Recently in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing Category

Cutting Back on the Feed

firefighter-1851945_1280.jpgList serves, newsletters, blog posts, and social media can become a firehose blast of information. I love using them when I need inspiration or motivation to write. I search for info when I have questions or want more information on a topic. And I follow editors and agents to see what they are interested in and what they are talking about. But how do you know if you are involved in too much?

The answer will be different for each creative person at different times. At the beginning, we all have a lot to learn. A beginner should probably spend more time on absorbing information, learning craft, learning how the business works, and examining what is in the market now. Seasoned writers/illustrators should have a background of understanding--not that they can't learn more--so should spend less time. However, it all depends on your purpose for subscribing, joining, participating, reading, etc.

Here are some ideas to consider:

How much time a day do you spend on the following: taking in the feed of information, the business of writing/illustrating, creating, and revising? Your answers may be different each day, so you might need to chart a week or two to see what is actually happening. Be honest with yourself.

Is your schedule regularly out of balance? Whatever that balance should be for you, of course.

Do you have certain times that are dedicated to creating and/or revising? Are you allowing other things to interfere with those times?

Do you have too much to read in your allotted time? Or are you overwhelmed by how much there is?

Is some of the information not as valuable as it once was?

Are you learning something new?

Would receiving a list serve in digest format cut down on the number of emails sent from that group?

Do you need/enjoy the socialization you're getting or is it a drag on you mentally?

What are your current goals? You could be in a submission phase, so creating less, and that would be okay.

Are you actually creating? Are you making excuses for not creating? (ouch!) Or procrastinating? Chuck Wendig said, "Here are the two states in which you may exist: person who writes, or person who does not. If you write: you are a writer. If you do not write: you are not."

Answering these questions for yourself can help you determine if you need to adjust the feed. As Brooke Warner says, "For those of you dealing with too much too much too much, spend some time prioritizing." (From the post 3 Ways Writers Get Overwhelmed - and What to Do about It.)

My Coping Mechanisms:

Periodically I go through and unsubscribe from newsletters and blogs that I realize I'm not reading. Sometimes, I delete any nonpersonal posts over two months old. At times my life is too busy and I know something must go permanently, so I ruthlessly cut the "I would like to" reads and the "interesting, but not necessary" online writing groups.

In the past I've set myself a schedule allotting time for the tasks I want to complete. The only one that was allowed to exceed the scheduled time was creating. Some writers use a timer or install an app that nags. This can be to remind you to quit or to remind you to keep going.

Re-evaluation is necessary for me as life and creative needs change.

What are your coping mechanisms? Feel free to share in the comments. (If you can't see the comment box, click on the title above, then scroll down.)

More on Writing Expenses plus Income

bookkeeping-615384_1280.jpgI decided it was time to add to what I've learned about keeping track of writing business expenses. You can see my initial post here.

First, I have a checking account dedicated to my writing business. This makes it easy to use my writing account debit card for business expenses. My expenses still go into a spreadsheet, but I have easy backup and confirmation with those debits on my banking statement.

Same goes for income. Writing income gets deposited into that account (or it's related savings account). I've also got an income spreadsheet which shows what I earned. It includes when, where and/or what, and I have them classified by categories such as my teaching income for the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL), book royalties or flat fees, magazine and online articles/stories, critiquing, and speaking. Having a column for an entity such as ICL makes it really easy to compare the total to my 1099 after year end.

But the last few years I started some additional spreadsheets to help me keep track of mileage expenses. One is a writing day/morning spreadsheet. It shows date, where we met, and who I met with. The second is a critique group spreadsheet. Besides the previous information, it also shows what manuscript I brought for critique, or if none, it says NA. This adds validation to my expense spreadsheet and gives me a double-check. If I start looking at either of these sheets and see blank spaces where there shouldn't be, I check my email since most of our arrangements for these meetings are confirmed via email. And I throw those emails into a "Finances" folder. Again, backup if I ever get audited.

And speaking of mileage, each year at the beginning of the year I note the mileage on my car in a spreadsheet. For example, in 2017 the total mileage for my little car was 4704. (As a family we drive the other car most of the time.) 1274 miles were writing related! The total mileage and business-related mileage are questions the IRS wants answers to. It's good to be prepared before you go to fill out the tax form.

Back to my debit card. Someone once asked me about the validity of using my writing account for beverages at a coffee shop when I'm having a writing day. Or a meal for another type of writing event. If I stayed home, I would not have those expenses. The IRS only allows 40% of those expenses deducted. But 40% helps. For example, in 2017 I had almost $500 in meal expenses. The majority were for out-of-town trips. 40% of $500 is $200 deducted.

Something unavailable to us in 2013 when I wrote my original post was email receipts. Many restaurants and businesses will now email you your receipt or at least offer that option. I've found a number of coffee shops use Square which automatically emails the receipt based on my debit card number. I just have to update the info when I get a new card.

I also have a separate PayPal account for writing related income and expenses. This is very helpful when I'm collecting from individuals for paid critiques or editing. It shows the payment from my client and the fee for receiving payment via PayPal. But then I don't have to worry about a stranger's check bouncing after I do the work. (Although I do collect 50% in advance when I haven't worked with someone before.)

It's work to keep track of all this information, but I've definitely found if I keep up on it, it's not very time-consuming. And since spreadsheets can be set up to do automatic calculations, it sure makes tax time easier.

If you have any tips to share, I'd love to hear them. Just enter them in the comments.

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.


Cutting Back on the Feed

More on Writing Expenses plus Income

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?