Recently in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing Category

Rushing to Submit

girl-2786277_1280.jpgRecently I was asked to judge a writing contest.

Some of the common problems I found were:

  • The story didn't fit the genre
  • Confusing or awkward beginnings
  • Unclear who the main character was
  • Unclear how old the main character was (some hint would have been nice)
  • Overuse of other dialogue tags besides "said" and "asked"
  • Punctuation errors
  • Telling, telling, telling (I'm not talking about transitions or other appropriate places to tell)
  • Poor proofing
  • Too much description
  • Head hopping
  • Large chunks of backstory
  • Clichés
  • Inconsistent verb tense
  • No sense of setting
  • Overuse of "as"
  • Main character was only an observer
  • Too many characters which caused confusion
  • Dialogue punctuation errors
  • Sentence fragments
  • Unclear audience
  • Not following directions


There was usually more than one of these problems. The result was I didn't want to read on.

Here's how I work at avoiding these kinds of issues:

1. Set my writing aside for several weeks. When I come back to it, I can read what it actually says, not what I think it says, and revise.

2. Know the rules of punctuation, point of view, verb tenses, etc.

3. Know what my weaknesses are. Whether it is overuse of words, not including enough introspection, etc., I search for them in my writing. I know I have trouble with some rules and refresh them periodically.

4. Read my writing out loud to my critique group. Sometimes I hear my own errors. Often, I find something I thought was perfectly clear in my writing is not clear to my critique partners.

5. Revise again.

6. Set it aside again. Edit again. Take back to critique group if necessary.

7. Do specific market research. (Have been doing general market search all along.)

8. Read the submission guidelines and make sure I'm sending appropriately. If my piece, story, or book doesn't fit, I go back to market research.

Rushing to submit, whether it is to a contest, a magazine, an editor, or an agent, usually backfires. At the best, it is a waste of your time and the time of whoever is receiving your piece. At the worst, they may never want to look at what you send again.


Electronic Submissions

dog-laptop.jpgThe first step in submitting electronically is to KNOW WHAT THE AGENT or EDITOR WANTS.

Read each specific editor or agent's guidelines to see whether to send a query only, query with sample pages, query with synopsis and sample pages, and for the latter two, how many pages. Usually, you'll be pasting into an email or form versus using attachments.

Verify the email address the information should be sent to or whether they use querytracker.net, querymanager.com, or a form on their own website.

Next, PREPARE for PASTING the REQUESTED INFORMATION into the body of an email or into a form. A form will have separate boxes for different info. In email, it will all go into the body of an email. You can easily separate your query letter from synopsis and synopsis from manuscript by using returns (enters) and ten or more dashes.

  • Write your query letter in Word and save it.
  • Ditto with your synopsis, if required. Some agents or editors will specify how many pages of a synopsis they want. Others won't. It's good to have several versions, such as one page and three pages.
  • Go to your manuscript and copy the number of pages requested and paste into a new document. Make sure you end your last page on a full line. It's better to be short than have a partial line. (Of course, you are using standard manuscript format.) I like saving different length page samples with the number of pages in the title-it makes for future ease of use.

Third, open your email or the form. As appropriate, copy your letter, manuscript pages, and synopsis one at a time and paste into the form or email. Remember, for email dashes and a blank line are good separators.

Don't stress if your pasted in manuscript loses centering for title and chapters. It won't look perfect. However, I've found both yahoo and gmail work fairly well. If in doubt as to how your email will look when sent, you can always send a sample to a friend as a test although it still may not match exactly what the agency or publishing house receives unless your friend uses the same mail service.

In email, type an appropriate subject. E.g. Query - Red River, Query SCBWI Oregon Conference, etc. Use whatever the agent or editor has requested. If they don't specify, putting the word Query and type of submission is helpful. It doesn't hurt to put your manuscript title.

Lastly, double-check that all your information, including the subject line looks all right. Or for a form that you have filled in all the boxes.

When you are ready to go, enter in the TO: email address for email and send. For forms, choose "submit." (Multiple page forms might have "continue" before you can submit.

SUBMITTING a QUERY with an ATTACHMENT
In the rare case, you may be able to send an attachment. Usually a Word document is requested. Your most recent or your current version of Word is fine. MAC users, never send a Pages document unless it is requested.

If someone requests a PDF, but you can't print to PDF or don't have a PDF maker, download PrimoPDF. It's free and easy to use.

If you have questions, feel free to put them in the comments.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Nathan Bransford, former agent, author says in How to Format an Email Query: "Note that I did not begin with the recipient's address or my address or the date, as that is not customary for an e-mail."

How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents - Seven Tips says: "...so start your subject line with the word 'Query.' . . . After the word query, list your book title and genre or category."

Let's Get Help

chicken-1647390_1280.pngMost writers don't start out thinking they're going to need technical skills beyond maybe a word processor and email, but in this world of social media and digital submissions, writers either need to learn technical skills or get help.

I'm of a technical mindset and have more technical skills than many writers of my generation, but still I get help. My husband and my daughter have both helped me with website and computer issues. A writer friend taught me how to use twitter and tweetdeck. Please don't be too chicken to ask for help yourself.

Here's some things I've found many writers don't know:

How to keep computer files organized. I've seen many writers with every file saved on the desktop or in the first level of documents and they have trouble finding what they are looking for. I've showed them folders and how you can put folders within folders. Normally each of my projects has its own folder. Here's how I helped another writer with this issue in this post. It includes some tips on naming documents, too.

How to back up files. When their computer hard drive dies, writers have lost all of their work. Even when you have a crash, you can lose hours of work on your wip. Don't let this be you. Find out how to preserve copies successfully. The latter portion of this blog post mentions some methods.

How to do an electronic submission, especially when pasting in material. When I was sharing on the topic with a group, one person said that the best tip she got was "don't enter the to person's email until you are sure you are ready to send." This means you can't accidentally send an unfinished submission. I'll write up some more details for a future blog post.

How to resize a picture. A writer (or illustrator) needs to submit an illustration, a cover, a headshot and have a large file, but has been requested for something smaller. I wrote this post to specifically help with this problem. I find people often don't know how to rename the picture with something meaningful either--it's okay to name it what it is.

How to keep email organized. Some writers keep everything all in the inbox, which makes for an overwhelming number of emails. Folders to save important emails by topic or event or date can be helpful. Or you can have a folder for critiques or projects. Many email programs allow you to set up filters to sort incoming email automatically into folders as well. You might want to do that for newsletters you like to read. As hard as it may be to believe, one gal didn't realize she could just delete emails she'd read and didn't need.

New writers often don't know about standard manuscript format. This is the way editors and agents will want to see manuscript submissions. Follow this link for details.

New to computer users don't know about Word's tables or Excel's spreadsheets. Either can be helpful in keeping track of submissions, agents, chapter summaries, finances, etc. (Although I prefer the latter for finances.)

Sometimes we aren't even aware we need help. We don't know there's a better or easier way. Many years ago I complained about how awkward something was in Word. My husband showed me tables. Wow, it made what I was doing so easy. Since, I've used it for forms many times.

So if something isn't working well for you, ask others, "Is there a better way?" Or search online for "How do I ________?"--there are tutorials, youtube videos, etc. that explain so much. For example, I've learned more about html that way.

What have you gotten help with? What do you wish you could get help with?

Comments are welcome.


Serving Up Tempting Titles

cover-1179704_1920.jpgThe right title feels so perfect. Delicious even. But if you don't have a perfect title, maybe you're struggling to have any title. (Yes, I know titles are often changed before publication, but you have to call your manuscript something before you can submit!) What do you do if you're stuck?

Here are some ideas. If one idea alone doesn't work, try a combination.

Think about the theme of your book or magazine piece. Can you narrow it down to a few words? Does rewording it work for a title? Is there one word that is especially strong in your theme? Maybe the main character's name and that word (or a synonym for that word) would work as a title for fiction.

Summarize the plot in one sentence and see if you can pull a piece out of that for the title. Or what is some interesting action that happens in the story? Sometimes a single verb makes a good title. Or use the character's name and an action verb.

Look at short quotes, sayings or clichés. Could one become a title with a slight twist? Once for an article about a science writing contest, I used "It's Not Just Rocket Science." Or could a partial saying work? A recent book I read was called What Goes Up (by Katie Kennedy). The end of that adage might be an interesting title as well.

Is there something special about the setting? Could that be part of your title? I think of the song Rocky Mountain High. It'd be a different piece replacing High with Low. My friend's book combines setting, main character, and action--Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan is a picture book.

What about your main character? Does she have a nickname? It might be his own personal one for himself. Or your quick summary of that character. I once titled a story "Ice Princess" since the main character was hiding a weakness by trying to appear perfect. Does your character have a motto? Could that be the title? What's the character's main problem? Once a publisher sent a book to me for rewriting. It was called What's that Smell? which sounded too much like nonfiction. I changed the title to The Smell of Trouble which hinted at the problem in the story and both the editor and I were happy.

Could your title ask a question? Once I called a short story "Who Do You Tell?" Or quote a line or piece of dialogue in your book or story. I've used this often. Some examples are "No Way!" and "Just a Minute."

I like titles that are puns or have more than one meaning. A student titled a story "In the Dog House"--not only was the main character in trouble, but the story included a dog. Perfect.

Think about descriptions in your book. If you have an analogy or metaphor that might make an interesting title.

What have you been calling your book privately? Could you play with that?

What about your antagonist? Would his name or title or label make a good title?

Perhaps try rhyme or alliteration with some of the title ideas you do have. Does that freshen it up? Give it a twist? Or try assonance.

Make a list of as many ideas as you can come up with. If you don't find one that you like, try taking half of one and putting it with half of another. If you're still frustrated, I suggest sleeping on it. I often find my subconscious plays with ideas while I'm asleep.

Have other ideas for title brainstorming? Feel free to share in the comments.


Continuous Verbs

abstract-2915769_640.jpg"Sometimes I'm guilty of lumping continuous verbs into the same category as passive verbs because both types, used incorrectly, create wordiness and cause slow, turgid writing that could be much livelier." Pearl Luke

Raising my hand to say, "me, too!" I'm always circling "was walking," "am running," "was throwing," etc. and telling my students to use a simple past tense: walked, ran, threw. My advice to writers is often, "Search for those 'ing' endings and see if the verb can be straight past tense."

Leah McClellan says, "When overused, -ing words in the progressive forms (whether past, present, or future tense) introduce too many weak, little words like am, are, is, was, were, been, have, has, and had--and more."

You may remember the term "helping verbs" from grade school. The italicized verbs above are helping the main verb. However, those main verbs are strong enough to live on their own.

Let's look at a few examples with the "ing" removed:
"They were standing on the corner by the high school." - "They stood on the corner by the high school."
"She is brushing her hair." - "She brushes her hair."
"He has been walking his dog." - "He walked his dog."

Does that mean you never use an "ing" on a verb? Of course not. But if it is the only verb in the sentence, limit the use. Sometimes it is necessary in context.

We need it in phrases. "While walking the dog, Mandy called her best friend." "Shaking his head, Mike set his books on the table." In both of these cases, we are indicating two actions that are happening at the same time. If they are not simultaneous, they might look like this: "Mandy walked the dog, then called her best friend." "Mike shook his head and set his books on the table." Just make sure the actions are possible to do at the same time when using a phrase.

We use it correctly in examples such as this one: "They were eating dinner when I arrived."

It's necessary when using the verb as a gerund. "Skiing is my passion." Or "Reading is how I relax at night." Leah McClellan says, "Gerunds are useful because they point to the essence of an action--the concept or thing-ness of it--rather than the action in performance."

But, remember, in simple sentences less "ing" is clearer and more concise.


Rushing to Submit

Electronic Submissions

Let's Get Help

Serving Up Tempting Titles

Continuous Verbs

Underwriting

Overwriting - Take Two

Recreating

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?