so it’s a good place to be.
BLOGGING: Ideal frequency of posts: Once a week minimum Type of content: All created content Time commitment: High Interactivity level: Low-medium
I don’t technically consider blogs to be a social media platform but they always seem to get tied into this discussion, so I wanted to address them here. The number one thing to remember about blogs is that they are a LOT OF WORK, and that amount of work never really diminishes. When you start a blog, you are essentially starting the equivalent of a one-woman (or one-man) newspaper and giving yourself the job of creating all new content for it. You may think you have blog ideas aplenty, but will you still want to be writing new posts every week six months down the road?
There are a couple questions you should keep in mind when considering starting a blog: How much extra time do I have to write? Will my blog have a specific theme or focus? A helpful thing to do is to sit down and create a list of 20 blog post ideas, and see where that gets you. If you find this exercise fun and can’t wait to start writing some of your ideas up into posts, a blog might be a good platform for you. But if getting to 20 ideas is a bit of a struggle and you can’t see yourself doing this kind of thing for a couple of hours each week, a blog might not be right for you.
A big thing to keep in mind about blogs is that if you want to get the most out of your blog, the time demands go way past writing the posts themselves. It takes time and effort to build a blog readership, and requires a good deal of marketing. So if you begin a blog, you will also probably want to be on Twitter and/or Facebook so you can use those platforms to share your content – otherwise you’re just putting your great content into the black hole of the Internet.
That’s not to see blogs can’t be worth it. When done well, blogs give you a terrific platform as an author. There’s nothing better than writing a blog post you’re proud of and seeing it reshared in many different places. Blogs can help new readers discover you and can help you connect with readers, reviewers, and other authors. Just have a sense of what you’re signing on for before you start.
Bottom Line: Probably the most demanding of all the social media channels, blogs can offer a lot but should be started with an understanding of the work they will entail.
OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS Ah, to go back to the days when you could count the number of social media platforms out there on one hand! The fact that we now have Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Vine, Instagram, and many others only seems to make writers more anxious about where they “need to be.”
When it comes to these more peripheral platforms—and I mean peripheral specifically in the context of online presence for authors—my advice is simple: have fun! Love photography? You might enjoy connecting with readers on Instagram. Love design? You might have fun making Pinterest boards inspired by your books. If you’re intrigued by a platform, try it out – there’s no rule that says you have to stay on it forever (though you should delete your account if you decide it’s not for you, rather than being inactive). Ultimately, all of these platforms are about the same thing: connecting with people. So if you want to be on any of them, make sure that’s what you’re getting out of it in the end, and that you’re enjoying the ride.
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.
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.
So 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.
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).
I'm back! Carmela here. I've been on a blogging break for much of this year, busy working on other projects, both personal and professional. (I have continued behind-the-scenes as our TeachingAuthors blog administrator, though, so I haven't been completely out of touch.) Today, I'm back to celebrate the publication of two of my articles in the just-released 2016 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (also known as the CWIM) edited by Chuck Sambuchino (Writer's Digest Books).
At the end of this post, you'll have the opportunity to enter for a chance to win your very own copy of the 2016 CWIM (courtesy of Writer's Digest Books)!
Since today is Poetry Friday, I'll also be sharing a poem--an excerpt from Barney Saltzberg's new picture book Inside this Book (Are Three Books), published by Abrams Appleseed. One of my articles in the 2016 CWIM is an interview with Barney, who is an amazing author, illustrator, singer, and songwriter. More about him and his new book below.
First, I'd like to talk a little about my other article in the 2016 CWIM: "Make a Living as a Writer." [My original title was "Making a Living Writing, Even If You’re Not a Bestselling Author" but I guess that was too long. :-) ]
For "Make a Living as a Writer," I invited four traditionally published trade book authors who are also successful freelancers to share their experiences and advice regarding ways to supplement book royalty income. The four authors included my fellow TeachingAuthor, JoAnn Early Macken, former TeachingAuthor, Laura Purdie Salas, author and writing coach, Lisa Bullard, and scientist-turned-children's author, Vijaya Bodach. The article includes their tips on landing work-for-hire assignments, balancing work-for-hire with other career goals, and preparing submission packages for educational publishers.
The four authors also shared specific resources for finding supplemental income, including:
The SCBWI Blueboards, where there's a board specifically for "Work for Hire & Calls for Submissions"
Over the next few weeks, my fellow TeachingAuthors will continue the conversation on this topic by sharing their own advice related to finding supplemental income. And Laura Purdie Salas will return to post a special Guest Wednesday Writing Workout on September 30, called "Is Writing on Assignment Right for You?" If this topic is of interest to you, be sure to enter our giveaway so you can read more about how to "Make a Living as a Writer."
Even if you're not looking for ways to supplement your writing income, you'll want your own copy of the 2016 CWIM for my interview with the amazing Barney Saltzberg, along with all the other helpful articles, interviews, and market information!
"Inside This Book is a tribute to self-publishing in its most pure and endearing form. Three siblings create three books of their own using blank paper that they bind together (in descending sizes to match birth order). One sibling's work inspires the next, and so on, with each book's text and art mirroring the distinct interests and abilities of its creator. Upon completion of their works, the siblings put one book inside the other, creating a new book to be read and shared by all.
The second sibling in the book is named Fiona. She is "an artist and a poet," so her "book" is filled with poetry. In honor of Poetry Friday, here's an excerpt from Fiona's section of Inside this Book. from Inside this Book, Too, by Fiona . . . Can you tell I love to rhyme? I play with words all the time. I write a poem every day. My new favorite is “Who Wants to Play?” . . .
I've kept this excerpt short to inspire you to get Barney's book for yourself. After you've read it, you'll understand why the School Library Journal review of Inside this Book said:
"Readers may well be empowered to write their very own stories or books."
Be sure to check out today's Poetry Friday roundup over at the Poetry for Children blog AFTERyou enter our giveaway drawing.
And now, for our giveaway info:
Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win your own copy of the 2016 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market , You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options. If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'Sblog post. If your name isn't part of your comment "identity," please include it in your comment for verification purposes!
(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)
Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.
The giveaway ends October 10 and is open to U.S. residents only.
Have you ever invented new words? In a presentation delivered at TEDYouth 2014 (embedded above), lexicographer Erin McKean promotes the idea of adding words to the language when the existing ones prove to be inadequate.
In an interview with the TED blog, McKean explains that “asking why English needs more words is like asking why we need new novels or new fashions. On a purely practical level, we don’t. We could all read what’s already published and wear the same styles for the rest of our lives. But people like novelty and new words for new things satisfies that human urge.” Do you agree with her?
It’s been one month since the 2014 edition of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) ended. Have you touched your NaNoWriMo manuscript in the past few weeks?
If you wrote a particularly long book, perhaps it’s time to make a 2015 New Year’s Resolution to edit your project. According to the First Second blog, “working on a book in creative solitude for that long of a period of time — even with an editor to bounce things off of — is really stressful for a lot of people, unless they enjoy being hermits.”
To gleam a little bit of advice for this endeavor, click here to watch an “Edit Your Novel!” webinar featuring NaNoWriMo executive director Grant Faulkner and author Rachael Herron. What do you think?
Author Elizabeth Gilbertsat for an interview with artist Luc Berthelette. During their conversation, Berthelette asked Gilbert (pictured, via) about her early beginnings, life lessons, happiness, writing memoirs, and creating fiction. He also requested that she share some tips for aspiring writers.
Gilbert answered by advising writers to not focus on their craft and to not depend on writing as their primary source of income. Do you agree with her opinion? Here’s an excerpt from her response:
“Of course this is the dream of dreams — to make a living by your art — but it is a rare thing, when that works out. Or sometimes it might work out for a few years, and then you run out of money. If financial success becomes the standard by which to determine if you are successful or not, you are likely setting yourself up to feel disappointed in yourself and your work. It’s not fair to your craft, to put this kind of pressure on it. Get a job on the side to pay the bills, and learn how to live an inexpensive, frugal life.”
Here’s more from Gaiman’s post: “Write the ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you would like to read. Finish the things you start to write.”
Do you agree with Gaiman’s thoughts? If not, Gaiman describes an alternative process that involves scaling a mountain, catching a crow, collecting a golden berry, enduring a week of silence, and reciting Dr. Seuss’Fox in Socks in its entirety with a golden berry under your tongue. Which method would you prefer?
LEE & LOW BOOKS is proud to announce that Andrea J. Loney ofInglewood, California, is the winner of the company’s fifteenth annual New Voices Award. Her manuscript, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee, is a picture book biography of James Van Der Zee, an African American photographer best known for his portraits of famous and little known New Yorkers during the Harlem Renaissance. From a young age, James Van Der Zee longed to share his vision of the world with others. When he discovered photography, this dream became a reality. Over many years, James worked hard to build his own business, where he specialized in highlighting the black middle class of Harlem, an aspect of American society rarely showcased at the time.Andrea J. Loney is a writer and software trainer for corporations and non-profits, where her students range from Korean War veterans to at-risk teens. Her mother is African American, and her father is Panamanian-Jamaican. Her family was one of very few black families in her New Jersey town, and this confluence of cultures has inspired her “to write about unusual characters finding or creating their own places in the world.” She will receive a prize of $1,000 and a publication contract.
LEE & LOW BOOKS is also proud to announce that Kara Stewart of Durham, North Carolina, has been chosen as an Honor winner for her manuscript Talent, about a young girl who goes to Sappony summer camp and is worried that she has nothing to perform at the camp talent show. With a passion for science and help from her friends, Alice Ruth finds her own strength and learns to be comfortable with who she is. A first time author and member of the Sappony tribe, Stewart is an Elementary School Literacy Coach and serves on the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education. She believes that it is vital for Native people to be reflected in an accurate, contemporary, and non-stereotypical way, and she wrote this story to honor her Sappony family, their resilience, and determination to keep their heritage alive. Stewart will receive a prize of $500.
Congratulations to Andrea J. Loney and Kara Stewart!
ABOUT THE AWARD: Established in 2000, the New Voices Award is an annual award given by LEE & LOW BOOKS to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Past winners include It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Drawby Don Tate, winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Honor, Birdby Zetta Elliott, an ALA Notable Book, and, most recently, Juna’s Jarby Jane Bahk, a Spring 2015 Junior Library Guild selection.
The award was established to combat the low numbers of authors of color in children’s book publishing and to help new authors break into the field. LEE & LOW BOOKS is committed to nurturing new authors. The company has introduced more than one hundred new authors and illustrators to the children’s book world and 68% of authors and illustrators published by LEE & LOW BOOKS are people of color. For more information, visit our New Voices Award page.
Authors of color who write for older readers are encouraged to learn about our New Visions Award for middle grade and young adult manuscripts as well.
2015 marks the fifth year that Tu Books has been an imprint of Lee & Low Books. One of our primary missions is to discover new writers of color as we publish diverse genre fiction for young readers—fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and other adventurous genres. As we say on our website,
At Tu Books, we don’t believe that the worlds within books should be any less rich or diverse than the world we live in. Our stories are inspired by many cultures from around the world, to reach the “you” in every reader.
Tu Books was created for a specific reason. The present and the future belong to everyone and to limit this reality is a fantasy. Adventure, excitement, and who gets the girl (or boy) are not limited to one race or species. The role of hero is up for grabs, and we mean to take our shot.
To support that mission, we established the New Visions Award in 2012 to discover and develop new writers—writers who have not yet found an agent, writers who have never been published before in the middle grade or young adult categories (even as self-published authors).
In 2013, we announced our first New Visions Award winner, Valynne Maetani (@valynnemaetani on Twitter), for her YA mystery manuscript. That manuscript, which is now titled Ink and Ashes, is being published this June! (Check with your local or online bookseller for pre-ordering options!)
Earlier this year, we opened again for New Visions submissions, and now we are so happy to announce the six finalists in our second New Visions Award. The finalists (in alphabetical order by title) are:
The Amaterasu Project by Axie Oh, Las Vegas, NV
• YA science fiction/action novel set in Korea about a former gangster who is recruited into the military over a secret prototype weapons project—which turns out to be a genetically modified girl
• @axieoh on Twitter
Eco-Agent Owen Chang: The Missing Murder by Andrea Wang, Sudbury, MA
• MG science fiction/spy novel about a 12-year-old eco-agent for an environmental agency, investigating the disappearance of crows
• @AndreaYWang on Twitter
Fallen Branches by Shilpa Kamat, Sebastopol, CA
• YA mystery about a biracial teen from a two-mother household in Northern California, attempting to reconcile her town’s historic and current cultural and racial tensions as she solves parallel mysteries with a new friend
On These Magic Shores by Yamile Saied Méndez, Alpine, UT
• MG magical realism about three sisters whose mother’s disappearance they must hide if they want to stay together
• @YamileSMendez on Twitter
Pure Descent by Grace Rowe, Los Angeles, CA
• YA science fiction exploring the future of race, about an adoptee who must deny her adoptive parents to win a racial “purity” contest
• @1gracerowe on Twitter
Seraphim by Rishonda Anthony, Richmond, VA
• YA paranormal about a teen who was once a child prodigy who had a psychotic breakdown at the age of 12, who sees angels and demons in the woods outside her college—and they might be real this time
• @rishonda_writes on Twitter
We’ll be reading the full manuscripts in the next couple of months, and deliberating on a winner to be announced in April. We can’t wait!
And if you missed this round of the New Visions Award, be sure to keep working on your manuscript for the next round. We’ll open for submissions in June 2015.
Over the weekend (Feb. 7), I taught a breakout session at the Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators here in New York, NY. We were discussing how to write for a diverse audience. My main focus was on helping the audience to remember that no matter what you’re writing, your audience will always be diverse. Too often, writers think that there’s a dichotomy–that there are “multicultural books” that are read by kids of color, and that “everyone else” (meaning, white kids) read “mainstream” (meaning, white) books.
This just isn’t the case. Readers tend to read widely, and kids of color are just like their white peers, reading the most popular books, the books assigned to them in schools, and whatever else they happen to come across that sounds interesting to them.
Below are the links and a few notes from the handout I gave to writers at the conference, with a few annotations to clarify what we were talking about. I hope it is a useful resource when you’re thinking of writing for a diverse audience (i.e., when you’re thinking of writing–period!). If you have any further ideas–or links where writers can go further in depth–please add them in the comments.
Seven Essentials You Need to Know about Writing for a Diverse Audience
Don’t feel “forced” to write diversity, but remember your readers are diverse
If your real-life world isn’t diverse, if you don’t know any people of color, if you don’t know how to write diverse characters without relying on stereotypes, you don’t have to feel pressured to do so.
And don’t feel like you need to come in and “save” anyone—come in from a position of equality and seeking equity.
However, your world is likely more diverse than you think.
Writing across POC cultures—what is the individual dynamic?
Expand your definition of “diversity.”
Diversity is not just about race, religion, class, etc. It is often about how many different identity markers come together to create a specific experience. Here’s a basic definition of intersectionality. Think about how it affects your characters.
the most important thing about a diverse book is the same thing as for all books. What matters most:
Age-appropriate content (though not shying away from edgy topics)
Contextual clues are better than exposition of culture.
Show, don’t tell!
Remember that your audience includes cultural insiders and outsiders. Balance enough information for outsiders with the possibility of boring insiders with too much basic everyday information.
School visits are a great way to reach diverse students.
At the beginning of your career, be willing to do school visits or Skype visits for a low honorarium, until you can build up your resume and network with more teachers.
Keep in mind that schools with a high percentage of diverse students are often the most underfunded. They may not have a budget for an honorarium, but may be able to purchase books for students to compensate.
Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers.
Last month we announced the six finalists for our 2015 New Visions Award. The Award recognizes a middle grade or young adult novel in the sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery genres by an unpublished author of color (our first New Visions Award winner, Ink and Ashes, will be released this June!).
As our award committee gets to know the finalists through their novels, we wanted to give our blog readers a chance to get to know these talented writers as well. We asked each finalist some questions. Here, authors Grace Rowe and Andrea Wang answer:
Grace Rowe, “Pure Descent”
Tell us about your main character in your novel.
Mi Sun Lee is a sixteen-year old Korean American girl who loves Skatewing and eating chocolate Heliotwixes. She grew up in the Crates, a community of extremely poor working class people, and was raised by her adoptive parents, Agnes and Poplar. Mi Sun is a tomboy at heart, and she has the normal self-doubts and insecurities of most teenage girls. She’s a hacker; she consults for the Dinenuts, an elite group of child hackers, who mostly wreak net havoc for fun. She’s pretty but that’s not important to her– she’s more focused on her main goal, which is to do whatever she can to help her parents get out of the Crates. One of her weaknesses is also her strength– she often doesn’t know how to hold back what she’s thinking, which can get her noticed, but can also get her in to trouble. She’s a terrible liar, a pretty ingenious escape artist, loves to eat real food (not synthetic), and hates wearing stilettos. Her dream was to become a professional Skatewing player, but since women aren’t allowed to play in the league, she just plays it online instead. Mi Sun has no interest in “Pure Descent,” in which she is one of the contestants, but as time goes by, she can’t help but be seduced by some of the perks that come with being considered “Pure.” She’s definitely not perfect– she falls for boys too easily, has issues with authority, and breaks the law because she knows how to do it without getting caught. Yet she has good motives and she’s brave and follows her instincts, which is why I think (and hope) we continue to follow her.
What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?
Fortunately, it’s rare that I have writer’s block. It’s not that I don’t have problems trying to figure out how a story should go, or how a story should end, it’s just that it’s my nature to tackle those problems with a whip so I don’t linger in the misery. This is the first novel I’ve written– I’m primarily a screenwriter. I had to discipline myself when I started this book, so I’d make myself write at least ten pages a day before I did anything else. (Besides eat breakfast!) Unlike with some screenplays that I’ve written, I didn’t have a real outline– I just started writing the voices and thoughts as they came to me. As I got farther in to the book, I forced myself to outline because I thought it was getting too long without a structure, and I know that’s what sometimes turns me off when I read a book. But I like the feeling of writing freely, not knowing what’s going to come next— just following your characters in their story. Their choices are what drives the plot– at least the subplots. The main idea always comes to me first, and as a filmmaker I can’t help but think of it as a movie.
Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?
People are busy, so I can understand why they would be picky about the books they read. I’ve never consciously taken a break from writers based on their ethnicity or gender, but I can say that I’m probably more drawn to read books from female authors, especially when it comes to fiction. Most times that’s merely because they tend to have female protagonists, although obviously there are plenty of male authors who write about women and vice versa. Maybe it’s because so many of the great t.v. shows and movies I watch tend to have men as their main protagonists, I often crave stories with women as the main characters. I don’t think it’s bad, I think it’s just a preference.
What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?
I know it’s ubiquitous, but as far as similar genres, nothing’s moved me as much as The Hunger Games. I think what makes it stand out from all the other books I’ve read in this genre, is that I feel like I really know who Katniss is. The task of making a character truly believable is more difficult than it sounds. I think it’s true that the more specific you are, the more universal you are. The best writers always find the nuances of a character and they don’t coddle them. They let their characters get in to trouble. They let them make mistakes. Their characters aren’t generic.
Andrea Wang, “Eco-Agent Owen Chang”
Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.
Owen is a 12-year-old self-described animal geek. He’s also a covert eco-agent for ORCA, an environmental spy agency. He’s snarky, self-assured, and always trying to shake off his pesky little brother. When he’s not out investigating, Owen can be found watching nature shows or tending to the reptiles and amphibians in his mom’s lab (she’s a herpetologist). While being Chinese-American informs Owen’s experience, he doesn’t consider himself to be “other” based on his ethnicity. What he believes sets him apart is his job as an eco-agent and he’s both proud and fiercely protective of his secret identity.
What advice would you give your younger self about writing? I was always told that writing was not a viable career choice. I set writing aside to study science, which my parents deemed to be more practical. I don’t completely regret it because I love science too, but I wish that I’d had the guts to study both science and creative writing. Later, when I was working, I would occasionally write in my spare time but it never occurred to me to try and publish anything. It took the constant encouragement of my husband and a good friend who was also beginning her writing journey to persuade me to take writing seriously. So I’d tell my younger self that writing is a worthwhile pursuit and that it is possible to have a career in writing, but also not to angst over choosing a different path. Because writing will always be there when you’re ready to undertake it, and whatever experiences you’ve had in the meantime will just enrich your work.
What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?
I have a number of notebooks where I jot down ideas and notes on plots, characters, scenes, research, etc. I have one notebook for picture book ideas, and then separate notebooks for each novel. When I feel like I have enough material to work with, I sit down and develop an outline. I like to have a detailed chapter summary to guide me as I write. Having an outline is especially helpful for writing mysteries, so I can plan out where to introduce suspects, place clues, and insert red herrings. It also helps me move past writer’s block because I don’t feel like I have to write the scenes in order. I can look at the chapter summary and the ideas in the notebook, pick a scene that interests me at that moment, and start writing it. Hopefully, I can keep up the momentum and continue writing forward from there. I use Scrivener, so it’s easy to move the scenes around and stitch them together later. I also give myself deadlines or challenges so I have to sit down and produce something – the New Visions Award contest was one such deadline!
Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this? If someone feels like they need to “force” themselves to read more diverse books by taking such a break, that’s fine with me. I’m all for reading books that are outside your comfort zone or told from an unfamiliar perspective. The books that stay with me are often the ones that I find most disquieting. Personally, I would rather expand my reading horizons than restrict it. I’m trying to become a more mindful reader, as Sunili Govinnage encouraged in her article – to be more aware of the choices I’m making when selecting reading material. What’s wonderful about the current debate is that it’s calling attention to the work of talented, diverse, authors and there are now great lists of diverse books that we can all take to the bookstore or library.
What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why? I love the mysteries by Blue Balliett, especially The Wright 3. The way that she’s able to meld art, architecture, math, and codes in a suspenseful mystery is amazing. Elise Broach’s Masterpiece and Shakespeare’s Secret are also my favorites for many of the same reasons. I grew up watching martial arts and James Bond movies and I read all of Ian Fleming’s Bond books in high school. The Young Bond series by Charlie Higson and the CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore take me back to those times. Before I began writing seriously, I was an environmental consultant. The books by Carl Hiaassen (Hoot, Flush, Scat) and the Swindle series by Gordon Korman really appeal to the scientist and nature lover in me. All of these books became my mentor texts for Eco-Agent Owen Chang: The Missing Murder.
This post is part of an ongoing series at The Open Book answering questions about book marketing and publicity.
In our last Marketing 101 post, I discussed what to do while waiting for your book to release. One of those recommendations was to refine your online presence. Today I’ll drill down into more detail on that point, focusing on the place where your online presence starts:
These days, it is absolutely essential for any published author or illustrator to maintain a personal website. I repeat: it is essential!Using your publisher’s website as your online home base is not a good solution for a couple reasons:
1) You may have many different publishers over the course of your career, and there won’t be one place where people can see all your books.
2) Publishers won’t have room for all the information you’ll want to include.
3) You need to be able to update your website as often as you need to, without going through a third party.
Some authors choose to create their own sites, while some choose to hire a company to design sites for them (I would advise against having a personal friend build your website unless they are able to teach you to manage and update it yourself). This blog post has some great suggestions for how to build a site yourself. Of the DIY options, WordPress is probably the most popular free option, while Squarespace is a good paid option that provides some additional functionalities like e-commerce. The most important thing to consider when choosing where/how to build your site is sustainability: will you be able to maintain and update the website easily on your own once it is built?
Websites can range from the very basic to the very complicated, but all author websites should include a few key pages:
Bio and author photo. Every website should have an “About” section where people can learn who you are, where you’re from, and what inspires you. Offer more than what people can glean from flap copy alone. Some authors choose to offer both a short bio and a longer bio. We recommend also offering a link to a hi-resolution author photo that people can download for use in event promotions, reviews, etc. If you’ve done any interviews, you should also post links to them here. Not only does this offer additional ways to learn more about you, but it’s a nice way of showing off some of the media coverage you’ve accrued.
Books. No author website is complete without an UPDATED list of all your books. At the bare minimum, you should include the title, cover, and a brief description of each book. For upcoming books, include a release date – and don’t forget to change the book to available once it is released. If you have space, you should also include some of the book’s positive reviews and any awards that the book has won. Finally, always include links for people to purchase the book directly: we recommend linking to Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Author’s Website.
Events and Appearances. What kinds of visits do you do? What ages do you work with? If you have an education background or any special skills that make you especially good as a presenter, include them here. You may also want to ask contacts from past school visits if they are willing to write testimonials that you can share here. You may even want to include a few photos or video from one of your visits. You don’t need to include honorarium information, but you do need to include a contact where people can learn more. If you don’t want to be your own contact, use a contact from one of your publishers for visit inquiries.
Social Media and Contact Information. Links to any social media channels you use should be front and center on your page, so people can find you easily. Only link to social media channels you keep updated—if you only posted on Twitter once, two years ago, it’s best not to direct people there until you begin using the platform regularly. Also include a way for people to reach you: this could be through a general email address, a direct email address, or even through snail mail sent to your publisher at your attention. You can choose to be as reachable as you want, as long as you offer some way for readers to get in touch.
Those are the four absolute must-haves for any author website. Beyond that, there are a few other elements that I’d recommend including if you are able:
Schedule/Upcoming Events. This is not a necessity, but some authors like to keep an updated list of the events they will be attending on their websites. It’s a great way to promote events you’ll be at and encourage fans to come out to support you, and it can also help generate additional event invitations. There’s one caveat: only add this page if you are going to keep it updated. There’s nothing worse than an author website that lists “Upcoming Events” that actually took place years ago.
Resources. Some authors create additional resources to go with their books, but even if you don’t create your own, it is likely that someone else will. Your website is a great place to compile these so readers can find them. You can link to these resources on your book page, or create a separate page for them. Either way, making these resources available through your website will help educators who want to use your books with students.
Email Collection. From the release of your first book (and even before that), you should work to build up your base of contacts. An easy way to do this is to create a place on your website to capture emails, where people can subscribe to receive updates on your work. Most website building platforms should have an easy way to do this. Building an email list can go a long way in helping you promote new titles when they are released.
Beyond these elements, the sky is the limit. Your website should reflect you, so feel free to include other pieces of information that you think readers would like. Whatever you do, your first priority should always be to keep your website UPDATED with your newest book information (even between books), so it doesn’t become obsolete.