Monday, May 30, 2011

Steps for Publishing Nonfiction Articles for Children, Part I

As Nonfiction Editor for a children’s e-magazine, I often receive submissions that need a little help.  A number require revision.  Some miss the mark completely by submitting fiction.  So how can you join the ranks of those who succeed?  Think of publishing like climbing a staircase.   You’re at the base of the steps looking up at the landing:  publication.  You’ll need to take eight steps until you reach the top.                                                                                                 

Step #1:  Review the magazine’s guidelines 
Guidelines help you give an editor what she wants.  Guidelines may specify the word count, font, formatting, and the wording of the subject line of an email.  Yet, a good number of submissions that I receive fail to do just that.  Adhere to the guidelines when you write your article and review them once more before you submit. 

Step #2:  Read the magazine
Order back issues, checkout library copies, or read articles online of the magazine for which you wish to pitch.  Get a feel for the content and tone.  Do you feel confident that you can produce a similar piece?  Will your topic have kid-appeal?  Will it keep you interested?  After all, you’ll be spending lots of time reading and researching the topic. 

Step #3:  Use Reliable Sources        
Lean on primary sources, trustworthy websites, and up-to-date books for your research.  Wikipedia can be used as a starting place, perhaps to help you produce an outline; but, it should not be used as a source.  Consider conducting an interview with a person connected to your topic.  Once, I interviewed a famous horse trainer to understand how he felt about working with a Derby horse.  His experiences brought a great personal perspective to my article. 

Step #4:  Add a Little Extra
Nobody can top you when you write from personal experience—though it’s not always required for publication, it can give you an edge.  If you’re writing about an event, try to attend it.  If you want to write about an unusual animal, try to meet one.  Allow the reader to share what you’ve seen, heard, and felt.  In addition, consider offering photographs that you’ve taken.  That way, you’ve done the footwork that an editor would have had to do herself.

You're halfway to the top.  Tune in Monday June 13th for steps 5 - 8.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Typical Morning at the Office

Ollie Mrvos 

It’s noon.  I’ve been sitting in front of computer for three hours with a cup of Starbucks French Roast  coffee.  This is what I’ve accomplished:

Answered an email from my assistant nonfiction editor
Reviewed articles that will be considered for publication
Scheduled two guest blogs
Emailed an editor to find out about when two educational pieces will be published
Wrote to authors to explain that the publication of their pieces will be delayed
Wrote to an author that her article had been published
Called to follow up on an interviewee
Answered a text from my daughter
Answered a call from my husband
Moved the cat, who had decided to sit on the keyboard                                        
Worked on editing personal articles for children’s and writer’s magazines
Edited a piece for a second time for an editor
Worked on developing a writer’s workshop
Sent in a submission to Nature Friend Magazine      
Tinkered with three more queries for Maggie
Contacted a Basenji owner and friend about puppy updates for new article
Thought about getting started on dinner
Checked email
Sipped and sipped on coffee
Moved the cat, again

Tomorrow the list will be slightly different, except for sipping on coffee and moving the cat.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Seven Ways to Capture your Muse

photo by Lucas

Published in The Dabbling Mum e-magazine, August, 2005.
One day your writing muse announces, “I can’t stay.  You’re on your own.  See you later.”  She leaves you, taking all of your creative ideas with her.  You implore her to stay.  But she’s temperamental and fickle.  Before you can catch her, she slips away.  You stare at your manuscript.  Writer’s block sets in.   Panic ensues.  How will you finish the piece in time to meet your editor’s deadline?  How will you complete your story for the writing contest?  While your muse is away, how will you edit the manuscript that you’ve been meaning to submit?  It’s easy to turn away from writing and wait until your muse returns.  But how long will that be?  Here are a few ways to lure her back.   

Take a walk. Walking is a great way to get exercise and to take a break from sitting in front of the computer.  Is there a passage that you are having trouble completing?  Can’t find the right word for a poem?  Go outside.  Allow free thought to take over, to run free.  Brainstorm.  Make observations as you walk.  Seeing and hearing things along the way may help you find just the right words to finish a poem or an article.

Take classes. Look into taking classes at a literacy center, a library, or at a local college.  Often in writing classes, instructors will encourage participants to read their stories aloud.  Hearing a story read aloud not only brings it to life, but helps you identify lines that need to be revised, adjectives and adverbs that need to be omitted, or where active verbs should be used.  A beginning writing class may concentrate on developing conflict, establishing character motivation, creating distinctive characters, and exploring basic story schema.  More advanced writing classes may take a look at writing good query letters, submitting manuscripts, and finding an agent.  Some instructors will work with you on a one-on-one basis.  Fees vary and may be costly; however, individual critique and guidance may be worth the price.  In contrast, taking online classes may be worthwhile for writers who have a busy schedule.  Find a class that interests you or ask your writing buddies if they know of a good class.  Contact the instructor by e-mail to determine if this class will meet your needs. 

Meet with fellow writers.  Join a local writers’ group.  Writing can be a lonely profession.  Participating in a writing group will put you in touch with other writers.  You can find these groups advertised in newspapers, at literacy centers, or at local bookstores.  Finding the “right” group may take some work.  Look for a group led by a director of a literacy center or a library.  You may be able to find a group led by a well-respected, published author.  Not all groups will be right for you.  Audition them.  A good writing group should provide inspiration and support to its members.  Find out how many members belong to the group.  What are their writing habits?  Are they published?  Meet with the group several times before reading one of your stories.  Sit back, listen, and observe.  Will you be at ease when they offer critique? It’s important to get to know these people and feel comfortable with them.  Professional writers will understand the meaning of copyright and will respect your work. 

Research the markets.  Explore magazine publishers and book publishers listed in the Writer’s Market, a valuable resource which can be found at most local libraries.  Writer’s Digest magazine reports market needs every month.  If you join a professional writers’ organization, like The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, you’ll receive a newsletter with market updates.  Get a feel for the markets by visiting magazine websites or by ordering sample copies of publications.  Likewise, visit book publishers’ websites to familiarize yourself with their titles.  Study the writers’ guidelines.  Understanding an editor’s needs may give you the guidance you need to complete a piece.  

Re-write a story.  Changing the point of view can liven up a story. Switch from third person to first to give the story a personal feeling. Changing from past to present tense is another way to re-shape a piece.  Writing in present tense gives stories an intimate touch.  Use alliteration to bring flow to your words and metaphor and simile to make comparisons interesting.  Re-writing stories is a great exercise and will fuel your imagination.

Study writer’s magazines.  Subscribe to writers’ magazines, such as The Creativity Connection*, The Great Blue Beacon, and Writer’s Digest.  Save informative articles in a folder.  Likewise, search the Internet for articles.  Print the articles and refer to them whenever you need inspiration or help.   

Read a favorite novel, short story, or poem.  Analyze why you like them.  Practice mimicking the style and technique.  In addition, read books on writing and editing.  These books will help you improve your technique and increase your chances of publication.  Invest in a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style.  It’s a great resource for any kind of writing.  The Little Red Writing Book by Brandon Royal, which offers wonderful writing exercises, is another great resource.  Read inspirational books, such as If You Want to Write by Brenda Euland, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont, or Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. 
Of these seven ideas, going on a walk is the easiest and least expensive. Walking can help bring focus to your thoughts.  Likewise reading, whether it’s for enjoyment or education, is a great way to help channel your efforts.  Taking classes can give birth to new ideas or give direction to your work. Although classes involve a little more effort (and money), the payoffs are worth it.

What will you do to capture your muse?  Not sure?  Then go outside and get some fresh air.  I’d be willing to bet your muse will be waiting for you the minute you return.

*The writer's newsletter Creativity Connection is now called Extra Innings

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tips on Getting Published

Today Lisa Umina, author of the Milo book series, shares ways to help you get published.

Getting a book into print is just the beginning of the involved, and oftentimes overwhelming, publishing process. I started Halo Publishing International as an independently owned publishing company to help individual writers self-publish their books who don’t want to wade through the slush piles of traditional publisher for their chance at publication.
Trying to become a published author can be a difficult and lonely process, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few things to help you get your manuscript ready for publication.

Join writing communities and critique groups. You can learn from others who have been where you are or who are dealing currently with the same trials you are facing. Critique groups also help give you feedback on why your manuscript might be receiving rejections or help you overcome writers block.
Attend writing workshops and conferences. No matter what level you are at as a writer, you should at least once a year attend a conference and workshop to help hone your skills and learn about anything new in the industry. This is also a great way to make connections with editors, publishers, agents and others in your writing genre.

Get a freelance/professional editor to look your manuscript over. Authors are too close to the subject to objectively edit their own manuscripts. They often overlook the same mistakes time after time. By having an editor look your manuscript over before the submission process, you can be confident your manuscript will have correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling. At Halo, our creative editors watch for consistency, organization, clarity, character development, wordiness, sequential order, accuracy, and the right tone for the intended audience -- while always retaining your style. You want to make sure whomever you use doesn’t just do computer "mechanical" editing. Our editors at Halo get personally involved to hone your manuscript to a fine edge. This is key for a publishable manuscript.
Have a marketing plan outlined. Without an effective and comprehensive marketing plan, a book, although published, will sit in a box and collect dust. What sets HPI apart from other publishers is that our services do not end after a book is printed like most self-publishers and even traditional publishers; unless you are one of their top selling authors. Each and every HPI author is provided with an all-encompassing publishing solution that includes an essential marketing component. However, it is important to have a marketing outline ready to share with your publisher so you show what you are willing to do to help promote your book once it is published. Getting the word out to the media and, in turn, finding potential buyers for your book is a very important part of getting an editor or publisher interested in supporting you as an author.

Read the submissions guidelines and follow them. I cannot stress this enough. Each publisher, agent and editor has their own set of submissions guidelines and you need to make sure your manuscript follows them. You may have a great book idea and it would be a shame for it to be rejected because you didn’t follow the guidelines.
This are just some basic tips to help you achieve publication. Through Halo Publishing, I have helped countless authors realize their dreams and I hope that today, I have helped you reach your dream.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sami's Story

I am writing an article about an amazing dog breed, the Basenji.  Basenjis don’t bark.  They have a physical structure in the voice box which is different from other dogs.  But Basenjis can growl, whine, whimper, and yodel—sort of a warbling effect. 

Basenji puppy photo by Cooperfeesh
The angle of the article:   the training of a Basenji puppy named Sami as she prepares for her first dog show.  I researched the breed by reading books, newspapers, and journals.  I discovered even more about the breed when I interviewed Sami’s co-owner, Carole.  From my interviews, I learned that Basenjis are not the easiest dogs to train to be show dogs.  They are independent thinkers.   Carole told me once that on the down and back (trotting in a straight line so that the judge can critique movement) Sami’s great grandpa decided to lie down in the ring and roll on his back. 

After completing my research, I landed an interview with the president of the American Kennel Club!  Then, the personal relations director connected with me an AKC judge.  She firmly suggested that I focus on Junior Showmanship since I was writing for children.  I listened and thanked her for her suggestion.  Then I discussed why I wanted to write this story—I had met Sami’s great, great, grandmother.  I had a personal connection.  But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince her of my story.  Nonetheless, she begrudgingly agreed to answer my questions for the piece.   

When I hung up the phone, I felt that I was making a big mistake.  I was full of self-doubt.  Was she correct?  Was I taking the wrong angle for kids?  I considered re-writing a completely different story.

In the meantime, I stayed in touch with Carole.  Her puppy was about to enter her first show.  And then I realized that I cared about Carole and her dog.  I was rooting for Sami.  I wanted her to do well in the ring.  In the end, I silenced my self-doubt and listened to my heart, to my passion.  As it turned out, the AKC judge never answered my questionnaire.  Yet, I had the opportunity to interview a judge in person at a local dog show.  I had great research, great quotes, and more, I had a great story.  Regardless of what had been suggested to me, I stood my ground.  And I’m glad that I did.  I will have an amazing story to share with kids.