June 2012 Archives

Characters and plots

Characters and plots are bound together. Plot develops character; character develops plot.
Elaine Marie Alphin



Post by Don and Sue Ford
(image courtesy of mantasmagorical on morguefile.com)

Q: Should authors/illustrators have their own website?

A: In our opinion, yes. Once you are published it is helpful to have a site to answer questions, advertise what you do, a place for people to learn more about you, find out what else you have published, share speaker information, and more.

Q: Where do I start?

A: First, purchase a domain name; often, it is something as simple as www.yourname.com. Domain names can cost around $10 per year. See resources below.* Next you'll need to decide where or who will host your site.

Q: Host my site. What's that mean? And how much does it cost?

A: Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) may already provide website hosting included in your Internet access fees. Check it out. If not, you will need a hosting service. Comparisons and reviews can be found at sites such as findmyhosting.com and webhostingstuff.com. Cost ranges from $1.50 a month upward depending on storage provided, data transfer limits, number of email addresses provided, and various other services. A basic plan is appropriate for your first website.

Q: Are there downsides to having my own site?

A: Yes, in the fact that it must be maintained and be kept current. Nothing worse than someone landing on a website and finding inaccurate and out-of-date information.

Q: What elements should a website have?

A: The basics for a book creator are: a book list, a bio, a picture of the author/illustrator, and contact info or a contact link.

Q: Does that all go on one page?

A: Not necessarily, unless that's all the info you plan to share. First, you'll have what's called a "home page." This is the "index page" or the page seen first. Try to find a happy balance between almost no text (i.e. "click here to enter Website" which annoys both of us) and an overwhelming amount of text. You'll have links from your home page to other pages, plus a menu of other pages offered.

Q: Is that what is sometimes called a site map?

A: No. A site map or site index is a graphical representation of all of the pages in the website. This is usually a separate page, but is not required. Each page of your site should include a navigational area (a set of links) to help visitors find their way around your website. It can be a bar across the top, or a box on one side of the page. Often the bar across the top appears on every page, whereas the box may only have info applicable to each individual page. It is important for each page to have an obvious way to get back to the home page.

Q: What else can be on a website?

A: Your imagination is the limit. However, here is a list of possibilities:
• Your book covers
• Summary of each book
• Where to purchase the book(s)
• Testimonials to your writing or illustrating
• Book excerpts
• Upcoming projects or what's next
• Writing or illustrating activities for kids or adults
• Links to other sites
• Articles or essays
• Speaking or school visit information
• Other services
• A blog
• Podcasts
• Your favorite books or authors or illustrators
• Pictures of your childhood, family, pets, office
• A downloadable press release
• Behind the scenes info (i.e. what inspired you to write a particular book)

Q: How many pages should I have on my website?

A: That's a two-fold question. Your host may limit the number of pages. Otherwise, if your content is interesting, people will keep clicking to see what else they can find.

Q: Is it okay if someone can only see part of a page at a time on their screen?

A: Left and right, it's better to fit one page. Top to bottom, sure, most browsers have a scroll bar and users are used to scrolling down for more info. You can have links with in a page to go to other sections of the same page, too.

Q: You mentioned links to other sites and now links within a page. How does that work?

A: Depends on whether you are building your website using HTML (the actual computer code for websites) or website building software. Basically, the former takes one off your site to another site. I like the open in another window option, so your site is still up. The latter is a clickable link that takes one to another page of your site or to another section on your page.

Q: Everyone seems to be blogging. How does that fit into websites?

A: It's one way to have active content on your website. It's also a forum to say what you want to say--though, of course, it should relate in some way to your website. Some blogs are set up so readers can sign up to receive posts automatically (recommended). Blogging works best when using special purpose blogging software provided by a web hosting service.

Q: Are there downsides to blogging?

A: Yes, of course. It requires a time commitment. Blog posts should be well written, free from grammatical and punctuation errors. Controversial posts can raise a furor of email.

Q: What's a podcast?

A: A recording downloadable from a website for use on an MP3 player. The content of a podcast would be a complete discussion in itself. Podcasts are usually hosted on dedicated podcast hosting services that provide specialized software to support them.

Q: Okay. I want to create a website. I've purchased a domain name and have a hosting site. Now what?

A: Many hosting sites offer some type of user friendly software to create a website. These can include templates, formatting options for text and pictures. You may take a class or seminar on website building, where you get information and help as you build your website yourself.

Q: Speaking of pictures, what format do I use?

A: The easiest format is a jpeg (.jpg). When posting pictures, you want the images to be small (say less than 150 kbytes ) so that your website doesn't take a long time to load. The more images per page, the longer it can take. Don't use animated gifs (or Don will come after you). Okay, you can use one on your website, but that is it.

Q: I'm not computer savvy enough to create a website myself, so how do I get a one?

A: You can hire it done, or make friends with a nerd, who will build it for you for the fun of it. In either case, don't forget you'll need them to teach you how to update your website or have a maintenance plan as part of your agreement.

Q: I want to post original art, but don't want anyone to be able to copy my images. How do I protect these pictures?

A: First, of all, posting small pictures (limited number of pixels) means these images won't enlarge well. If someone copies one and tries to make it bigger, the resultant picture will be grainy and obviously not their original work. Some artists save a version of their work with a copyright notice or "for viewing only" or their name in "watermark style" lettering across the image itself.

Q: What can you tell me about fonts and colors?

A: You want your website to be readable and attractive. Fonts should be easy to read. No flashing text. Colors shouldn't hinder readability. Look at websites you like and see what they've done. Compare them to websites you don't like. This applies not only to fonts, colors, but formatting, etc.

Q: What else can you tell me about website formatting?

A: Your webpage formatting may change when viewed in different internet browsers (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc.) If possible, view your website in more than one to see any problems.

Q: Will I make money selling books on my website?

A: Probably not much. Don't forget you'll have shipping for getting the books, and have to pay sales tax. If mailing books to customers, not only do you have postage, but you must pay for shipping containers. Reselling books is a lot of work that includes quite a bit of recordkeeping. Plus not all publishers allow their authors/illustrators to resell books--check your contract.

Q: Wow, there is so much to learn. It's overwhelming. Maybe I should just forget it.

A: It can be overwhelming. But start with the basics and keep your website as simple as possible at first. As you get more experienced, you can add more to your website. See our list of resources, too.

Internet Resources about Websites

*Domain Registration Services aka Domain Registars
Five Best Domain Name Registrars
List Of Top 10 Domain Name Registrars

What Every Authors Website Should Contain

Why should an author have a website?

P.S. I have an article on website design in Writer's Guide to 2012.

4th stall.jpg6th grader Mac (nicknamed after Mcgyver, but real name Christian) and his best friend Vince run a business from the fourth stall in the remote bathroom at their school. They solve problems for kids for pay or favors. They even solved a problem for the janitor which is how they get to use this empty stall for their business. But now Mac is having his own problems: an older kid encroaching on their school, disagreements with his best friend, a dwindling emergency fund... Will Mac and Vince's friendship survive it all?

The Fourth Stall (Walden Pond Press, 2011) by Chris Rylander is a very fun read. It's won the 2012 Sid Fleischman Award for Humor, too. Chris will be on the faculty for the SCBWI LA Conference this coming August.

Chris' second book, The Fourth Stall II, came out this year, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. Am looking forward to it.4th stall 2.jpg

On his website Chris Rylander describes himself as "author. unicorn collector. amateur drifter. etc." If that doesn't get you curious, nothing will. But at least you'll want to check out his self-portraits on the About Chris Rylander page.

My life - az.jpgSophomore Adam Ziegler has been hiding in the dark of the high school theater. Of course, he runs the lights so that's one reason he's hidden. But there's more to it than that. Like his father dying 2 years ago. And the feud between the actors and the techs. But then he's attracted by an actress named Summer and crosses the line.

I love how Allen Zadoff author of My Life, The Theater, and Other Tragedies (Egmont, 2011) makes this story all so real.

The author is open about his own tough experiences growing up. Read here on his website. Allen is an award winning author of Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have, which won the 2010 Sid Fleischman Humor Award. Click on the main page of his site to see one interesting quirk about his main characters.

since you left me.jpgHis book Since You Left Me is coming out in August. And in summer of 2013, Allen has a thriller series called Boy Nobody coming. Woo Hoo!

Most new writers think

Most new writers think it's easy to write for children, but it's not. You have to get in a beginning, middle and end, tell a great story, write well, not be condescending--all in a few pages.
Andrea Brown

Don't leave your Lead character alone very long

Don't leave your Lead character alone very long. Two or more characters, plus conflict, animate scenes.
James Scott Bell

Nancy I. Sanders on Writing Nonfiction

June 5 Sanders.jpgI keep running into writers who want to write nonfiction and have more questions than I can answer, so here's an interview with Nancy I. Sanders who is well-established in this area:

What led you to write nonfiction?
In my book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children's Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career, I explain a strategy I call the "Triple Crown of Success." For this I always recommend writers be working on three separate manuscripts to meet three separate goals:
1) the goal to get published,
2) the goal to earn income, and
3) the goal of writing for personal fulfillment.
As I started to build my writing career, I discovered I could earn nice income writing nonfiction so I always try to be working on at least one nonfiction project while I'm working on manuscripts to meet my other two goals.

How do you usually get to write nonfiction books? Do you come up with the idea first or does the publisher? Or does it vary?
Sometimes a publisher sends an idea my way. The way I got the idea to write Frederick Douglass for Kids, however, was very typical of the way I come up with ideas for nonfiction books. I was browsing through a current catalog of this publisher and exploring the titles of their "For Kids" series. I noticed they had various famous Americans in their series such as George Washington for Kids and Benjamin Franklin for Kids. I realized they had a hole in their series and didn't yet have a title on Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest leaders in America. So I queried the publisher and asked if they'd like to see a proposal on a potential new title called Frederick Douglass for Kids. They said "Yes!" and the rest is history.

What chances does a nonfiction children's writer have of writing another book about a topic that already has numerous books written about it?
Actually, the chances are quite good, if you do your homework.

First, check the product line of the publisher you'd like to target. If they already have a book on this topic, perhaps they'd like one written with a fresh, unique angle.

And if your publisher doesn't yet have a book on the topic you want to write about...chances are that if it's a common topic, your publisher would like to have a book in their product line written on that topic, too! That was the case with this book.

In the books you write, do you use both primary and secondary sources?
It depends on each project. For this book, I used numerous primary sources that included Frederick Douglass's autobiographies as well as many little-known books written by African American solders who fought during the Civil War as well as African American women who supported the troops as nurses or spies. I found amazing facts and stories I'd never read in any other history book about the Civil War! Plus I had lots of secondary sources of more current books that helped give an overview about the history of this era.

Do you have any favorite "go to" sources when you start a new project?
I like to gather other children's nonfiction books on my new topic. This helps me develop my outline by referring to the table of contents in these books. Children's books capture the top ten essential ingredients about a topic, so they're great resources for developing an outline and a proposal in a short amount of time.

Then, if the proposal is accepted, I gather encyclopedias and primary sources on my topics to really dig in depth. Since I specialize in writing African American history for kids, I own over 200 research books in my own personal library that I've built over the years. It's so helpful when I start a new project because I already have these resources at hand. My favorite resource is numerous books by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. including his encyclopedia set I own, African American National Biography.

How do you organize your research notes? On 3x5 cards, a notebook, on your computer?
The system that works best for me is that I first sit in a comfortable chair to read research books and jot down notes by hand on paper for about an hour to start my day.

Then I move over to my computer and type these notes into an ever-growing working outline. Then I print out these notes and other important notes such as information I've found and printed out from the Internet that day. I store these notes each day in a file folder, one file folder per chapter (or section within a chapter for a really long book). I store all these file folders in a pocket folder for handy reference when I need something from a specific chapter that I've printed out. This usually takes me another hour.

Then I sit at my computer and type new material for my book project for another hour or so, based on the research I just did.

This gives me at least 3 solid hours of writing each day.

Do you have any advice you'd give to someone who is just starting out and wants to write nonfiction?
Don't be a "Lone Ranger" writer. Learn how to be a "piggyback" writer. I explain all about how this works in my book for children's writers, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children's Books... In a nutshell, if you want to experience breakthrough as a nonfiction writer, study publishers' catalogs and look for series that are written by multiple authors and the copyright to each book is in the author's name. Brainstorm 3-5 ideas for topics that can fit within that series. Then send a query to that publisher asking if they'd like to see a proposal on any of those topics to fit into their current series.

Not only does this help you land a contract to write a nonfiction book, but when your book comes out, everyone who is already buying the other books in the series will buy yours too, and you'll see great sales! This is what I call being a "piggyback" writer. It's in stark contrast to what I refer to as a "Lone Ranger" writer who just tries to find a publisher for her own idea and if it does get published has to try to market it on her name or that title alone with slow sales as a result.

What are you doing to celebrate the release of your book, Frederick Douglass for Kids?
I'm hosting a two-week virtual Book Launch Party! There are prizes to win, fun facts to learn, and lots of inside peeks and helpful tips about how a book is born. Stop by my site today to join in the party.

FrederickDouglassCover.jpgBook Synopsis
Few Americans have had as much impact on this nation as Frederick Douglass. Born on a plantation, he later escaped slavery and helped others to freedom via the Underground Railroad. In time he became a bestselling author, an outspoken newspaper editor, a brilliant orator, a tireless abolitionist, and a brave civil rights leader. He was famous on both sides of the Atlantic in the years leading up to the Civil War, and when war broke out, Abraham Lincoln invited him to the White House for counsel and advice.

Frederick Douglass for Kids follows the footsteps of this American hero, from his birth into slavery to his becoming a friend and confidant of presidents and the leading African American of his day. And to better appreciate Frederick Douglass and his times, readers will form a debating club, cook a meal similar to the one Douglass shared with John Brown, make a civil war haversack, participate in a microlending program, and more. This valuable resource also includes a time line of significant events, a list of historic sites to visit or explore online, and web resources for further study.

More About Nancy
Nancy I. Sanders is the bestselling and award-winning author of over 80 books including America's Black Founders, A Kid's Guide to African American History, and D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet. She teaches other writers how to launch their career to the next level based on material found in her book for writers mentioned above. Nancy's writing buddies, Sandman and Pitterpat (who just happen to be cats--see picture above) help bring laughter to her days. You can visit their site for practical tips, writing worksheets, and a light-hearted look at the writer's life.

See what's happening at Nancy's launch party.

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Present setting from the inside out

Present setting from the inside out. Make your character react to it if you can...above all, have a reason for mentioning something.
Susan Hart Lindquist