Recently in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing Category


Guest post by Mary Blount Christianskateboarder.jpg

It helps when we create name for a fictional character to first create a background--positive and negative traits, talents, skills, interests, siblings and birth order, goals, conflicting emotions, support group [oft times friends more than siblings]. We make note of their needs--emotionally, physically, and spiritually; need to receive love and to give love, to have respect from peers and self, and to learn and achieve. Just ask yourself, what kind of character do I need to handle the challenges of my plot?beautifulgirl.jpg

I find giving them a name that seems right often makes things fall into place--is it a family name, an unusual one that may give way to teasing, a strong name or a weak one, or a preferred nickname? A good exercise is to imagine visiting the protagonist's room. How is it decorated? Any posters on the walls? Does it reflect her taste or is it in conflict? Go through the character's purse or wallet for the older characters, or the toy box or that treasure box tucked under the bed. What we keep defines us. People tend to carry their lives in their wallets--club memberships, family pictures, friends' pictures, that sort of thing.

facepaintedgirl.jpgIn the November 2011 The Writer magazine, Bharti Kirchner wrote an article, "Tips for Naming your Characters." She suggests that you get to know your character first [gender, personality, place of birth, hidden traits, ideals and socioeconomic status. Even the smallest of our readers share these. In names, she suggests that you not use names that work for either gender [Pat, Robin, Chris, etc.]

As tempting as it is, it's best to not give your characters names of your kin and friends. Your job is to give characters flaws and challenges that even those yearning to see their names in print probably won't like. Names need to fit your character the way a glove fits your hand.

Other things to avoid because repetition gets boring or confusing:
- All characters with one syllable names [Sam, Bill, Jan]
- Rhyming names [Harry and Larry, etc.]
- Names all beginning with the same letter
- Difficult to pronounce or spell

You can find popular US names listed by the birth year on the web at www.ssa/gov/acct/babynames. Most recent year is 2014.

Here's an index of researched surnames. For Asian names, try top 100 Chinese Surnames and Korean Surnames and Indian Surnames.

Host's note: Looking for another ethnicity? Google it, but I hope you aren't just using random last names with no idea about the culture where you got it. ;-)

MaryBChristian.jpgAbout Mary Blount Christian
Mary has more than 100 trade books published in the children's--plus reprints in Braille French, Japanese, Indonesian--and young adult field with six adult mysteries due in 2016. Follow her blog here.

Kid photos courtesy of

Kids Reading Books and Saying What They Think

image courtesy of Phaedra Wilkinson on
I recently ran across some blogs of preteen and teen bloggers because of MMGM (Marvelous Middle Grade Monday). Which made me interested in looking for more teens blogging about books.

It's fun seeing how articulate these kid bloggers are and what they are interested in reading. These kids are promoting good books now, which is so exciting. It was also fun seeing the books we like in common. We may be many years apart in age, but we share a love for some of the same stories.

What does that mean for me as a writer? It's a reminder that inside at some level we are still the same no matter what age we are. We still have hopes and dreams, struggle with issues of self-esteem or failure, have worries in our lives, etc. Those universal experiences are what make it possible for our stories to reach others and for others' stories to reach us.

It also is giving me a chance to see what books are appealing to some of today's kids. (I have grandsons and we discuss books they are reading, but no granddaughters, so don't get much firsthand experience on the girl side.) And, yes, this means my to-be-read list is getting longer and longer.

In case you are interested in checking out these young reviewers yourself, here's some I found.

Personal Websites:

The Paige Turner

Cindy Reads A Lot


This LA County Library has a teen review board! What a great idea!

Oh, look, Sno-Isle Libraries does the same thing, plus you get to find out what grade the teen is in.

Teen Space at the Cincinnati Library has a place for teens to review books and music.


Teen Ink is a magazine that features book reviews (and much more) by teens. Of course, at this age, many are reading "adult" books, too.

LitPick Student Book Reviews features reviews from kids all over the world.

Reader View Kids is a company that posts kids' book reviews.

Like many blogs, I found ones started by teens that have lasted a number of years and then the teen (or now adult) quit posting. Even found one library system that quit having teen posts although the old ones are still up.

If you know of any teens blogging about books, I'd love to hear about it.



Recently, I visited Kansas and Missouri friends for a writing retreat where we each worked on our own projects. Four of us were writing and one illustrating. Because this group used to write together once or twice a week, it was easy to fall into a comfortable rhythm. During meal times and evenings we chatted, played games, and chatted some more. Of course, we took breaks for bird watching, stretching our legs, seeing the fish in the pond get fed, etc.

One of the advantages of a retreat like this is limited cell service and limited household chores (only cooking and cleaning up after meals). That meant dedicated time to focus on work. I caught up on a bunch of rewrites I wanted/needed to do and moved forward in my WIP. I saw others doing research, writing, planning a future book, editing, drawing and painting. Work!

Another advantage of a retreat is the shared information. One gal is working on a low residency MFA in children's writing through Vermont College of Fine Arts. She shared tidbits from lectures. We urged her to get her submission in for an award. We all encouraged another gal not to give up writing. And, of course, we exchanged information about good books--now my "to be read" list is even longer. ☺

A task I was doing was comp titles for a picture book I'd written. One friend asked me how I found them. "I just used Amazon," I said. I showed her there was a lot of nonfiction on my topic, but only one fiction picture book and it was from the 1980s.

The same gal asked a question about her new Mac (she's switched from PC) and the result was I and another made changes to our word doc default, too.

So, work, exchanging information, good friends, fun, food, all equaled a great time! The others enjoyed it too and we unanimously decided to repeat the retreat. THANK YOU, Heather Trent Beers, Kate Barsotti, Jenn Bailey and Lisha Cauthen. It was so much fun being with you all.

Recommendations for planning and enjoying YOUR personal creative retreat:

  1. 1. Choose people you trust and respect. Everyone at our retreat paid her agreed upon share. I love that my friends were considerate and said to the two of us with knee problems, "take the downstairs bedrooms."
  2. 2. Don't invite people who do drama. No one fussed about where she sat, slept, what she ate, sharing bathrooms, etc. People drank, or didn't drink, alcohol as desired, but no one got drunk. A peaceful atmosphere goes a long way to make a productive retreat.
  3. 3. Plan at least two full days for work not counting arrival time and departure time. We arrived on a Friday afternoon and settled in and didn't worry about serious work that day, although we talked about writing and the publishing business. (Of course!) This let everyone unwind. We left Monday morning at check out time--again since we were packing up, no creative work was done. Loved having two solid days of accomplishments.
  4. 4. If you're not used to working with these people, agree on an informal schedule.
  5. 5. Bring some fun games or relaxing activities. But if someone wants to continue working when everyone else is recreating, no nagging.
  6. 6. Keep your group small enough that you can share a bed and breakfast or retreat cabin/vacation house and be the only guests.
  7. 7. Someone needs to be the point person to find and book a venue. We started planning two plus months in advance.
  8. 8. Decide whether wi-fi at your location is important to the group or not. We wanted it.
  9. 9. Share the food expense, meal planning, preparation and cleanup. The only problem we had was too much food. For example, ladies kept adding items to bring that weren't on the agreed list, so we had duplicate snack foods, which returned home. (Or choose a venue that provides food, although you'll still probably want snacks.)
  10. 10. Arrange carpooling because it's a lot of fun to talk while driving, too.

My local writing group and I have been talking about a retreat. I think we need to quit talking and plan!

Selling Photos to Magazines

photo courtesy of

Do you have your own images that would make a great addition to your article?

Do you know if the magazine you're submitting to accepts photos?

Since images are often purchased separately, offering photos can increase your rate of pay. However, just as there are rules and guidelines for writing, you'll find the same for photo submissions.

First, consider:

  1. 1. Do these photos add value to the article or short story? Do they help illustrate or demonstrate the content?

  2. 2. Do you own these photos? You either took the pictures with permission in a private location or they were taken in a public place.

  3. 3. Or, do you have permission of the photo owner to use these images? If so, note photos courtesy of "first name last name." Your editor may want contact info to verify this permission.

  4. 4. Are they quality photos? Do they have good composition, originality, good color and lighting? Are the images in focus or deliberately out of focus for effect? Are they cropped and/or modified well? Compare your images with pictures in the magazine you're targeting. Be honest with yourself. Can you see your photo in this magazine?

  5. 5. Do you have a photographer's release? If the picture shows a recognizable person, the editor may need a copy of this form. Here's a good site with information on release forms: You may also search online for model release or photo release to see similar forms.

  6. 6. Does the photo format fit the magazine's photo guidelines? You'll find some information in market books, but check the magazine's own submission guidelines, which are often available online.

  7. 7. What rights you are selling.

How to sell your photos:

  1. 1. Find out what format the magazine wants. Yes, it's so important, I'm repeating it. Formats usually are:

  2. a. Digital, including number of pixels

  3. b. Color slides or transparencies

  4. c. Black and white photos, a size is often specified

  5. 2. When submitting a query letter for an article:

  6. a. Send a sample of the best photo. This can pique an editor's interest.

  7. b. Similar to a bibliography, list the photos available with a brief description of each.

  8. c. Communicate the format of your picture(s) to the editor in a way which shows you know what format the magazine expects.

  9. 3. When sending the full article either on spec or by request:

  10. a. Send a list of the enclosed or attached photos. Include a label for each photo, a brief description, and if the magazine puts captions on photos, possible captions.

  11. b. When sending by snail mail, put photos in protective sheets, and protect them with cardboard. Don't send your only copy.

  12. c. Send a photographer's release, if the magazine indicates they want one. At least mention you have it available.

  13. d. Depending on the type of article, you may need to indicate where each photo goes in the article. This can be done simply by putting "(photo #)" in the text and including numbers on your list of photos.

  14. 4. Some magazines may be interested in photos of children involved in activities or in photos of animals and plants. They would probably not purchase them outright, but have them on hand to use when needed, or contact you when looking for a specific type of photo.

  15. a. Send photocopies, tear sheets or other nonreturnable samples.

  16. b. Include previous photo publishing credits (where your photos have been published before, if any).

  17. 5. Never send your only copy of a photo. Photos are usually returned but can get lost or damaged.

  18. 6. Label any physical copies with your name and photo identification (name or number).

Sample photo guidelines--note how much they vary and remember they can change at any time:

U.S. Kids magazines: "We do not purchase single photos. We do purchase short photo features (up to 8 or 10 images) or high-quality photos that accompany articles and illustrate editorial material. Digital format is best with high resolution (300 dpi in an image size of at least 4×6 inches). We purchase one-time rights to photos but reserve the right to use the images on our websites. Please include captions and signed model releases."

Nature Friend: "Photographs are selected, month-by-month, based on articles selected that need illustrations, along with a front and back cover photo. What this means to a photographer is that photographs are secondary to writings and cannot be anticipated and selected in advance. Photographic submissions that require us to return material in a specified number of weeks will likely not be useful to us. Photographs that are in our files the day we are making selections will stand the greatest chance of being selected for use."

Dramatics: "Photos and illustrations to accompany articles are welcomed, and when available, should be submitted at the same time as the manuscript. Acceptable forms: color transparencies, 35mm or larger; color or black and white prints, 5 × 7 or larger; line art (generally used to illustrate technical articles); JPEG and TIFF files of high-quality scans. Unless other arrangements are made, payment for articles includes payment for photos and illustrations. We occasionally buy photo essays.

Just as it is work to sell an article or short story, selling photos takes effort. However, following the guidelines may give you the reward of seeing your own pictures in print.

Poor Man's Copyright, a Myth

image courtesy of jdurham on
file801246654450.jpgA number of years ago at a writer's meeting the issue of "poor man's copyright" was raised as a means to protect your works. Basically the idea is to put your work in an envelope, seal it, mail it and the postmark will "prove" when you wrote it protecting your copyright.

Recently, I heard chatter about this on a listserve, so I updated my research on this topic and am sharing it here.

One of the biggest flaws of this idea is that the postmark and seal prove something.

  • What is to prevent someone from mailing an UNsealed envelope to themselves? It has a postmark. But since it is unsealed, material can be placed in it at any time--2 months later, 2 years later, 10 years later, then sealed.

  • Sealed envelopes can be steamed open (and probably opened by many other methods that I don't know), the material replaced with something else, then resealed.

Read what the copyright office itself has to say at The Frequently Asked Questions page is very helpful resource. This page has "Copyright Registration of Books, Manuscripts, and Speeches."

A book recommended by the Author's Guild is The Writer's Legal Guide by Tad Crawford & Kay Murray. It is in its fourth printing.

Here are some articles and a transcript on this topic:

"Poor Man's Copyright" by Peter Clarke

"Poor Man's Copyright" by ©opyright

"How To Copyright a Book" at begins with this sentence: "Before learning how to copyright a book, you need to learn how not to copyright book."

Intellectual property lawyer Linda Joy Kattwinkel talked a lot about copyright in this chat on the ICL website.

Want to know more?

Some authors may want to consider an intellectual property rights lawyer. I found some information on copyrights here at Here's an interesting post with a Literary Agent Attorney FAQ from

So now you know--poor man's copyright, only a myth.


Kids Reading Books and Saying What They Think


Selling Photos to Magazines

Poor Man's Copyright, a Myth

Missing Students

The Right Number of Characters

What Do You Do When You're Stuck?

Naming Your Character

Considering Self-Publishing?

When Educational Publishers Ask for Your Résumé

Say What?

Write Well When the Muse Is Sleeping

Writing Process Blog Tour

Truth in Fiction

Plodding or Plotting

Raise the stakes, honey!

One Size Does NOT Fit All


175 Proof

He Thought to Himself and Other Excesses

Confessions of a Writer Easily Distracted

Is That Right?

Writing Business Expenses


The Hero's Journey for Magazine Writers

Altitude and Attitude - Adult or Child?

Slow Down, You Move too Fast

Kidz Only! Adults Keep Out!

A Dark Side of Social Media

Do you struggle with grammar?

Can children and teens can get their work published?

Patience Required

I'm a Work-in-Progress

Illustrator Resources

Inspiration from Kate DiCamillo

Are Listserves a Service or a Waste of Time?

Writing and Life Balance

How To Start Querying an Agent


Nancy I. Sanders on Writing Nonfiction


Perfecting Dialogue Punctuation

Ouch! Thin Skin!

Agents Telling What They Want

School Visits, the Extended Version

Going Back to School

One of 75 finalists

Make It Work for You

Down with Discouragement!

Do as I Say

Professional Problem Maker

4 Ways to Make Your Characters "Talk Different"

Picture Book Month

Work-for-Hire Resources

Work-for-Hire Wisdom

Work-for-Hire also known as WFH

Picture Perfect Picture Books

Picture Book Resources

Author Talks versus Workshops

My Favorite Online Resources

Technicalities - More Thoughts on Public Speaking

Do as I Say

Theme List Tactics

What Would Sue Do?

Attribution or Action?

Don't Throw in the Towel

Do You Remember?

Dragged to the Podium

Double Identity - Pen Names

Before You Sign: Contract Resources

Welcome, Diane Bailey, Work-for-hire Champion

Ready, Set, Goal

An Editor's Day

How'd You Get That Gig?

On the Hunt for Ideas

Bloggers Supporting Other Bloggers

Shadowing a Submission

Give up or press on?

Turning Ideas Into Stories - Workshop

After the Critique

Keeping Track

The Synopsis Shrink

Mind Your Cs and Qs - part three

Mind Your Cs and Qs - part two

Mind Your Cs and Qs - part one

Standard Manuscript Format


Critique Methods

Market Research Resources - Agents



Organizations and Groups

Writing a Novel? Where Does It Fit?

Meeting Editors and Agents - In Person

Meet Editors and Agents - Online

Book It! - Recording What You Read

Theme and Premise

Self-Editing Tips

The Story Ladder or Novel Timeline

Showing Versus Telling

Read, Read, Read

The Power of a Good First Line

Hooking your Reader

Listen to the Voices


Viewpoint in Children's Fiction

Making Friends: Character Development

Glossary of Publishing Terms

Genre Resources

Children's Book Genres

Why Write?