Sunday, July 1, 2012


The Maggie Project is officially closed, but I've started a new blog with a tighter focus on writing for children. Thank you to all of my friends and followers of The Maggie Project. I hope you'll check out and follow Children's Writer's World at

Monday, June 25, 2012

Writing from the Heart

    Today Laura Smith shares the inspiration behind her book 
      In All Things: Giving Thanks When Hope Seems Lost.

What inspired me to write and actually have my story published was an accumulation of numerous events. My original intent was never to publish a book however; when I had one person read it and then another, and another, the feedback was amazing! It was like a sense of urgency that the message within was something people needed to hear. And even the men who have read it have been profoundly affected.

When I was very young, I remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen on the floor while my grandparents and their friends sat at the table playing cards. They would play for hours and hours and often times into the night. While I would sit there on the floor, I was very content in doing so because I was in my own little world doing what I never imagined would be my heart’s desire later in life. I was writing stories and songs and reading them or singing them out loud for my card-playing family to adore. Now, thinking back to that time (I was only about 4-years old and had no idea how to even write my name let alone a story or a song), I have concluded that it had to be God planting within me the inspiration and desire to write.

The life events that sparked this book began in my teen years where I remember wondering why I was even on this earth, or why would God put me in a family that didn’t seem to even want me. I was always called a mistake and they would tease me when I was younger saying that they found me on the streets of St. Paul. It’s no wonder that I married the town rebel two weeks after my high school graduation! Finally someone loved me and I wasn’t going to let that go. Fast forward 18 years, two daughters later and a divorce, I re-married. I had found out that my youngest daughter was molested by her biological dad when she was only two years old. She was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and Bipolar disorder. My oldest daughter was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis and she faces numerous back surgeries and many other trials.  Then I was told that my husband and I would never have a child of our own. But wait! After weeks of being sick and a random pregnancy test to rule out that possibility, I’m PREGNANT! A miracle! It took us weeks to absorb this miracle and the growing excitement from our entire family. But, I lost the baby 3 months into the pregnancy.

While some write to entertain, I found the writing process was very healing for me. Journaling through trials helped me to empty the pain of the day from my heart onto paper so I could start fresh the next day. This was the case when I initially started writing In All Things. It was simply in a journal and was a way for me to try and process the grief of going through miscarriage. I write very honestly and hold nothing back. I believe that by the power of our testimony others can find healing. I also believe sugar coating things makes for a nice story but has no impact. The first editor I contacted to go through my book wanted me to remove a lot of life events because it wasn’t “Christian” like.  Well, I’m sorry but I’m a real person and I experience real life issues and others need to hear the real stuff.

Since the publishing of this book, I have had inspiration for another book to be the second in the “In All Things” series. The next one will be In All Things: Expect A Miracle which will be an account of the amazing two years going through my dad’s cancer journey with him. Also since publishing, I have been asked to speak at a few local events and my desire is to be able to do that more. I feel that when you can share your story in person, it can touch people more profoundly.  At one of the events where I shared my story, there was a lady in the audience that was healed instantly from the pain of miscarriage she was suffering from for two years! I would love the opportunity to see others find that same healing and freedom to live again. I encourage others with a personal story to get it out there. The reward and I don’t mean monetary is far greater than the fear. 

Author Bio: Laura works as a medical coding and reimbursement specialist in Northern Minnesota. In All Things is a witty and raw account of an otherwise normal life filled with incredible challenges that will make you laugh out loud and cry tears of joy and tears of sorrow. Her little family had no idea that the life experiences they walked through early on and one life altering event would prepare them for the near death of her oldest daughter.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Deliver What You Promise

When I first receive a nonfiction article submission, I glance at the title.  But if the title fails to promise what it plans to deliver in terms of content, I’ll ask the writer for a new title.

Recently, I had a submission with a title that led me to believe that the piece would be about specific scientists helping people in unique ways.  Instead, the article centered more on the inventions than on the scientists.  So the author had two choices:  either change the title to reflect an emphasis on the inventions or revise the article to focus on the scientists. 

Titles should reflect what the piece is about.  They can be straightforward, but a creative title works better when writing for young children.  For example, I titled one of my own nonfiction pieces “Wild Thing.”  The title entices children to read about the unruly plant known as kudzu. 

Titles should ideally pique a reader’s interest.  My article “Below the Sidewalks of Pioneer Square” makes people wonder:  what lurks underneath the city streets?   An article written by Erin K. Schonauer and Jamie C. Schonauer and published in Stories for Children Magazine was titled "The Cresent's Ghostly Guests".  Makes you curious, huh? 

Here are some tips in choosing titles:

Choose a title after you’ve written the article. 
Keep the title short.
Use playful titles and alliteration for a very young audience. 
Use snappy titles for older children.
Create intrigue.
Read your article again and see if the title is a good fit.

Nonfiction article titles don’t have to be boring.  Aim to create a title that will pique the interest of an editor and of course, the audience.  Above all, remember to relate the title to the content of the piece.  That way, you won’t disappoint your readers by promising them something you haven’t quite delivered.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Worms and School Visits

Not long ago, I volunteered again at the Children’s Garden at the Arboretum.  My station was set up to teach kids about recycling and to show them live worms.  Every kid—even the girls—stretched out their hands to hold a slimy wiggly worm.  And they loved it.  They giggled and squealed.  Holding and feeling the worms helped the children connect with the mini lesson.

What does this have to do with writing for children?  Plenty!  Imagine you’re doing a school visit.  You sit before a group of children.  You open your book, read a page and then show the illustrations.  But halfway through the story, a kid or two loses interest.  Soon more kids are talking, and only a handful is paying attention.  How can you avoid this?  How can you guarantee that you’ll have an entire captive audience? 

Several days before your visit, locate items that are mentioned in your picture book which are easy to transport and light enough for children to hold.  You can bring items that are interesting to touch, taste, and smell.  Take small musical percussion instruments so that children can make sounds that may relate to the story.  Put the objects in a colorful box in the order in which they appear in your story, so that when you reach for them, you can easily pass them out.  Reinforce listening by having the children raise their hands if they are holding an object that is mentioned in the book. 

By using their senses, children will connect better with the story.  More, they will actually be involved in the story.  Children will not only enjoy your presentation, they will remember you.  (And if your book is about worms, you’ll have a giggly, squealing audience—just don’t forget the wipes!)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Digging Deep

It always surprises me when a writer uses an encyclopedia or Wikipedia as a source when researching a nonfiction article.  As the nonfiction editor for Stories for Children Magazine, I occasionally see these sources cited in a submission.  I also wonder why a writer would ever consider using an out-date source.  Once I received a submission that cited a book published over 50 years ago. 

Your goal as a nonfiction writer is to find reliable sources of information.  Aim for primary sources. For instance, consider interviewing experts.  They may clarify information or divulge amusing anecdotes.  They may even offer facts not yet published.   

Think about using journals, newspapers, diaries, or letters.  The information from these sources will provide firsthand accounts with rich details.  

Once while I was researching a female American Civil War soldier (disguised as a male), I was able to locate and purchase photocopies of her letters.  Talk about holding history in my hands!  What an amazing primary source—the letters dated back to the 1860s!  Her handwritten letters not only  unveiled  her  spunky  personality, but revealed her lack of schooling:  "I dont belve thare is eny rebels bullet maid for me yet."

When trying to publish outstanding nonfiction, you need to dig deep when resesarching.  Put time and effort into finding reliable sources.  Library databases are a good place to begin to find these sources.  And if you plan to interview an expert for your article, politely ask her to review it after it's written.  That way, you'll know that the facts in your article are accurate.  Having impressive sources and an expert review are two ways to catch an editor's eye.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Word Count

As most of you know, magazine editors have word count limits.  Literary agents or editors may impose word limits when critiquing your work.  You job is easy:  keep your submission within the limits.

Recently, I received an 1800-word nonfiction submission for the educational website Viatouch,  where I'm an associate editor.  The guidelines state that we accept pieces that are 500 words.  The writer had read our guidelines and politely asked if I’d take a look at this longer piece.  But the article was much too long.  If it had been 600 words, I would have considered it.  The writer also suggested that the piece could be broken into 3 shorter pieces.  Perhaps, this is what she should have done in the first place.

Magazine editors establish word counts based on the needs of their audience.  The editor of the writers' e-newsletter Extra Innings likes the articles to run about 300 -500 words.  He believes that his readers like shorter pieces.  For Stories for Children Magazine, the word count varies for each of our three age group categories.  The younger kids like the shorter pieces and the older kids are more interested in the longer pieces. 

Editors and literary agents set fairly strick word counts when doing critiques.  They have stacks of submissions to read; so, the word count gives them just enough of a manuscript to get a feel for the story.        

If you are writing a magazine article or sending in a critique to a literary agent or editor, be mindful of the word limit.  Should your piece exceed the limit just a tad, it’s generally okay to submit it.  When in doubt, ask.  But it you’ve written an article that is grossly over the limit, an acceptance or a favorable critique may fail to come your way.   

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Satisfying Ending

Courtesy of Clipart

Recently, I had the opportunity to have my picture book story Rootin’ Tootin’ Cowboy critiqued by a literary agent Mary Kole.  Before I emailed the manuscript, I felt confident that this story would wow her.  In fact, I felt it was one of the best stories I had ever written.

Several months later, I received the critique.  She wrote that she liked the voice of the story.  And that’s a good thing, because voice sells picture books.  But what she didn’t like was the resolution.  She wrote that it was “a bit unsatisfying.”

That comment shook my confidence.  However after a week or so after feeling dejected, I realized it was only one opinion.  Nonetheless, it was an opinion that I valued and trusted.  Luckily, Mary suggested that I read Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse.  This book was similar to mine in plot, but it had a stronger resolution.  After reading it again, I found hope—I wouldn't give up on my story.  I just needed to rework the ending.    

First, I had to analyze what was wrong with the resolution.  To do so, I had to get inside my main character’s head to figure out how he really wanted to conclude the story.  When I “listened” he “told” me that he’d do things differently than originally written. 

So, I modified his actions toward the end of the story so that it was more true to his character.  This change caused him to reflect on his situation.  It prompted him to set things right, which in turn led to the growth of his character.  The ending became more heart-warming, and I believe more satisfying.  Thanks to Mary’s comments, I feel that my book is even better than before.  I like to imagine that if she read it again, she might even say “wow.”       

Monday, May 7, 2012

Getting Paid

Last year, one of my articles was published by a prestigious children’s magazine.  The good news:  I had a great clip.  The bad news:  I wasn’t paid. 

I called the publishing company several months after publication and was told that payment would be mailed nine months following publication.  Accepting this as standard procedure, I decided to wait (although deep inside it didn’t feel right).

Meanwhile, I wrote about publishing for this children’s market and submitted my articles to writers' magazines.  However, one editor passed on my article.  She informed me that she could not publish a piece that centered on this publisher.  Many writers had not been paid, including herself.  I was not alone. 

To make a long story short, I had to call the publisher’s accounting department several times to get results.  I was told that someone would call me back.  I was told that my check had been cut.  I was told that my check would be mailed.  But none of that happened.  After additional phone calls, I was told that I needed to send a W9 form to accounts payable.  So I did, still having doubts; however, I received my check a week later.

What does this little story tell us?  Before submitting to a market, look into when you’ll be paid.  For me, this publisher guaranteed payment “sometime after publication" (which translated to:  over a year following publication).  These terms are too vague.  If you should find yourself in a similar situation, call the publisher to find out exactly when payment will be made.  If it exceeds your expectations, negotiate and then get it in writing that you want to be paid in a shorter amount of time.  That’s what I should’ve done.   It would have saved me time and trouble.  But live and learn.  Now I know, and so do you.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Smartest Summer Ever

In the spring of 1998, my daughter was finishing her first year at Providence Montessori.  She loved school and didn’t want it to end.  So it occurred to me that I could try to create some lessons that would stimulate thought and inspire creativity to bridge the school year.  Several months before summer vacation, I made a list of subjects I thought a five-year old might like.  From there, I divided each subject into five separate units and researched each unit.  I wrote a short lesson plan and incorporated a “hands-on” project. 

That summer, I prepared for our first “class.”  I set out the materials for the project on the kitchen table the night before to create curiosity and anticipation.  Though I felt prepared for teaching, I was unprepared for my daughter’s reaction.  She wanted to be the teacher, too!  Our “class” consisted of her dolls, arranged shoulder to shoulder on the couch in the living room.  In our arrangement I presented the lesson, and afterward, she quizzed “the students.”  She helped demonstrate the art or science projects for the class. 
These summer classes were so successful that I continued to write more lessons and to invent more activities for five more years.  The result became my book The Smartest Summer Ever: 50 Fun-filled Lessons for Grades 2 - 5.
Inside my book, you'll find 100 colorful pages of kid-tested and teacher-approved lessons and activities for learning English, math, history, art, and more, which will provide opportunities to enrich your child's summer.  The book is a great teaching tool, whether you offer lessons on a daily basis or on the weekends.  Many activities integrate more than one skill like writing practice and spelling words.  The projects reinforce the theme of the lesson and they're fun, inexpensive, and easy to do.  For example, children will: 
                                        Perform sweet pollination experiments
                                        Cook easy and delicious international foods
                                        Design Pop-Art pictures using cookie cutters
                                        Create and play a colonial board game
                                        Go on a scavenger hunt for verbs
                                        Construct a coral reef diorama 

The Smartest Summer Ever is perfect for parents hungry to bridge learning from the school year, to encourage creativity, and to spend time and make memories with their children. For a free lesson plan and activity or to order, please leave a comment.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Pilgrimage of a Writer

The Maggie Project presents a guest blog by writer Geary Smith:

I was told that there are two great forces that drive us in life—inspiration and desperation. I think I experienced a little of both when I first started thinking about becoming a writer. I was fresh out of college when I came across an ad for becoming a successful writer. However after several weeks, the thought of becoming a successful writer had died. I realized much later that I had to make a change in my life.  I needed to take writing classes.
After encouraging advice from my instructors, I began to write again. I started with Highlights for Children Magazine based on my childhood reading. Therefore, I read and studied every Highlights Magazine that I could find, and then I began to write based on their needs and specifications.

After what seemed to be about one hundred rejections letters, I finally sold my first story entitled, “Follow Your Heart”, a re-told folktale. It was the most exciting feeling seeing my words combined with the illustrator’s colorful pictures in print for millions of children and parents to read and enjoy.

Ms. Marileta Robinson, Senior Editor for Highlights Magazine called me at home wanting to know  about the original source of the re-told folktale and how I developed the idea. It was a joy speaking with Ms. Robinson and providing her with the information for the story. In fact, Highlights wanted to send an article to my local newspaper about my story and announce when it would be published. I knew then, that I had the skills and ability to be a professional writer.
My first story not only led to a working relationship with Highlights for future stories, quizzes and activities, but it led to something I truly loved to do—speaking in schools and for local organizations.
Recently, I sold another story entitled, “Cock-A-Doodle, Whisper” to Highlights. It is based on how many times we get down on ourselves, but don’t realize how our gifts and talents benefit others. I wanted to take the idea of a rooster’s loud crows in the morning to teach children a valuable lesson about developing their gifts and talents. I feel that the story was accepted because Highlights likes to publish stories that are re-told fables or stories that teach a moral lesson. My story met the editor's needs. This simple fact applies to other magazines. Knowing your market is one of the biggest keys to becoming a successful writer. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Writing Wishes

As writers, we have the opportunity to create wonderful pieces which may be shared with others through publishing.  And yet other times, our work may never reach an audience.  We may ask:

Why hasn't my piece been published yet?
Why hasn't the editor responded to my query?
Why was my work rejected? 

The world of writing has its ups and downs, and occassionally it seems so unfair.  I'm probably not the first person to tell you that have to develop a tough skin.  But wouldn’t it be nice if writers:     

*received a decision about their submissions in a timely fashion.
*were contacted, even with a form letter, if their work was rejected.
*were given a specific reason for a rejection so that they could improve their work. 
*had the chance to revise.
And wouldn’t it be nice if editors:  
*worked together with writers in the editing process.   
*made suggestions for a revision.  
*praised a writer’s hard work.
*paid writers for their work.

These are just a few of my wishes for writers.  And sometimes, those wishes come true. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bibliography Reminders

Most of us learn how to cite sources in high school.  Yet, about 50% of the
nonfiction submissions that I receive for Stories for Children Magazine fail to format bibliographies correctly. Surprisingly, some writers use out of date sources.      In fact, one writer listed a source that had been published over 50 years ago!

Here are some rules to remember: 

*Alphabetize the sources by authors’ last names.
*Italicize book titles and the names of journals.
*Don't capitalize each letter of a word in a book title.
*Include the publishing city and the state if the city is obscure.
*Place titles of journal articles in quotes.
*Aim for five to ten current and reliable sources.
*Try to include primary sources.
*Provide dates for interviews

Don’t get lazy with the bibliography.  Submitting an incomplete or improperly formatted bibliography is unprofessional.  You win not win over an editor with a sloppy biblio. 

My favorite reference is the Chicago Manual of Style.  I refer to it often.  I would suggest that writers invest in a copy or visit the website.  It’s a wonderful source to refer to whenever you’re in doubt.

Aliya Seen says...

Great post. I'd like to bookmark your article and waiting for the next one.Making bibliography is not a easy job. You've to put all info about someone's personality. If you need help in making great bibliography then we recommend it proves beneficial for you all.

Posted by aliya seen to The Maggie Project at October 10, 2017 at 1:27 PM

Monday, March 26, 2012

May I Quote You?

Last year during a break at an Editor’s Day conference, a reporter for the Mid-south SCBWI newsletter Borderlines approached me for an interview.  We had five minutes before the session began again.  Attendees were returning to their seats and the speaker moved toward the podium.  Whoa---too much pressure.  Brain freeze set in.  I felt rushed in this setting.  I should have arranged for another time to meet with her.  Nonetheless, given the circumstances, I gave it my best.  

Afterward, I realized that I’m more comfortable with questionnaires sent in advance.  That way, I can ponder the questions more thoroughly and give thoughtful answers.  And, I can edit my responses.  But sometimes that’s not an option.  Deadlines may be a factor.  Therefore, phone interviews and in-person interviews may be necessary. 

So what can you do when you have the distinct pleasure of being interviewed? How can you give a good interview?  Here are some tips:

For interviews in person or over the phone:

*Give yourself ample time to do the interview. 
*Ask the reporter to repeat or reword the question if it’s vague or unclear.
*Speak slowly.
*Pause within sentences for emphasis.
*Be enthusiastic and let it show through your voice inflections. 

For interviews by email:
*Read the questions several times. Be sure that you understand what is being asked.
*Take time to write thoughtful answers.  
*Allow someone you trust to review your answers.
*Hold your answers for at least a day.  Read them again before sending them back.
*Write your answers in a different color font so that they can be more easily read.   

One last thought:  It’s flattering to be asked for an impromptu interview, but make sure you feel comfortable given the time allotted and the setting.  Both can influence your responses. You’re going to be quoted.  Other people are going to read your responses and may even judge you by your words. 

You can quote me on that.

Monday, March 19, 2012

No Doesn’t Always Mean No

What do you do when you receive a rejection?  Do you believe your work is not good enough to be published?  Do you feel like giving up?  Reconsider.  One editor has said no.  Others may like it.   

Over the years, I’ve received my share of rejections.  But, that doesn’t mean that I give up on them.  I love my articles too much to shelf them.  I’ve put a lot of time into my work.  Why would I give up?  Getting a “no” only encourages me.  My attitude is:  my piece will be published.

Years ago I wrote an article about Basenjis, a barkless breed of dogs.  But after I submitted it to an editor of a prestigious children’s magazine, it was rejected.  Several years later, that same editor placed an advertisement in a writers’ newsletter calling for submissions.  At first, I decided not to bother, since he had previously rejected my work.  But, he was clearly reaching out for writers.  This was my chance. 

I studied the writers' guidelines and read a few published pieces.  Feeling like I could crack this market, I explored an unusual topic—the world’s largest (and smelliest) flower.  I researched and then wrote about this amazing plant.  After the piece was edited I submitted it, not knowing if the editor would reject my work again.  And as time  passed, rejection seemed likely.  Yet several months later, I received word that my story would not only be published, it would be the cover story for the magazine!

It goes to show:  Never give up.  If you’ve done excellent research, writing, and editing, followed the submission guidelines, and addressed the needs of an editor chances are your work will be published.  But if you receive a rejection, don’t give up.  Search for different publication.  Remember to review back issues to make sure that your work will be a good fit.  Then submit again.  Believe that you will be published.  Believe that you will find a good home for your work.  

Oh, and the Basenji story?  Another editor liked the article and it because my first published piece.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Trailer, Part II

Last week, I blogged about making a pre-book trailer for my picture book story When Sheep Won’t Leap.

As followers found out, it was more involved than I had realized.  Lots of decisions had to be made concerning photos and cost.  After much research, I chose the photography site because their prices were reasonable, they offered a wide selection of photos, and they promptly answered my questions.  The package for my trailer would cost a little under $50, which allowed me to download 16 medium-sized photos. 

The search for images was a lengthy process because I had a specific image in mind for each Power Point slide.  And, some of the photos that I liked had special licenses, so I had to re-think some of my selections.  However in time, I found a group of photos that suited my needs.     

After inserting the photos onto the slides, I toyed around with animation and design.  This was the fun part.  Colorful pink and green borders were created and clip art was added.  Dramatic transitions from slide to slide livened up the show.  Lastly, three different tunes—a soft lullaby for the beginning, a spicy salsa for the middle, and a jubilant closing piece—set the mood.  This part was the trickiest because the timing of slides had to be in sync with the music. 

I made several run-throughs to adjust the position and size of the photos and to observe the visual impact of each slide.  Once all was in place, the presentation was  uploaded to YouTube.

Throughout the entire process, my family made helpful suggestions and offered technical and creative advice.  And in the end, I can say that we are all proud of the result.  You can view the book trailer to When Sheep Won’t Leap at: 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Book Trailer

I thought it would be fun to make a book trailer about my story When Sheep Won’t Leap, which was recently awarded first place in the Institute of Children’s Literature poetry contest.  Technically, it would be a pre-book trailer—I'm still looking for a publisher.  

The goal was to learn how to make a trailer and in turn, introduce my story to others.  After reading several articles about making a book trailer and watching a few online, I felt ready to begin.  The first decision:  how to present the trailer?  Would it be illustrations, a short movie, or a slide show of photographs?   For my purpose, photos would work best.  

To begin, I made notes about the kinds of photos that would best represent the main character, the minor characters, the action, and the conflict.  In all, 15 -20 medium-sized images would be required.  Easier said than done.  There are many websites from which to choose images. Many offer free photos, but the selection is  limited.  That was a problem, because I had a specific vision for the story.  Some of the photos that I needed for my trailer could not be found on these sites. 

Then there are copyright issues.  I wanted to be sure that I any photo I'd download would be legal to use.  Yet copyright issues are confusing.  For instance I know of an editor who was contacted by an attorney demanding compensation for the time he used a copyrighted image.  The editor thought the photo was legal to use. 

Lastly, cost is a factor.  I had read in a respectable writers’ magazine that some photography websites offer packages of photos for as little as $15.  I’m thinking, sign me up.  But for that price, the package limits you to a set number of small, medium, and large photos.  And, that did not suit my needs.  So I felt discouraged and confused.  What to do, what to do?  

To be continued….

Monday, February 27, 2012

Are You Listening?

As the nonfiction editor for a children's magazine, I like to help writers get their work published.  But some submissions need a little editing before I send an acceptance.  I encourage writers to revise and then to re-submit. 

Most of the time, contributors are willing to edit their work.  Once however, a writer got a little huffy upon reading my suggestion.  I had asked her to reformat her manuscript as specified in our guidelines.  She wrote back to say that it was my job, not hers to make that edit.  Needless to say, her submission was not published.  Pity, it would have taken her less than five minutes to make that revision.  I wasn’t asking her to do anything unreasonable.  All publications expect writers to follow the submission guidelines. 

In a Writer’s Digest interview, genre-bending bestseller James Lee Burke encourages writers to listen to what an editor or publisher has to say.  He said:  “They’ve done it lots of times and usually even if you disagree, if you will listen, you show respect for the person who is trying to help you and you learn that there is at least an element of viability in what you’re being told.”  

I agree with Burke.  It all comes down to two words—listen and respect.  That’s how you learn.  That's how you improve as a writer.  That’s what it takes to see your work published. 

James Lee Burke couldn’t have said it any better.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Letter from the Editor

Dear Children's Writer,

Thank you for your submission.  I think your article has potential, but before I can consider it for publication, it needs a few edits.  Here are some reminders:

1. Spell out abbreviations.
2. Watch out for homonyms (for example: a horseman is a lone rider, not a loan rider).
3. Capitalize proper nouns (check The Chicago Manual of Style when in doubt).
4. Put movie titles, book titles, and scientific names of animals in italics.
5. Avoid fancy dialogue tags (he/she snorted, grimaced, etc.) Use: he/she said.
6. Make your writing lively and kid-friendly.  
7. Format the bibliography correctly.
8. Use apostrophes correctly (for example: plural possessive is cats’; singular is cat’s).

You’ve taken time to research and write your manuscript.  Now take the time to edit it.  Put your work on the back burner for a few days and then read it again with fresh eyes.  Revise your work.  Now, have a trusted friend read your manuscript.  Have an expert check your facts.  Edit again if necessary.  Remember: researching, good writing, and revising are all part of the submission process.

Send your work back to me with the subject line reading: Revision, nonfiction, title, and age group. I appreciate your hard work and look forward to reading your revision.  Please allow several weeks before checking on the status of your manuscript.   

Randi Lynn Mrvos
Nonfiction Editor

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mind Over Matter Books

Mind Over Matter (M.O.M.) Books are geared towards preschoolers to help them learn how to be resilient. Life comes at us fast and children have to be prepared with the right tools to face the challenges, adversity and obstacles that may become a part of their life. BELIEVE is the first of five books emphasizing the important factors for resiliency. In this book children will learn to BELIEVE in their possibilities!

Kasey  Kellem guest blogs today and shares the message behind her Mind Over Matter books: 

In my first book Believe, children will learn to use the Mind Over Matter techinque of BELIEVING they can overcome anything! Through whimsical illustrations and simple wording children are given ideas of what to believe in life. The goal is to have children believe they can overcome any obstacle, challenge, or adversity they face. From this book, children will hopefully learn to believe in their potential and believe in themselves.   

The best part about my book is that it was created in a unique and creative way that allows it to stand on its own and serve as a decoration on a shelf or a desk. This allows for the child to be constantly reminded to "Believe" just like I am reminded in my home and office with the wooden motivational words that say "Believe," "Love," "Relax," and "Dream." 

Another bonus of the book is that hidden on each page is a caterpillar who also illustrates how to believe. This makes the book interactive for young children as they search for the caterpillar and see how he believes! Finally, included in each book is a page of simple parental advice on how to help children to believe in themselves.

As a school and a former special education teacher, I have always been intrigued by childrens' resiliency skills. My Mind Over Matter books help teach young children the fundamental of being resilient. Through much research and a few college degrees, I've learned that the characteristics of resilient people include the ability:
To BELIEVE they will get through the circumstance
To realize that people LOVE them
To LAUGH at the funny things in life
To RELAX and make time for themselves
To have a DREAM or goals in life 

My mission in life is to help children to be prepared for all that life is going to offer them. I hope my book Believe gives children one tool to use when facing any challenge or adversity. The additional books, Love, Laugh, Relax, and Dream will offer the same kind of supportive message and purpose.

Get a sneak peek of the book BELIEVE and listen to an interview with Kasey Crawford Kellem at

About the Author: Kasey Crawford Kellem, a School Counselor and former Special Education Teacher, has devoted her life to helping children face adversity.  Kasey created Mind Over Matter (M.O.M.) books to teach children skills to overcome life’s challenges. She has earned a Bachelor’s Degree and Masters Degree in Special Education and an Educational Specialist Degree in Counseling. She is a devoted wife, stepmother, sister, daughter and counselor.

You can find out more about Kasey Crawford Kellem’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Kellem and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions. You will be entered into the main the Book Giveaway each time.

In addition, come listen on February 20, 2012 to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at The hosts VS Grenier and Irene Roth will be chatting with Kasey Crawford Kellem about her M.O.M Books, writing, helping children to be resilient and her experiences. The show airs live February 20, 2012 at 2pm EST. You can listen/call in at (714) 242-5259.(Note: if you can’t make the show, you can listen on demand at the same link.)

To learn more about the World of Ink Tours visit:

To purchase any of Kasey Crawford Kellem’s books, visit Halo Publishing:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


photo by James Bowe

Maggie and the First Grade Blues is the not the first picture book story that I’ve ever written.  There have been several others.  I am very proud of those stories and many have won awards.  One of the stories, When Sheep Won’t Leap, was written in rhyme.  This picture book manuscript was critiqued by an editor at Dial Books for Young People following an Editor’s Day conference.  One of her suggestions:  make sure that the rhymes are spot on.

After revising it accordingly, I submitted it to many publishers.  But as the rejections rolled in, I finally decided to shelve it.  This piece was going nowhere.  No one was interested in it; no one would ever read it.  Then many months later, I learned about a poetry contest sponsored by the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL).  This respectable establishment offered a poetry contest.  I thought about my rhyming picture book.  Maybe, just maybe it might be worth editing again for this contest. 

The guidelines stated that the word count should be less than 300 words.  That meant a few stanzas needed to be omitted.  But this threw off the rhyming scheme, so I referred to a synonym dictionary (once more) to make sure I had perfect rhymes.  After several revisions, I thought it was complete.  Then I asked myself:  would this entry stand out above the others?  That’s when I took a critical look at the stanzas.  The lines were ordinary.  Nothing special.  I needed to create a unique look.  So, I started toying with the shape of words and found that I could illustrate action by using different sized fonts and by arranging letter placement. Afterward, the poem took on a new life.  A reader could envision the movements of Ella and her sheep. 

Regardless of the outcome of the contest, I was proud of this story.  I put it out of my mind until the the unbelievable happened.  Three months later, two emails, and one contest winner.  When Sheep Won’t Leap won first place.  This month, an interview and my rhyming story appears in the ICL newsletter, The Children’s Writer. 

This is what I learned from the experience. 
Never give up.  
Edit, edit, edit. 
Continue to showcase your work.
Make your work unique. 
Believe in yourself.   

I never would have guessed that my story would be read by others. Now, thousands of people will read it and learn how the story came about.   I’m leaping with joy, just like Ella’s sheep!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Hope Marston's Inspiration

Author Hope Marston reveals her many sources of inspiration:  

I was inspired to become a writer by my mother, an inveterate reader. My interest grew when my oldest sibling, who also read voraciously, gave me my first two books. Further nourishment came when the county bookmobile visited the country school that I attended. That book buffet, served up by the driver, created an appetite for more. I decided right then that someday I would write a book.

In high school I volunteered as a student library aide. When I wanted to read a book that our library didn’t own, I sneaked down town on my lunch hour to the public library. I went off to college with very limited funds. I worked my way through four years of undergraduate studies doing most every campus job available. I enjoyed being a library aide most.

About forty years ago I began taking writing courses by correspondence. One of the instructors encouraged me to find a local outlet for my writing. I became a “stringer” for the Lewiston (ME) Daily Sun. My first stand-alone publication was a child’s daily devotional booklet published by Child Evangelism Fellowship.

While I was studying with the Institute of Children’s Literature, my husband and I moved to New York State. When I became a school librarian, my junior high students asked for books about trucking careers. Trucks, Trucking and You was written for them (1978). That book spawned eight more books about big machines.

My Little Book Series introduces children to nature. The first title was inspired by a line drawing I saw in an Animal Rehab Newsletter. My Little Book of Bald Eagles is the eighth one.

Against the Tide: The Valor of Margaret Wilson features Margaret Wilson. Margaret lived in 17th century Scotland and died for her beliefs which conflicted with King Charles II. I “met” Margaret when I was proofing a manuscript for a publishing house.

My husband learned about an eleven-year musher named Aisling Shepherd, when he was reading the online daily newspaper from back home. I worked with Aisling to tell her inspirational story of courage and resolve. Eye on the Iditarod: Aisling’s Quest was released this past December.

Where do I get my inspiration? From other readers, writers, and interesting people whom I meet when I read.


About the Author: Hope Irvin Marston is a member of the New York State Retired Teachers, the Greater Thousand Islands Literacy Council, the Jeff-Lewis Librarians Association, and the Adirondack Center for Writing, the St. Lawrence County Arts Council, the North Country Arts Council and SCBWI. She organized the Black River Valley Writers Club and served as its leader for several years.
In addition to writing thirty-two children’s books and several adult titles, Hope has been on staff for Christian Writers Conferences at Hephzibah Heights (MA), Montrose Bible Conference (PA) and at St. Davids Christian Writers Conference at Beaver Falls, PA. She has taught creative writing workshops at Jefferson Community College, the Jefferson-Lewis Teacher Center and the North Country Arts Council.

Her picture book series, MY LITTLE BOOK COLLECTION (Windward), has grown to eight titles thus far and has 125,000 books in print.

You can find out more about Hope Irvin Marston’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Marston and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions. For each comment, you will be entered into the big Giveaway at the end of the tour.

 In addition, come listen on February 6, 2012 to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at The hosts VS Grenier and Irene Roth will be chatting with Hope Irvin Marston about her books, writing, the publishing industry and experiences. The show will air live February 6, 2012 at 2pm EST. You can listen/call in at (714) 242-5259. (Note: if you can’t make the show, you can listen on demand at the same link.)

 To learn more about the World of Ink Tours visit:  

Monday, January 30, 2012

Picture Book Craft Intensive Webinar

Earlier this month, I discovered that Writer's Digest was sponsoring an intriguing online workshop.   Literary agent Mary Kole would be giving an hour and a half webinar.  The fee also included a critique of one picture book.  What an opportunity—I immediately registered.

A week later, I sat in front of my computer with the speakers turned on waiting for the session to begin.  Moments later Mary introduced herself and dove into her discussion.  She started by explaining  the word count for picture books.  She said that most picture books are well under 1000 words—700 words is good, 500 is even better.  She stressed the importance and the performance of page turns.  Next, Mary offered the audience some tips in writing an irresistible query letter:  make the editor care, describe what the main character wants most, and touch on the action that launches the story.  

Before the webinar ended, Mary read an assortment of picture books.  Here, I learned what makes a great story.  I also learned about the kinds of stories that touch Mary's heart.  It was amazing listening to her reaction to words.  I could just imagine her smiling.  

I loved this webinar and would suggest that you consider registering for one too, should you find one that meets your needs.  Taking the webinar forced me to take a critical look at one of my favorite picture book manuscripts.  Just when I thought it was ready to be submitted to publishers, I felt that I had to make my page turns more compelling.  I also had to reduce the word count.  And so, I edited the manuscript accordingly.

Several weeks later, I submitted it to Mary for a critique.  I'll have to wait patiently (90 days).  She has over 300 critiques to read.   But when she gets to mine, I'm hoping that this story, the characters, and the concept will touch Mary's heart.  I am hoping it will make her smile.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Uplifting Young Learners


Molly Nero discusses the inspiration behind her book:

Teaching children of elementary age has been my life, so it makes sense that Smarty Pig is set in that environment.  Teaching 4th grade awakened my love of writing.  As I encouraged and nurtured my students in their own writing, my own abilities were strengthened.  Being critiqued by ten year-olds was very humbling, but allowed me to make sure that I was relating to them as my audience.  

Moving from the classroom to the music room brought changes not only to my teaching, but to my relationship to my students who ranged from kindergarteners to 5th graders now.

I was never your “typical” music teacher.   I would start class with everyone dancing along to the beat of an “Alvin and the Chipmunks” song with arms flailing and feet jumping.  Flinging music papers across the room to pass them out was another way to allow my students to escape from the structured classroom into my spontaneous music room.  Every child wore smiles from ear to ear. I worked hard to create a classroom where kids could talk to me about their frustrations concerning different things, and that has given voice to my writing.

During the state testing schedule, students would arrive for music absolutely drained and despondent. The idea for Smarty Pig came from hearing students express their growing apathy toward school after several days of taking these tests.  Testing was taking over the creativity and joy of learning.   As the years passed, I heard this from younger and younger students. 

My object in Smarty Pig is to uplift our youngest learners early in their academic life to see the value and fun in learning.  She gives learning a purpose in the lives of her family, making it important and relevant.  Other Smarty Pig stories will be dealing with more situations and frustrations that young students deal with like test-taking anxiety and bullying.  What was my inspiration for Smarty Pig?  The students that I have been blessed to teach for so many years.  They are my inspiration. 

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January 2, 2012 at 12am MST and closes January 31, 2012 at 11pm MST!