Saturday, January 15, 2022

                                                                                                                                  Courtesy: Gabrielle Henderson


How do you feel when someone gives you writing advice?  Are you open to all of the suggestions and revise your entire manuscript?  Do you accept a few ideas and edit those parts?  Or do you shun all ideas that aren't your own? 

I usually resist making changes to my work.  (Some might call this being stubborn.)  But if my first reader or critique partners feel something is not working, I will consider the advice.  I'll look at the section in question, rewrite it, and weigh both versions.  There's a chance the revision could work.  However, if there's a portion of my story I deeply love and others have issues with, it's unlikely that part will be rewritten.  When the original version represents my vision, change is not going to happen. 

Usually, I know in advance when I'll get advice.  I either hand my work to my first reader or schedule a critique with my writing group.  Knowing ahead of time prepares me for the criticism.  But one time, a piece of advice came my way out of the blue.  Recently, my physical therapist asked about one of my manuscripts and I gave him the gist of it.  Andrew, who is also a writer, said, "Let me play devil's advocate."  

I braced myself.  He was going to challenge me.  And I wasn't prepared.  

"While this subject matter is important, you still have to handle it sensitively.  Otherwise, parents may not want to read it to their kids.  It has the potential to be scary and send an unsafe message."  

It was good advice.  I never thought about it that way and I agreed with his analysis.  What surprised me was how blind I had been to this part of the story, taking for granted that others would perceive the climax as innocuous as I did.  This turning point could be perceived as a dangerous.    

After speaking with Andrew, I examined the story again. The problem was, this part was critical to the plot.  It could not be cut.  When I looked at the scene from his perspective however, I could see how it might make parents feel uneasy—a child interacts with a homeless person.  I had to figure out how to retain this part of the story.  Realizing the scene needed to be handled more delicately, I made a slight adjustment by reinforcing the fact that the child was safe and with her mother.     

Andrew expressed interest in another story I was writing.  When I told him my picture book was an allegory, a story with a hidden meaning usually political or moral, he thought children wouldn't understand.  Naturally, I got a little defensive.  And as we chatted, I began to have some doubts about this piece.  I wondered if it would be suitable as a children's book.  

But as we talked about the messages of children's books, in particular those written by Dr. Seuss, my fears quickly evaporated.  Seuss had intertwined messages flawlessly in his stories.  Though I could never compare my work to Seuss', my book subtly conveys a powerful message.  Basically, the plot of the story embraces truthfulness and bravery, and on a deeper level, it tackles politics, religion, and antisemitism.  Heavy topics.   

I remembered what author and Medium contributing writer Brooke Meredith  had to say about difficult subjects:  "We need stories that make us uncomfortable because reading stories about topics with which you are unfamiliar, which unsettle or even upset, which challenge your beliefs or make you think, can be the most important things you read." 

Meredith's words restored my confidence and faith in my story.   

On the whole, I love hearing what other people have to say about my work.  It helps me think about it differently, to step into their shoes, and understand what it is they may be interpreting.  It helps me to work out problems with my manuscripts.  I may not incorporate all or even some of the suggestions from others, but I'll consider new ideas and be open to sound advice.   

✌ and 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

                                                                                                                                                Photo by: Monica Melton

Guest Post by: Geary Smith

Mentoring 101: 

The Importance of Having a Mentor for Writing Success

     “The mediocre mentor tells.

The good mentor explains. 

      The superior mentor demonstrates.

The greatest mentors inspire!”

–Lucia Ballas Traynor


As I think about this quote, I think of my mentor. She explained and demonstrated to help me to become a better writer. She inspired me to become a successful writer.

I was truly at a time in my writing career when I despondent and unsure about my skills and abilities due to receiving so many rejection letters from editors. 

However, when I was about to give up on my dreams of being a writer, serendipitously, my mentor entered into my life and things began to change.

Why is having a mentor so very important for your writing success? 

I believe there are a myriad of qualities to look for in having a mentor for your writing, but here are a few to examine and ponder. 

First, a mentor must be willing to squeeze your project into her busy schedule.  It takes time for a mentor to read, edit and comment on your writing projects.

Secondly, a mentor will give honest feedback and comments on your writing.  Criticism can be tough to hear, but I was never offended by my mentor’s suggestions, red marks, and corrections, because I knew she was trying to help me become a better writer. 

Finally, a mentor will motivate you to keep writing. They believe in you even when you may not believe in yourself.

In conclusion, I am truly fortunate and blessed to find a mentor that came into my life and helped me become a successful writer.  In fact, we still stay in touch. Today, I smile and have a sense of purpose, joy and fulfillment about my writing career, seeing my work being published and actually getting paid for something I love to do. 

I want to leave you with a thought to never give up on your dreams of being a writer.  You just have to find the right mentor that will help guide, lead and inspire you in the right direction.

Geary Smith has been writing for children and young adults for over 35 years. His work has been published in Highlights for Children, Child Life, McGraw-Hill, ProQuest, Kids Imagination Train and many other publications. He has won the Pewter Plate Award by Highlights for Children. Geary Smith is the current Mayor of the city of Mexia, Texas and a member of the Executive Board of the Heart of Texas Council of Governments.  Geary Smith has a B.S. in Psychology from Morehouse College and M.Ed. from Stephen F. Austin University.

Monday, November 15, 2021

                                                                                                                                                        Photo: Levi Meir Clancy


In the past five years, I've queried a lot of agents.  That boils down to a lot of waiting.  It can take up to 12 weeks to hear back.  That's a long time, but it's part of the submission process.  Writers have to be patient.  And we know this, but the problem ends up being some agents never respond.  You have to submit and see if the agent will reply.  

For instance, several months ago, I've queried someone for the first time.  I received an automatic email confirmation saying she received my submission.  But it's been 28 weeks and I've yet to hear back.  Even after I sent a polite follow-up. 

Most agents use the Query Manager form for submissions and writers will receive a decision within two months.  But some agents avoid answering these queries.  This puzzles me.  Why would an agent set up a Query Manager account and ignore the submissions?  Like this one:

This is sad and disappointing.  I follow many agents on Twitter and find that they tweet multiple times a day.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  But come on.  If they have time to tweet, wouldn't they have time to respond to a few queries? 

Like most writers, I put a lot of thought, time, and research into selecting an agent.  I compose a professional query and submit a manuscript that might be a good match for their manuscript wish list.  At the very least, I expect some kind of a reply.  

But there are a few agents don't feel the need to inform a writer of their decision.  What's that all about?  How hard can it be?   Are they too arrogant to reply?  Overworked?  Are they disorganized or simply don't care?  It seems like some have forgotten that at the end of a query is a diligent, hard-working writer. 

My writer friends say don't take it personally (I don't) and it happens because they're swamped (yeah, I'll remember that when I see agents tweeting what they're deciding to have for dinner or posting pictures of their pets.)

I'm over sending polished manuscripts and filling out detailed query forms only not to hear back.  So, when I encounter agents who keep me waiting and never respond, I cross them off of my list.  They are not the agents for me.  

Now you may think this situation, this not hearing back sounds discouraging, but in truth, it can be avoidable.  

Here's my plan:  I can keep good records of the agents who have replied to my queries versus the ones who haven't.  I can go to Query Tracker to learn what other writers have said about the response time from agents.  I can check in with other writers to find out what their experience has been in submitting to a specific agent. It's up to me to pinpoint the ones who are trustworthy, the ones who are professional, the ones who are compassionate.  There will always be agents who will not respond.  But I can choose agents who recognize writers are earnest and are waiting to hear back.       

✌ and 

Friday, October 15, 2021

                                                                                                                                                                                 Photo by:

You've polished your manuscript and you've sent out some queries.  Since it can take three or to six months to hear back from an agent, what will you do in the meantime?   

Here are some suggestions:   

  • Develop a blog.  Write about the things that bring you joy or the things that get under your skin. Make it personal so people can relate.   
  • Read other writer's blogs.  They can educate and entertain as well as spawn ideas for your blog posts.    
  • Read picture books.  Find out what is being published.  Notice the word count.  Are the stories you're writing as clever and unique?
  • Read articles on writing for kids.  Learn more about the craft of writing.  Discover the different ways to tell a story through lyricism, humor, and breaking the fourth wall.   
  • Brush up your query letter.  Keep it to a page.  The shorter the better.  Include relevant facts about yourself that pertain to writing.
  • Watch Youtube tutorials and webinars.  Learn about how to pitch a book and how to write a synopsis and a query.  Learn the facts about representation. 
  • Connect with other writers.  Retweet and comment on Twitter.  Ask a writer a question via direct message.  Congratulate writers when they share big news. 
  • Enter a writing contest.  Follow the contest guidelines and compose a story.  Winning a contest will boost your confidence and it may serve to beef up your bio.  Plus, you might win a nice prize.
  • Develop your platforms.  Update your website at least once a month.  If possible, tweet once a day.  Post regularly on LinkedIn.  Make pins on Pinterest—which has the potential to drive traffic to your website.
  • Begin a new piece.  Agents want writers to have a total of three manuscripts on hand.  Revisit older manuscripts and see if you can revise them to make them more marketable.
  • Join a kidlit group on Facebook. Here you will find like-minded people that can give you support and advice.  
  • Join a critique group.  Audition it first to see if it will meet your needs.  Learn how others approach writing.  See what others have to say about your writing.
In addition to all of the above, you may want to search online for more agents who would be good matches for your work.  You can reach out to other writers who might need help with revising a manuscript or composing a query letter.  

Waiting to hear back from an agent is part of writing game.  Hang in there.  Be productive.  Be patient.  Most of all be positive.  Now is the time to get creative with the time you have on your hands.

✌ and 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

hoping for good query news
                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Photo: Fa Barboza 

I'm not embarrassed to say I check the status of my picture book submission once a week.

It's easy to do.  When writers submit a manuscript on Query Manager, they receive a link so they can check on an agent's decision.  

Query forms simplify the submission process for agents.  Though they are not complicated, I kind of dread filling one out.  There are a lot of areas that need to be completed.  Here's what agent Carlisle Webber's query form looks like. 

Generally speaking, writers are required to give their name, email, phone number, bio, book title, word count, and genre and supply a query letter, the manuscript, and a pitch.  Sometimes, there will be a space for a synopsis and similar books.  In addition, the agent may request Twitter and website addresses, which show a writer has a platform that can reach an audience.

For me, the challenging part is writing the synopsis.  A synopsis is not the same as the book description. The book description gives story highlights in an intriguing, selling kind of way without giving away the ending.  The synopsis describes the entire plot of the story and reveals the ending.  Because the query form can be daunting, it pays to have the synopsis and the book description already written (as well as the pitch and the query letter) so that these parts can be pasted into the form. 

Completing the query form is time-consuming and it feels like I'm jumping through hoops in order to please an agent.  Nevertheless, I try to fill it out carefully.  This could lead to an offer of representation. 

But each time I finish a form, I feel doubtful.  Have I spelled the agent's name correctly?  Are there any grammar mistakes?  Do the links to my website and Twitter work?  Is the query enticing?  Is the pitch snappy?  I read it multiple times over several days.  I say a prayer before I submit it.  Several prayers.

Then I check back, feeling a little nervous, until I read this message:  

No decision has been made about your query at this time. Please check back later.

And I will.  Because I can't help myself.  Because I've got to peek.  And once a week I will take a look, every hopeful of reading good news.     

✌ and 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

                                                                                                                                         Photo:  Maren Newhall

It suddenly dawned on me that agents want to fall in love with a manuscript the way people want to fall in love with a pet they hope to adopt.  It's something an agent or an animal-lover can't put into words.  It comes down to having a certain intuitive feeling that says this manuscript (or pet) is right for me and I can't live without it.  This emotional impression usually happens rather quickly.  

For instance, my daughter and I didn't know what kind of cat were looking to adopt at the Humane Society.  We just wanted a cute cat and we were going by gut-feeling.  Ollie made the choice easy for us.  As soon as he hopped onto my daughter's lap, I knew we'd be taking him home.  However, in the time he was our pet, he never sat in our laps again.  Go figure.  That's a cat for you.  

Eight years later, I was relying on the same gut-feeling when I returned to the shelter.  Ollie had passed away and I was ready for another pet.  The minute I saw Ozzie, it was love at first sight.  His sad-looking eyes stole my heart.     

I felt the same emotional tug for one of my neighbor's pets.  Upon meeting Beebee, I fell in love with her in a matter of seconds.  Beebee is a furry cat that lives a few streets from our house.  She's old, scruffy, and a bit deaf, but she is as sweet as pie and she lets me pet her soft thick coat.  She greets me whenever I take a walk in the neighborhood.  Beebee would be my pet if she didn't already have a home.
My furry friend, Beebee 

On the other hand, I have strong feelings about the cat breeds I wouldn't want as a pet.  One is the Russian Blue, a short-haired cat with a blue-gray coat. To me, they look cold and mean.  The only Russian Blue I've ever seen was a stray that had been to our deck looking for food.  This cat was intimidating.  Fierce and defiant.  In fact, he attacked Putty, a sweet stray I care for.  So, I'm doubly prejudiced against this breed. 

I couldn't own a Sphynx because, well just have a look.  My preference is for cats with fur.  However, Sphynxes were ranked as the 8th most popular feline breed in the country, according to the Cat Fanciers’ Association statistics for 2018.  Without a doubt the Sphynx is odd looking, but this breed may appeal to those who have allergies.  

Yes, this is a cat. 

Then there's the Siamese.  And the reason why I wouldn't want one?  They are among the most vocal cats.  It has to be quiet when I write, so a chatty cat would be too distracting.  Thank goodness Ozzie is not too loquacious.  He may chirp or chatter when he sees a bird.  He may speak up when I ask him if he wants to eat or if he wants to be brushed.  If he comes by while I'm writing, he keeps the conversation short and sweet, a quick meow that sounds like "meh."  

Suffice it to say, I have definite preferences when it comes to cats.  Which got me thinking that this may be how agents feel when they search through the slush pile.  They are looking for something that grabs them.  And the catch is, writers have to figure out what grabs an agent because it is an important part of the querying process.  Luckily, many agents have profiles on the Manuscript Wish List, where they can express the kind of manuscripts they would like to acquire. 

Even still, trying to match a manuscript with the specific taste of an agent is tricky.  Not long ago, I sent an agent a humorous story about a cat because she said she was looking for funny cat stories.  My manuscript was rejected.  It's puzzling because I've sent her just what she was looking for.  Or so I thought.  

The whole submission process is so subjective and I can only guess that my manuscript didn't resonate with her.  Which is probably for the best.  If the agent doesn't get my work, then it could mean that we would have trouble working together on other manuscripts.   

It never feels good getting a rejection, so I try to make myself feel better.  I imagine that the agent has a Sphynx cat.  Or a Russian Blue.  Perhaps a Siamese.   I cross her off of my list.  Then it's back to querying other agents.  One day, I'll find an agent who will get a certain je ne sais quoi that will make her fall in love with my manuscript.  And that intuitive feeling will tell her this manuscript is something she must have and she can't live without.  

✌ and 

Photo:  Sphinx: 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Writer's block, famous author, knowing no shame
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Photo: Jamie Street


Just the other day I read a Facebook post written by a prolific and very well-known author, who begged others to help him find something new to write about.  He lamented that he's drowning in picture books. I interpreted that to mean he didn't want to write another kid's book because he said he had sold over five last month!  Really?  And he's complaining?  

He's ready to start something new, but he doesn't know what that can be.  He writes that nothing comes to mind.  I seem to recall that this very author posted a sob-story just a few years ago.  And he's at it again, complaining big time.  If I had more nerve, I'd write him to say:  Couldn't you use this time to be grateful rather than to wallow in misery?  Couldn't you use this time to help others on their writing journey?

What he fails to remember is he is not alone.  Many writers, me included, feel as if we'll never find the inspiration to write the next book.  

So, what do we do when we're stuck in the dark tunnel of writer's block?  For one thing, we won't be making that public on social media.  Most of us have faith in ourselves and more dignity.  We will get over this hump.  We usually do.  We don't plead to strangers to give us ideas.  Dry spells are part of being a writer.  

When I check the writer's post again, people are giving him advice:  take a walk, write your memoirs, try some poetry.  Such good suggestions from these kind-hearted problem-solvers.  But I wonder why a famous writer would stoop to this level?  Could it be for attention?  Could it be a way to get his fans involved in his creative process? Or is he sincerely and desperately miserable?  

I'd like to say, "Deal with it like a writer.  For goodness sakes, you are a role model!  Act like one."

This author has been writing books for years.  Doesn't he know by now that the solution to writer's block comes from within?  

A writer must have the resolve to dig deeply, to go it alone and find that something powerful that says I MUST WRITE ABOUT THIS.  

I find it a little sad that Mr. Prolific author needs to lean on others to find inspiration.  How can that be?  In your lifetime, you've published well over 100 books.  On the other hand, many writers struggle to get one book published.  One book!  If a creative slowdown should strike, they don't complain about it publicly or rely on others for ideas. They climb out of the dark tunnel of writer's block and into the light of possibilities.  They are like the heroes in their books—they take on the responsibility to solve a problem by themselves.  

✌ and