June 2010 Archives

You have to live life

You have to live life if you're going to create believable lives on paper.
Donna Jo Napoli


Many writers DO NOT follow directions. As a conference director and an instructor for a children's literature course, I see it time and time again. I also saw it when judging a contest for Children's Writer. It frustrates me. And I know from editors' and agents' talks, blogs and twitter comments, that it frustrates them. So like Dorothy, who had to stay on the Yellow Brick Road to get to OZ, you have to stay within the guidelines to get your submission read.

Here are possibilities of what might be asked for in writers' guidelines or in submission policies:

Full Manuscript - very common for a picture book or for a magazine piece. Not so common for a novel.

Cover Letter - whether it is stated or not, for a book length work, it is polite to send a one page cover letter. Some book editors or agents say they read it first; some last. Magazine editors may or may not care whether there is one. However, if the guidelines ask for one, do it! For a magazine submission you may need to tell what theme you're aiming your article or story--a cover letter is an easy place to do so.

Query Letter - unlikely for a picture book, and not so common for magazine short stories or articles, but it depends on the magazine. Definitely common for novels, whether submitting to an editor or an agent. But unless you read the specific guidelines for where you're submitting, you won't know. What accompanies the query letter is as varied as the days of the month, but here are six common requests:

1. A Partial - part of the manuscript - yes, they know there is more. The editor or agent will ask for more if she likes what she read.

a. First or First Three Chapters - yes, it's always the beginning of the novel. If those aren't your best chapters, rewrite until they are.
b. Number of Pages - 5, 10, 100 - again follow the directions. If on the last page of what you are requested to submit, you have an incomplete sentence, delete it so you end on a full sentence.

2. Plus Synopsis or Outline - in addition to a paragraph in your cover letter, an editor or agent may ask for a breakdown of your story. Some may want a chapter by chapter outline. Others a one page synopsis. Yet others a longer synopsis. The guidelines may be very specific about this so you'll probably have a number of versions of your synopsizes.

3. Bibliography - of course you'll have this information anyway when doing your research for an article for a magazine, but whether or not an editor will require it depends on their guidelines. You may also have this info for a picture book, especially a nonfiction one.

4. Résumé - some houses and magazines only want a query with no manuscript submission of any kind. They often want a résumé. You'll also see guidelines for queries that request partials asking for a résumé. Before the Internet I never saw instructions on how to do this, so listed a summary of published books, articles and short stories with a selection of titles and magazines for the latter two. I also included membership in writing organizations. Since then, I've found two online resources specifically aimed at children's writers. Here's one from the Institute of Children's Literature: The Dreaded Writer's Resume by Jan Fields. And this one, Creating a Writer's Resumé by Glen and Karen Bledsoe is even more detailed.

5. Clips - article or short story "clipped" out of a magazine - obviously photocopies are acceptable. What they want here is to see some samples of your published works. Some magazines only work with writers after they've seen a résumé and clips, and then they assign articles. Some work for hire or educational publishers want to know how you write before they consider you for a project and will also ask for clips. In some cases you can reference online articles as well, though this is not as common.

6. Samples - a sample of your writing. In this case it does not need to be published. Again, this is so they can determine whether they want to try you out with an assignment.

Special requests. These could be quite varied. I recently read in one magazine's guidelines that they want "the date of submission on the first page of the manuscript." Of course, many magazines will want to know what rights you are selling. However, if they only buy all rights, that is what they will assume you're selling. Some publishers may request you to give them a marketing plan.

Writers' Guidelines will also let you know the acceptable method of sending your manuscript or query. The standard postal mail aka snail mail is still the norm for many publishing houses and magazines. Agents are more likely to go with email. But email has its caveats: what the subject line MUST say or include, query and/or manuscript portion pasted into the email itself or as an attachment. If an attachment, it must be in a certain format, i.e. Microsoft Word. Mess up on following the "how to" on an email submission and it will probably not be read.

Okay, I know it's not a deep concept, but really READ THE DIRECTIONS and FOLLOW THEM! You'll avoid an automatic rejection by doing so, and perhaps you'll get in to meet the Wizard of Oz, er, Editor or Agent.

Every writer makes mistakes

Every writer makes mistakes in a first draft. Allow yourself to make them. And celebrate the fact that you wrote. The only real mistake is not sitting down to write in the first place.
Donna Gephart

CHARACTERS, that is . . .

Though both of these characters and their stories are so believable, you feel as if you could meet them on the street.

In Erin Dionne's debut middle grade novel, Models don't eat chocolate cookies, (Dial, 2009), we meet 12 year old Celeste Harris. Celeste is round and doesn't mind being round, but when she tries on the bridesmaid dress for her cousin's wedding, it's a disaster. The disaster gets worse when her aunt spots the Husky Peach modeling competition and thinks Celeste should enter, in fact she enters her. To make things worse, Celeste's best friend Sandra starts hanging out with Celeste's archenemy Lively Carson who calls Celeste a cow and worse.

Who can help Celeste in this dilemma? The lady in red!

Author Erin Dionne says she's "been a Husky Peach and a Skinny Banana" so knows what it is like to struggle with weight. Read more about Erin and her next book at: www.erindionne.com And check out the book trailer:

YA novel Wintergirls (Viking, 2009) by Laurie Halse Anderson deals with anorexia and bulimia and obviously strikes a chord with many teen readers--just check out all the YouTube videos made about the book!

The opening is fascinating: "So she tells me, the words dribbling out with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee. She tells me in four sentences. No, five. I can't let me hear this, but it's too late. The facts sneak in and stab me." Doesn't that make you want to read on? It sure did me. And I discovered that Lia wants to weigh . . . 0. Don't you wonder how someone can be that desperate.

The questions is: Will finding out what happened to her ex-best friend Cassie change anything for Lia?

Laurie is the author of Speak, Chains, Fever 1793 and more. You can read about her and her books at her website: http://www.writerlady.com/. She has a "to-die-for" writer cabin that her husband built for her and shares the story on YouTube.

I spill milk in the first draft

I spill milk in the first draft of everything I write. And I wipe it up. Again and again.
Donna Gephart

Focus, shoot! - Flash Burnout & hold still

I don't know how I happened on two good books that both include photography, but I did. One could almost get an education in photography while enjoying the stories.

Blake in Flash Burnout (Houghton Mifflin, 2009) makes me laugh. And since he plans to be a comedian when he grows up, each day Blake counts the number of times he makes people laugh. Shannon, a total babe, is his girlfriend. Marissa is a friend and fellow photographer. Then he shows Marissa a photo of a homeless woman and it's her mother. He ends up getting involved with Marissa and her problems, which causes jealousy for Shannon.

If you want to find out what happens in this award winning book by L.K. Madigan, you'll have to read it!

I'm not surprised to discover that L.K. Madigan herself is interested in photography since she included so many wonderful technical details in this story. Check out her website and find out about her upcoming book there, too. She also has encouragement for writers on her site.

Author Nina LaCour's debut book hold still (Dutton, 2009) is a fascinating look at loss, friendship and photography.

Caitlyn has survived the summer without her best friend and fellow photographer, Ingrid, who committed suicide. Now it's September and she has to go back to school--surely their photography teacher will understand Caitlyn's loss, but this one-time friend ignores her. Then Caitlyn discovers the journal Ingrid left behind in her room.

Warning: if the thought of Caitlyn having a lesbian friend is offensive, you'll want to pass on this book.

Learn more about Nina at www.ninalacour.com. She and some other writers have a blog called: Chelsea I want my flannel back, where you are encouraged to submit your own stories.

Mind Your Cs and Qs - part three

Today I'm talking about inQuiry letters and Contracts. This is by no means exhaustive--just some things I've learned along the way.


• After a reasonable amount of time has passed--say 1 month past when (and if) a publisher says they report--you may send an inquiry letter, or inquiry email if that's how you submitted.

Be brief and to the point. Here's what to say:
- When you sent it
- What you sent (picture book, first 3 chapters of a middle grade novel), include title
- Request for action

EXAMPLE: In July I sent you a short story called "No Way!" about a girl whose mother has said they are moving. I haven't received either a rejection or an acceptance from you, which considering how long it has been is quite unusualyou're usually so prompt! I'm wondering if you either didn't receive it or whether your response to me was lost.

Consider including an SASP with check boxes - see sample following. Many writers find an SASP most effective.


sample SASP.jpg

• Don't call or email unless the editor has invited you to do so.

• If you receive no answer to your inquiry in a reasonable amount of time, you may submit the manuscript elsewhere. In the past I've written letters withdrawing a submission, but it's usually not necessary, especially in today's climate where no response meaning "no" is becoming standard practice for many houses.



(photo courtesy of Alvimann)

About 15 years ago I refused to sign a contract after doing research. The pay was bad, and they wanted first option on my next three books for the same rate. The editor told me their contracts were non-negotiable. If anyone tells you the same, don't go with them!

About 10 years ago I used "25 points of a book contract" from The Writer's Book of Checklists by Scott Edelstein (Writer's Digest) to help me figure out whether to sign the other book contracts I had received.


Common Clauses
- Delivery of Satisfactory Copy
- Permission for Copyrighted Material
- Grant of Rights
- Proofreading & Author's Corrections
- Advances & Royalties
- Author's Warranties & Indemnities
- Copies to Author
- Option Clause
- Going Out of Print

One of my favorite resources is SCBWI. Check out this article.

Darcy Pattison has a short helpful article entitled: "Don't Sign that Book Contract Until -"

See Writer's Digest "Publishing Contracts 101." Subtitle is "Protecting Your Work."

"The Warrior Queen's Guide to Contracts COPYRIGHT FAQs" has good background info.


Read info on this topic to see what is usually negotiable and what is not. I heard one editor say, "You can ask for more money, once."

Absolute Write has an article called: "Negotiating Your Book Contract:
20 'Must' Topics to Talk About

A nice clause to include especially for children's picture books is: "The Publisher undertakes to commission illustrations for the Work, and the Author shall be given the opportunity to approve the illustrator's first dummy roughs and final presentation (including text)." from the SCBWI Bulletin 1996


Pearl Buck received a rejection

Pearl Buck received a rejection for one of her short stories the very week she was notified she had won the Nobel Prize for Literature!
Dennis E. Hensley