Recently in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing Category

Rejections

no-1532838_1920.jpegRejections are subjective. I know that. I only have to think about books I loved that a friend didn't like or one they loved that I didn't like. We all have our own tastes and even moods. But when our manuscript is rejected it often doesn't feel subjective. We often feel as if we've failed.

When those feelings strike me, I have to remember how many published books I read where the story didn't grab me. Or something turned me off. And these books were loved by an editor willing to spend a lot of time with the manuscript. They've been supported by a publishing company as a whole. So if published books can fail an individual, why I am I surprised when my own unpublished manuscript does?

At first page and roundtable critique sessions, I've seen how editors and agents just haven't connected with the writing of a specific piece. One person might "get it" and the others not. Or the panel is split on whether they'd read on.

Ever had rejections that said, "I just didn't love it enough."? I have. Some agents/editors have told me things to work on; others haven't. They are a reminder that I need to keep trying. If you're getting personal rejections, keep on.

But what if you aren't getting any personal rejections? That means it's time to step back and look at your writing.

Many years ago at the SCBWI LA Conference--2009 to be exact--Editor Wendy Loggia shared "seven 7 reasons why your manuscript is declined." They included:


  • nice writing, but no story

  • too similar to something else she'd edited or in the market place

  • unclear who the audience would be

  • can't connect to the voice

  • book submitted too early before it was ready

  • project would not stand out on the house list

  • the author is difficult to deal with (Yes, many editors and agents check your social media.)


What she concluded with was "If I can't give a book my heart and soul, I won't acquire it." But note how many of the reasons above are something we have control over: a good story, a clear audience, a professional manuscript, a good attitude.

Here are some tips garnered from a variety of agents and editors that deal with what we control:


  • put your best foot forward - fix those typos and grammar errors

  • have a good hook

  • show, don't tell

  • Editor Nick Thomas says, "Don't make the first chapter too long."

  • have an intimacy with your characters

  • remember cliffhangers make good chapter endings

  • don't write to trends

  • be passionate about your project

  • got voice? "Always it's the voice that gets me... The way it makes me feel," says Editor Christy Ottaviano.

  • make sure your plot is solid

  • share big truths

  • provide opportunity for emotional engagement

And for the querying itself:


  • research the agent(s) you are querying

  • follow submission instructions

  • get the agent or editor's name right

  • write a good query/cover letter

  • provide good comp titles - this is one of my weaknesses

  • keep your letter to one page

Also, don't forget that you aren't alone in getting rejections.

"At times the rejections did get to me, but the will to write always triumphed over the disappointment of rejection." - Karen Hesse

Shannon Hale said, "I've published 20+ books, the last 10 or so of which have all been best sellers, and I still get rejections. All the time."

"Rejection isn't a sign of failure. Rejection is a reminder that there's always room for improvement." - Ana Hart

Kathryn Stockett said, "I can't tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected."

Let's not be ashamed. Let's press on.


How Do I Scare My Readers?

scaredsilh.pngBruce Hale aka the Writer Guy was asked these questions:

"I would like to hear from you, what tips can you give me for horror stories, whether novel or short story? How do I bring that horror feel to life? How can I keep my readers from sleeping for a few nights? How do I achieve the fear factor?"

And is allowing me to share his answers here:

Having just finished a horror series for kids (The Monstertown Mysteries), this topic is fresh in my mind. Creating a sense of horror is all about the expectation of something awful happening. As Alfred Hitchcock said, "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."

From early on in your story, you should plant the seed in the reader's mind that all is not well in this world, and then with each turn of the page, you bring that horror closer and closer. How? Here are four techniques:

1. Hide the monster
Take a tip from scary movies, and have the *effects* of the creature/ghost/whatever turn up much earlier than the creature itself does. You'll notice we don't see the shark in JAWS until well into the film. There's a reason for that. Spielberg knows that the longer we delay the actual monster sighting, the more punch it will pack.

2. Mislead the reader
Be sure to employ a few red herrings, spots where you make us think that the creature is about to appear but it turns out to be the cat, a neighbor, or whatever. This can also be used if your hero is trying to figure out what's behind the spooky happenings. Have them initially suspect the wrong people.

3. Hook 'em over and over
Horror is all about hooks. Your concept should hook your reader from the get-go. But that's not the only hook to employ. Rather than having chapter endings resolve an issue, have them hook as well. End each chapter on a cliffhanger note of suspense, the equivalent of "and then..." in a picture book. Try this technique and you'll have your readers flipping pages like mad.

4. Play on your fears
Have the source of horror in your story be something that particularly frightens your hero. If they're clown-phobic, have them face sadistic clowns. If they're kitten-phobic, have them encounter Evil Fluffy. Bonus points if you can draw from your own fears when building your hero. Because the more you feel it when you're writing, the more your readers will feel it when they read.


MantisCover4.jpghat-club-fedora.jpgBruce Hale is the author-illustrator of over 45 seriously funny books for young readers, including the Clark the Shark tales (one of which ended up in a Happy Meal -- not the way you think) and the award-winning Chet Gecko Mysteries. Find out about his newest series, the Monstertown Mysteries, online at: www.brucehale.com.


How Do You Choose?

light-bulbs-1822112_1920.jpegI've heard people say they have so many ideas they don't know which one to write. Having a lot of ideas is great, but it can also be a form of procrastination or indetermination. Don't get caught in a trap of endless idea generation that means you never write.

Here's what works for me when choosing ideas. I'll address different categories of writing.

Magazine Piece Ideas

I've sold over a hundred and fifty short stories and articles. If I'm in the midst of writing a story and another idea comes to mind, I open a file write down my ideas and save it in a folder labeled Story Starts or Article Ideas. Then I get back to the original story. When I finish my first draft of the piece, then I can move on to a new idea or an unfinished story or article.

But let's say today I have no stories or articles in progress--just ideas. How do I choose? I look at my ideas. Some may feel "meh." (At least at the moment.) Others may look interesting, but I'm missing something to make it compelling and I'm not sure what, so I set it aside. Another idea is intriguing, so I start writing. Why look for other ideas if this one looks good? Go ahead and write it. If no ideas grab me, I look at editorial calendars and theme lists. I may have something already written that fits or need minor adjusting, or this outside input may be the missing inspiration I need for an idea on file. Or it may inspire me to write something totally new.

It helps me to finish stories by knowing these things:
1. The main character's problem
2. How he/she will solve the problem
3. Something of the character's personality
4. Setting

For most articles, some research will be required. What information can I find? Are there books on the topic? Good internet sources? Good articles written for adults? Interviews? Diaries? While I'm looking at this material and taking notes, I ask myself, "What will be the focus on my article?" "What will be especially of interest to kid readers?" Sometimes the research will point at another idea, which goes in my idea file.

I've also done interviews for articles. That takes preparation too. Finding someone interesting to interview, arranging the interview, preparing intelligent questions, taking notes on their answers and taking pictures. If allowed, I tape the interview. My notes might include details about the person and setting and observations about what they do as well as direct quotes. Then I have to look over my notes, perhaps listen again to the interview, look at the pictures, and start organizing my article. I find it helpful to make a mini-outline after I've written a piece to see if it works or needs rearranging. (I'm not an outliner.)

When I'm done with the first draft of a story or article, I can move on to another idea. Giving the draft a week or more to settle while I work on other things helps me come back with fresh eyes to do editing. After that, I share with my critique group and do another rewrite (or two or three) before submitting.

TIP: If you never finish any stories or articles, you'll never have the satisfaction of a complete piece. Nor sales.

Picture Book Ideas

Picture books are usually going to take a lot more work to get right than a short story. I have to be really motivated by the idea. Does that mean I jump in and write it? Often, not. I might look and see if there are similar books out there on the topic. If too many, then it's not a good topic to write unless I have a fresh twist. I might abandon the idea or throw it in an idea file.

I may need to do some research on character or setting before I begin to write. What will work the best for this story idea? Who will be the right character for this story? I have to think of character names that fit. I might do research on objects or an experience I want to include in the story.

Sometimes ideas come almost full blown. I lie down at night and keep thinking of the story. I wake up in the morning and the story is nagging me. I may not want to get dressed, eat breakfast or do anything, but get to the keyboard. Does that mean the picture book comes out perfect first time? Absolutely not! But it usually means I'll get a first draft written in a hurry.

Again, all my picture books go through revisions before my critique group sees them. They may go through several rounds with my group as well. Sometimes I get a professional critique, too.

TIP: Write to the end, even if you don't like your first draft. You'll learn something by doing so.

Novel Ideas

Novels are a big commitment--usually a number of years for me. I have to know the main problem, have a character, and have an idea how the problem might be solved before I write anything. I have a number of novel starts--a page or two or even a chapter--where I didn't know enough and couldn't get going because of it.

Ideas I'll develop into a novel have to have a theme that resonates with me. I've discovered that many of my manuscripts deal with the theme of facing fears. Having a theme helps provide a partial roadmap for the story.

These story ideas may be inspired by past experiences, by the voice of a character, or by a predicament I've read about or imagined. I start with the one that is tugging me most.

I try to finish a draft of one novel manuscript before starting another. However, sometimes a new story is pressing me so much, I work on two projects. Of course, at any time, I may stop and make notes on a new idea that I'll attack later. While writing that first draft, I spend a lot of time thinking about what my characters are doing, do any necessary research, and keep plugging away until I reach the end. Once I have a completed draft, I may let it "sit a spell" and work on something else so I can come back to it with fresh eyes for revisions.

Just like with the other forms of writing, my critique group gives me feedback.

TIP: As a pantser (versus an outliner), I find the use of a story timeline or story ladder helps me keep track of the who, where, and when of each of my scenes and chapters.

Assigned Writing

Sometimes writers are asked to write on a specific topic which means they didn't have to find the initial idea. This often includes a deadline. But I'll leave that discussion for another time.

Does It Matter Which Idea I Choose?

Eventually. But I've found all writing, helps develop my writing muscles and skills. I find the more I write, the more I want to write. Picking an idea and going with it will get you in the habit of writing. So, don't agonize too long over which idea to develop--write!

I love this quote from John M. Cusick, "Writers, your job today is to sit down and start. Finishing, getting better, getting through it--that will happen on its own. Just start."


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.

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.

Rejections

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.

Sales

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.

Rejections

How Do I Scare My Readers?

How Do You Choose?

Finding Comp Titles

Writing for Children's Religious Magazines

A Fresh Look at Our Writing

Resources for Writing for Children's Magazines

Save Me!

Run Away Words

Novel-sized Problem

Emotions and Feelings

Sensory Details

Taglines and Beats

Successful Cover Letters

Diverse Books

Online Resources for Children's Writers and Illustrators

Rhyming Picture Books

Preparation and Practice for Public Speaking

Public Speaking Phobia

Authors in the Classroom

Why Twitter?

What Should I Describe?

Magazine Story or Picture Book?

Nonfiction Writing

Do It Myself!

Swift Fiction - The Short Story in Focus

What Stops Me Reading!

Distancing Your Reader

Resizing Photos for Use on Websites

Overwriting

Are List Serves a Service or a Waste of Time?

Reducing Word Count

MS Wish List

How to Stand Out

NAMING CHARACTERS - FROM MARY'S NOTEBOOK

Kids Reading Books and Saying What They Think

Retreat!

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

BACK UP!

175 Proof

He Thought to Himself and Other Excesses

Confessions of a Writer Easily Distracted

Is That Right?

Writing Business Expenses

Subjective

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 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

WEBSITE Q&A

Nancy I. Sanders on Writing Nonfiction

Heartbroken?

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

CUT IN THE CRITIQUE

Critique Methods

Market Research Resources - Agents

THE SANDWICH OF CRITIQUE

CRITIQUE GROUPS: GO FOR IT!

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

DIALOGUE TIPS

Viewpoint in Children's Fiction

Making Friends: Character Development

Glossary of Publishing Terms

Genre Resources

Children's Book Genres

Why Write?