Monday, October 31, 2011

A Glimmer of Goodness

It doesn’t take much
to bring a writer down:
a rejection,
no response to a follow-up,
few markets to pitch a nicely-written piece.

At times, the world of writing seems grim.

And yet, through it all
a writer emails you
an image,
(no words)
just an image of candles
burning so brilliantly you can almost
feel the warmth of the glow—
a  heartfelt Diwali greeting,

or, another writer sends a comment:
she likes your latest post
(the one you spent hours
getting the words down
just right).

No doubt, there are days when the writing world is grim
yet sometimes, sometimes, a glimmer of goodness
shines down, spreads its warmth
when you least expect it,
when you need it the most.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Entering Contests

Maggie and the First Grade Blues has won three picture book awards.  That said, you’d think I’d have editors knocking down my door to publish my book.  Not so.  It takes more than winning writing contests to get a picture book published—it takes a lot of love.

This is what I recently discovered after attending Editor’s Day in Lexington, Kentucky and WriteOnCon online.  An editor has got to go gaga about a book if she wants to publish it.  She’s got to love it so much it pierces her heart.  It’s the kind of love that impels her to gush about it to everyone she knows.  If she is not passionate about it, she won’t recommend it to the acquisitions team, no matter how many awards it’s won.

At first, I felt discouraged.  Why bother to enter contests if a manuscript fails to interest editors?  But then I realized there are many advantages.  Here are a few benefits to entering contests:  

Offers writers a challenge
Encourages writers to create an outstanding piece
Puts a writer’s work before a judge
Requires a writer to follow the guidelines
Can build a writer’s resume

These five benefits may prepare you before submitting your work to editors.  So what are you waiting for? 

Look online or in writer’s magazines for a listing of contests.  Search for a contest that charges a small fee, something like twenty-five dollars or less. Find a contest with a deadline that is far enough in advance so that it allows you time to perfect your work.  Then, go to it.  Strive to write an  exceptional piece or edit another one you have in the works.  Have a trusted friend read your work to guarantee it is free of grammar mistakes.  Double check those contest guidelines. Submit your entry. 

Consider submitting to more than one contest.  Enter the same manuscript or create a different piece.  Regardless of the result, know that you’ve accomplished an important goal that will help you in the future.  One day your manuscript just may capture an award and quite possibly, capture the heart of an editor.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Writer's News


photo by Lucas 


It's been a little over a year since I first began submitting Maggie and the First Grade Blues. Here is the update on my picture book submissions:

I submitted to Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Peachtree, Chronicle, Star Bright Books, and Harcourt Children’s Books.  After the standard three month waiting period, I received no word and conclude that these publishers have passed on my book.  Kira Lynn with Editorial Department of Kane Miller responded that my picture book was not right for their list. However, Maggie Lehrman with Abrams Books liked the voice, but felt that the market was crowded with school stories. 

As for agents, I received no reply from Sanford J. Greenburger and Mark McVeigh.  On the other hand, Marietta B. Zacker with the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency sent a kind, personal note:  [This is] “ an endearing story with a fabulous message, but admittedly, I didn't quite connect with Maggie the way I know you need me to.” Emily van Beek with Folio also sent a kind, personal note.

Recently, I submitted to Paul Rodeen Management.  I also submitted to Jessica Sinsheimer with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, who encouraged me that she’d take a look at my picture book.  I’ve also submitted to Sterling Publishing Company and KRBY creations.  These last four bring me to my goal—30 publishers and 15 agents.  I will report on the outcome in a few months.  In the meantime, I am writing a new picture book, editing another picture book, and researching topics for nonfiction articles.  But I will keep my eyes open for other opportunities for submitting Maggie and the First Grades Blues

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tips for Writing Picture Books

Today, Maha shares suggestions for writing a picture book.  Her tips are intended for self-publishing.  Keep in mind that traditional publishers usually don't require illustration notes or page breaks.

Word count
First thing I learned is that picture books are 500-1000 words, 30 pages long. Remember that the 30 pages include the title, dedication, and the copyright pages, which leaves you with only 28 pages.

Illustrations and description
When you write a story, you would think you need to describe your scene in detail. Not so in picture books. The illustrations describe the scene. I deleted a lot of description before the illustrations, but when the illustrations arrived, I found out that I could delete even more. When I wrote my second and third stories (not published yet), I took that into account from the very beginning. What I did was to keep the description between brackets for the illustrator's benefit. This will give the illustrator an idea of how I want the scene to appear. I made another copy without the descriptions to keep count of the words.

Make a dummy
I made a dummy of my book, When Monsters Get Lonely, by adding the illustrations to the text, exactly where I wanted them to appear in a word document. I then clicked on view > full screen reading to render it in book form. I made sure the page turns left the reader wondering what’s coming next. This is the way I sent my book to the publisher to show them exactly where I wanted the text in relation to the illustrations.

Word choice
I struggled with word choice because I’m not used to writing for kids. I tried to make my words as simple as I could. This was not easy, because the idea I was trying to convey in When Monsters Get Lonely is not simple. In the end, I felt that my words were descriptive and sensory enough to engage a child. Parents will read a book if they like its theme.

Read it out loud
One of the tips I read when I was writing my book was to read it aloud, and I did do that not only to myself, but to my husband and my sister-in-law. It helps you get an idea of how it will sound to the kids.

Plot and theme
All good books must have a climax and resolution. I’m afraid that my editor gave me a really poor critique, which was an education to me. I rewrote my story and revised my plot to include the all important climax and resolution. It didn’t change what Grams wanted to teach Hannah, but it handed Hannah a way to find the solution herself. Hence, Grams didn’t sound like she was preaching and it made for a much more interesting story.
The main character must have strong traits and resolve the problem. By resolving her own problems, Hannah’s character naturally developed and emerged as a strong and intelligent child despite her fear.

Maha Huneidi says she learned quite a lot when she wrote and self-published When Monsters Get Lonely. She thinks you can learn from the mistakes she made and corrected along the way.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing Opportunities

Sometimes when you least expect it, a writing opportunity may present itself.  Because I volunteer at Arboretum, the State Botanical Garden of Kentucky, several employees know that I’m a writer.  Recently, the education coordinator asked for my help.  In a few weeks, the Arboretum will be sponsoring the annual fall festival.  Volunteers will dress up as woodland creatures and plants and greet young children.  They will give short talks that describe who they are and what they contribute.

My job was to spruce up the old scripts of a deer, a spider, a sunflower, a skunk, and a tree.  The education coordinator envisioned livelier speeches. She wanted the scripts written in first person and kept to 300 words.  Then the rest was up to me. 

I decided that each script should have a hook, which would create interest and engage the audience.  Though I had a restricted word count, I still wanted to make sure that I had a beginning, a middle, and an ending.  (My nonfiction writing has taught me well).  I conducted a little more research, added it to the passages, and rearranged the order of paragraphs for clarity.  Lastly, as with any nonfiction writing, I tied the ending to the beginning.  Beforehand, these pieces ended abruptly.  With the new endings, the speeches had a more satisfying conclusion.

I suppose the biggest challenge was getting inside the heads of the animals and plants—come on, what would a tree think and say?  But actually, it was quite fun.  In fact, my tree had a bit of an attitude.

It's nice taking a break from writing nonfiction articles and picture books and trying something different.  Maybe you'll have an opportunity to attempt something new, too.  But you might ask: What’s in it for me when I share my writing talent with others?  Perhaps you’ll find it offers you practice and inspiration.  Maybe it will lead to another assignment.  It's a given it'll showcase your skills and quite possibly, help to get your name better known.  For me, writing these scripts fueled my imagination and made me feel good about helping a worthwhile organization.  How about you?  Are you willing to help others with your writing talent?  Are you willing to take advantage of the writing opportunities that may come your way?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Rewards of Volunteering

Kentucky Children's Garden
Nature Center in the Children's Garden

I volunteer at the Arboretum, the State Botanical Garden of Kentucky.  My “job” is to read picture books in the Children's Garden.  My “work place” is inside the Nature Center—a breezy, three-sided cozy structure.  The entrance is flanked by Greek Doric columns.  The side yard contains barrels brimming with scarlet and purple flowers.  Nearby, two raised vegetable gardens are teeming with tomatoes and peppers, lavender and sage.     

Map of the Children's Garden at the Arboretum

My guests arrive: in strollers, hand in hand with moms, or carried by dads.  Ashley, the education coordinator, hands me Frog and Toad Are Friends.  Before I begin to read, I give a short discussion on the differences between frogs and toads.  Then I read two chapters from the book—the average age of the children is about two or three years old so we're talking short attention span.   

Halfway into the reading, several young toddlers are distracted.  They want to explore the waterwheel, chat with other children, and touch the glass cages containing caterpillars.  Nonetheless I read on, trying to emphasis my words, trying to add as much drama as I possibly can to entice the children to listen. 

But others huddle close, their eyes fixed on me and on the pages of the book.  Some want to help turn the pages, while others lean their heads on my shoulder.  In a small way, I’m connecting with them.  Story time becomes  meaningful.    
What do I get out of it?  On a professional level, I like to think that this experience is preparing me for the day when I’ll read my very own picture book to a small group of children.  But I don’t focus on the future.  For now, I spread burlap bags for seating.  I sit upon a bale of hay and read a classic picture book.  And afterward, I receive smiles and thank-yous.  I receive parental requests: “When will you be reading in the garden again?”  I receive hugs from the tiniest members of my audience.  It touches my heart to share books at the arboretum.  What more can a story-time reader ask for?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Value of Critiques

This past June, I attended Editor’s Day in Lexington, Kentucky.  Registrants could submit an entire picture book for a critique by Abrams Books Editor Maggie Lehrman.  Since Maggie and the First Grade Blues had won several awards, I submitted In Search of Awe. 

On the positive side, Ms. Lehrman liked the language and the descriptions.  She mentioned that I had a real knack for details that infuse a landscape with character.  However, she thought that the story was too quiet and nostalgic and that the plot was too subtle and interior for young readers.  She wanted to know more about my main character so that readers will invest in the story.

Overall, she thought that the story could serve as a scene in a lyrical middle grade novel.  She challenged me to edit the piece for an older audience.  I have great respect for Ms. Lehrman's  opinion.   Looks like I have lots to think about in terms of developing plot and character should I follow through on her advice.       

Here’s my thought on critiques:  If you have the chance to go to a writer’s conference and submit a manuscript for a critique, do so.  Usually, only a limited number of manuscripts can be accepted, so be mindful of the critique deadline.  It usually costs less than fifty dollars, but it is well worth the fee. 

You will most likely receive positive comments on your work as well as criticism on the elements that require improvement.  In addition, you may be offered suggestions on character development, plot, language, voice, and marketability. Most of all, you’ll gain insight into what an editor looks for in a manuscript.  If you take the advice and follow the “inside tips,” you just may create a manuscript worthy of an editor’s attention.