Tuesday, December 15, 2020


Please enjoy a post written by the exuberant Valerie Bolling. 

Amazing things can happen when you make the most of an opportunity.  You only have to take advantage of the good things that appear in your life.  

For instance, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to collaborate on the artwork for my debut rhyming picture book Let’s Dance!  When my book was being edited, I had a specific vision for the illustrations and I could have dug my heels in, but Jes Negrón, my editor at Boyds Mills & Kane, wanted to expand upon my diverse, inclusive vision by creating a more global theme.  Where I saw “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap” as tap dance, she imagined flamenco from Spain.  I envisioned the electric slide or the cha-cha slide for “Glide and slide/Side to side,” but Jes suggested long sleeve dancing from China.  The international concept was perfect, and the illustrations by Maine Diaz truly made my words dance!

Another opportunity presented itself a few years after the publication of my book.  On June 1, 2020, I saw an agent’s “call” on Twitter, in support of #BVM (Black Voices Matter). I reached out to James McGowan via DM (direct message) in response to his offer to answer questions from Black writers.  During this event, I asked James if he’d be willing to provide specific feedback about a story that I’d sent him in December that wasn’t a good fit for him.  I was interested in his opinion, since I had been querying agents and editors after Let’s Dance! was acquired in July 2018 but received no offers.  

James promptly responded with, “Thanks so much for getting back in touch with me.  Your name has been on my radar recently, since we share a publisher (and even an editor) ... I'd love to reconsider and see more.” I was surprised to have been on James’ “radar” but immediately sent him the manuscript for which I’d requested feedback as well as two others.

The next day, I was shocked when I received an email in which James said, “I still absolutely love your writing,” and he described the writing in one of my manuscripts as “utterly beautiful.” I was beaming, but the sentence that floored me the most was, “I would love the opportunity to speak with you about these manuscripts and possible representation if you’re interested.”

WHAT? How was that possible?  In no way was I expecting an offer of representation. I was totally caught off guard!  Three months after Let’s Dance! was published, I signed a contract with BookEnds Literary Agency with James.  

I am grateful for having the chance to work with an editor and an illustrator.  I am thrilled to be a member of #TeamJames.  When you make the most of an opportunity—being open to change or seizing a moment— amazing things can happen.

 Let’s Dance! celebrates dances from around the world and the diverse children who enjoy them, children from all walks—or dances—of life: a boy in a wheelchair, a girl in hijab, a child in a tutu whose gender is indiscernible. Let’s Dance! showcases dance in a way that highlights diversity—and that leaves no doubt that dancing is indeed for everyone! It reminds us that dancing is a universal language, even though we all have different accents.”

Here’s where you can buy the book  You can request a signed copy. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

<img src=”The Who.png” alt=”writer won't get fooled again by unscrupulous agents">
                                                                                                                                        Photo: courtesy Wikipedia 


Sad, but true...I was suckered by an agent.  I paid $300 for literary services not knowing that this was a dishonest practice.  It just goes to show how little I knew about publishing.  

Back in the late 90s, I had enrolled in my first writing class at the Carnegie Center for Literacy in Lexington, Kentucky.  Our assignment was to complete a picture book by the end of the six-week session.  On the last day of class our teacher brought in a local agent.  She passed out her business cards and I jumped at the chance to be represented.  

It never dawned on me that Karen would be unethical.  All I knew was that she was a nice person whom my writing instructor had recommended.  She invited me to her house for a business lunch.  During the meeting, she discussed her plans for presenting my work to publishing houses.  All seemed legit to me.  Even the money she needed to get the job done.  She was excited about my work and I was thrilled to have an agent who knew the publishing industry.

When we finished our business, she scheduled the next meeting and mentioned that she'd need another payment for more of her services.  At that moment something didn't seem right to me.  When I got home, I contacted a local author to find out whether writers should pay an agent.  She warned me that writers should not be charged for an agent's services and suggested that I look into the Association of Authors' Representatives, a professional organization of literary agents who meet the highest standards and subscribe to a canon of ethics.  

I immediately googled the website.  According to the AAR, the practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients is subject to serious abuse.  For that reason, members may not charge clients or potential clients a fee and may not benefit, directly or indirectly, from the charging for their services. 

It was no surprise that my agent was not a member of AAR.  So, she was essentially free to charge writers for her services.  But not me.  I ended our relationship.  

Now when I look back on the partnership, I realize that paying Karen was not the only problem—I had also given her the very first picture book I had ever written.  How naïve was that?  My manuscript desperately needed to be critiqued.  It needed to be revised to improve the content.  It needed to be edited to fix grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.  It was not ready to be presented to publishing houses.  

As they say, live and learn.

Fast forward to November, 2016.  Believe it or not, I received an email from an agent on my birthday!  Editorial agent Melissa Carrigee fell in love with my manuscript Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell.  Together, we fine-tuned the text and collaborated with an artist to get the illustrations just right.  Nine months later, my debut picture book was published.   

My relationship with Melissa was wonderful and I wanted to work with her on future projects, but she decided to step away from agenting and to establish Brother Mockingbird Publishing.  So, at this point in my career, I'm searching for a forever agent.  Someone who is honest and professional like Melissa.  I will never forget dishing out hundreds of dollars to someone who called herself an agent.  What a costly mistake.  But hopefully I'll be savvier when I sign with another rep.  Because like the song sung by the Who—I "Won't Get Fooled Again." 

✌ and 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                   Photo: Jude Beck                                                                                                              


Last week, I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.* The first email I opened was a notice that one of my favorite picture book manuscripts had been rejected.  Then that afternoon, my publisher called to say my educational children's book won't be published until 2022, even though she had planned to have it published this year.  I had such high hopes for both of these books.  Now, I felt so bummed out.     

The writing life is not always sunny.  It's a roller coaster ride of highs and lows.  More lows than highs, it seems.  It takes days, weeks, months to come up with an idea and put it in words, then edit and edit and edit and submit and submit and submit and quite often you get a no thank you, it's a pass, it's not a good fit for my list or the market is not right for your book.  

It's easy to feel hopeless.  But this is what I signed up for.  No one forces me to be a writer.  This is my choice.  And I have to accept the fact that rejection and setbacks are part of it.  I know this.  I've known this for over twenty years.  

A day like this causes me to look back at my life and realize that it has been a journey of learning to be patient.  At the age of 28 I thought I'd never get married.  Two years later, I met my soulmate.  

At the age of 42, I wanted to be published in a children's magazine and three years later I was published in Highlights for Children.  

From that time on, I began to look for a publisher for my picture book and many years later, it was published by a small press.  

I have been successful in my personal life and with my writing career—it just takes some time.  But patience wasn't on my mind on this very bad day.  I needed a distraction so, I took a break from writing and checked Pinterest, LinkedIn and Facebook.  Then I headed over to Twitter.  Up popped a tweet from E. S., an agent whom I follow on Twitter.  

In one of his tweets he mentioned that he had signed ten writers.  That's a big deal.  Since we interactive rather frequently, I congratulated him and then snuck in a question.  I asked him whether I should query a colleague of his.  You see, earlier this year, this colleague rejected two of my picture book manuscripts.  I hesitated submitting to him again.  But E. S. sent me a positive message:  Don't be nervous.  Submit.  This manuscript could be the one.       

Wow, that was one of the coolest messages I've EVER received from an agent.  He lifted my spirits and gave me hope.  On this awful day I decided to stay on the writing path.  I worked on a query.  Maybe this new manuscript could be the one.  The one an agent will love.  The one that will land me representation.  The one that will become a book.  

Sure, there will be rejections.  Setbacks.  Major disappointments.  I repeat my mantra:  Be patient.  And then the sting of rejection and disappointment softens and I keep on keeping on.  I can't imagine not writing, even when I feel discouraged.  And if I remember to be patient, there will be wonderful, delightful very good days ahead. 

✌ and    

* Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

PS.  Merci beaucoup to my faithful followers!  

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

<img src=”writer.png” alt=”writer querying for publication”>
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Photo: Neonbrand 

Most writers would never send an unprofessional letter to an agent or a publisher.  They know that if they want to get published it's important to craft a thoughtful, considerate query letter. 

Below is an email that I received.  This letter is an example of what you should not do if you want to publish a book.  

Dear Sir/Mam,
        I want to get published my Novella (38600 words). I want my book online and in paperback as well. I need free publication with you. If you will publish my book without any cost please let me know the procedure for publishing.
Best Regards

Let's look at some of the problems with the letter which I've highlighted in red.  

Dear Sir/Mam,
        I want to get published my Novella (38600 words). I want my book online and in paperback as well. I need free publication with you. If you will publish my book without any cost please let me know the procedure for publishing.
Best Regards

Here are my thoughts.  

Do not:  address the query to sir or mam.  
Do: personalize the query with the agent's name. 

Do not:  declare that you want to get published. It's obvious and shouldn't be stated. 
Do:  be polite and tell the agent that you are submitting your book for her consideration. 

Do not:  omit the title of your book.  
Do:  give the title along with the genre, word count, and a description of the book.  Include comparative titles and a short bio.

Do not:  tell the agent how you want your work published.  
Do:  have a conversation about ways to market your book when you land an agent. 

Do not:  mention that you need free publication.  
Do:  be aware that when you submit to an agent, you should pay no fees. She will earn a percentage of the sales if your book is published.

Do not:  query an editorial consultant to publish your book.  
Do:  know that an editorial consultant can help you polish your work, but they have little power to put your book in print. 

It's safe to say this writer needs practice writing query letters.  When I reply, I'll give him some direction and tips on what a query should look like.  My response will include a link that will show him how to write a query letter. 

I get the feeling that he has sent out this identical letter to a multitude of editors.  (Hint, it's not been personally addressed).  I feel the urgency that he has in wanting to meet his goal.  But he doesn't know the first thing about pitching his book.  And it's a shame because he'll be met with disappointment.  It's kind of sad.  He has crafted the perfect letter that will prevent him from getting what it is he so desperately seeks. 

✌ and 


Please follow me on Twitter and RT my pitches on October 29th for #PBPitch (and I'll reciprocate)  https://twitter.com/RandiLynnMrvos  

Saturday, August 15, 2020

<img src=”BookEnds Literary.png” alt=”writers tips from Bookend's Literary">                querying for publication”>


I have to hand it to the agents at BookEnds Literary.  They offer expert writing advise for those who want to get published.  When you watch their Youtube videos, you'll learn about querying, being represented, marketing and much more.  

In this post for The Maggie Project, I'll present a short overview of one of their latest Youtube videos that centers on tips about writing.  But first, let's get to know a little about BookEnds. 

BookEnds was founded in 1999 by Jessica Faust and Jacky Sach.  They wanted to represent books that they had fallen in love with and to help authors achieve their dreams. 

This agency represents fiction and nonfiction for an adult audience. In fiction agents specialize in romance, mystery, suspense, thrillers, science fiction and fantasy, women’s fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction and upmarket fiction.  They are also seeking nonfiction in the areas of memoirs, history, food, current affairs, business and career, parenting, pop culture, and general nonfiction.

BookEnds Jr, represents fiction and nonfiction for the young adult, middle grade and picture book markets.  

Jessica Faust, President of BookEnds
I've watched nearly all of their Youtube videos.  What's nice is, you feel like you get to know each agent and their personal preference for books.  I also like that the videos last about 15 minutes and are concise, well-organized, and engaging. 

Listed below are four writing tips from BookEnds, recorded on Youtube June 5, 2020: 
  • Give yourself time in between drafts and come back to your work with a fresh mind.
  • Write from your synopsis and query before, during and after you write your manuscript.
  • Know your specific audience so that you can meet their expectations.
  • Write what you care about.
Each of the agents go into more explanation in the video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3j24-dvdGQ

Remember to check the BookEnds Youtube video often.  They update frequently and offer new information three to four times a month.  

Writing, editing, and submitting can be intense.  So, it's nice to switch gears and listen to valuable advice, especially from the agents at BookEnds.   

✌ and 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Most everyone assumes that signing with a publishing company is like having a marriage made in heaven.  This is not always the case.

Three years ago, I was published by a small press.  This company helped me reach a goal:  to have a manuscript illustrated and published for children.  But there can be drawbacks working with a small press.  And you have to decide if the pros outweigh than the cons.

Cons, you say?  How can writers even think about cons when they have the chance to have a book published?

I get your starry-eyed enthusiasm.  It can take years to land a publisher or an agent.  Nothing is going to squash your dreams.

Still...if you submit to an indie press and they offer you a book contract, proceed with caution.

I researched my publisher and didn't find any negative comments about them.  A year later after signing the contract, I had to deal with issues that could not have been foreseen.

Before you sign a contract, google the small press to find out more about them.  See if there have been any complaints.  Contact some of the published authors and ask them about their experience with the press, both the good and the bad stuff.

Even after learning as much as you can and feeling safe with the publisher, you may find as I did, that concerns may flare up months afterward.  That said, be aware that certain matters are beyond your control and cannot be predicted.

Below are some facts to consider.

With a small press you may: 
  • publish a book in less than a year after signing a contract
  • have an opportunity to choose an illustrator if you write picture books
  • be able to take part in the revision process 
  • be able to make suggestions for the illustrations
  • have your book promoted on the small press website and sold by Amazon
But you may:
  • find your name and title of the book missing from the spine 
  • find the paper weight lighter than desired 
  • receive no help with marketing 
  • get little compensation for the money you invested in marketing 
  • find libraries will not purchase your book 
  • find your book dropped from the small press website after the contract has expired
  • discover the publisher expects you to buy back returned books (check your contract)
  • realize your publisher is not interested in your career    

I was excited to have my first book published by a small press.  But the relationship with this publishing company was lopsided.  I was putting in way more effort and receiving little in return.

So, after much soul-searching, I decided to part ways with this publisher after the contract expired.  It was the right move for me.  I have no regrets.  Working with the small press was a good learning lesson for me.  But now, I have higher expectations.  I want a better match.  Because a publishing partnership should be more than two people working toward a goal.  It should be like a great marriage—one that is built on commitment, teamwork, mutual respect, and decency.

✌ and 

Monday, June 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                                                             Photo: Sammie Vasquez 

I'm not what you'd call a risk-taker.  Even still, I decided to take a gamble.

I contacted my former agent to see if she'd take a look at two of my manuscripts. Specifically, I wanted to know if they were marketable.

You might think, what's the big deal?  The big deal is, this move is generally not practiced in the literary world.

If a writer wants to know if her book is marketable, she has to send a query letter to an agent.  But agents will not tell you if your work is marketable.  The only way you'll know is if they offer representation, which means they love your story and they think it will sell. 

I believed that Mel would give me unbiased opinion about my work.  She was my literary agent up until the time she decided to start her own publishing company.  But approaching her for feedback would be risky.  Writer's usually don't ask this of publishers and it could sour our friendship.  This move could make me look foolish and unprofessional.

Though I was conflicted, I thought contacting her was the right thing to do.  Mel and I had worked together on a book.  And since we still stay in touch and have a professional and friendly relationship, I got the nerve to politely ask her if she'd take a look at my work. 

Mel agreed to read my manuscripts and said she'd get back to me.  And so, three things could happen:
  1. She could tell me that these manuscripts didn't have a chance in hell to get published.
  2. She could tell that that the manuscripts had potential, but would need significant revision.
  3. She could tell me that she'd like to publish them. (It did hurt to be positive.)
Photo: Ian Stauffer
I honestly didn't know what to expect, other than a sincere and honest opinion. Then several days later, Mel sent me an email.  She wrote that she loved one of the manuscripts. In fact, it showed so much promise that she offered to publish it!  That surprised the hell out of me.  In this case, taking a chance proved to be worth it.

But that's not always the case.  Taking a risk can set us up for rejection.  So, what does a writer do?

An article at Huffpost.com gives seven reasons why we should at least consider taking risks:
  • Unforeseen opportunities often come from risk-taking.
  • Taking risks shows confidence and helps you stand out.
  • We learn from risks — and those lessons may lead us on an important, new path.
  • Success won't fall in your lap—you have to pursue it.
  • You don't achieve your dreams by playing it safe.
  • Embracing risk-taking helps you overcome a fear of failure.
  • Taking a risk doesn't mean doing so haphazardly—you must not only consider the fall-out, you must implement and follow through.
No doubt, taking a chance is unpredictable.  A crapshoot.  It can bring about an unfavorable outcome.  But then again it can also generate a surprising result.  If you have met an agent at a conference or have a good relationship with one on social media, then it's worth asking for her thoughts about your work.  What have you got to lose?  All she can say is no.  Sure, it's a risky move.  It's a gamble.  But just think, you could get feedback on your manuscript.  And that would be a monumental payoff.

✌ and 

More on risk-taking:



Friday, May 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                                                                               Photo: Jonathan Borba 

We want our lives to get back to normal, like they were before the onset of COVID-19.  As you know, that is going to take a while.  So if you're like me, you've found you have some time on your hands.  That said, you might like to think about developing a marketing plan for the book that you want to get published.

But, you say you're not ready for marketing because you haven't found an agent yet.  That's no excuse.  Agents want to see that you have a website.

Still, you push back on that idea.  I reacted the same way.  But the truth is, it's better to prepare now.  Case in point, the small press that published my book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell expected me to carry the weight of marketing my book.  Which was daunting.  And frightening.  And worrisome.  I didn't know how to begin.

On the bright side, I had about seven months to prepare before the book was released.  After reading and researching everything I could get my hands on, I developed a plan which is presented below.  It may give you some ideas how you can go about marketing your book.  It takes lots of time to market a book.  So get started now.  Sooner or later, your book is going to get published and when that happens, you will need to have a plan.

Before you get an agent: create a website

  • Check out famous authors' websites.  Take note of what appeals to you.
  • Decide how to incorporate some of these ideas for your website. 
  • Establish your brand.  Your style and personality should be apparent on the homepage.

Before the book is released:  create some buzz    
  • Website:  Update pages at least once or twice a month.  Offer new content.  Tell followers about your writing projects.  If you blog, announce new posts along with the link to your blog. 
  • Marketing team:  Assemble a group of volunteers who will promote the news about your book on their social media platforms.  
  • Book reviews:  Give reviewers an advanced copy of your book.  Add the reviews to your website.  
  • E-mail list:  Compose a list of your friends, business associates, classmates, and family.  Platforms like Mailchimp, MailerLite, or Mad Mimi offer solutions to create a list.  Send a monthly email to the list to report news: book signings, awards, upcoming articles, book fairs, etc. 
  • Writer's magazines:  Create pieces for writer's magazines to inform people about the inspiration for your book or the process of writing your book. 
  • Online interviews:  Ask bloggers if they'd accept a guest post or if they'd write a blog about you and your book.  Find a way to reciprocate—feature them on your blog or use social media to promote their work. 
  • Local newspaper and magazines:  See if a newspaper journalist or a magazine writer would be willing to write an article about you and your book.  Your pitch should mention a current event, a fact, or a statistic that ties-in to your book.  Explain how an article would serve the audience.  
  • Lesson plans.  Develop activities, games and teaching ideas that kids can enjoy during a school visit.
  • School visit program.  Decide how long the presentation will be, how many classrooms you can visit, and how you will engage the students.  Discuss your plans with the school coordinator. 
  • Book signing.  Call a book store manager to set up a date to sign and sell books.  Send out e-invites to friends, business associates, and family six weeks before the date.  Make arrangements with the manager to discuss the location of your table, how to charge people for your book (will you handle selling or will the bookstore take control?), and what profits you and the bookstore will make.  Think about exciting ways to decorate your table. 

After the book is released:  create some more buzz
  • Press release:  Ask your publisher to send press releases to newspapers and bookstores so that your book can be advertised.     
  • Library story times:  Ask librarians if they have the funds to buy your book; and if so, offer to read your book at story time.  
  • School visits:  Talk with the school librarian to see if she would be interested in having you give a presentation for students.  Keep in mind that safety in a school environment is a priority, so it helps to have personal connections with teachers when trying to arrange school visits. 
  • Visit day care facilities.  Make fliers about the book and how to purchase a copy so that the day care can send them home to parents.  Arrange a time to read your book to the children.  Bring games or activities to engage the children afterward. 
  • Local craft fairs or book fairs:  Create an interesting table top display to attract readers to visit you.  Have items like cookies or bookmarks handy to give away.  
  • Local shop owners:  Figure out how your book is similar to the products sold in the store.  Tell the owner how your book would benefit the customers.
  • Online selling:  Ask your publisher to put your book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online bookstores. 
  • Speaking Engagements:  Give a talk about your journey from idea to publication.  Meet the fans of your book.  Bring copies to autograph and sell.
  • Book Signing:  Arrive at least 30 minutes in advance.  Check in with the manager.  Stand in front of your table to greet guests.  Have someone take pictures of the event to post online. Celebrate afterward.

Preparing for the next books:  keep connecting  
  • Twitter:  Connect with other writers and agents by tweeting encouraging quotes, writing news, and personal opinions.  
  • Blogging:  Create amusing, poignant, or informational blog posts that followers can relate to. 
  • Pinterest:  Develop your brand visually by creating boards and pins for your boards.
  • LinkedIn:  Connect with business associates and advertise blog posts or writing news. 
  • Facebook:  Share your writing projects with friends. 
  • Website:  Keep updating, sell your book, highlight your achievements.  

As you can see, there are many facets to marketing, before and after an author publishes a book.  My advice to you would be to learn about marketing as you write your book and as you pursue a publisher or an agent.  It may seem early, but the sooner you work on a strategy, the better prepared you'll be when your book is published.

Have fun developing your marketing plan.  Be original.  Get creative.  Think out of the box.  Do things differently than others.  Let it be all about you, because well, it IS all about you.  Remember most of the marketing will fall on your shoulders.  It's just how things are done these days.  But it won't be so daunting or frightening or worrisome when you figure this stuff out now.

✌ and 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

                                                                                                                      Photo by: Gesina Kunkel


Because it had been a while (and since I was curious), I decided to step on the scale.  Let me just say, the number did not please me.    

Not that my weight should be a concern during these troubled times of a pandemic. But controlling my weight through strenuous exercising was something I had been doing before the outbreak.  

The weird thing was, the weight gain was imperceptible to me. Back during the 2018 Christmas season, I baked holiday cookies for my family and believe you me, I had my share of the sweets.  After Christmas, I had a cup of ice cream every night.  Unbeknownst to me, my weight crept up from winter and into the summer of 2019.  Over those months I was never aware of the additional pounds.  There was no need to weigh myself because my clothes fit perfectly.    

On a whim, I decided to check my weight.  That's how I discovered the weight gain and then immediately decided I had to do something about it.  People looked at me strangely when I told them I wanted to lose weight.  One of my husband's friends said that I must weigh 100 pounds soaking wet.  Looks can be deceiving.  And the scale does not lie. 

According to the charts, women at my height are supposed to weigh between 107 to 140 pounds.  I'm petite, not even close to 140 pounds, but I'd like to weigh less than the median value of 123.5 pounds.   

I had always worked out three times a week.  Obviously, that was not enough.  When I told one of my workout friends that I had gained weight, she replied, "Don't weigh yourself.  That's what I do."  I liked her approach.  Why step on the scale and get upset?  This philosophy appealed to me. 

But it didn't feel honest ignoring my weight.  A week later, I checked.  I had gained another pound.  

John, another workout buddy told me he had lost over fifty pounds.  He challenged me to come to the gym every day and ride the exercise bike for thirty minutes each day.  

How could I go to the gym EVERY DAY?  That would mean the time for marketing my book, consulting with clients, and composing blog posts would be replaced with being at the gym. 

   Photo: Gesina Kunkel 
To do as John suggested meant I would mess with my schedule and keep me from my writing obligations.  This would be a difficult commitment for me.    

But then I thought of the number that had registered on the scale.  That ugly no-good number.  I would meet John's challenge.

So, my strategy was to replace weight-lifting (which I did three times a week) with riding the exercise bike for thirty minutes seven times a week.   

Over a few days, I was able to gradually increase the resistance on the bike.  It took everything ounce of energy I had to keep going.  To deal with the discomfort, I concentrated on my heart rate and the calories that were burned.  I listened to music on Spotify.  I pedaled for thirty minutes despite it being tiring, painful, monotonous, and sweaty. 

Going to the gym everyday was not the only change I made.  I decided to cut back on snacks and give up sweets.  Good-bye cookies.  Sayonara white chocolate raspberry ice cream.  This was equally as painful as riding the bike because salt and sweet cravings are like to murder to manage.      

So, until the coronavirus outbreak, I had been going to the gym EVERY DAY and giving up sweets and limiting snacks.  I was able to work up from level 5 to level 16 on the bike, the highest level.  I had reached my goal and surpassed it by two pounds.  But staying at this new weight will be challenging.  My gym is closed like other businesses in the United States.

Like many others who like to stay active, I'm trying to figure out how to exercise.  For now, I walk around the neighborhood for one to two hours a day.  Sometimes, I carry hand weights with me.  Then, I do a ballet barre at home by watching YouTube videos taught by ballerinas.  I do this routine every day.

Will these things help me stay in shape and keep my weight constant?  Who knows?  But when I feel doubtful, I remember my conversation with John, and it motivates me and fires up my can-do attitude.  If I was able to find the physical and mental strength to lose fifteen pounds, then I should be able to maintain my weight—even if the gym is closed.

Just like everyone else, I'm trying to live a normal life.  I'm trying to stay healthy, and for now, this will be one of the biggest challenges I will ever have to face.

✌ and 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Photo: Green Chameleon 

Several months ago, one of my picture book manuscripts received a rejection.  The good news is the agent said that she'd take another look—if I revised the piece.  This is common practice when an agent sees some potential in a manuscript.

Despite her generous offer, I was miffed.  The agent wanted a significant revision.  No other details.  So, I didn't know if she had a problem with the plot of the story, the main character, or the lyrical way in which the story had been written.  My gut feeling was she couldn't connect with the lyricism.  And hence, my dilemma.  The story had to be told precisely as it had been written it.  If the lyricism was removed, the voice and emotion of the story would be lost.  I dug my heels in.  I would not revise.  And I would not query her again.

My friend Reggie could relate.  He received a rejection on one of his favorite stories.  But in this case, the rejection came with specific suggestions on how to revise.  Still, this did not make him happy.  He felt that the story was perfect as written.

Something overcomes writers when we are asked to revise.  Some of us take it personally.  We get defensive about our work.  We have created masterpieces and no one is going to make us change a single word.

As several months passed, more agents passed on my manuscript.  I began to think about revising it.  Maybe there was a way to stay true to the voice and make the story better.  But I was unsure.  So, I put a question to Twitter.  I asked the writing community what they would do if they had encountered an agent who wanted a revision on a manuscript.

Here's a sampling of the responses:

A. Amit says revision is about "asking if the world the story has created encapsulates my vision in the best way possible. Rechecking that the characters are the best fit for that world—not good/bad, just right for the world."

L. Rogalsky says, "To me, revision is often the heart of making the story more of a story.  It's where you go to refocus, rearrange, and re-envision your story."

S. Hendricks replied with an emoji: 😬 which I interpreted as grit teeth and tighten up the story.

Overall, most people tweeted that they would do the revision.

When writers are given the opportunity to do a revision, they have three choices to make.
  • They can choose not to revise and continue to submit the manuscript as originally written.  
  • They can revise the manuscript and submit the new version to other agents.  
  • They can revise the manuscript and re-submit the new version to the agent who had offered to take a second look.  
Reggie chose not to revise his work.  He felt the story worked well as written and he was going to submit it to other agents without changing it.  That's his choice.  Time will tell if another agent will like his story.  I felt differently about revision.  Even though I was skeptical about changing my manuscript, I decided reworking the piece might be a good thing to do.

I began by modifying the structure of the story.  That meant keeping the plot and the main character, but striping away the rhythmical format.  Weeks later as the story evolved, a minor character emerged along with a new setting, and these two developments led to more conflict and foreshadowing.  The best part was, I was able to weave in some rhyme and repetition.

I believe in this story, especially because it carries a strong message:  how we all, even the very young, have the power to spread kindness.  Though there is no guarantee, I am hoping that the message and the voice of the story will capture the heart of the agent.

Doing a revision ended up being a great writing exercise—taking the bones of a story and guiding it in another direction.  A better direction.   I love what this manuscript became.  The story is powerful and it has the potential to touch people's hearts.  Make people aware.  Show them how simple it is to care.  And to think, none of this would have been possible if I had stubbornly resisted revision.

✌ and 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                                                                           Photo: Toa Heftiba

It's a mystery to me.  Some writers ask for editorial help and then ignore the very help they seek.

I've noticed this behavior in one-to-one meetings, on Twitter, and at RLM Editorial.  Writers contact me to get help with various parts of the publication process.  Some want advice on writing a query letter.  Others want a manuscript critique or line editing.  Then, I never hear back.  Maybe they are put off because I ask them to supply important elements of the story:    
  • A description of the main character
  • The main character's want
  • The obstacle(s) that get in the way of the want
  • What's at stake (why the reader should care) and what will happen if the character fails 
  • The theme of the story
Why is this required?  The reason is, I want to bring awareness to the essentials of a story.  I want to find out if a manuscript has been well-thought out.  Filling me in on the story gives me an idea how much time would be needed to work on a project.    

I'm not the only one who feels that these points are important.  

Former literary agent and editorial consultant Mary Kole says, "Make me care.  A lot of queries don’t tell me what’s important to the character, what’s at stake, how things go from bad to worse for them.  People read to bond with people.  Even if you’ve got a blockbuster plot, the character is still important because they’re what will pull me into the other elements of your story." 

Award-winning and internationally published author K.M. Weiland says, "Character motivations drive your story. The protagonist’s motivation is what informs his goal, which is what creates the plot.  And motivation always comes down to your story’s stakes.  What’s at stake for your characters?"
               Photo: Helloquence 

Best-selling children's author Debbie Dadey says, "Something important must be at stake in the story to make us care.  And the more heart-breaking important it is to our character, the more we care.  Look at your story to see what is at stake."

Addressing theme is equally important.  Soheila Battaglia, a published and award-winning author and filmmaker, defines theme as not a summary of a piece of literature; it is a universal statement, moral lesson, message or idea that addresses the experience of being human.

Mary Kole believes the theme or Big Idea is what you want to say about your book.  She says, "that she's high on book themes these days. You, as the writer have one responsibility: you have to as Ursula Nordstrom says, 'dig deep and tell the truth' about the world as you see it. That plays directly into the why of your story, as in, why are you as a person telling this story to the world now?" 

As these top-notch writers indicate, knowing the stakes and the theme are necessary in crafting a story.  And yet, the very thought of identifying the stakes and theme may scare off some potential clients.  

But who really knows?  There could be a multitude of reasons why I never hear back.  And there's no point in trying to analyze why they ignore the help they've asked for.  I am not offended.  It's their choice.  In all sincerity, I really do wish them the best.  They must figure out if they actually need help.  It's not an easy decision for some.  But they should know that many writers sought out the advice at some point in their careers.  They didn't ask for help and then ignore it.  They asked for help and followed though.  

✌ and 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                                 Photo: Mattia Ascenzo

For the life of me, I can't understand why some folks have a hard time saying no.      

I noticed this practice as I reached out to people in my hometown Lexington, Kentucky to see if they would be interested in my first book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell 
I sent emails, letters, school visit packets, and press releases. I asked:

  • librarians (one of them was an acquaintance) if they would schedule storytime presentations
  • teachers if they would set-up author visits 
  • journalists if they would write an article about the inspiration for the book—a dying dog that was rescued from a country road in Kentucky and nursed back to health 
But none of them responded. 

This behavior shocked me.  I assumed that the people in my community would have been supportive.  At the very least, I thought they would have had the courtesy to say no. 

Then I found out that this behavior is common. 
According to Hank Davis, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Guelph in Canada, this situation is common.  He calls it a 'passive no.'  He says, "It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re face-to-face, talking to them on the phone, texting, or emailing them—they are far more comfortable having your request die of old age than actually refusing it. They’ll leave it for you to figure out that whatever it was you wanted just ain’t gonna happen."  

Davis states, "One benefit it provides is that everybody gets to save face and, most of all, everyone is saved from the dreaded “C word”—Conflict."  

Conflict likely came into play when Davis asked an acquaintance if he'd be interested in joining his men's group.  Davis didn't receive a reply and says, "I disrespect the man who chose not to say “no” to our group. He avoided ruffling feathers, but at what cost? Personal integrity? Cowardice? Disrespect? Do those sound like admirable qualities? Sometimes “no” is the most honorable and respectful thing you can say to someone."

Victor Lipman, author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World, is on the same page as Davis.  Like Davis, Lipman says people are kind of lazy and they’d rather avoid the hard stuff. 

"This may account for why increasing numbers of my harder-edged, shall we say, business messages go unanswered. Conflict is unpleasant, as is the notion someone might not be doing something all that well. So, if there’s not a clear expectation that a definite answer is required (and sometimes even if there is) it’s easier and less stressful to ignore and forget it," says Lipman.

There are more reasons besides avoiding conflict as to why people brush aside a request.  Lipman says, "Between texts, tweets, Facebook messages, LinkedIn emails, traditional emails, voicemails, and others, it’s easy for any single message to get lost in the shuffle.  People are too busy.  Everybody’s rushing and multi-tasking, zipping from one activity to another with mobile devices glued to their ears and fingers—and in a generally frenetic environment it’s easy to have small things like messages slip through the cracks."  

Photo: Jon Tyson 
Despite the reasons, organizational psychologist and best-selling author Tasha Eurich believes we should be more cordial.  

Eurich encourages us to say no when you need to and states, "If someone asks you for something that you can’t or won’t do, for goodness sake, just tell them.  Believing that no response is the new no is passive aggressive, cowardly and rude. Even if a stranger sends you an email, give them the professional courtesy of a reply that says, 'Thank you so much for your request. I’m sorry that I can't help you.'  It will take you less than 15 seconds and they’ll be out of limbo. As aptly noted in The New York Times, 'Most of us can handle rejection. We can’t handle not knowing.'"

I completely agree.  Not hearing back from fellow Lexingtonians made me anxious, sad, and discouraged.

There could be many reasons why I never heard back.  It's possible that they didn't want to hurt my feelings.  That they thought I was too fragile to handle a rejection.  But they would be wrong.  What they didn't know is I'm a tough cookie.  If they are not interested in arranging a storytime at the library, having an author visit at school, or writing an article for the paper—I can take it.  Writers are used to rejection.  To the ones I reached out to, I would say show a girl a little respect.  A little kindness.

And for the love of God, just tell me no.