July 2017 Archives

Defy the Stars

defythestars.jpgDefy the Stars (Little, Brown and Company, 2017) by Claudia Gray is a fascinating book. I want to say it's about artificial intelligence, but it is so much more.

Seventeen-year-old Noemi knows she'll die in three weeks. One of the teen and young adult soldiers ready to go on a suicide mission, her sacrifice will help give the planet Genesis time. And at least she can save her best friend/almost sister Esther. Their enemy has better ships and a robot army. The mechs aren't afraid to die. Noemi wonders, "How evil do you have to be to kill another world's people and risk none of your own?"

Abel is a mech (robot model) trapped in a marooned enemy ship on Genesis for almost thirty years. His one overriding desire is to get back to his creator, his father. But he's also tired of being alone.

These two enemies meet and end up having to work together.

I enjoyed all the twists and turns in the story. This book is the first in the Constellation series. I look forward to more.

Author Claudia Gray has written many more books including some Star Wars novels! Here's her website where you can see her other titles, find out that she chose her name, and more.

Given to the Sea

giventosea.jpgI've been on a YA novel binge lately.

Given to the Sea (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2017) by Mindy McGinnis is a disturbing story of how people will sacrifice others for their own safety. In that way it reminds me of the Newbery winner The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhilll. It's also told in multiple viewpoints.

Khosa will be given to the sea--after she has a child. It's her destiny and the only way to save the people of the Kingdom of Stille from the rising sea. In Khosa's words, "One day my body will betray me, dancing into the sea, my mind a passenger only. The water will close over my head and I will drown, my death bringing a reprieve for those who are not me." But there's a complication. Khosa can't bear the touch of another.

Seventeen-year-old Vincent is royal, but doesn't like being called Prince, since he's in line for the throne after his aging father, after his grandfather the present king.

Twins Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, and friends of Vincent. Both have magic.

Witt is the leader of the Pietra, enemies of Stille who plan to attack.

All of these people's lives collide in this story. Given to the Sea is the author's fourth book and will have a follow up book, which I'll be anxiously awaiting.

Mindy McGinnis is an Edgar Award-winning author and librarian. On her blog, Mindy has a section of books she recommends here plus much much more such as query critiques and author interviews. Check it out.

Write as if youll never

Write as if you'll never be read. That way you'll be sure to tell the truth.
Lori Lansens

Finding Comp Titles

shelf-159852_640.pngRecently, I was at a writer's conference where someone asked, "What do you do when you can't find comp titles?". (Comp titles are comparable titles.) Sometimes writers say, "nothing is out there like this book." That's highly unlikely, especially if the book fits a category--picture book, middle grade, young adult, etc.--and it fits a genre. If it doesn't fall in any of these, perhaps the writer needs to rethink the project--there may be a reason "nothing is out there" like it.

How I find comp titles

First, I go to Amazon and search in the category. (You could use Barnes & Noble as well.) Let's say I'm looking for comp titles for a picture book. I start by searching by subject in picture books. For example, manners, or musical instruments, or fun in the sun. Be sure and use the check boxes on the left to help you narrow your search. I usually check hardcover. Since I mostly write fiction, I specify that as well.

Next, I search by characters. If my characters are animals, I'll search for fiction picture books on that specific animal. E.g. How many picture books are there with a tree frog as the main character? Probably not many, which can help your book stand out. I know there are a lot of picture books with chicken, dog, or cat main characters.

If neither of those options work, try searching for the tone of the book, such as humor or sweet, whatever fits your manuscript best. Or search for the theme of your book.

You can also go to a local bookstore and ask someone in the children's section to show you recent books on a specific topic, character, or written in a specific tone.

Reading books

And, of course, I read the books I find to see if they really are a good comparable title.

I also do a lot of reading of picture books and may find comp titles that way as well.

Using multiple comp titles

Sometimes it takes two or three titles to express your book, so your pitch or query letter would say, "My book is like Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code meets Mo Willems' The Thank You Book. (Note these are recent titles, which make the best comps.) You can also use movies or TV shows as one of your comps. "My YA manuscript is like The Truman Show meets M.T. Anderson's Feed." (These aren't recent, but would give the editor or agent an instant picture of your manuscript.)

Usually you don't want to use the blockbuster books, such as Harry Potter or Hunger Games as comparison titles. Although, if you were comparing it to some aspect of the book, that might work too. "My book has a main character who doesn't fit in like Luna Lovegood in HP, but the story is more reminiscent of Laurel Gale's Dead Boy."

Agents and editors I've heard speak agree that comp titles will be out there. You just have to do the research to find them.

For further reading on this topic go to "Finding Comp Titles for Your Novel" by Annie Neugebauer and "Comp titles" by Janet Reid. Both of these posts are from 2012, but have great info.

Revision is renewal Try not

Revision is renewal. Try not to resist.
Cynthia Liu

Monster, Human, Other

Monster Human Other cover.jpgYou definitely have to pick up Monster, Human, Other (Random House Children's Books, September 2017) by Laurel Gale when it comes out. I was fortunate enough to get to read an ARC and loved this book.

It starts out with Isaac Read, whose family has moved once again, because he's changing from his winter look to his summer look. Yep, Isaac isn't human--he's a clepsit--in the ambassador exchange program living with human parents. He has to tape down his tail when he goes out among humans and is always having to make new friends because of the moves.

Mr. and Mrs. Read's child Wren lives with a clepsit family in their burrow. Her clepsit parents love her, but the extended family, not so much. Wren doesn't have the sense of smell that the rest of the family does and often has trouble finding her way back to the burrow. She's picked on by her cousins; distrusted by her aunt and uncle, the head clepsits. Thank goodness her brother Coney tries to protect her.

Add the voracans who want to take over the world. With relations between the human and clepsit cultures growing more tense, how can two kids help? But Isaac and Wren don't have any choice but to get involved when the voracans show up in their world.

This book is fun and with enough scare to keep it interesting. The new world is believable and relatable. I'm sure kids will also love this book.

This is author Laurel Gale's second book. Read more about what she's up to on her website. I also recommended her first book Dead Boy here.

Carrying Mason

carryingmason.jpgCarrying Mason (ZonderKidz, 2011) by Joyce Magnin was a touching story with a strong female lead. It's also a historical novel set in the late 1950s.

Thirteen-year-old Luna has lost her best friend Mason. She really wants to help carry his casket, despite her daddy saying only men are pall bearers. After the funeral, Luna realizes more needs carrying--Mason's mother. Luna is brave, caring, and fortunately, stubborn enough to resist Aunt Sapphire.

I love what Joyce says about this book on her website: "I wrote Carrying Mason because I wanted to deal with a child who needed and wanted to be challenged and to go against conventional wisdom in order to discover just how strong she really was. Carrying Mason deals with death and loss but that is not the focal point of the story. Luna's journey to adulthood is the point."

Booklist said about this book, "Delivers a positive message about standing up for those who cannot advocate for themselves." Don't miss it.

I recommended another of Joyce's books here.

Writing for Children's Religious Magazines

christ&lamb.pngI've sold over 75 short stories to a variety of religious magazines. Some of these stories were resales as the markets don't have the same audience, but have very similar beliefs. Some stories were tweaked to fit a specific religion. A few of the magazines are no longer in print. Others have gone through transitions and name changes.

Beliefs Vary

Each magazine has its own flavor and set of beliefs. When reading sample stories, you'll find certain magazines specifically mention God and/or Jesus, while others don't. In all cases, there are things you need to know when writing for the religious market.

Theme Lists/Editorial Calendars

Many of the religious magazines can also be called "church take home papers." In other words, 52 issues are printed for each Sunday/Sabbath of the year. Others, are monthly magazines with several stories/articles per issue. Not only does this mean they need lots of material (fiction and nonfiction), but these magazines often have some kind of theme. It can be a yearly theme, a monthly theme, or an issue by issue theme. There may be Bible verses to read along with theme topics. Often, theme lists, sometimes called editorial calendars, are available online. If not, you'll need to write to the magazine for them. For one magazine I've gotten on a mailing list to receive the themes by email.

Writers Guidelines

All have submission guidelines--many of which are online. These will tell you word counts--some will be ranges, others will be up to a specific word limit. You may find deadlines for submissions. You'll find information on the rights the magazine buys. (If you need further information on rights, go here.) http://www.susanuhlig.com/2013/10/is-that-right.html The focus of the magazine is usually mentioned here as well.

But one of the biggest "guidelines" is reading the stories in the magazine itself. This is where you'll really see whether the stories are simply moral or "good," or whether God is referenced or talked to, or both. You'll get to see if story settings are inside or outside of church--often the most religious magazines use both.

The Characters

Most will have one main character either overcoming a problem or learning something. (That doesn't mean these stories have to be preachy, although some will lean more that way than others.) Someone might help them with the problem, but the main character has to be in control and do the actual solving. Because of what happens in the story, the character will change in some way.

Editorial Relationships

Often, if you break into print with one magazine, you can sell more stories to the same magazine. If you do, you may develop a relationship with the editor(s). I had one editor tell me she liked my story, but since the magazine didn't promote contemporary Christian music, they couldn't use it. Without a relationship, all I'd have gotten would have been a straight rejection. I've also had editors ask me to fill holes in their lists of stories. After receiving a specific topic, I usually had to propose a couple ideas before getting the go ahead to write.


You may find as I did that some magazines are really hard to break into. In fact, some I never wrote something that they accepted. You may also find some rejections are a "not now" as they had too many stories that fit the topic. That means you can send the story later when it again fits a topic. I've also resent stories when a new editor comes along. This means you have to keep accurate records on your submissions and on the magazine.


My favorite sales to religious markets were the magazine I read when I was a teen and the magazine my daughters read when they were teens. One of the fun things with resales is seeing how differently the same story can be illustrated. But the best is knowing that there are children and teens being encouraged by my stories.

Write about it by day

Write about it by day, and dream about it by night.
E. B. White

If youre writing a scene

If you're writing a scene that's centered around delivery of backstory/information, make sure you have a present-moment conflict too.
Naomi Hughes