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The musings of a promising writer and diligent mom
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1. I asked PANDEMIC author, Yvonne Ventresca, to stop by and share some contagious facts about her book.

What is the title and genre of your book and a quick tag line?

Pandemic is a young adult novel published in May 2014 by Sky Pony Press. During a deadly contagious outbreak, one teenage girl must face disease, death, and her personal demons in order to survive.

Is this your first book? Second? Third. . .? (Feel free to list them all.)

Pandemic was my debut novel. I’ve also written two nonfiction books for teens: Avril Lavigne(a biography of the singer) and Publishing(about careers in the field).

(You can find more info on Yvonne's books here.)


Who is the intended audience for this book and why do you think they should read it?

Pandemic is for people ages 12+ who like survival stories. With Ebola in the news, Pandemic gives readers a way to think about a contagious disease in a fictional world. School Library Journal said, "This is an engrossing apocalyptic story, told through Lil’s eyes and newsfeeds as her neighborhood, then the East Coast, and finally the entire U.S. buckles to its knees as the pandemic spreads. . . . Themes of friendship and coming together in a crisis carry the novel."

What is your favorite thing about the main character?

Lilianna is resilient and good-hearted.

Where did the idea for this book spring from?

I find natural disasters and contagious diseases particularly worrisome, so these types of unpredictable situations have always been on my radar. When the Swine Flu pandemic occurred in 2009, it wasn’t particularly lethal, but it did make me wonder. What if a virus was extremely contagious and caused a high death rate? And what if a teen girl had to survive the outbreak on her own?

Tell us an unknown fact about the book.

Mr. B (the antagonist) was originally called Mr. D. During Pandemic’s final edits, my son switched to a school with a principal named Dr. D. Since the character is an evil man, I thought it would be wise to change the name. J

Tell us a little bit about you.

I grew up on Long Island and now live in New Jersey with my husband, two teens, two dogs, and some random fish. I write from home and am currently working on a psychological thriller set in Hoboken.

Give us a strange but true fact about you.

After attending an SCBWI conference and presenting a draft of Pandemic’s first page for critique, I returned home from the weekend with a horrible case of the flu. (The irony!) I took notes afterward and used parts of my delirium in later chapters of Pandemic.

If you could meet one famous person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?


When I’m not writing, I study karate. (You can learn more about my martial arts journey here.) I would love to go back in time and meet Tatsuo Shimabuku, the founder of Isshinryu karate.


If your main character could meet one famous person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Lilianna would want to meet the head of the CDC so she could learn the latest news about contagious diseases.

Thanks for stopping by Yvonne! 





To connect with Yvonne:
Facebook www.facebook.com/yvonneventrescaauthor

To buy Pandemic:
Book Depository www.bookdepository.com/Pandemic-Yvonne-Ventresca/9781628736090 

In person events:
October 26, 2014, Sunday, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm
NJ Association of School Librarians Fall Conference
Authors' Alley
Long Branch, NJ

October 30, 2014, Thursday, 7:00 pm
Tour de Noir Author signing with Jennifer Murgia, Lisa Amowitz, Cyn Balog, Molly Cochran, Janice Gable Bashman, Dianne Salerni, Jessica Verday, Yvonne Ventresca and Elizabeth Keim.
Barnes & Noble, Easton, PA

November 1st and 2nd, 2014, Saturday and Sunday
NJ SCBWI Fall Craft Weekend, Faculty
Workshop: Revision Resources--Tools to Analyze Your Manuscript
Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ
Saturday Craft Day is *free* to SCBWI members, but registration is required.

November 15, 2014, Saturday from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Author Day at the Hillsborough Library
Hillsborough Public Library, Hillsborough, NJ

December 13, 2014, Saturday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
Mary Jacobs Library Foundation Book Fest
Barnes & Noble, Princeton, NJ


0 Comments on I asked PANDEMIC author, Yvonne Ventresca, to stop by and share some contagious facts about her book. as of 10/23/2014 12:36:00 PM
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2. CRITIQUE GROUPS; REMOVING THE ROSE-COLORED WRITER GOGGLES


I don’t know of any successful writer who doesn’t belong to a critique group of their peers. A good critique group can be invaluable. Never, and I mean NEVER, submit your work without several critiques. Yes, I know that when you finish your manuscript it feels good. You sit back and revel in your own brilliance. You have no doubts. You know it is perfect and once an editor lays eyes on it, they will scoop it up and it will need no changes. But even though you’ve written fiction, you’ve got to come back down to the real world. Although your work just might be brilliant, it probably isn’t perfect. As the writer, you are blind to its imperfections. We all hope an editor will love and accept our work as-is, but that just isn’t reality. And it is your job as the author to make sure you submit a manuscript as close to perfect as you can get it. But this task is nearly impossible while wearing your rose-colored writer goggles.


Rose-colored writer goggles are something every writer unconsciously wears when they’ve finished a manuscript they’re excited about. Similar to the beer goggle phenomena, which makes everybody look sexier than they really are; writer goggles make every word of your manuscript seem more magnificent than they really are. As long as the goggles remain in place, you will never see your manuscript for what it really is. Unfortunately, you can’t remove your writer goggles on your own. The best and easiest way to get those goggles off is to have them surgically removed by your critique group. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt – much.


The first job of your critique group is to read your manuscript and tell you what the strong points are. At this, you might feel the goggles getting tighter. But then, truth be told, it is their duty to tell you also what doesn’t work. Plot issues, inconsistencies, point of view, whatever. Your critique group can point out where you lose your voice, where you’ve stopped being true to your character and other areas that just need more work. Here, the goggles get ripped off like a Band-Aid that’s been stuck on too long. 


I’m not going to kid you.  Removal of the rose-colored writer goggles can smart. You have to be strong and ready to receive criticism. It isn’t always easy. A good critique partner not only points out where you’ve gone astray but can also offer tips and ideas on improvement. Instead of telling you, “This doesn’t work,” you want to find someone who can tell you, “This doesn’t work, and here’s why and maybe you could try this instead.” Through it all you have to listen to what they have to say. You may not agree with all of it. That’s okay. Even so, you need to be open to their opinion and use it to your advantage. Take the advice you think works and disregard the rest. But be smart, if more than one critiquer points out the same issue, more than likely they’ve honed in on a weak spot that probably needs a revision. If they just don’t “get it” then go back and make sure you've written it in a way that fully shows your intentions. Sometimes, as writers, we forget to let the reader in on what's still in our heads. Don't take any criticism personally. Remember, you asked for the truth and you've got to realize all critiques are subjective. Not everyone is going to love your work, no matter how good it is. Now that the goggles are off, you should have a better view of your manuscript. Now it is time to jump in and add the gravy to the meat and potatoes you’ve already got. After all, we all know the gravy makes it taste better – right?


I have a critique group that I belong to on line with other picture book writers. We submit our work in a forum and add our critiques in the comments section. It is a closed group that only members can access. This group is perfect for pointing out the little things my writer’s goggles hid from me. This is where I start my revision process. I also belong to a critique group that meets face to face twice a month. We’ve come to know each other personally and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The fun part of meeting like this is that when something isn’t working we pop into brainstorm mode which isn't as easy to do on the internet. For instance, I had a great premise for a new picture book and although I had an idea for the ending, it wasn’t a very strong one. Within seconds they all started throwing out ideas and each idea hatched another one and soon I had a terrific ending that I never would have thought of on my own. As I said before, a good critique group is invaluable.


Where do you find a critique group? Well, it really isn’t hard. Use what you’re familiar with to your advantage. Send out a call on Twitter, on Facebook, LinkedIn, through SCBWI, and other places you have access to. I found my online group through Verla Kay’s site (www.verlakay.com) by posting on her message board. My face-to-face group was the product of SCBWI. If you can’t find one, start one. Again, use the above tools to your advantage. Put it out there. If you build it, they will come. 

3 Comments on CRITIQUE GROUPS; REMOVING THE ROSE-COLORED WRITER GOGGLES, last added: 3/15/2013
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3. BE TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTERS

There is nothing more frustrating than when someone critiques your work and says, “Your character wouldn’t do that!” or “Your character wouldn’t say that!”

I must admit, hearing that totally grates on me. How can anyone possibly tell ME what my character wouldn’t do or say? Hello. It is my character. I made them up and they do what I tell them to do. End of story.

I admit, this is something I’m not happy to hear. But I’m in a critique group for a reason and I need to keep an open mind. So even though I don’t initially agree with this statement, I do try to take a closer look at the problem. Although I don’t fully understand the concept of other people telling me what my character would or would not do, I do realize my critique partners aren’t totally wrong in their assessment. Very often what they’ve pointed out, is an area where my voice has come through instead of the character’s. Either the adult me has made an appearance or the 80’s teenager from my past has honed in on my contemporary protagonist. Usually it is a quick fix and I move on. But again, this is an issue that I couldn’t fully comprehend. Until recently.

A few weeks ago I was reading a book that nearly had me pulling my hair out. It was a sequel to another book I had read and enjoyed. I can honestly say I was pretty invested in the main character. Enough that I liked her and wanted to read more about her. However, in book two she consistently did things that totally made no sense to me. At least no sense in the terms of who she was or who I had perceived her to be. I really struggled to finish the book and found myself yelling at it often. “No! Why would you do that?” I think my husband was ready to have me committed. And it hit me. This is what my critique partners were talking about. I was finally able to wrap my brain around the concept of being true to your characters.

It is quite an easy concept if you think about it. For example, if your character is afraid of dogs then it is obvious she is not going to pet someone’s dog in passing or hang out in front of the pet store window fawning over the puppies. In fact, she will probably cross to the other side of the street when confronted by a dog walker and may even steer clear of the block where the pet store is located.

If your story has an "a-ha" moment where the character overcomes her fear of dogs, it must come at a price. For example, your character can not just suddenly decide she likes dogs now and happy, happy, joy, joy she heads to the pet store to get one. Something has to happen to change her opinion. And it has to be big. You can’t just have some guy with a nice dog come up to her and say, “Look, not all dogs bite. Pet mine and you’ll see.” It has to be something significant and it has to ring true to your character; her fears and her personality. A life threatening situation might come in handy for this example. What if a rescue dog saved her from a flash flood or a burning building? But even so, it can’t be easy. She can’t simply overcome her fear of the dog in order to be rescued. You’d need to show that her fear of the rising water or deadly flames has become greater than her fear of the dog. This isn’t easy to do and should impose a lot of inner as well as outer conflict. The situation must get more dire. (Outer conflict) Flames and smoke choke her. Parts of the building is collapsing all around. Meanwhile, she is struggling with herself. Should she trust the darn dog? (Inner conflict.) Finally, the situation comes down to a do or die moment where she makes up her mind to take her chances on the dog who of course, pulls her to safety.

I realize the above example is pretty easy and straightforward. The places in your manuscript where you might find yourself being less than true to your characters will probably be more subtle. But whether your dishonesty is big, like my example, or small, like a morsel of your own voice shining through, an invested reader will still pick up on it. And if they lose faith in your character, they will lose faith in you too. An unhappy audience doesn’t bode well for selling books. You can take that to the bank but leave your dog at home.

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4. Author Visits


Now that my book, DON'T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE!, has officially been released it is time for me to start scheduling author visits. You would think that once that beautiful picture book was in my hands, it would bring relief. After all, the hard work is over, right? Wrong! Now there is a whole new chapter I find myself embarking on. It is called promotion. (Yikes!) For me, and I’m sure for most writers, the writing was the easy part. Not that writing is easy, it’s not. But it is the area in which I am most comfortable. I am a writer, and I think as a published author I can consider myself a professional. So writing is what comes natural. It is an extension of who I am. It is what I do. But promotion, well, that is a whole different animal and something, I must confess, I’m a bit nervous about.

Being a writer is a solitary commitment. I sit by myself every day to write. In my little office, dressed in sweats or jammies, I disappear into a world inside my head and if all goes well, I put that world on paper and make it real and exciting for my readers. Promotion is the exact opposite. It is NOT a solitary thing. It is a very social thing. And if I showed up in my jammies and disappeared into my own head, they’d put me in a straight jacket for sure! But, maybe a glimpse of what’s inside my head could be my marketing strategy. What if I could take others with me into the dark recesses of my brain? It sounds scary. It sounds ridiculous. It sounds really awesome! A little ride on my “train of thought” might not be a bad idea.  

So, with that in mind, I’ve come up with a plan. Not only would I enjoy reading my book to the little ones, but I’d also like to talk to them about stories. Where they come from and what an imagination is. Then, I’d like to kick start theirs with a fun prompt so we can come up with a silly and exciting story together; one with a beginning, middle and end. I will have activities planned for them as well as giveaways based on my book. And hey, let’s not forget some educational tidbits about lady bugs and other beneficial insects to go with my book!

For older kids I’d like to do a small workshop. Since “Bedbugs” is a rhyming picture book, I think a lesson on poetry is in order. I hope to bring some excitement to my presentation by getting everyone involved in a quick and fun Mad Libs style game where we create a poem about their school. I can only imagine the creativity those kids will bring to the table! (Watch out faculty! It could get messy!) I will also be happy to answer any questions they have on the craft of writing as well as the business side of it. 


And speaking of business, (which is what my publisher is most interested in.) the whole point of this is to sell books. I hope to autograph many of them for my cute little fans along the way. But the whole reason I write for children is not for fame and fortune, (But I wouldn't turn down a guest appearance on Oprah!) but because I want to reach them. I want to open their imaginations and show them that anything is possible. Dreams are worth having and goals are worth perusing. I want to teach as well as entertain. This is my ultimate goal. Besides, books are just cool. How lucky am I to be one of the many who create them? 

So at this point, I am scheduling some book signings and visits in my home town and vicinity. As you can imagine the response has been tremendous. I knew the awesome folks of Ware, MA would rally behind me. That’s why my heart is still there.  I am also planning to book some appearances here in the Concord/Charlotte area. And hey, just to make it clear, I’m always willing to consider other venues. (Hello, Hawaii, are you listening?) If you’re interested in having me visit your area, shoot me a message. Let’s see what we can work out. 

6 Comments on Author Visits, last added: 10/25/2012
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5. Bedbug Delivery


     Okay, so here it is! Got my first shipment of DON’T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE!  The books are gorgeous! They’re striking, they’re colorful, they smell wonderful and I’m on cloud nine. Shenanigan Books did a great job putting this together. When the bedbug epidemic resurfaced, they didn’t throw in the towel. Instead, they worked with me and through revision we crafted an even more wonderful story. Bedbugs be darned, DON’T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE will show children that not all bugs are bad. In fact, some are believed to bring luck. 

     As I said, the books are striking. One look at the cover and I can tell it has that “pull me off the shelf” appeal. This is thanks to the illustrator John Wes Thomas. He did a fabulous job bringing my story to life and he has given me the cutest little “bedbug” you ever saw! What a talented guy. Mr. Thomas you can illustrate my picture books anytime!

     So the official release date is October 1st, which is Monday. The book is available from the publisher Shenanigan Books or on Amazon. It’s cute, it’s funny and way less itchy than actual bedbugs. So put down that bug spray and go get a copy! 

2 Comments on Bedbug Delivery, last added: 9/29/2012
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6. THE DEMON OF DAUNTING: Writing my 1st Novel

I did it! I finally did it!

 What am I talking about? Why, my novel of course. You see, as a predominant picture book writer I write in short bursts. It may take months to get a picture book “just right” but it only takes a few days to get the “bare bones” on paper. I like that. Within a few days, I have a manuscript in front of me. It is not a polished manuscript, but it is a manuscript nonetheless. Something I can work from. As someone who loves the revision process, this is my favorite part. I have lots of fun dissecting my work and making it better.

 But a novel is a whole different animal. It is like comparing a kitten to an elephant. A novel takes waaaay longer than a few days to pump out a first draft. Compared to my 500 word picture books, a 50,000 word novel is a huge undertaking and a daunting task. Here’s what I see in my mind when I sit down to write one.


As a writer, I write. I constantly have book ideas rolling around in my head. Many of them are too mature for the picture book scene. So I thought, why limit myself to just picture books? When an idea hits me hard and strong I have to run with it. As always, the story starts off fast and furious. I type like a madwoman in my attempt to get it on paper before I lose it. But with a novel, this goes on for days. And as I sit at my computer, that looming shadow grows bigger and bigger. I try to ignore it, but it hangs over me with dark claws and glowing eyes. At this point I recall that character Glum, from the old Gulliver’s Travels cartoon and I hear his mantra floating over me. “You’re never gonna make it!” Then the self-doubt takes over and I find myself avoiding the computer because, well, ITS SCARY!

 So I meet with my critique buddies. They remind me that I am not alone. They tell me to put on my big girl panties and confront my demons. I sit back down at my computer. My drawing of the big scary shadow sits over my desk to remind me that he is a figment of my imagination, and I type. And I type. And I type. Sometimes, without thinking, I glance up at the Demon of Daunting and a shiver runs through me, but as the word count grows the monster gets smaller and smaller and smaller . I finally type the last word and POOF! The demon is gone!

 Hooray! First draft!

 Then I let it stew a while. I let all the flavors mesh with the characters and the plot. Then, because I am a picture book writer and I write short and to the point, I go back in and add my meat and potatoes to the mixture. This is my favorite part. Like a puzzle I go through it and look for inconsistencies. I add new ideas. I flesh out my characters and wrap up all the storylines until the whole thing feels like it has come full circle.

 Hooray! Second draft!

 Now this is the draft I’m willing to share. Is it finished? Of course not! When is a book ever finished? Right up to the time it is printed, changes can still take place. But for my novel, the Bones and the flesh are here and if I’ve done my job right, only cosmetics are left.

 After a round with my critique group I am ready to tackle draft number three. Nothing major, but changes definitely have to be made. I’m excited. I’ve accomplished something. I CAN write a novel. I beat the Demon of Daunting and survived to write again. So I do. As the first paragraphs of my new novel appear on the blank page, the demon arrives. He takes his usual spot to loom over me, but this time I’m ready for him and he isn’t half as scary. Bring it on!

8 Comments on THE DEMON OF DAUNTING: Writing my 1st Novel, last added: 9/14/2012
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7. IS IT REAL? The Truth About Fiction





On June first, a line of devastating storms sped through the state of Massachusetts bringing with it numerous tornados. My home town of Ware, sitting snug in the valley was spared, but much of the surrounding areas weren’t so lucky. In fact, Monson, a neighboring town will be picking up the pieces for a long time to come. As news of the destruction played out across our television screen and family and friends posted pictures on Facebook my four year old daughter became worried and confused.

“Was it a real tornado, Mommy? Or just a make-believe one like in the movie TWISTER?” she asked.

Now keep in mind, TWISTER is one of her favorite movies. Something about the storm scenes amazes her much more than it frightens her. Maybe she is destined to become a Storm Chaser or Meteorologist. Either way, at four, she is confused by the images she is seeing so close to her grandmother’s home. Of course this prompted a discussion of what is real and what is not real. This is a difficult concept for a young child to grasp. The “real” images from the June first tornado are eerily similar to the “fake” ones from the movie. I tried to explain that the movie is fiction; a story somebody made up.

“Why does it seem so real?” She wanted to know.

And herein lays the real root of the problem. As a fiction writer myself, the answer is simple. After all, if it didn’t seem real, it wouldn’t be believable. Who wants to watch a movie or read a book that isn’t believable? The key to writing good fiction is making the reader believe it. Whether you’ve brought your reader to a post-apocalyptic country where children are forced to play deadly games to win food for their village, or, like in my upcoming picture book, you introduce your reader to a slipper wearing bedbug who doesn’t want to share her bed with a human, it must draw the reader in.

If the tornados in the movie TWISTER looked like the funnel in a soda bottle science experiment it certainly wouldn’t have been nominated for an Academy Award and the effects department would find themselves standing in line at the unemployment office. The realistic feel of the movie is what made it a hit. It is what drew audiences to see it.

But not all fiction is cut and dry. Of course my smarty pants daughter wanted to know if the recent documentary we watched on Pompeii was real or fiction.

“That was real,” I said.

“You mean they videotaped it while it happened?” she asked.

Oh boy, this kid never allows for an easy answer. I explained the film we saw was a reenactment of the true story, which is called non-fiction, and the people were all actors. That seemed to appease her for the moment, but now, every story she comes across, either in print or film, spurs a burning need to know if it is fiction or non-fiction. This whole episode had me second guessing my own take on fiction. Therefore I did a little research. Webster’s definition of Fiction is, literature made up of imaginary events and characters. But as I mentioned earlier, fiction is not cut and dry. I came across a few sub-categories which will help straighten out my daughter’s confusions and hopefully yours too.


1. Realistic Fiction: A s

3 Comments on IS IT REAL? The Truth About Fiction, last added: 6/21/2011
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8. Children's Book Diva, Jane Yolen, Fires Letter to LA Administrator Regarding Firing of School Librarians


If you're a children's writer or even a fan of children's literature you surely know who Jane Yolen is. To me she is the ultimate children's book diva and a woman who is very respected in her field. When Jane talks books, people listen. Recently, an infuriated Yolen penned a letter to administrators in the LA area regarding an issue where the Board of Education and their lawyers questioned school librarians to assess their "teaching" skills. Here it is in Jane's own words:



Letter to the administrator in charge of firing LA school librarians who had the Board of Ed's lawyers take the librarians into the school basement and asked them to prove they were teachers with such questions as "Do you take attendance?".



Dear Mr. Deasy:


As the author of 300 published books (yes, that is not a typo!), many of them winners of the highest awards given for children's and adult books,

I have to commend you for closing libraries. You are turning out the lights in children's minds. It will make them much easier to recruit as cannon fodder,much easier to move them on conveyor belts, much easier to treat them as cattle.

Of all the people who work in a school, teachers and librarians are the heart and soul of the place. Not administrators. My late husband

was a professor and later on an administrator. You should have heard what he had to say about top-heavy administrations. I suggest you

take the administrators (yourself included) and ask them the same questions the lawyers are asking the librarians in the basement: do YOU take attendance? Do YOU teach in the classroom? Perhaps you should fire the administrators first. And the overpriced lawyers. And when you do, you will no doubt find you have the money to keep the librarians.

And the library.

The ones who turn on lights in children's minds and guard the flame in their hearts. With or without taking attendance.


Yours very truly and to tell the truth angrily as well,


Jane Yolen




At this point, all we can do is hope that Administrator Deasy sits up and takes notice. As far as I am concerned a library is the heart of any school. Can you even imagine a school without books? Thanks for your efforts Jane!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

6 Comments on Children's Book Diva, Jane Yolen, Fires Letter to LA Administrator Regarding Firing of School Librarians, last added: 5/29/2011
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9. BE TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTERS

There is nothing more frustrating than when someone critiques your work and says, “Your character wouldn’t do that!” or “Your character wouldn’t say that!”

I must admit, hearing that totally grates on me. How can anyone possibly tell ME what my character wouldn’t do or say? Hello. It is my character. I made them up and they do what I tell them to do. End of story.

I admit, this is something I’m not happy to hear. But I’m in a critique group for a reason and I need to keep an open mind. So even though I don’t initially agree with this statement, I do try to take a closer look at the problem. Although I don’t fully understand the concept of other people telling me what my character would or would not do, I do realize my critique partners aren’t totally wrong in their assessment. Very often what they’ve pointed out, is an area where my voice has come through instead of the character’s. Either the adult me has made an appearance or the 80’s teenager from my past has honed in on my contemporary protagonist. Usually it is a quick fix and I move on. But again, this is an issue that I couldn’t fully comprehend. Until recently.

A few weeks ago I was reading a book that nearly had me pulling my hair out. It was a sequel to another book I had read and enjoyed. I can honestly say I was pretty invested in the main character. Enough that I liked her and wanted to read more about her. However, in book two she consistently did things that totally made no sense to me. At least no sense in the terms of who she was or who I had perceived her to be. I really struggled to finish the book and found myself yelling at it often. “No! Why would you do that?” I think my husband was ready to have me committed. And it hit me. This is what my critique partners were talking about. I was finally able to wrap my brain around the concept of being true to your characters.

It is quite an easy concept if you think about it. For example, if your character is afraid of dogs then it is obvious she is not going to pet someone’s dog in passing or hang out in front of the pet store window fawning over the puppies. In fact, she will probably cross to the other side of the street when confronted by a dog walker and may even steer clear of the block where the pet store is located.

If your story has an "a-ha" moment where the character overcomes her fear of dogs, it must come at a price. For example, your character can not just suddenly decide she likes dogs now and happy, happy, joy, joy she heads to the pet store to get one. Something has to happen to change her opinion. And it has to be big. You can’t just have some guy with a nice dog come up to her and say, “Look, not all dogs bite. Pet mine and you’ll see.” It has to be something significant and it has to ring true to your character; her fears and her personality. A life threatening situation might come in handy for this example. What if a rescue dog saved her from a flash flood or a burning building? But even so, it can’t be easy. She can’t simply overcome her fear of the dog in order to be rescued. You’d need to show that her fear of the rising water or deadly flames has become greater than her fear of the dog. This isn’t easy to do and should impose a lot of inner as well as outer conflict. The situation must get more dire. (Outer conflict) Flames and smoke choke her. Parts of the building is collapsing all around. Meanwhile, she is struggling with herself. Should she trust the darn dog? (Inner conflict.) Finally, the situation comes down to a do or die moment where she makes up her mind to take her chances on the dog who of course, pulls her to safety.

I realize the above example is pretty easy and straightforward. The places in your manuscript where you might find yourself being less than true to your characters will probably be more subtle. But whether your dishonesty is big, like my example, or small, like a morsel of your own voice shining through, an invested reader will still

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10. I'M STILL HERE, BUT NOW I HAVE HELP

Wow, what a bad blogger I've been. I admit THE FRACTURED KEYBOARD has been severely neglected over these past months. I can come up with a whole lot of excuses (That's excuses, not lies.) but none of them are really good enough. I think we can all agree that sometimes life gets in the way and that's the best I've got. So rather than dwell on the aspects of my personal life I'd like to remind you, as well as myself, that this is a place for writers. It is a place to discuss the craft, the biz and the whole writing journey; from pen to publisher if you will. So let me tell you what's new in my journey rather than waste your time on what isn't.

First of all, the release of my new picture book, DON'T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE!, has been moved back. Instead of coming out sometime this year, it will now debut in spring of 2012. Most folks assume this is depressing news. But if you are a seasoned writer, you know it isn't. Writers have the patience of Job when it comes to waiting. We wait for the muse to hit and make the words flow correctly. We wait for the mail to come. We wait for responses from editors and agents. We wait for edits & revisions to come through. We wait. This business is a big game of hurry up and wait. That's just the way it is. Deal with it. So therefore, this little setback isn't a major crisis. What's another few months in the grand scheme of the birth of a picture book? If the extra time is used to make it better, than I'm all for it. Piece of cake.

In other news, things are a little different on my side of the rainbow in 2011. Some of you may recall my post entitled "THE SUBMISSION PROCESS AS I SEE IT." If so, then you know I've been on the search for an agent. Well recently I struck gold when Agent Louise Fury, of the L. Perkins Agency, tweeted that she was looking for character-driven, humorous picture books. I thought, Hey! I have one of those! Of course I immediately jumped into action and as luck would have it, she liked what I sent. Let me just say it is wonderful to find someone who is as excited about your work as you are. It is, well,
E-X-C-I-T-I-N-G!

Of course having an agent takes some getting used to. I mean, for many years I was always on the lookout for submission opportunities. I scoured the bookstores for similar books and their publishers, I explored the internet looking for articles and interviews of editors and agents who were still open to submissions and I hunted through business publications searching for new or smaller imprints that might be a good fit for my work. All in all it has been a very consuming task and one I have worked hard at. Now, thanks to my lovely and oh-so-wise agent, I no longer have to be so vigilant. I can relax a little. I can focus more of my efforts on my writing and stop stressing about the submission process. This is wonderful. I feel so free and unrestrained! Well, not really. Old habits die hard and I still find myself wondering if this publisher might like that manuscript and would now be a good time to send it? But then I picture Louise. And very much like those folks who realize they could have had a V8, I clock myself in the head and remind myself to relax. There is no reason to stress. My work is now in extremely capable hands. Hands much more capable than my own. And I’m happy.

Apparently my family is happy too. My little one surprised me while I was working one day with this little ditty. Luckily I had my video camera handy.
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11. AND HERE'S THE PITCH!


This weekend I attended the annual SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference. I learned lots of amazing things and came away with a head full of new knowledge and a muse loaded with ideas. But there is one thing that has been nagging at me and I thought I’d like to share.

The amazingly talented marketing guru and writer, Shelli Johannes-Wells hosted a workshop Sunday morning called DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE M WORD. It was a very insightful lesson on the ins and outs of branding for authors. One thing she said that stuck with me was, “Know your pitch!” She said most people tend to zone out after the first ten words!

Wow, really? It got me thinking about the pitch for my novel, BLOOD TIES. This is my next “big” work. This is the piece of heart and soul that I hope to catch an agent with. And until Sunday, I wasn’t worried about my pitch. I had it. It was done. Heck you may have read it here on my blog. It was short (45 words), it was simple and to the point. So what was the problem? It didn’t seem natural. Shelli said your pitch should simply start like this: “My book is about. . .”

Instead, mine was more formal. It read much like a book flap or query letter. Take a gander:

His Dad is in jail, his mother is an alcoholic and his little brother is a pint-sized Goth freak. Life isn’t easy for Talon Cooley,
so when Dad calls from prison looking for another hand-out to save his worthless life, what's a guy to do?

Not bad. I mean, it didn’t suck and you got the gist. My problem was that it didn’t flow easily in conversation. If someone says to me, “So, what’s your book about?” I will look like a total dork if I suddenly turn on my James Earl Jones narrator voice and spout the above pitch. So I decided to make it more personal, more easily accessible and likely to hold up in conversation. Here’s my attempt:

My book is about . . . a teenage boy stuck in the shadow of his father’s jailhouse rep. So when neighborhood pets start
disappearing and an arson roams the area, fingers automatically point toward “that Cooey boy.” Talon’s struggle to clear
his name initiates a risky game with a dangerous drug dealer and leads to a discovery that just might give him a new outlook
on the man he calls Dad.

Whew! It went from 45 to 72 words. I’ve heard a pitch should never go above 150-200 words and I’ve managed to stay below that. Although it would never fit on Twitter. Does it still need work? Hell yeah. But my novel is still a work in progress and I’m thinking I might have a better handle on it once it is complete. In the meantime, It’ll still be rolling around my brain looking for improvement.

Now let’s talk about you. How’s your pitch? Is it formal like mine or can you tell me about it in casual conversation? Do you know it by heart? Will it fit on Twitter? (There are agents/editors who sometimes take pitches there and also sponsor contests.)

Let’s see what you’ve got. Pretend I’m Joan Q. Editor. We’re together at a social gathering and I look at you point blank and say, “So, what’s your book about?”

Share your best pitch in the comments section below.

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12. WriteOnCon

WriteOnCon, a FREE online conference for writers is over. If you missed it, you totally missed out on a great event. But have no fear, the founders, Jamie Harrington, Elana Johnson, Shannon Messenger, Jennifer Stayrook and Lisa and Laura Roecker have more up their sleeves.

The conference, which was held August 10-12, 2010 was attended by so many writers their server couldn't handle all the traffic. In order to host another epic event they'll need to pay for a better web hosting service. So, in order to finance this whole shebang, they have come up with the grand idea of giveaway promotions and will also be accepting donations. If you haven't done so already, please go check out the WriteOnCon website for details. www.writeoncon.com/2010/09/critique-by-author-tess-gratton

In addition to the giveaways listed on the WriteOnCon site, you will find additional giveaways on each of the founders websites/blogs. Casey McCormick is giving away an ARC of EXTRAORDINARY by Nancy Werlin and a hardcover of WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan. There will be two winners, one book to each. www.caseylmccormick.blogspot.com

Lisa & Laura Roecker are giving away an ARC and a sneak peek at the 1st chapter of their book LIAR SOCIETY and a 50 page manuscript critique. www.lisa-laura.blogspot.com

Shannon Messenger is giving ways some much sought after autographed books. For you Rick Riordan fans she has THE LIGHTNING THIEF, THE ALCHEMIST signed by Michael Scott, MISTBORN signed by Brandon Sanderson, THE NAME OF THE WIND signed by Patrick Rothfuss and LEVIATHAN signed by Scott Westerfeld. www.ramblingsofawannabescribe.blogspot.com

Elana Johnson is also donating autographed books for the cause. Sign up to win LOSING FAITH signed by Denise Jaden and BREAK signed by Hannah Moskowitz.
www.elanajohnson.blogspot.com

Author Jamie Harrington has some autographed goodies also. If you'd like a gander at PROM DATES FROM HELL signed by Rosemary Clement-Moore or GIL'S ALL FRIGHT DINER signed by A. Lee Martinez, Jamie's blog is the place to go. www.totallythebomb.com

So lets help these wonderful ladies help us. Sign up for giveaways and make donations to keep WriteOnCon on the web! And a special thank you goes out to the founders for their effort and commitment. Organizing anything is tough work and you've done it without any monetary benefit to yourselves. Please know, YOU ARE APPRECIATED!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

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13. THE SUBMISSION PROCESS AS I SEE IT


I don't know if it's just me, but lately it seems as though responses to my submissions are coming in slower than ever. Now don't get me wrong, once in a while a rejection trickles in, but for the most part, my mailbox and inbox remain empty of editor/agent correspondence. Not that I’m complaining. I like to take heart in the old mantra, “no news is good news”. However, I wonder if other writers are noticing the same. With many houses closing their doors to unagented material (I don’t have an agent) and the economy forcing everyone and their brother into thinking they can write children’s books, the submission process seems to be getting more difficult to navigate day by day. (Editors/Agents are inundated with an ever increasing amount of submissions.)With this in mind, I thought I’d share with you my submission process:

First of all, I have more than one picture book manuscript ready for submission. That said, I think you can gather that I am submitting multiple manuscripts, (one at a time), to various editor/agents as I see fit. I try very hard to target my submissions to an editor/agent who I feel might be most receptive to that certain piece of work. For example, one of my newer works is a rhyming picture book called THE GUMBALL. (See sidebar on this blog regarding available works.) I began submitting it in early December and targeted editors who have published fun, silly rhyming picture books in the past. To date, I have received only one response and that was a very nice, handwritten rejection. I have five other editors I am waiting to hear back from. Before I resubmit elsewhere, I want to gage their reaction. If I get a pile of form rejections, I know the book isn’t working and I will need to rethink it. If I get some positive responses, then maybe I’m on the right track. However, since I’m in this for the long haul, and this is my career path, I’m praying for more than a nice rejection. With each submission, I aim for a contract. I cross my fingers and toes and answer every phone call with that little blip of apprehension, hoping against hope this is it, “the call”.
It has happened. I’ve been lucky enough to sell two books. But as I’ve said, I’m in this for the long haul and each day opens up new opportunities. I continue to scour my email and phone messages knowing that at some point there will be good news awaiting me. Fingers crossed.

Another aspect of the submissions process is the query letter. Like the full submission, this must be a carefully targeted communication. Similar to the cover letter which is included with a full submission, the query letter must convey your story in an appealing and fascinating way. Don’t give away the ending, but allude to it in a way that catches the editor/agent’s attention and makes them want to know more. If you’ve garnered their interest, they’ll probably ask to see the manuscript. At this point your work becomes solicited material and you’ve bypassed the dreaded “slush pile”. Some picture book writers hate the query letter. Personally, I run both hot and cold on it. Sometimes query letters have opened new doors for me. Houses that are closed to unsolicited submissions have requested material from me and although they passed on the particular project they have remained open to more of my work. Bonus! On the other hand, I have had queries that remain in limbo. These are queries I never get a response to. I don’t believe it is proper to send a status query on a query; seems redundant. Therefore, these are submissions I consider rejected. Yet, there is always hope it fell behind some assistant’s desk and

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14. WHAT'S GOING ON? : Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite!

After a week away from the computer because my mother was in town, I was excited to find an email from my editor at Shenanigan Books, Mary Watson. She was kind enough to let me know she has sent my manuscript for DON'T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE! out to an illustrator today. Of course I immediately googled the woman to see some of her work. All I can say is, "Yeah baby!"

I am absolutely thrilled to see what she comes up with. "Bedbugs" is a fun book and the illustration possibilities are endless! I can NOT wait to get a look at her interpretation. For those of you who are not familiar with Shenanigan Books, you should be. Here's the link: http://www.shenaniganbooks.com/, look them up. They're books are gorgeous!

I'm looking forward to a wonderful experience and am honored to be part of Shenanigan's list. I'll keep you posted as the process moves forward.

Thanks,

Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

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15. Win 2 Gr8 Reads!
















I have two wonderful books in my possesion that I think are awesome boy books for ages 12-14. (Or for any book lover.) They can be yours, but there's a hitch. If you would like to be the proud new owner of THE HUNCHBACK ASSIGNMENTS by Arthur Slade and THE PRICKER BOY by Reade Scott Whinnem, I ask that you post a link to my blog in any form of social media. Link to The Fractured Keyboard from your blog, mention it on Facebook, or tweet about it on Twitter. Whatever means you have available to you. Once done, leave me the link(s) in the comments section below & I will enter you in a drawing to win both of these entertaining volumes. The more links you provide, the more chances you have to win. I will draw the winner on Friday, March 5, 2010, so don't delay!

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16. Win a chat with an agent!

Mark McVeigh has started a new blog. He is trying to get followers and is offering his expertise via a 15 minute skype or phone chat as incentive. If you'd like Mark to answer any of your publishing questions one on one, you only need to follow his blog and then get 10 of your friends to follow too. Here's the link: http://themcveighagency.blogspot.com/2010/02/want-free-chat-with-agent.html

If you go to Mark's blog and join after reading this post, please leave a comment here and let me know. When 10 of my friends join, I'll get my chance. Hey, it isn't every day I get the opportunity to pitch my work.

Thanks!

Niki

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17. LINGER, the sequel to Maggie Stiefvater's SHIVER comes out July 20th!

Linger Cover LargeIn Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other.  Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past . . . and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack.  And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves . . . and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.

At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love -- the light and the dark, the warm and the cold -- in a way you will never forget.


Comes out in stores everywhere July 20th. Pre-order here.

Enter to win an advanced review copies of LINGER, Sisters Red, The Dead-Tossed Waves, and The Replacement on Maggie's blog.

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18. I SOLD A RHYMING PICTURE BOOK!!!

On Saturday I received confirmation, so today I am ready to announce it to the world. I have recently signed on with Shenanigan Books to publish my picture book, DON'T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE! This hard-cover picture book will be part of Shenanigan's 2011 list! In honor of this occasion, I thought I'd like to share with you the process up to this point:

I guess the best place to start is right at the beginning. In December of 2008, it was my turn to submit a bit of work to my critique group (The Mudskippers) for critique. At that time, because of the busy holiday season, I really didn't have anything to share with them. I decided to send them a little poem I had written a few months earlier since it was something they hadn't seen before. The poem had been sitting because I just wasn't sure what to do with it. I had never submitted poetry before and other than Highlights, I wasn't sure who else would be interested. Needless to say, I was very surprised with the response I got from The Mudskippers. They all enjoyed my poem and suggested I develop it into a picture book. Not totally convinced, I continued to work on the poem and struggled to come up with a twist for the end. Eventually it all came together and I began submitting. I received some interest from a few publishers, but alas, no offer of publication.

During the spring, I was given the book STAR OF THE SHOW by Della Ross Ferrari for review. (I review books for www.curledup.com & www.curledupkids.com) Before I even read the book, I was immediately impressed with the quality; the vivid colors and gorgeous artwork practically leaped off the front cover! Of course I had to know who published such a beautiful book. This led me to Shenanigan's website. (www.shenaniganbooks.com) I soon found that this New Jersey-based company publishes books that "capture imagination and make bedtime-reading a treasured family tradition." The books on their web site looked fun and zany and I knew I had to submit "Bedbugs" to them.

So, on May 6, 2009, I snail mailed my submission as per Shenanigan's guidelines. In the meantime, I continued to market my little rhyming picture book elsewhere. On August 24th I received an email from Shenanigan Books asking for a word.doc of the manuscript because it was up for consideration. Of course, after a little whooping and dancing, I complied. On October 7th, I received another email with an offer of publication. At that time I responded with a resounding "NO!" (Just kidding!) Of course I didn't say no! I said, "YES, YES, YES!"

Soon after, I received the contract, signed it and sent it off. This past Saturday I received my copy, including the publisher's signature, and after a lot of whooping and dancing, I realized my second picture book is finally in the works. (And it rhymes!) Given Shenanigan's reputation, I know it will be WONDERFUL! AWESOME! STUPENDOUS!

So I wanted to share with you some of Shenanigan's other great titles because I know you'll love them too. Check them out. Better yet, buy them and share them with your children. (Or somebody's children.)


Francine and Max decide to play circus and as usual Francine wants to take center stage. But Max has his own ideas. Francine’s comical production woes will be appreciated by every kid who’s had to share the limelight with an older sibling.
You can read my review of this title by clicking on the link in the sidebar under "Read my reviews for children's books".

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19. YALSA's Top Ten Teen Reads for 2009

The Young Adult Library Services Association(YALSA), along with the American Library Association (ALA) is looking for the top ten teen reads of 2009. Voting is open to teens from August 24th to September 18th. Teens can access the ballot at www.ala.org/teenstopten. Among the nominated entries selected are


THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins,


FLYGIRL by Sherri L. Smith,


BREAKING DAWN by Stephanie Meyers,






ETERNAL by Cythia Leitich-Smith and many more.















Teens who take the time to vote will be entered to win Sherman Alexie's THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN. So check it out, and vote for your favorites!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

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20. A SUMMER STOP AT THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM


In July, during my annual pilgrimage to my beloved Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to visit The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. I had heard many good things about it and being a picture book writer myself, I was in a hurry to see what it was all about. Add to the fact that THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR was an early favorite of both my children and wild horses couldn’t keep me away. From my little hometown of Ware, the trip to the museum was a short 20 minute drive through the country with a quick stop at Atkins Farm for bakery delights afterward.

The Eric Carle Museum is built on property once owned by Hampshire College. Although it looks like the museum may be part of the campus, it is not. Founded by Eric Carle and his wife Barbara, the museum’s location was chosen due to the proximity of the area where the couple made their home for nearly thirty years. It is the first full-scale museum in this country devoted to picture book art.

We arrived just in time for my two-year-old to participate in Story Time which was being held in the museum’s wonderful library. Of course, my shy little dickens pushed her way through the crowd to sit cross-legged in front of the presenter where she immediately got involved in the interaction, then clapped wholeheartedly when a guitar suddenly appeared.

Afterward, we scurried to the exhibit halls where we were delighted by the magnificent art of Tomie DePaola (DRAWINGS FROM THE HEART: TOMIE DEPAOLA TURNS 75, July 3-Nov. 1, 2009) and Ernest Shepard who illustrated the classic Pooh books written by A. A. Milne (THE WORLD OF POOH: SELECTIONS FROM THE PENGUIN YOUNG READERS GROUP COLLECTION, May 15-Nov. 1, 2009) But by far, our favorite was 80/40: CELEBRATING THE BIRTHDAYS OF ERIC CARLE AND THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR. (Feb. 10-Aug. 30, 2009) Even my little one was enthralled with the early renderings of this famous and well loved book. Did you know the original draft was called, “A Week with Willi the Worm”? It was Mr. Carle’s editor who suggested he change it to a caterpillar and the book evolved from there to sell more than twenty-nine million copies!

Our next stop was to the Art Studio where our little group sat at a table and was given paper, brushes and paints to create our own water color masterpieces. Inspired by the prior exhibit I painted a lovely butterfly while my daughter designed her own Picasso. Apparently the activities and materials in the studio change regularly and are inspired by the present exhibitions. It was a difficult task to remove my child from the studio and after prying the paint brush out of her hand I managed to usher her into the gift shop on a bribe that I would buy her her own set of museum paints. Needless to say, I did so and also splurged on a few of my favorite classic picture books as well: THE LITTLE HOUSE, MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL, and MAYBELLE THE CABLE CAR all by Virginia Lee Burton, as well as THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf.

All in all, I found the Eric Carle Museum to be a refreshing and enlightening place for a struggling picture book writer such as myself to spend an afternoon. If I still lived in the area I would absolutely take part in the many events and activities offered there on a continual basis. From ‘MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR’ activities to workshops and classes, this is the perfect stop for anyone interested in being part of the picture book industry or those who are simply in love with the craft. But be forewarned, unless you are partial to picture books, are a devoted fan, and delight in this genre, you may not find yourself duly entertained. In fact, although my daughter and I had a most enjoyable time, my comrade and her nine year old remained uninspired. In fact, I think I may have heard the word “boring” used once or twice. Suffice it to say, I could see their point. This isn’t a fun-filled, interactive museum and for those who are non-bookish folk there could be a problem maintaining interest. But like everything else, what appeals to some, may not appeal to others. As for me, I give the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art five very big thumbs up and highly recommend it to all my like-minded colleagues. Go check it out!

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21. SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 FEEDING THE MASSES by Bonnie Bader

Bonnie Bader, Editor-in-Chief of Grosset and Dunlap, and Price Stern Sloan, two imprints of Penguin Young Readers Group, shares her expertise and give us the low-down on these books that extend beyond traditional trade outlets.

She began by sharing with us the definition of “mass.” Of course, there are many definitions of the word, but the one that worked best for this discussing is that mass simply means; a huge amount.

Mass Market books sell to the traditional bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Borders, ect. . .
They also sell to mass markets such as WalMart, Target, BJ’s, ect. . .
And let’s not forget our favorite independent bookstores like Quail Ridge Books who runs our conference bookstore year after year.

According to Bader, the economy hasn’t really hurt children’s publishing. In fact, children’s books are doing well.

Bonnie then spoke about the kinds of mass market books her company publishes.

1. Licensed Publishing.
This includes tie-ins to movies, tv, dolls, games, ect. (Strawberry Shortcake, Max & Ruby) *Writing for licensed properties is a good way to get your foot in the door.

2. Novelty
This includes pop-ups, lift-the-flap, touch & feel, ect.
(This line is looking for holiday books.)

3. Levelled Readers
Books like All Aboard Reading or Step into Reading.
(Presently her company is working on a new program and is in need of writers for new readers.)

4. Series
Short, fast-past adventures with lots of dialog
(Always looking for good series. Send proposal w/ log line (A quick explanation of what makes your series stand out.) and ideas for the first three books along with the first three chapters of book one.)

5. Inexpensive picture books
(Such as Periwinkle Smith and the Twirly, Whirly Tutu)











Ms. Bader oversees a group of eight editors who actively acquire a wide range of books. She is always looking to hire writers to work on a “for hire” or “royalty” basis. Grosset & Dunlap does not accept unsolicited manuscripts but does review queries. Please check their website for further guidelines.

Keep a watch for the next installment of SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 featuring Namrata Tripathi, Executive Editor of Atheneum BFYR. COMING SOON!

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22. SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PB's by Namrata Tripathi

My first workshop of the day carried the above title. Because I consider myself predominantly a picture book writer, it was great to see so many sessions dedicated to this genre. Let me start off by saying Ms. Tripathi, an Executive Editor at Atheneum books for Young Readers which is an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, was cute and smart and came off as a very wise editor/businesswoman. As a stay-at-home-mom, who often feels unorganized and unworldly, my hat goes off to her and other career minded young ladies like her.

She began her lecture by giving us an editor’s-eye-view of the process of making a picture book.

1. Receives manuscript. LOVES it!
2. Takes manuscript to the editorial team and publisher.
3. If all is a go, she then discusses the manuscript in an acquisitions meeting. Here she will compare your book to similar titles and their sales. She has to come up with projected earnings. At this point she is a champion for your work and puts a lot of labor into putting it through to contract.
4. Once acquired, she will start to look for an illustrator. Usually, by this time she has a vision in her head and may already have someone in mind. However, a lot of time is spent conferring with the art director.
5. Sketches arrive and layout is planned. Again, this is done together with the expertise of the art director.
6. Neither author, nor editor have a lot of say on the final cover art. This is strictly a sales and marketing decision and they get final say.

A lot of time was dedicated to a question and answer period and because of this, my notes are rather short and sporadic. Although I learned a lot by the Q&A, (Including the answers to a few of my queries) I was too preoccupied by the exchanges to write them down. But I’ll share with you the little bit I recall.

Ms. Tripathi was asked about word length. Although she stated she does not look for a specific count, she did point out that most of today’s best sellers incorporate a short one. This is probably due to the fact that PB’s are read by adults, not children, and make for a quicker read at the end of a busy day. Keeping this in mind, remember that picture books absolutely MUST appeal to children, but should also appeal to the adults reading them. After all, what parent wants to read and reread a book they dislike ten or twenty times over?

For you rhymers, please know that picture books in verse are not dead. The problem is that too often manuscripts of this sort incorporate bad rhyme. It is a very difficult thing to do and do well. Like most editors, Ms. Tripathi shudders at the thought of receiving these kinds of submissions. However, if you have GREAT rhyme, (And make sure it is really, really great.) then she will be happy to see it. Otherwise, she likes manuscripts that are funny, quirky and truthful. But keep in mind, if you are not a conference attendee, Simon & Schuster does not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

3 Comments on SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PB's by Namrata Tripathi, last added: 10/2/2009
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23. SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 The Picture Book is NOT Dead by Fatimah Kahn

Fatimah (pronounced Fateema) Khan is Associate Editor at Little Brown Books for Young Readers. She is new to the conference circuit and this was her first time addressing a crowd. She confessed immediately to being very nervous but honestly, it didn’t show. She was cute, lively, funny and most importantly, interesting!

She began by telling us that this year has been a great PB year for Little Brown! In this tough economy, that is great news. Especially for those of us who focus mostly on that genre. On the head table she had displayed some of those banner books for us to see and then took the time to give us her take on why she thought they were so successful.




1. THE CURIOUS GARDEN by Peter Brown (Author/Illustrator)
a. Has a timely, environmental theme.
b. Likeable boy character. No parents involved.
c. Fantastic artwork.
d. Spare text. Easy & clear for kids to understand.
e. Great progression with a beginning, middle and end.
f. Clear message. 1. Anyone can make a difference. 2. “Green” message.
g. Eco-friendly packaging.



2. THE I LOVE YOU BOOK by Todd Parr (Author/Illustrator)
a. Love sells.
b. Has holiday appeal. (Valentines Day)
c. Inexpensive price.
d. Designed to look like a greeting card and makes a great gift.






3. BIRDIE’S BIG GIRL SHOES by Suejean Rim (Author/Illustrator)
a. New take on growing too fast.
b. Wonderful artwork.










4. MARTHA DOESN’T SAY SORRY by Samantha Berger(Author) &
Bruce Whatley (Illustrator)
a. Story is character driven.
b. Has lasting value & appeal.
c. A new story with a classic feel.









5. DINOTRUX by Chris Gall (Author/Illustrator)
a. Marketed to boys. Strong boy appeal.
b. Dinosaurs + Trucks = Hit!!
c. Fantastic design & illustrations. d. Great read aloud.


6. OFF TO KINDERGARTEN by Tony Johnston (Author/Illustrator)
a. Low price.
b. Great back-to-school promotion.





Afterward, Ms. Khan shared with us her list of attributes that she feels make for a good children’s book.

1. Child is the hero.
2. Author uses rich, lively text and dialog.
3. Author is NOT condescending.
4. Characters seem real, complex and show growth.
5. There is a twist.
6. No heavy-handedness.
7. Details are included with a child’s sensibility.
8. There is a story arch.
9. Author has created an interesting, believable world.
10. The story is moving. –It makes you laugh, cry, ect.
11. It carries a fresh revelation through repeat readings.
12. The story is enjoyable for both the child and the adult who
reads it out loud.
13. It has a clear approach.
14. Details are carefully thought out. (This pertains to the design
of the book.)
15. Doesn’t follow a trend but has lasting value all its own.


Ms. Khan is always looking for innovative novelty projects with a playful twist, picture books with strong commercial appeal as well as novelty formats, eye-catching holiday, seasonal tie-ins and fresh fun-to-read-aloud stories. She works on books for the youngest readers ranging from board books to interactive lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel projects. Little Brown does not accept unsolicited queries or manuscripts. Most submissions are through a literary agent.

2 Comments on SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 The Picture Book is NOT Dead by Fatimah Kahn, last added: 10/7/2009
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24. SCBWI-CAROLINAS CONFERENCE 2009; When is YA not YA? A workshop by David Mcinnis Gill


David Macinnis Gill is the author of SOUL ENCHILADA, a highly anticipated novel released this spring by Greenwillow. SOUL ENCHILADA has been nominated for the BBYA (Best Books for Young Adults) honor. He is the past President of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents and teaches at UNC Wilmington.

According to Mr. Gill, YA (Young Adult) is not a genre, but a marketing category instead, as is the term MG (Middle Grade). They both fall under the umbrella known as “children’s literature.”

A YA is a book with a teen main character and involves a teen “problem.” It is written primarily for a teen audience and is told in the here and now. NOT as an adult looking back on his/her past as a teen.

Mr. Gill quoted Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books (An imprint of Scholastic) on her definition: “ YA is centrally interested in the experience and growth of its teen protagonist, whose dramatized choices, actions and concerns drive the story and is narrated with relative immediacy to teen perspective. “

YA vs. MG:
YA spans ages 12-18
MG spans ages 9-14

-More MG books will make it into libraries than YA.
-MG & YA share some characteristics, such as a teen protagonist, because of the overlapping age range. What differentiates the two is the intensity of the story. For example, in a MG, a teacher can only be so mean. But in a YA, a teacher can become predatory.

More often than not, it is not the author who decides which category a book fits in. As the author, it is up to you to write your best story. It is up to the editor, the sales team, marketing or your agent to decide what section of the bookstore or library your book will sit.

When you gear your writing toward the YA market, your main character should be roughly two years older than the target audience and push the boundaries in subject matter. YA is also reaching toward college-age readers allowing for longer text and more complex and darker themes. However, on the flipside, the MG market is also getting larger as publishers push toward the fourteen age range with an average of 200 pages per book.

If you want to get a good idea what is popular in YA fiction these days, go to the bookstore. Check out the SINGLE titles, not series. Look at the hard cover copies as they are the most recently published works. On the web, look at the web sites for ALAN or YALSA. On the YALSA site you can find the BBYA (Best Books for Young Adults) Award or Top Ten Teen Reads. Another great way to find hot YA’s is to look up the Prince Award and its prior honorees.

So basically, what I have gathered from Mr. Gill’s workshop is when marketing your YA work to editors/agents during the search for publication, do your homework. Read lots of YA and find out what’s out there. Check out the competition and make sure yours is as good or better. Read the acknowledgements page of similar works and find out the name of the editor or agent who helped develop it into a finished product. Target your work appropriately.

The biggest issue for me, in recognizing YA is HOW it is written. The story MUST be told from a teen’s point of view in the here and now. A true YA will not be written from a teen’s point of view after he/she is an adult and looking back at the past. This is the key and seems to be the major factor in what differentiates YA from regular adult fiction.

Are you still confused? Does your book run the gamut between YA & MG and you’re just not sure how to market it to that editor/agent? Don’t lose any sleep over it. If you have a good story, killer voice, and great character, your book will be published. Leave the marketing aspect of it to “the powers that be.” They’re the experts and they’ll know just what niche your book fits into. Happy writing!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

This article was taken from my own workshop notes. Any error or inconsistencies are solely mine and not that of David Mcinnis Gill.

4 Comments on SCBWI-CAROLINAS CONFERENCE 2009; When is YA not YA? A workshop by David Mcinnis Gill, last added: 10/31/2009
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25. Stephanie Meyer on Oprah!


Stephanie Meyer, author of the phenomenal TWILIGHT SERIES, was a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show today, just one week from the opening of the new movie NEW MOON, which is based on the second novel in the series. Although I’m sure she was there to publicize the upcoming movie, I focused on the interview as a writer and thought I’d like to share with you my take on it.

Meyer, like myself, is a stay-at-home Mom. She had no ideas or hopes of ever becoming a writer and had not dabbled in the craft. (Although her author’s bio states she graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English Literature.) She was always a voracious reader. In fact, you could say she was more than your average high-level reader as at the age of eight she was reading books like GONE WITH THE WIND and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Although the horror genre was one she always shied away from claiming to be to “chicken” to read it.

One night, she had a very vivid dream. In it, there were two people in a clearing in a rain forest and the boy, who was very beautiful, was sparkling in the sunlight while the girl was not. It became clear in the dream, the girl was human, but the boy was a very perfect specimen of a vampire. When she woke, she felt compelled to write the dream down so she wouldn’t forget it. She began concocting the story because she wanted to know what happened to this couple. Her now very famous novel grew from what TWILIGHT fans have come to recognize as chapter 13. When she finished, she went back and filled in the beginning. Throughout the writing process she kept notebooks by her bed because she would often wake in the middle of the night with fresh ideas and needed to write them down. While she wrote the story, her husband really had no idea what she was up to. She was embarrassed to confide in him she was writing about vampires fearing she was crazy and not wanting him to confirm it.

Meyer’s sister, Emily, read the story and encouraged Meyer to submit it for publication. For fun, she looked into the process and queried numerous agents. She received nine rejections, five no responses and one request to read more. That request came from Jodi Reamer of Writer’s House who eventually sold the manuscript to Little Brown & Company. I imagine Ms. Reamer is decidedly thrilled she took a chance on a novice novelist. Which just goes to show how subjective this business really is. Maybe, given the opportunity, other talented writers might realize their dreams too –literally!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

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