by Karen Cioffi
Every author has thought it, said it, and heard it: promotion is the roll-up-your-sleeves, and dig-in part of writing. It’s the much more difficult and time consuming aspect of writing that every author needs to become involved with . . . if he wants to sell his books.
To actually sell a book, you need to have a quality product. This is the bare-bottom, first rung of book promotion . . . the foundation.
Create a Quality Product
The very first step in book promotion is to create a quality product. Hopefully, you noticed I said create a quality product, not just a good story. What this means is that all aspects of your book need to be top notch.
A. The Story
To start at the very beginning, the first factor to be dealt with is to be sure your story has all the essential elements. According to Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, there are five major elements of a story: characters, setting, plot, point of view, and theme.
All the elements of a story should complement each other, should move each other forward, draw the reader in, and end with a satisfying conclusion. They should work together to create a story that will be remembered.
Suppose your story is action packed and plot driven, but it lacks believable and sympathetic characters, it will fall short. The same holds true if you have a believable and sympathetic character, but the story lacks movement. Again, it will be lacking. As with all things in life balance is necessary, the same holds true when writing a story.
B. Join a Critique Group
Yes, this is part of creating a quality story. Even experienced authors depend on the unique perspective and extra eyes that each critique member provides. They will help find: grammatical errors, holes in your story, unclear sentences and paragraphs, overuse of particular words, and weak verbs, among other elements.
They will also provide guidance and suggestions.
Check out this article for more information about joining a critique group:
Critiques are Essential
Yes, again, this is a necessary step to take to ensure your manuscript is in the best shape possible before it becomes a book. Look for an experienced and qualified editor to help tweak your manuscript. But, before you send it off to be edited, self-edit it first. There are a number of articles out there in cyberspace on self-editing. Take the time and read a few, then go over your manuscript.
D. Cover and Design
This step is more relevant to those who decide to self-publish or use a Print-on-Demand (POD). The cover is the first impression a reader will usually have of your book, next is the interior design. These aspects are just as important as the story itself. I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression that you only get one shot at making a good first impression. Well, you can relate that to your book cover.
Don’t skimp on time, effort, or money when coming up with your book’s cover and design.
Tip: If you are writing a children’s book, do not do your own illustrations unless you’re a professional illustrator.
Karen Cioffi is an author and ghostwriter (for businesses and individuals). For writing and marketing information visit http://karencioffiwritingandmarketing.com and sign up for her free newsletter, A Writer’s World. You’ll get 2 free e-books on writing and marketing in the process, and two more free e-books just for stopping by.
When I first joined The Children’s Writers Coaching Club, I didn’t know what to expect and was apprehensive. I had been writing for years, with no publishing success. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I knew how to write, but I didn’t know that there were key differences between writing and writing for children. There are such subtle differences, unless someone points them out to you, you’ll never be published. It’s taken me a year to start putting different techniques together. The CWCC has made a world of difference in my writing career.
I used to jump from one project to another. I had so many stories; I couldn’t get them down fast enough. However, I’ve learned how unproductive this is. I’m finally learning to work on one project at a time. That’s not easy for me. However, I am managing to change my writing ways by using the strategies of the club.
Even though I had meant to try it for a long time, making a calendar seemed silly. I had read in several articles that this was a useful way to manage one’s writing time. However, I never knew how to go about it. Because of Suzanne’s monthly teleclass (which includes a lesson and assingment) and her explanations on how to use these methods to better my writing, I have begun to master the calendar. I am now listing one children’s writing project for each week, I can make strides in my writing. Taking a week, gives me time for writing a first draft, editing it, writing my second draft, and then sending it into Suzanne for her critique.
If you can, call into the teleclasses, there’s nothing like being on the phone with the other writers. I can’t always make the teleclasses because of work. However, Suzanne sends a link for the replay. Even if you don’t participate, being there and listening to other humans is helpful.
Suzanne and the other CWCC instructors had encouraged me to write for non paying and low paying markets. I did as they suggested and received acceptances. These writing projects didn’t pay me cash, but they are publishing credits on my resume. By writing for these markets, I have also gotten over my fear of sending my writing off to publishers. I also don’t wait for the mail carrier to come back with my illusive check. Once I send an assignment off, I get working on another. I won’t say that I don’t check my email constantly for acceptances, but the difference is that now I keep writing.
If you’ve recently signed up for a writing workshop or writing class, in the hopes of becoming a better writer, then follow these simple steps to make the most of that experience:
1) Read! Read! Read!
Before the very first class or workshop, survey ALL the class materials so you will get an idea of what to expect.
Most good writing classes (and workshops) will provide students with a wealth of helpful materials. But these materials won’t do you any good if you don’t bother to look at them. In fact, if you have time before the workshop starts, read as many of the materials as you can. You might not fully understand what you are reading. That’s okay. Learning is recursive – which means your understanding will increase each time you study or reread the information.
If you don’t have time to read the materials before the class begins, then at least look over all the materials beforehand. Also, besides the required course materials, if there are suggested additional materials, get those too. And read them!
Also, read the kinds of things you wish to write. If you want to write stories for children, READ stories for children. If you want to write culinary mysteries for adults, READ culinary mysteries for adults, etc.
SPECIAL NOTE: Also, realize this. If you don’t enjoy reading, then you probably won’t enjoy the work it takes to become a successful (by that I mean, published) writer. Published writers are like sponges – anxious to soak up any information about their craft that they can.
2) Carefully read the directions for each and every assignment and follow the directions TO THE LETTER.
I’m surprised that so many people pay for a writing course (like the one I teach for the Institute of Children’s Literature), yet a large number of these people don’t follow the directions for each assignment. In some cases, it’s painfully evident that they didn’t even bother to READ the directions. What they need to understand is this – usually each assignment or lesson in a writing course or workshop was designed with specific objectives in mind. If the student doesn’t bother to read and follow the directions for each assignment, then the instructor has little chance of helping the student meet those objectives.
3) Avoid defending your work to your instructor.
Generally, students pay an instructor because he (or she) has some expertise and experience in writing, which usually includes many publishing credits. In fact, you should ALWAYS look for an instructor who has publishing credits. But then listen to what that instructor has to say about your writing, then follow his advice without trying to defend your work if it goes against what he has suggested.
Your instructor knows what he is talking about. For example, many times I tell students that in stories for children, adults should play very minor roles, and the child or teen in the story should always solve his own problem without a parent or other well-meaning adult stepping in to save the day. Many students want to argue that adults save the day for kids all the time in real life, so it should be okay that Aunt Martha calling at the last minute to offer little Janie the money she needs for summer camp is the perfect resolution for their story.
Sure, this kind of thing happens in real life. But, in stories for kids or teens, editors want the child to solve his own problem. Don’t waste precious time (yours or the instructor’s) arguing about something like this. Your understanding of WHY you should do what your instructor is asking you to do (or not do) will increase over time and study. Do what your instructor suggests, without defending your reason for going against his directions, and you’ll move ahead at a faster pace.
4) Learn to research all sorts of topics. In other words, don’t depend on instructors, editors, publishers, or anyone else to provide you with ALL the information you need in order to become a published writer.
Your instructor will probably give you research tips and marketing information, of course. But most published writers are self-directed learners. By that I mean, when they don’t KNOW something, they figure out HOW and WHERE to get the needed information themselves (more about how to do this, next).
5) Find other writers to network with and even hang out with, and read publications for writers.
Join a local writers’ group or at least sign up for one online (at yahoogroups.com you’ll find all sorts of groups for writers). Try to find a group that includes at least a few published writers. Generally, writers like to be helpful. They will usually share marketing tips, writing resources, etc. and will help you to more fully understand what you learn in a writing workshop or writing class.
Also, talk to some of the other writers in these groups to find out how they write. Then use some of their tips to improve your own writing, writing habits, etc. Hang out with the published writers and you’ll soon learn that they probably do a LOT of rewriting before they sell any of their work.
Read publications for writers to gain current marketing news and tips, and to find out how other writers became successful.
All these things will help give you the confidence to keep writing (and to keep practicing what you learn in your writing workshop or writing course) until you manage to get something published.
6) Don’t expect writing to be easy, and don’t assume that if it isn’t it must mean you don’t have enough talent to succeed as a writer, so you might as well drop out of the workshop or writing class.
Actually, most successful writers will tell you that talent isn’t the most important quality for success. The ability to follow directions (which will eventually come from an editor or editors) and the willingness to continue writing and rewriting, until at least some of the many rejection letters you get in the mail turn into acceptance letters, are much more important qualities for success as a writer. If you realize this BEFORE you start any writing workshop or writing course, you will be more likely to stick with it, even when the work gets difficult.
These successful children’s writers offer additional tips:
Cynthia Leitich Smith, award-winning author of JINGLE DANCER (Morrow, 2000)(ages 4-up), RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (Harper, 2001)(Listening Library, 2001)(ages 10-up), and INDIAN SHOES (Harper, 2002)(ages 7-up), and other works, says:
“Be brave. Participate. Put yourself out there. Don’t defend or explain away your work. Don’t think of the other students as competition. And don’t worry if you’re not ‘the star.’ Your focus should be on improving your craft–period.”
Pat McCarthy, an Instructor with the Institute of Children’s Literature, and author of 5 YA biographies and 5 nonfiction books for children suggests:
“Don’t write something different from what is assigned because you like to do it your way. Do use the manuscript format – double spaced, etc.”
Susan Wright, another instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature, and author of the DEAD END ROAD MYSTERIES (for ages 10 & up) advises:
“Pay attention when others’ work is being read and critiqued–it’s not just common courtesy, but we can often learn a lot from it. Resist the temptation to go off on personal conversational tangents until after the session. Workshop or class time is limited and valuable.”
L.D. Harkrader, author of 9 nonfiction books for children, and the middle grade novel, AIRBALL: MY LIFE IN BRIEFS (published by Roaring Book Press) says:
“When your instructor makes suggestions on how to improve your stories, don’t be afraid to revise, and don’t trick yourself into thinking revision is merely cosmetic work–a word or comma changed here or there. Consider what your instructor has suggested, give your stories a hard, honest look, then dig into your revision, ruthlessly cutting or changing anything that doesn’t work. Your stories deserve to be as strong and as publishable as possible, and the only way you can achieve that is to be brave and do the work.”
Okay. So now that you know how to make the most of that writing workshop or writing class you just signed up for – go get ready for it. And have a great time!
See you in print!
Listen to Book Bites for Kids, LIVE on blogtalkradio every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday afternoon at 2:00 Central time – or check back here to listen to the replays of the live shows.
If you’re a freelance writer looking for work, many times you’ll see job ads that ask for a cover letter, resume, and writing samples or clips. You have no trouble writing a cover letter, and you have a resume on hand. But when it comes to writing samples or clips, you’re stumped. What does the editor really want to see?
Well, the answer to that is – the editor wants to see if you can do the type of work he needs. For example, if he’s looking for someone to write press releases, don’t send him a copy of a short story you wrote about Great Aunt Edna – even if it did win 1st place in a writing competition. That’s because a short story won’t let this editor know you can write press releases.
If an editor asks for “clips” he means he wants to see examples of your published work. Sometimes, though, an editor wants to see unedited writing samples – so he gets a feel for how heavily your work will need to be edited. If the ad asks for “unedited samples” then send samples that have not been edited by a professional and/or published.
Although there are no hard and fast rules for sending writing samples, here are a few tips:
1) For clips – send only examples of your published work. At the top of the clip, write the name and date of the publication.
2) For writing samples – these can be either published or unpublished examples of your writing.
3) Whether you’re sending clips or writing samples ALWAYS send a sample of work that is closely related to, or an exact example, of the type of work you are seeking.
Once you’ve been freelancing for a while you’ll develop a “clips file” that contains samples of various types of writing. You’ll usually be able to pull something appropriate from this file to submit with your cover letter and resume. But, if you don’t have anything that is a good example of what a particular editor is looking for, then sit down and write something that IS representative of what this editor needs. You’ll have better luck getting the assignment or freelance work because you’ll be giving the editor just what he wants to see.
For more writing tips, subscribe to The Morning Nudge! When your pen won’t budge, read The Morning Nudge!
by Suzanne Lieurance
Okay. So I’m not David Letterman. But I doubt if he’d know much about the top 10 mistakes made by new children’s writers anyway. I, on the other hand, read from 10 to 20 manuscripts for children every week (I’m not bragging – I’m just an instructor with the Institute of Children’s Literature). While many of the stories I read are destined for publication, I find that 10 common mistakes crop up again and again in the other manuscripts I edit each week.
I’ll start with number 10 (just like Letterman) and work my way up to the number one writing mistake made by new children’s writers (and, just so you know – I’ve been guilty of making some of these mistakes myself, so don’t beat yourself up if you realize you’re guilty of some of these, too):
10) No Clear POV Character – Children tend to relate to the POV character in a story. This is the person they will root for. Make it clear right from the start whose story is being told. Even if you have two main characters (twins, for example), you need to pick just one of these kids to be your POV character. And, it should go without saying, when writing for children, make sure your POV character IS a kid – even if Grandma has a big part in your story.
9) Multiple Points of View – Unlike stories for adults, stories for children are generally told from only one POV. It isn’t difficult to maintain a single point of view once you get the hang of it. Just remember – if you are “showing” everything from your main character’s point of view, then he or she has to be present for everything that happens. I see stories all the time where the POV character suddenly leaves the room. Yikes! If your POV character wasn’t there to see or hear what went on, then we can’t see or hear it either.
8) Telling instead of Showing – Read a good story and chances are there is a lot of action and dialogue (showing) with minimal stretches of straight narrative (telling). Too much narrative and the story sounds like a summary. Readers don’t want a summary. They want scenes with action and dialogue that make them feel they are actually experiencing what is going on. So “show” as much as possible of your story through action and dialogue.
7) Overuse of Adjectives, Adverbs, and Other Unnecessary Words -Do you really need to say someone “whispered quietly” Or “shouted loudly” Or, my favorite – she “nodded her head”? What else could she nod? Or, she “shrugged her shoulders” – she certainly wouldn’t shrug her foot!
6) Dialogue That is Not Punctuated Properly – Get a grammar book to learn how to punctuate dialogue properly. But, most importantly, remember to change paragraphs each time the speaker changes. I read manuscripts all the time where three or four characters are speaking, yet the paragraph never changes. Just imagine how confusing that is to the reader!
5) Long Timeframes – I know Harry Potter takes place over several years. But, the story also takes place through several books. Most children’s writers start out writing stories for children’s magazines or they want to write picture books for very young children. Either way, the timeframe in these stories should be rather short – a couple of hours or a day or two. If your story takes place over a couple of weeks or (gulp!) a couple of years, then you need to shorten the timeframe.
4) No Narrative “Hook” for the Reader – I know what you’re asking -”What is a narrative hook?” Well, that’s simple. It’s just an opening sentence or two that “hooks” the reader and makes him or her want to continue reading to find out what happens.
3) Dialogue That Doesn’t Sound Real – Listen to any child or teenager and you’ll find out that much of what kids and teens say (at least to each other) tends to sound like a series of grunts. So don’t have the child or teen in your story use words like “shall,” or never use contractions. If you do, the dialogue will sound too formal and your work will not have a child’s or teen’s voice.
2) Adults Who Step In to Save the Day for the Child – I know what you’re thinking. Parents and other well-meaning adults DO step in all the time to save the day for kids. So why can’t they do it in stories for children? The answer to that is – because children don’t want to read stories like that. Stories for children have strong children (or children who eventually become strong throughout the course of the story) as characters. This empowers the children who read these stories. They figure, if the POV character can solve his own problems then maybe they can too.
Now. Drum roll here.
The number one mistake new writers make in their stories for children is
1) No real conflict – There’s no story problem. Your POV character needs to face some big problem right at the start of the story. Then, he or she needs to struggle and struggle with this problem as he/she tries to solve it. That is, things need to keep getting worse and worse until finally the POV character is able to solve the problem (or at least resolve it) and change or grow somehow in the process. Without a story problem you have what editors like to call “an incident,” and editors don’t publish incidents. They publish stories.
So that’s my list of top 10 mistakes new children’s writers make. Use this article as a checklist when you’re writing for children. Avoid these mistakes and you’ll be well on your way to publication.
See you in print!
It’s no secret that one of the best ways to break into the children’s magazine markets is with nonfiction. So follow these 6 tips to have the best chance of acceptance with your short articles for children:
1. Study the markets – Each children’s magazine is different, with a different style, voice, and variety of subject matter. Take time to study the markets you wish to submit to and you’ll know which ones are the most appropriate for the articles that you wish to write.
2. Study Past Issues – Besides studying current issues of each publication you wish to write for, look at several past issues of each publication. Make a list of the various nonfiction article titles in each issue to get a “feel” for the way various authors narrowed their focus for each topic they wrote about. One of the big mistakes most beginning children’s writers make with their nonfiction articles is that they don’t narrow the focus of the article enough. If you want to write about camels, for example, don’t propose an article that tells anything and everything about camels. Instead, focus on just ONE aspect about camels and develop your article around that.
3. Include subtopic headings when writing your article – These will break up your article into “chunks” which are easier for young readers to read. These subtopic headings will also “lead” the reader through your article. They will also make your article “look” more like nonfiction instead of fiction.
4. Give your topic an unusual slant that will appeal to kids and editors alike – When you do this, your article won’t sound so much like a textbook. And articles that sound too much like textbook material are NOT in big demand with magazine editors.
5. Consider topics that will relate to themed publications – Many children’s magazines have themes for each issue. And, even for publications that do not have themed issues, editors still look for topics that can be used for holiday issues as well as other seasonal issues. For example, most publications feature some sort of back-to-school articles in their August or September issues. In the summer months, these same publications tend to feature articles that give vacation tips or crafts ideas and games to keep kids occupied during the summer. So, be sure to include some of these types of article ideas in your queries.
6. Look for lesser known publications – Competition is fierce for Highlights, Spider, Cricket, and most of the very popular publications for children. You’ll automatically increase your chances for acceptance if you query publications that don’t receive so many queries.
Try these 6 tips and it shouldn’t take you long to start receiving acceptances from the children’s magazines that you query.
by Irene S. Roth
Success plans are important tools for writers to organize their yearly, monthly, and weekly writing goals. A success plan is simply a list of detailed actions that should be taken to achieve our writing goals. The first step, however, is to determine our three long-term main goals for the year. From these, we can plan our short-term monthly goals for the first quarter of the year.
Creating a success plan may initially require some effort and organization. However, it is worth it in the long run. Here are five important benefits of creating a success plan for the year.
1. Clarification. Unless we first write down our goals and plan which ones to complete over a given time, we won’t have any clarity about our writing goals. We’ll just be busily working on writing tasks that have no overall organization and completion to them. More importantly, we won’t have a plan in place to systematically complete our longer writing goals.
2. Consistency. If we don’t write down how we plan to complete our writing goals, they won’t have an overall consistency, and we will aimlessly move from one task to the next. To be successful, we must work with some degree of consistency on our writing projects. Thus, by carefully planning our goals ahead of time, we can accomplish our short-term and long-term goals by taking the possible inconsistency and unreliability out of our writing.
3. Commitment. We need to consistently track how we are doing so that we can commit to our most important writing goals. If we create a success plan for the first three months of the year, all we have to do is to glance at our success plan to determine whether or not we’re effectively committing our efforts to our writing goals. If we aren’t completing our three goals, we can recommit by examining our success plan and getting back on track.
4. Focus. Many times, we may have a difficult time prioritizing our writing projects. If our deadlines aren’t clearly laid out, we will leave certain projects until the last minute, reducing our chances of success because the quality of our writing will be of inferior quality. We must take the necessary time to produce our best work. This is the case whether or not we are amateur writers.
5. Self-Confidence. There is nothing more exhilarating than crossing off one of our goals for the quarter. It helps us to feel more confident about completing our writing projects. Further, nothing builds momentum quicker or gives us more of a sense of accomplishment than realizing that we’ve been successful.
Given these benefits of success plans, writers cannot afford not to take the time to create one for themselves every quarter. All of us should take the time to determine our three main writing goals for the year, and then to place them on our success plan weekly and monthly. By doing this, we should have the most productive writing year we’ve ever had!
I have many friends who are children’s writers in all phases and stages of their careers. A common misconception is that some writers assume they are just supposed to sit down in front of a blank computer screen and type the next best children’s blockbuster. Therefore, when these writers try to write, they feel very uninspired, bored, and frustrated. By the end of their writing session, they have no new original content written.
To the contrary, I have discovered that a successful writer’s day is a journey filled with inspirational moments and motivational activities that compel her to race to the computer and type until all that creative material that has been flooding her brain has found new life on the written page.
For starters, I like to hold a daily brainstorming session for the next pages or story I plan on writing that day. I usually settle into a comfortable chair and put my feet up, a stack of children’s books nearby. These books are about my topic or represent the voice I want to explore in my own writing. For instance, if I’m writing a picture book about losing a first tooth, then I have a stack of picture books all about a kid losing his first tooth. I read through these, first for enjoyment, and then to analyze story ingredients such as how the problem was presented, how the middle was developed, and how the end was resolved. I take notes about what I liked the best.
Next, I often progress to a stack of adult books I’ve collected from the library on my topic. For instance, if my main character is a raccoon, I’ll read an encyclopedia about animals to learn more about the real world my character comes from. I’ll also study the index of books for adults on my topic to see if I can find key words such as nocturnal that I might want to use in my own story. As I read, I jot down notes of ideas that come to me and write down lists of key words related to my topic.
Now that my reading session is over, sometimes I organize my notes by using graphic organizers. When children learn how to write in school, teachers often guide them to use graphic organizers such as a picture of a ladder, wagon wheel, or ice cream cone. Since we write for children, let’s engage in as many children’s activities as possible! Take time to draw graphic organizers and fill them in with information about your topic. Crayons and markers make this activity even more interesting and can motivate you to have fun during this stage of the writing process.
While you’re engaged in these “non-writing” and “pre-writing” tasks, listen to children’s CDs. The engaging rhythms and delightful words will stimulate your brain to explore the imaginary world of children and inspire creative juices to flow.
At any point along this journey, hop over to your computer and type words and passages that want to burst forth into the world. Implementing these activities frequently will help inspire you to write fresh, original material.
- Nancy I. Sanders is the author of the groundbreaking new book for children’s writers, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. For more information about Nancy and her books, visit her website at www.nancyisanders.com
by Irene S. Roth
The main purpose of a success journal is for writers to have a place to report their successes. However, there are many other important reasons for keeping a success journal.
A success journal should be used by writers to:
1. Track our weekly marketing plans. In order to be successful, we must have a marketing plan in place each week. This means before the week
starts, we should sit down, preferably on Sunday night, and determine what our writing goals will be for the week. Then we should try to achieve
them one by one during the week.
2. Plan our writing projects and the steps we should be taking to complete them. Some of our projects have multi-stages. It is important to write these stages down one at a time and not just blindly go through the steps. A check-mark system can be very motivating.
3. Explore obstacles to our work and writing life. We all face many obstacles with our writing projects. When we start writing, we may face inner obstacles, such as how to focus for a long time on one project, or how not to answer email when we’re trying to write. However, when we get to be more mature writers, we may experience other obstacles, such as creating a niche for ourselves, and focusing on it for most of our writing.
4. Record things we’ve learned about a project. Many times, if we don’t write down the things that work and don’t work about a project, we tend
to forget and repeat the same mistakes over and over again. And then we make the same errors with our other writing projects.
5. Track our feelings and emotions about our different projects. Some of our projects may have negative emotion attached to them. If this happens, we may be harbouring negative emotions about a particular project we are trying to avoid. Unless we discover why we have these negative emotions in the first place about a project, ultimately, we may not want to finish the writing project.
6. Keep an idea file as part of our success journal. Ideas will come to us from all over. And if we don’t carry a notebook with us all the time, we’ll probably miss opportunities to write about different topics. So, one section of our success journal should be devoted to new ideas when they occur to us.
7. Track breakthroughs about our projects. With some of our projects, we may have unexpected breakthroughs. It is important to write these down for future reference. This can be a great way to actually improve our writing too. If something really works, write it down and try it on another project. This is how we learn as writers.
The success journal could act as a mirror for our writing. Its focus can be forward or backward. It can help us to learn more about ourselves and our writing habits. And it can help us become more confident writers.
Success journals could really help us to become better writers, if we allow the process of writing things down to work for us. Why not start a success journal today and start reaping some of the benefits of having one.