October 2010 Archives

Bloggers Supporting Other Bloggers


I met Kristen Hilty at the Kansas SCBWI Conference last month. We talked and later she started reading my blog. Last week she awarded me the Versatile Bloggers Award, saying, "I thought some other authors could benefit from your great articles. Thanks for the advice." Thank you, Kristen, for the award and the kind words.

Being of inquisitive mind, I wondered how the award got started. The earliest reference I could find on the net was a May 14, 2009 entry on Bits and Bytes of Life blog. The creator, Arpit, wanted to recognize fellow bloggers and created a list of awards, including this one, in celebration of the blog being a year old. Arpit is no longer blogging, at least not since January of this year. I wonder if he's aware of where his award has gone.

Here's the award definition from Bits and Bytes:
Versatile Blogger Award: This award is meant to appreciate the versatility of the bloggers who have the capability to divulge into different areas and yet emerge victorious. Be it sports, politics, entertainment they have always emerged with flying colors by impressing us with their opinions and posts.

I found this award scattered all over the internet with a variety of different award images. Some were personalized. Many were the image you see above. I couldn't locate who created this image. If anyone does know who created it, I'd love to know.

I also discovered that rules vary. The rules Kristen and I received are:
Award Rules:
1. Thank the person who gave you this award and provide a link to their blog.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 5 other bloggers whom you have recently discovered and whose blogs you think are fantastically versatile/resourceful/functional/adaptable.
4. Contact those bloggers you've picked and let them know about their award.

Seven things about me.
1. I hate chain letters, which this reminds me of. Yet, recognizing other bloggers is a good thing, so I'll play.
2. My husband and I have been happily married for 35 years.
3. I grew up in Oregon and really miss the Oregon coast.
4. Dark chocolate is my preferred flavor.
5. I was very shy as a kid.
6. In some ways I'm a perfectionist, which is why not all of these 7 points can start with "I." But only in some ways, which is why I don't have five "recently discovered" bloggers in my list below.
7. I believe children's writers are the friendliest writers on the planet. :-) I met Sharon Mayhew, who award this award to Kristen, at the same conference. If you've never gone to a children's writing event, they are a great place to make friends!

So here's my list of bloggers I've discovered recently:

Mary Kole at Kidlit.com - She is an associate agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and writes young adult and middle grade, too.

Mike Jung's Little Bloggy Wog - a writer whom I had the privilege of meeting at the LA SCBWI conference this summer. I'd already been amused by his tweets.

From the Mixed-up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors - started this spring by 30 middle grade authors who celebrate MG books.

Do you have any blogs you've come across recently that you'd like to celebrate? Go for it. We all like receiving encouragement now and then.

If my doctor told me

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.
Issac Asimov

hamburger halpin.jpgThe Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010) by Josh Berk mixes in those 3 elements plus history, a new friend and hot girls!

Will Halpin has left his girlfriend and the deaf school behind as he doesn't want to take sides in the deaf fight. He's a good lip reader so starts at a mainstream school at Carbon High. There in a history book, he discovers a relative's death in the town coal mine. But that's not the murder Will needs to solve.

This debut novel has received starred reviews from Kirkus. Josh Berk has another comedy/mystery coming out next year. I'm looking forward to it!

Read more about Josh at his website, where you can learn what inspired Dark Days and enjoy more of Josh's sense of humor.

Emma J cvr.jpgI don't know how I managed to miss this Golden Kite Honor book in 2008, but I'm glad I've caught up with this award winning book. Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree (Dial, 2007) by Lauren Tarshis is told in two different viewpoints. And like Emma-Jean the 2nd definition of strange fits this delightful book.

Emma-Jean is the smartest girl in 7th grade and has been observing her class mates for a long time so knows all about their lives, even if she doesn't really understand them. But when Colleen Pomerantz asks for help because Laura Gilroy is trying to steal her best friend Kaitlyn, Emma-Jean decides to get involved in their messy lives.

Colleen cares very much what others think of her and wishes she could be more like Emma-Jean who doesn't care that others think she's strange (definition 1, not 2). But when Laura cancels the ski trip with Kaitlyn, Colleen is suddenly afraid that Emma-Jean had a hand in it.

emma-jean.jpgThen there's the companion book, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love (Dial, 2009), which I need to get a hold of next. Though I might have to hide it from my husband so he doesn't get it first--he definitely enjoyed Emma-Jean.

There's an interview with author Lauren Tarshis here where she talks about her process. On her website, not only can you learn about her other books, but learn about her magazine editor job.

Use the talents you possess,

Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except the best.
Henry Van Dyke

Shadowing a Submission

Telephone_0484 (3).jpgWe all like to picture our manuscript, in its envelope with the appropriate SASE enclosed, reaching the desk of the editor, being ripped open and read immediately, followed up by the call saying, "I want to buy your book!" Reality though is far distant from that image.

What does happen when your manuscript reaches a publisher can vary from house to house, but here's a general outline.

The order in which manuscripts are likely to be read:

  • Submissions from writers already working with a house

  • Agented material

  • Requested material - personal request by editor

  • Query letters

  • Unsolicited manuscripts - perhaps in this order (published authors; SCBWI members; writers identifying having heard or met the editor at a conference, workshop, retreat, etc.; the rest), perhaps not - some houses don't even accept unsolicited.

If your manuscript is unsolicited--not requested--it goes into the dreaded slush pile. This pile only gets read AFTER everything else is done. That means maybe on weekends, or on bus or train rides home. If the manuscript does not grab the editor quickly, say in the first page, he or she will probably not read on.

Who reads your manuscript?

  • If you heard the editor at a conference and identified the submission to him or her, it does go directly to that editor's desk. Though if he or she is overwhelmed, these might go to an assistant or intern for a first read.

  • Some houses have an assistant editor or a first reader who reads manuscripts not directed to a specific editor, or manuscripts from writers with no connection to a specific editor.

How do editors pick manuscripts?

  • Liz Szabla says she wants a book to surprise her, to move her.

  • Julie Straus-Gabel says middle grade and YA fiction should be about what kids are facing today. They should have strong voices and emotional resonance.

  • Timothy Travaglini says he's not looking for quiet, introspective, sweet, soft, gentle picture books. Instead they need to have a dynamic energy that makes them stand out.

  • "Who is going to love this book?" Is the first question Elizabeth Van Doren asks herself. She wants to love every book she works on.

  • Jennifer Hunt loves simple language that can paint a visual and visceral image.

  • Andrea Welch wants funny, unique settings, memorable characters, and emotionally engaging manuscripts.

  • Anica Rissi likes books about character making mistakes. She also likes morbid humor and stories that push boundaries.

  • Ari Lewin says, "voice has to be awesome and fresh and working."

  • Jordan Brown likes character driven stories.

  • Wendy Loggia wants to get excited about the story and the character. "If I can't give a book my heart and soul, I won't acquire it."

  • Editors want books that are unique. They don't want to think of ten books just like it when they read a submission.

  • Editors HATE bad rhyme, but language that flows, adds to the story, and is almost perfect is very attractive.

What makes editors feel smitten?

  • Inspirational writing that makes them see the world in a new way

  • Original, authentic voice

  • Strong characters

  • Timeless appeal

  • Unique art samples

What draws editors most?

  • Voice - it's the number one magnet

  • Believable Characters

  • Subject - catches attention

When an editor is considering a book some questions asked are:

  • Does book fill a gap in the market?

  • Hit a nerve?

  • Make a category stronger?

  • What is the handle for this book? (a marketing question)

"My job is to pick our bets." Editor Nancy Sisco says. When she finds an author who speaks to her, affects her soul, those are the ones she risks betting on.


These days many houses don't even reply if they aren't interested. The manuscript goes in the trash. But, if they do accept SASEs, whether for the full manuscript or for a reply, it will probably only hold a standard rejection slip. Often those say something like: "Not right for our list."

What does "not right for my list" mean? The following is summarized from a talk by Elizabeth Van Doren:
• I hate it and I'm being nice
• I can't see a way to publish this successfully
• We have another book on our list too similar
• I don't love it
• I can't figure out how to solve the problems in it
• I don't feel a connection with it
• It is not worth our while to spend all the time and money
• It's too different from what we publish

If a rejection is personalized, that means the editor took some extra effort. A personal letter discussing your manuscript is something to celebrate. If an editor makes suggestions, don't rush and rewrite and return it in tomorrow's mail. Take time to do the best job you can.

"A rejection is nothing terrible; if it is a personal rejection, it is the first step in a relationship" - Chris Raschka

But what if they like your manuscript?

  • The best, of course, is they make you an offer, either by phone or email.

  • Next best is the editor expressing interest in your work, probably by mail. He may ask for revisions. Jordan Brown says, "The editor's job is to take what's on the page and figure out what the author's vision is and try to make it better." She may ask to see more of your work. Be sure you follow up.

How should you follow up if an editor asks for a revision on a manuscript not under contract?

  • Work on what they said to revise. Take the time to feel comfortable with it, whether it's a month from now or a year from now.

  • Remember the editor put a lot of time into revision suggestions. It's an opportunity to see if you and the editor click.

  • Some wonderful success stories started with "show me more."

  • Many of the editors mentioned above have purchased manuscripts that they asked to go through this.

How does the editor get to the offer stage?

This varies from house to house and the seniority of the editor. In many houses, though the decision to purchase a book goes through a number of processes.

  • Often, prospective manuscripts are shared in an editorial meeting. It's like a mini-marketing session for each editor to propose a manuscript they'd like to see turned into a book. They have to be passionate and ready to come up with reasons why the book shouldn't be turned down.

  • In some houses the editor has to write up a proposal to go to the marketing department after editorial committee has approved acquisition.

  • The publisher or marketing director or editorial director may make final approval.

How will you learn your manuscript has been accepted?

Very often by phone!

  • If you've submitted through an agent, from your agent.

  • If you submitted directly to a publishing house, from the editor.

Of course, there's the contract issue, but that is a topic for another discussion.

Your manuscript is going to be published! Now what?

Rewrite time. How this will be done varies from house to house and editor to editor and even individual editor author relationship.

  • Some editors will give you "big picture" items to work on first. i.e. strengthen your character, this part of the plot doesn't make sense. These editorial suggestions might be done over the phone with a follow-up email or letter. Or only arrive in written format.

  • Others may do a line by line edits that include overall problems.

  • So you rewrite--after you think it through.

  • You can ask questions. Dialogue back and forth.

  • You may have a deadline.

  • You may go through multiple reiterations of this process.

  • Remember the editor's purpose is to help you make your manuscript even stronger.

What happens after you and your editor have decided on a final manuscript?

  • Text goes to the Copy Editor - prepare for more editing

  • For picture books, the illustrator may already be working on the art - art can easily take a year - sometimes art causes changes in the text

  • Layout and Design, including cover

  • Production

  • Galleys - your last chance to fix any mistakes

  • Advance reader copies may or may not be sent out for reviews

  • Final printing

  • Publication date

What's next?

  • Marketing, a big topic which I'm not addressing now.

  • Start your next project if you haven't already.

A book lying idle on a shelf

A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation. Lend and borrow to the maximum.
Henry Miller

How could you not care?

crossing the tracks.pngI just read Crossing the Tracks (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010) by Barb Stuber. The story starts in November 1916 with the line: "I'm under Mama's coffin." On the next page little Iris says about her mother, "I tried to stop breathing like her, but I couldn't."

Chapter 1 fast forwards to April 1926. Iris is 15. "I pull my hand form our mailbox, the letter bent in my fingers, my mind reeling. An official letter for Daddy from a doctor. A bud of panic starts to grow in me."

Barb has written a sympathetic character who has to deal with the injustices in her life. Will anyone help her through these tough times? You'll have to read it to find out.

A bonus on Barb's website is that she shares pictures that inspired different aspects of her book. She also works as a docent at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, which she says, "simply crawling with 'writery' inspiration."

Crossing the Tracks is set in Kansas.

Give up or press on?

I think everyone in the creative world struggles with this question at times. Every time I do, I always come down on the side of PRESS ON.

But that's obviously not the case for everyone. I see this as an instructor for ICL. Students unexpectedly drop out of the course. Is their writing hopeless? No. Do they need to learn more? Yes. But they often aren't the worst of my students. If they have trauma going on in their lives, they don't communicate that. They don't take the leave of absent option the Institute offers. They quit. I have many other students who don't officially drop, but don't turn in their next assignment either. Perhaps they need a reminder that anything worth doing is going to be work.

Those who don't see that fact may be those who give up, drop out, fade out. I'm guessing if you're reading this, you aren't in that group. You know learning to play scales on the piano doesn't make you a concert pianist. You know you have to work at craft. You know you have to persevere.


When answering a student's question about her typical workday, Harper Lee said:
"To be a serious writer requires discipline that is iron fisted. It's sitting down and doing it whether you think you have it in you or not. Everyday. Alone. Without interruption. Contrary to what most people think, there is no glamour to writing. In fact, it's heartbreak most of the time."

Ouch. That's reality. But we also need encouragement now and then. So here are some quotes from other writers I've come across recently. I hope they encourage you as they do me.

If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again. - Flavia Weedn

I would go to sleep at night feeling that I'd never be published. But I'd wake up in the morning convinced I would be. - Judy Blume

Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential. - Jessamyn West

Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. - Neil Gaiman

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. - C.S. Lewis

"Now" is the operative word. . . . You don't need endless time and perfect conditions. Do it now. Do it today. Do it for twenty minutes and watch your heart start beating. - Barbara Sher

So I'm lifting my cup to finishing, never too old, and never give up.

marcelo_cover.jpgIf you've read the book by Elizabeth Moon and read John Grisham you'll know exactly what I mean when I describe Marcelo in the Real World (March 2009, Arthur A. Levine Books) with the above. You'll know you're getting an inside look at a unique main character crossed with the legal world. And you'll know you're getting quality writing.

Okay, so if you haven't read either, you probably need more info. This book takes you on a journey from Marcelo's protected world of his special school out into the real world of his father's law firm. You get a view of Marcelo right from page one with these opening lines that Francisco X. Stork wrote:

"Marcelo, are you ready?"
I lift up my thumb. It means that I am ready.

Marcelo sees the world differently than most. He has his own internal music. He refers to himself in the 3rd person. He doesn't quite get what many in the "real" world get. But he definitely gets the important things in life. I don't want to spoil the story with specifics, but there's jealousy, love, betrayal, dishonesty, understanding. I like the book a lot!

This is the 3rd book written by Francisco X. Stork. Read about his other books on his website. You can also read his bio and his journal there.

Never give up

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.
Harriet Beecher Stowe