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Monday, June 27, 2011

Tips from Editor's Day

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Editor’s Day in Lexington, Kentucky. Editor Maggie Lehrman of Abrams Books gave aspiring authors tips for making a picture book stand out. Ms. Lehrman stressed that an author must find a unique voice when writing a picture book. Voice is a combination of word choice, attitude, point of view and tense. She also mentioned that a picture book should be fun. She suggests reading the text with a kid's perspective. She agrees that it’s not easy (as I and many other writers know) to find a publisher for a picture book. A picture book has to be passionately loved by the entire editorial board, not just the acquisitions editor.  On top of that, a picture book has to be marketable.

During the one page critique session, Ms. Lehrman reminded everyone that picture books are for a very young audience, 0 – 6 years old. That means that my picture book Maggie and the Third Grade Blues needs a slight title change. Young readers may not relate well to a third grade character. I’ll also have to tweak the text—just a few words here and there to bring it down to the appropriate age level. Afterward, I hope to send it to Ms. Lehrman at the end of summer. Like many editors, she only takes submissions from conference attendees.

My Editor’s Day experience was amazing and in some ways, very similar to the Editor's Day that I co-hosted two years ago.  Both conferences allowed me to get to know the personal preferences of two New York editors—the kinds of books they like to read for fun and the submissions they want to acquire for their publishing houses.  I encourage you to consider attending a conference, too. You will learn valuable tips and meet other writers.   Moreover, attending a conference will allow your submission to float to the top of the slush pile.   It may offer you the opportunity to submit to editors who normally respond only to agented writers.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Writer's News

photo by Lucas
Here is the latest news about Maggie and the Third Grade Blues My picture book was sent to Schwartz & Wade, Kane Miller, Walker and Company, and Scholastic Press.  Schwartz and Wade sent a letter saying my manuscript was not right for their list as did Kane Miller and Scholastic Press.  I'm still waiting to hear from Walker and Comany as well as four agents that I've submitted to. That makes 22 publishers that I’ve submitted to and 13 agents. My manuscript has been entered in five contests. So far, it’s won three awards—so that indeed, is good news. 

Other good news:  I recently got word that another one of my manuscripts,  In Search of Awe has won an award from the Alabama Writer's Conclave.  Details will be announced in July at the AWC banquet. 

More news: Editor’s Day was held on June 11th in Lexington, Kentucky.  Editor Kate Larken of Motes Books and Abrams Books Editor Maggie Lehrman presented morning and afternoon sessions, plus one page critiques. Several months prior to the workshop, registrants had the opportunity to submit an entire picture book manuscript to Ms. Lehrman for a personal critique.Since my picture book had won several awards, I decided to submit In Search of Awe.   Maggie and the Third Grade Blues was submittted at the workshop for a first page critique. I’m hoping to share a few of the editors' tips and the critique comments with you soon. Until then, happy writing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Steps for Publishing Nonfiction Articles for Children, Part II

As mentioned on the May 30th blog, publishing nonfiction articles for children is like climbing a staircase.  You've got to take eight steps before reaching the top landing:  publication.  The first four steps are: follow the magazine's guidelines, review copies of the magazine, use reliable sources, and add something extra—write from personal experience.  Now let's take the final four steps.

Step #5:  Educate and entertain
Spin the well-researched information into a story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending.  The beginning should hook your audience and coax them to continue reading.  The middle is the meat of the story where you explain your topic.  Use similes to help kids understand complex issues.  Incorporate onomatopoeia to bring excitement to your writing.  Add alliteration and assonance to give emphasis to your words.  Lastly, complete your article with a satisfying ending.  Find a creative way to tie it in to the first paragraph.   

Step #6:  Edit your work
Read your article aloud.  If you stumble on a word, change it until the piece flows.  Allow another reader to peruse your work.  He may pick up a mistake that you’ve overlooked.  Use spell check, but know that it’s not always accurate.  Apply the Flesch-Kincaid grade level tool or another grade assessment when writing for a specific age.  In addition, find an expert to review your work.  Consider revising your piece based on the expert’s suggestions.  Doing so will add credibility to your article.  

Step #7:  Include a properly formatted bibliography
Even if the guidelines indicate that only a few sources are required, list those sources in alphabetical order with the author’s last name followed by a comma and the author’s first name.  Cite the title, the city (and state if the city is obscure), the publishing company, and publishing date.  When in doubt, refer to reference books like The Chicago Manual of Style for proper formatting. 

Step #8:  Keep the cover letter short
Now you’re ready to write a short professional cover letter addressed to the editor.  Compose a one-page letter.  Entice the editor with a strong hook.  Give the title, the word count, the intended audience, and an overview of the piece, plus a short bio.  Thank the editor for her time.  E-mail or mail in your submission with the cover letter (check those guidelines!)  

When I receive a submission, I make sure that the manuscript and the bibliography have been formatted correctly.  I check to see if the word count is correct.  If not, I may reach for a rejection slip.  But, if the magazine guidelines were followed, then a foot is in the door.   I will eagerly read on to determine whether the topic would be of interest to our audience.  And if you’ve taken those eight steps, I’m betting an acceptance will soon come your way.