November 2011 Archives

Halley's Comet and Hope - Selling Hope

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Selling Hope (Feiwel and Friends, 2010) by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb is one of those fascinating stories with characters so real you want to meet them. Here's an introduction:

It's 1910 and 13-year-old Hope McDaniels and her father, a philosophical/talkative magician, are part of a vaudeville group. The group is going back to Chicago, her home town, and Hope wants to stay and in fact does things that could contribute to her father getting fired to ensure staying. Meanwhile, she knows she has to save up enough money for them to live on for a while and comes up with the scheme of selling anti-comet pills as people are afraid of Halley's Comet that will be passing by the earth.

The story includes a countdown to the arrival of the comet. It was fun learning inside knowledge on how some tricks work, and reading about their life on the train and in boarding houses. This author did her research! Great way to learn some history as well as being entertained.

Check out Kristin's other book, Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different on her website. On her About page, check out what makes her tick or ticks her off!

One Strong Girl! - One Crazy Summer

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

One Crazy Summer (Amistad, 2010) by Rita Williams-Garcia is set in 1968 and would be eye-opening for younger readers to learn how blacks, then called Negroes, were treated. Even for me living at that time in a community where I didn't see much prejudice, it's rather shocking.

12 year old Delphine and her two younger sisters are flying from Brooklyn to California to spend time with their mother Cecile who left them 7 years ago right after Fern was born. Cecile doesn't want them--takes the money Pa sent and spends it on takeout food. Girls had been hoping for a trip to Disneyland. Mom sends the kids to a Black Panther summer camp to get rid of them!

I loved Delphine and her determination!

I also loved reading about Rita herself on her website. (NoMo? You'll only know what it is if you visit...) She's written four award winning books! Find out about them and what else she's written under the My Books tab.

No tears in the writer,

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.
Robert Frost

Picture Book Month


I once heard an editor say she wanted the following in pictures books:

  • humor

  • unique settings

  • memorable characters

  • emotionally engaging

I doubt every picture book needs humor or a unique setting, although those are great of course, but I bet the ones that last are the ones where we remember the characters and our emotions are stirred.

In honor of the first annual Picture Book Month, here is a sampling of picture books where characters have pulled my emotional strings in one way or another:

These I first read to my daughters:
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban; illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Crictor by Tomi Ungerer
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion; illustrated by Margaret Graham
Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber
The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

One my youngest daughter loved, that I actually found a bit odd:
Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch; illustrated by Sheila McGraw

These I first read to my grandsons:

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg; illustrated by Judith Dufour Love
Library Lil by Suzanne Williams; illustrated by Stephen Kellogg
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman; illustrated by Marla Frazee

Others I love:
Big Bad Wolves at School by Stephen Krensky; illustrated by Brad Sneed
Coyote Steals the Blanket by Janet Stevens
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Mrs. Biddlebox by Marla Frazee
The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill; illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith
See You Later, Alligator! by Laura McGee Kvasnosky
The Wide-Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner; illustrated by Jonathan Lambert

After making this list, I've come to the conclusion I'm not reading enough recent picture books. Time to visit the bookstore!

Here are some Best Picture Book lists:

49 brilliant picture books from the past 5 years as chosen by award winning illustrators

Best Picture Books 2010: David Wiesner, Jon J. Muth, Louise Yates and Other Spectacular Illustrators Honored - 10 from the Huffington Post

The Best 25 Picture Books of 2010! -

From 'Brothers Grimm' to 'Stuck,' the 11 Best Picture Books of 2011 - The Atlantic

Best picture books of 2011 - Lindsay Weiss on

Are you sharing your favorite picture books? Or giving them as presents next month?

Freelance writer: One who gets

Freelance writer: One who gets paid per word, per piece, or perhaps.
Robert Benchley

Distinct voices - Blink & Caution

In Blink & Caution (Candlewick, 2011) by Tim Wynne-Jones I never mistook whether I was hearing 17-year-old Caution or 16 year old Blink. Maybe that's why it won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction for 2011!

These two runaway/street kids in Toronto are both in trouble. They meet through a con and despite herself, Caution wants to help Blink solve the mystery he witnessed. But can these two learn to trust each other?

This Tim Wynne-Jones is NOT the nuclear physicist, according to the author website. But there you can learn about the variety of books Tim has written, about all his awards, and more.


In The Mermaid's Mirror (Houghton Mifflin, 2009) by L.K. Madigan, Lena has spent her whole life near the ocean, but isn't allowed to surf like her friends because her dad had a surfing accident years ago, but now that she's almost 16 she wants to learn. Dad and her stepmom are adamant about her not learning. Which, of course, doesn't make sense. When she sees a mermaid, Lena has to learn, and only then will she find out why she's to stay out of the ocean.

Author L.K. Madigan lost her battle with cancer earlier this year. Her husband has periodically posted to her blog since her death in February.

Work-for-Hire Resources


Plug into these resources:


"Book Packaging: Under-explored Terrain for Freelancers" by Jenna Glatzer

"Breaking Into the Juvenile Market as a Writer for Hire" by Rachel Plummer

"How to Find a Work-for-Hire Assignment with a Book Packager" - (This is a sample work-for-hire article - see how no author credit?)

"How to Write School Curriculum"

"Know Your Rights: Works Made for Hire"

"Template Work-For-Hire Packet"

"Tips for Writing for the Education Market" by Evelyn B. Christensen

"What You Need to Know About Work for Hire" by Jan Fields

"Work for Hire FAQ" by Vijaya Bodach

"Work for Hire, or How to Get Work in Children's Books Quicker" by A. Humann

"Works Made for Hire Under the 1976 Copyright Act" - United States Copyright Office

"Writing for the Educational Market" by Margo L. Dill

Some other posts on work-for-hire on my site:
"How'd You Get That Gig?"
"Diane Bailey, Work-for-hire Champion"


"Educational Publishing" with Joanne Mattern

Work-for-Hire vs. Royalty Writing (Part 1) and Work-for-Hire vs. Royalty Writing (Part 2) with Nancy I. Sanders


A Children's Writer's Toolbox for Work for Hire
- Molly Blaisdell

Educational Markets for Children's Writers - Evelyn B. Christensen

Guide in Links: Book Packaging and Work-for-Hire
- Chandler Craig

Writing for the Education Market - a discussion and resource for freelance writing and working for the education market.

The secret of good writing

The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or say a new thing in an old way.
Richard Harding Davis

Great first line - Split

split.gif"Now I have to start lying." Isn't that a great first line?!

16-year-old Jace shows up at his brother Christian's apartment, or at least what he hopes is his brother's apartment, and the last name says Marshall, not Witherspoon. He drove all the way from Chicago to Albuquerque and he might not be in the right place?

Split (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) by Swati Avasthi is a story about escaping domestic abuse. But physically escaping is easier than escaping the damage done. You'll have to read the book to see whether Jace and Christian can do so in this award winning debut novel. (Split won in the Cybils YA Fiction category for 2010!)

There's a book trailer on Swati's site. Plus you can enjoy reading about her playlists and naming (and renaming) her characters.

Phew - almost missed this goodie - Schooled

So to join in with Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) by founder Shannon Whitney, here's my contribution:

"I was thirteen the first time I saw a police officer up close. He was arresting me for driving without a license. At the time, I didn't even know what a license was. I wasn't too clear on what being arrested meant either." This is another of those great openings which made me definitely want to read on.

Schooled (Hyperion, 2007) by Gordon Korman is about 13 year old Capricorn Anderson, who was raised on a commune by his grandmother Rain. He's not been in the real world at all. When his grandmother falls out of a tree and has to go into the hospital and then rehab, he's put in a foster home. The story is also about Hugh Winkleman, the 8th grade loser, who normally would have been the elected president of the 8th grade, but is now relieved because big-man-on-campus Zack pushes for Cap to be the picked-upon-president.

The story is told in multiple viewpoints. You can read the first three chapters on Gordon's site here. There's much more on this author's site, including some short stories and upcoming book titles.

I believe I have one

I believe I have one theme in all of my books and I want to get it across to all my readers every time and that is this: You will never begin to grow up until you declare your independence from your peers.
Richard Peck

Work-for-Hire Wisdom


Here are more words of wisdom about work-for-hire.

Bridget Heos says she's a big fan of work-for-hire for these reasons:

"1. It provides steady income. I know that I'll be paid for what I write, since the publisher commissioned it. Also the publishers pay, in my experience, one-two months upon receipt of the manuscript, which is nice!

"2. It gives me more writing time. The more you practice something, the better you get. It's nice to get paid to practice my craft, even if it's less than I would make selling a manuscript that was my own idea. I can only sell a few manuscripts of my own per year, so it makes sense to supplement that through work for hire. Plus, a lot of the books I write for hire are lots of fun. And I get to work with more editors, which is always great. (Children's book editors are some of the nicest people I know, and I'm not saying that to butter them up. I'm pretty sure the way to butter up editors is to meet deadlines.)

"3. Finally, I learn a lot. (I write nonfiction for hire.) This gives me good background information on a variety of topics. Often these relate in a small way to another nonfiction manuscript I'm writing on spec. Sometimes I also get book ideas from a small detail I learn through my research.

"My advice is to drum up work WHILE you're busy writing. That way, you'll avoid a vicious cycle of having tons of books to write followed by no books to write. And if anybody figures out how to do this, please let me know."

Prolific author Joanne Mattern said, "I've published hundreds of books for the educational market and almost all have been w-f-h, so you could say it's been the cornerstone of my career. Almost all of my experiences have been very positive. I like getting paid quickly and I love the diversity of genres and topics I've written about--many times I've gotten assignments on topics I would never have researched on my own. I often have to defend w-f-h to other authors but for me it's been a wonderful way to work."

By contrast Bobi Martin has done a couple of w-f-h jobs. She said, "One was a CD Rom product and the other was my travel activity book. I enjoyed both. The money was not stellar, but the projects were fun and the editors were nice to work with. In each case I was able to earn more money than the original contract amount because I got my work in ahead of the deadlines AND because I asked the editors if there was other work I could do on the project. In the case of the CD Rom product (Reading Search: In Search of the Lost Folktales produced by Great Wave) the editor let me do 11 vocabulary exercises in addition to the retold tales I was hired to write, and I was paid reasonably for them.

"In the case of Kidding Around San Francisco, I asked if I could do the word-based activities that would be in my book. My editor originally said no, but then called back a couple of days later and asked if I could do some simple crossword puzzles and a few 'Silly Stories' (these are like Mad-Libs). Once I'd sent those in, I got calls from the editors of other books in that series and I wound up contributing to 10 books in the series. The pay was nominal, but I got a copy of each book I contributed to and the editors listed me as a contributor in the inside credits of each book. When you're beginning your career, writing credits are worth almost as much as a paycheck."

Vijaya Khisty Bodach said, "My experience mirrors Joanne's (minus the hundreds of books :) I enjoy working on wfh books and it's helped us financially. I always take on topics that I enjoy or want to know more about so writing is a great way to learn as well (and get paid for it). I have missed doing WFH books, but I decided to give myself a couple of years to learn the art of writing a novel ... there are some things I've just got to write and they will not fit in the short story format."

"I remembered another positive not mentioned: photos," added Christine Kohler "I wrote a book about refugees for Harcourt Achieve, published in 2003. Every refugee I interviewed had photos of themselves in their Mother country and/or in the refugee camp. It was remarkable! So both the editor and I knew right away that this book had to be done with photographs, like an album, instead of illustrations. Toward the end of the process the editor asked if I could recommend a photographer in my area to photograph two of the refugees for recent photos. I said I could recommend a local news photographer, or I could do it; I've done photojournalism for newspapers. The Harcourt hired me to shoot the two recent photos. (ALWAYS negotiate a separate fee for photos. The editor would have to pay extra if someone else took the photos, so make sure you are getting paid extra.)

"At the time I didn't think much about it, but five years later Houghton Mifflin bought Harcourt. I expected For a Better Life would go OP, which is common for that length of time on the shelves and during buy-outs. To my surprise, I got a call from a NYC agency requesting I grant permission to H-M to use the photos for another five years and send an invoice for payment on the renewal. I was surprised because I didn't know my photos were on a separate, limited, contract from the text, which was wfh. I asked around, billed from a reasonable amount, and was delighted H-M was picking up my refugee book as a reprint. It's an excellent book for ESL and citizenship classes, although it was intended for the public school market."

"Be sure the contract mentions author copies. The first time I did w-f-h I didn't think of that and was disappointed (multi-book contract, no less!)." - Paula Morrow

"My second through ninth published books were work for hire," Chris Eboch said. "I would have had a 10-year gap in publication credits without WFH. Experiences and pay varied. The worst case was $3000 for a research intensive 25,000-word nonfiction book working with a terrible editor at one house. (Other jobs paid less, but for less work.)

"I also had two books killed with one publisher. In one case I got a kill fee, and the other nothing after writing and editing an outline and sample chapter, because they decided to discontinue the series and we hadn't yet gone to contract.

"On the positive end, I enjoyed writing a "famous girl sleuth" book, and learned a lot from working with those editors, and I got $6,000 plus royalties for the Childhood of Famous Americans bios on Milton Hershey and Jesse Owens. (Not that they've paid royalties yet....) I've gotten fan mail on Milton Hershey.

"WFH is not ideal, but I would not have been able to survive as a writer without the pay, and the publishing credits also help when you're trying to establish yourself as a professional."

Amy Houts said, "The majority of the 40 picture books (both fiction and nonfiction, mostly for the education market) I've written have been w-f-h. I've had great experiences with supportive editors. The money varied, but mostly was good. I've only had one success in submitting a picture book proposal on my own. W-f-h has worked for me."

Wow, what a nice variety of experiences. Thanks, Bridget, Joanne, Bobi, Vijaya, Christine, Paula, Chris and Amy for sharing. (Again, there are links to these authors from their names above.)

Next up: Work-for-Hire Resources