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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. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Margot Finke on Writing for Children

It all began years ago, when teachers, family and friends praised the little stories I wrote. So I kept writing until I was eventually published. In between times, I married, divorced, remarried, had three children (two girls and a boy---now grown), and moved from my homeland Down-under (Australia) to Oregon. In Oregon I got serious about writing for children. I had kids of my own and worked as a teachers' aide. I noticed how hard it was to get kids to read. Oh, they loved me or the teacher reading to them, but pick up a book on their own and read for the sheer fun of it---NO WAY! Then and there, I became determined to write books with a WOW factor---books that would HOOK these reluctant readers on reading. 

Our son was a reluctant reader, one of our daughters had mild dyslexia, and my oldest girl still suffered from residual effects from my divorce. So this gave me three topics to write about: dyslexia, reluctant readers, and how big changes can affect your kids. And each topic had to be wrapped up in a fun story that wasn't preachy and HOOKED picky readers. Oh, and don't forget that all important WOW factor I had promised to included. Yeah right. A real snap!! One thing I knew---young readers, even reluctant ones, liked books that rhymed and I was lucky enough to have the rhyme gene embedded in my bones. Kids also loved animals. It seemed logical to combine the two. After a long and involved labor (lots of pain and writing contractions) I gave birth to my Wild and Wonderful Series, seven rhyming picture books about animals from the United States and Australia. They were fun as well as educational, and the illustrations were awesome. These eBooks worked well for home schooling parents as well as teacher/classroom projects.

For my next books, I had to think about boys and what would HOOK them on reading. And then there were the topics like "change" that are gender neutral. For boys, I threw out all the girly stuff that make them barf. I started with gross, and worked my way through action, cool dialogue, underarm humor, (hear those boys guffaw), fast action scenes, and rad POV characters. I threw in some feral food, foreign locals, exotic bad guys, and one or two close calls with the grim reaper. Don't panic---these things aren't all in the one book! Give me some credit, mate.   So what eventually came out of my fevered and imaginative brain are the following four books:

Rattlesnake Jam, a fun all BOY picture book 
Ruthie and the Hippo's Fat Behind, verse that help kids deal with BIG change
Horatio Humble Beats the Big D (dyslexia), fun rhymes that get Horatio help with reading
Taconi and Claude—Double Trouble, a mid-grade adventure set in the Aussie outback

A follow-up to Taconi and Claude is now having its WOW factor buffed and polished. I have other mid-grades written and I'm waiting to burst out and claim unwary reluctant readers. One is a ghost story set in Oregon. The ghost is named after my Mum, and based on her wonderful and wise character. If she knew, Mum would be tickled at starring in this story. Some parts are chilling, yet this is a mid-grade book for any kid who enjoys a little creepy + a lot of detecting fun.  The other mid-grade has an international flavor. Set in Australia and Oregon, a snotty grandson is forced to write to his grandmother in Australia. While letters fly back and forth between the two of them, their daily doings play a big role in bringing them together. Both grandmother and grandson come to understand that a loving family is what matters most.

So there you have, as promised, the back story regarding my writing career.

Taconi and Claude is now available on Kindle.  This is the link:

                                                  STOP PRESS! 
Write a comment on any participating blog during Margot's June Book Tour and win a FREE COPY of this fun-time travel story which she wrote especially for kids. NOTE: one copy per person. Please leave your email (Safe sample: mfinke<@> 

*Margot Finke will give 3 extra books as freebies people can win (one of each book) These winners will be picked at random by SFC during the tour from comments left by followers of each hosts blog.  

 ~World of Ink Schedule for Margot Finke Next Week~
June 6th
The Maggie Project – Guest Post: The back story of Taconi and Claude

Roth’s Inspiring Books & Products - Interview

June 7th
One Zillion Books – Book Review of Ruthie and the Hippo

June 8th
Stories for Children Magazine FG Interview

June 9th
Home School Blogger-Book Review of Taconi and Claude

June 10th
Families Matter Blog - Book Spotlight

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Back Story of Babysitting SugarPaw: How a short story became a picture book

VS Grenier is an award-winning children’s author, the founder and owner of Stories for Children Publishing, LLC., the award-winning editor-in-chief of Stories for Children Magazine, and the chief editor for Halo Publishing, Int..  Ms. Grenier also runs her own editorial and critique services. In 2007 and in 2008, VS Grenier was voted one of the Top Ten Editors in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll.  She  won 2nd place for her article “Yes, Virginia, There IS a Santa Claus” in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll for Best Nonfiction of 2007 and won 7th place for her article “Dinosaur Tracks in My Backyard” in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll for Best Nonfiction of 2008.   VS Grenier learned how to hone her writing skills at the Institute of Children’s Literature and is a member of the League of Utah Writers (HWG), Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and Musing Our Children. 

Today, she guest blogs about her book Babysitting SugarPaw. 

I get a lot of positive feedback on my picture book Babysitting SugarPaw, which is always followed by, “Did you babysit a few kids like SugarPaw when you were a teen?” The answer is no. In fact, there are two back-stories to my picture book. One tells where the story idea came from and the other…how a short story became a picture book.
So let’s start with: where did the story idea come from? Babysitting SugarPaw is in fact based off my childhood, but not from the point of view of the babysitter, Bonnie Whiskers. The truth is SugarPaw is based off me as a kid. I was one of the worst kids you could be called to babysit. It wasn’t because I was afraid of babysitters like SugarPaw is in the book. I hated babysitters because it seemed I was always with them. My mom was a single parent and so…I was left with babysitter after babysitter. Over time, it became a game to see which babysitter I could get to leave and never come back. I even went as far as putting PJ’s on backwards and licking all the yummy snacks in the house so my babysitter wouldn’t eat them. Not very nice and something I would never let my own children do today. Of course, my mom wasn’t too happy about it either when she found out.

As I sat to write Babysitting SugarPaw, I thought about why kids act the way they do when mom and dad leave the house. Most of the time it’s for the same reason SugarPaw acts up. They’re scared of a stranger coming to stay with them or they don’t want to be left alone with some who isn’t their mom or dad…or some other family member. Children don’t always tell adults what they feel, but their actions certainly do. However, it doesn’t make it okay for children to act out. Therefore, my book helps show children it’s okay to be scared, not happy and even sad they are being left with a babysitter, but it’s not okay to hurt or be mean to others by telling lies or playing tricks on them. Babysitting SugarPaw helps open the door so kids and adults can talk about what they are feeling and how they should act when they are left with a babysitter or caregiver.

Okay, I’m sure now you want to know what short story Babysitting SugarPaw came from. Well back when I first started writing workshops and classes, I was asked to write a short story about something from my past or a picture. The first draft of Babysitter SugarPaw was actually a short story for this assignment titled, “The Best Babysitter in Town.” I ended up showing the short story to illustrator and friend Kevin Scott Collier. He really liked the storyline and so I revised it a few times to make it publication ready. The title changed as well and now my little short story assignment back from 2006 is a published picture book for children of all ages to enjoy, especially those who like to create mischief.

You can become eligible to win a copy of Babysitting SugarPaw by simply leaving a comment. A winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month.

VS Grenier’s website: