Monday, April 25, 2011

Make it Your Mantra

When pitching your picture book to a publisher, it helps to have credentials.  So you decide to build credits by writing a nonfiction article for a children’s magazine. 

You research a topic, write the article, compose a cover letter, and click—you email your submission.  Will you receive an acceptance?  As Nonfiction Editor for Stories for Children Magazine, I receive many submissions that well, need a little help.  A good majority require revision.  Some miss the mark completely by submitting fiction.  So how can you join the ranks of those who succeed? 

Before you begin your article, review the magazine’s guidelines to know what will be expected of you. Guidelines will indicate how to format your manuscript.  For instance, guidelines will state whether to single or double space the text.  Guidelines will usually give the word count and the age range.  They may also call for a bibliography and a biography. 

Each publication has specific guidelines.  Read them and follow them.  While this may seem obvious, I can’t stress this point enough.  An editor is not trying to make you jump through hoops.  She’s not trying to frustrate you or test you.  The guidelines are in place to help her review the many submissions that stack up on her desk or fill up her email. 

Never argue with an editor about the guidelines.  Yes, that’s happened to me before.  An editor doesn’t have time to re-format your work or find another source for your bibliography.  It’s your job to do it correctly. So make it your mantra.  Repeat after me:   I will follow the guidelines, I will follow the guidelines.  Good job!  You’ve just increased the change of an acceptance coming your way.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Writing for the Arboretum

photo by Parvin

I volunteer at the Arboretum, the State Botanical Garden of Kentucky.  As a member of the committee for the Children’s Garden, I am awarded opportunities to write for children.   

Recently, the director needed a brochure for children about the rose garden.  The challenge:  design a brochure that was educational and entertaining for children.   Since this would be like the nonfiction articles I write for children, I embraced the task.  Using several Arboretum brochures as guides, I developed four pages (which may be edited by the director).  I placed the Arboretum logo at the top of the first page.  Underneath the logo I placed an image of a velvet-petaled crimson rose.  Beneath the photo, I added a funny poem about a rosebush and an oak tree written by Shel Silverstein. 

On the second page, I used an image of a garden with rows and trellises of blooming roses.  Under the photo, I listed six columns each designated with a color:  red, pink, yellow, purple, white, or orange.  The director will fill in the columns with the names of roses that correlate to the color category.  

The third page shows a diagram of flower parts and follows with a brief history of the naming of roses. Near the center of the page is an outline of a rose that children can color, and then name.  On the last page is Arboretum contact information, followed by fun facts about roses.  For instance, did you know: 

Barbara Streisand, Whoopi Goldberg, and Rosie O'Donnell each have a rose named for them.
In 1986, then President Ronald Reagan signed legislation making the rose the official National Flower of the United States.
Writing for children doesn’t have to be restricted to writing stories.  Look for opportunities to write for young ones at children’s museums, libraries, nature centers, and more.  What other ways can you share your writing with kids?  

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Story Behind: I Love You, Be Careful

Judy Snider is co-author of I Love You, Be Careful. Today she shares the inspiration behind her heart-warming book.

Hello ! It was fun to think of why my sister, Joan and I wrote, I Love You, Be Careful! We talk on a daily basis on the telephone and during one of our conversations we discussed being mothers, wives, friends, sisters and how important our loved ones are. Joan began talking about her fun grandchildren and how she worries about them as well as her own grown kids. We said no matter if our kids are 4 or 40, you still want the best for them and for them to “be careful”.

The next day we spoke again and said how we had told our husband’s to “be careful” and we loved them as they left for work. This led to what a great idea it would be to write a picture gift book that shows all the “be careful” moments in life, for any person, no matter what language they speak or what country they are from.

We began a rough draft and worked every day to combine our ideas as to what should be in the book. We took from all our own “be Careful” moments in life with our kids and began looking for an illustrator. We were lucky we found Cady Driver, because besides being a wonderful illustrator, she is a mother and a very creative and fun person to work with! She is in a different state, so all our interactions were on the phone or on the computer.

It was fun work and wonderful to hold our finished book in our hands. Before we finished the book, we thought who would want to read it. We have found it is mothers of daughters, parents of those in the military, new brides, fathers of daughters, and new moms and grandmothers who love the book and find it sentimental. Yet, we were surprised that kids liked the book.  They enjoyed finding the hidden “be careful” in every picture and talking about their own “be careful” children’s moments.   We were lucky to have a video trailer done by Virginia Grenier and to be on this book blog tour.

I hope you like the book. Remember, everyone has a book inside them!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Creating Characters

Renee Hand shares her thoughts on developing characters.  She has received a Best Book Award, a National Literary Award, and a Preferred Choice Award for her children's series and adult books.  Renee is the author of the mystery series known as the Crypto-Capers. Recently, she won a Seal of Excellence Award in Storytelling for her Joe-Joe Nut and Bisquit Bill series. 

Creating characters is a very important job. Without good developoment, characters can be lifeless and dull. Too many times, writers will tell about their characters, but not show who their characters really are. In order for characters to be believable, you must make the reader feel something about them. Good description is key, but it's not enough. How may times have we read a book or watched a movie and have cried or laughed with the characters? We want what they want. We do so because we made a connection with the characters. We felt sympathy or empathy. We love or hate characters based on how the writer makes us feel about them.

When I create characters, this is what I do. My characters are never lifeless and boring. They are dynamic and evolve as the story continues; they have depth. They don't just exist and are meaningless. I put myself in their shoes and walk around. I think how I would feel if that happened to me and I share my feelings. The best thing you can do as a writer is to share your characters' feelings. You can't just tell what a character is doing. A writer must show how a character feels: their pain and suffering, their happiness and joy, and their fears. That makes a character believable—a reader can relate to that. There is more, of course, a lot more to character development, but the above is a good start.

Check out Renee's website at:  to learn about cyrptograms and how to solve the ones that are in her books.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Listening to Chuck

I had registered for a workshop on getting an agent, which would be presented by Writer’s Digest Editor Chuck Sambuchino.  Due to an illness however, he had to cancel.  In the meantime, I registered for a picture book workshop for March 26th at Joseph Beth Booksellers.  Unbeknownst to me, Chuck’s workshop had been rescheduled for the same day.  Decisions, decisions.  Which one would I go to?  How I would have loved to have cloned myself to be able to attend both.  In the end, I decided to attend Chuck’s, which ran from 9:45 – 11:45, and then catch the tail end of the picture book workshop, which ran to 1:30.

I made the right choice.  Chuck’s presentation was amazing.  He was confident, personable, direct, and lively.  Throughout the lecture, he paused to answer questions and afterward, kept the presentation moving smoothly.  The audience was respectful, keeping their questions directly related to the topic.

Chuck suggests, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”  In other words, have other works in progress should an agent expresses interest.   He also had some pointers for query letters:  
Keep a query to one page. 
Personalize the query (no Dear Agent)                                
Paint a picture of your book
Refer to an agent’s books

After his workshop a light bulb went off in my head.  I have to try harder to get an agent.  My picture book has won three awards—three!—so why haven’t I any takers?   I blame it on my query.  So, together with my notes from the workshop and Chuck’s book, 2011 Guide to Literary Agents, I will edit my query to make it stronger, more enticing.  I am stoked.  I feel more confident and have the tools to” bring it” to an agent. 

If you’re thinking about getting an agent, I highly recommend following Chuck’s blog: and taking a look at the his literary agent guide book.  Better yet, think about registering for one of his workshops.

Friday, April 1, 2011

And the winner is...

Last month, The Maggie Project sponsored a picture book
giveaway contest. 

The winner is Cheryl Malandrinos.  She wins a copy of             
Monkey Made Dream. 

Congratulations and happy reading, Cheryl!