Posts Tagged ‘WriteOnCon’

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A couple of weeks ago, I asked for help choosing between two blog posts I’d written in order to revise one of them for submission to a travel-writing anthology.  I was once again amazed at the generosity of this writing community when I got nearly 20 responses.  You all helped me so much, not just by putting forward your opinions about the post, but by motivating me to actually get the piece written and submitted.

You see, it turned out to be more work than I had initially anticipated because I had to take a post that assumed a great deal of knowledge on the part of the reader — that I was traveling in Italy and why, previous hikes I had taken, photographs of the landscape, etc, — and turn it into a piece that someone with no previous knowledge of the blog could understand and appreciate.  I had to add in context, description and motivation.  Because of other commitments (the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference, for example), I had just a few hours of one day to get it ready.

I felt daunted and wanted to quit and wait for the next call for submissions.  But I couldn’t.  Not after so many of you had taken time out of your own busy schedules to help me out.  It was with you all in mind that I forged ahead and submitted just minutes before the deadline closed.  Regardless of what happens with that submission, I am glad I persevered.  Thank you for being the motivation I needed to get the job done!

When I put out the call for help, I promised that I would write a post highlighting your blogs, if you have one, and why I like them.  This is not at all hard to do since you are all so talented. Here you all are, in the order you commented.  Please, readers, check these guys out!  You will be glad you did.

Head Ant: You know any blog that headlines with, “Life is a Picnic” is going to be fun.  Head Ant does posts on books, crafts, parenting, writing, recipes, you name it.  I love how she integrates all of her interests into the blog.

Jenny Sulpizio: I “met” Jenny at this year’s WriteOnCon when we swapped critiques of stories.  She is a talented writer who shares her experience with parenting and life in general on her blog.  Right now I’m loving her “Christmas Countdown” series!

Catherine Johnson, Writer: Catherine, who I’ll forever think of as Kangaroobee, has been a friend and supporter almost from the beginning of this blog.  A fellow children’s book writer and a gifted poet, her posts never fail to make me smile.  She even writes book reviews in poetry!  She is always there with a kind word of encouragement – someone you definitely want in your writing corner.

Nancy Hatch, Spirit Lights the Way: Nancy and I have been following each other for at least a year now, and her posts never fail to make me stop, think, and discover how I can appreciate life a little more.  She is candid, honest, interesting and writes on a multitude of subjects.  She has an active readership and often the best part of reading her posts is going through the comments – the discussion is always lively!

Cathy Mealey: Cathy is fairly new follower, and I don’t think she has a blog.  However, she has very kindly sent me several emails with links to articles on topics she knows I’ll be interested in.  Seldom do people take those kinds of extra steps these days.  She was also the lucky winner of my Colorado Picture Book Writers giveaway!

Joanna Marple, Miss Marple’s Musings: Joanna is a fellow picture book writer and poet, and we share a wanderlust and love of world travel.  I also appreciate how her love of nature and animals finds its way into her writing and her blog posts.  She also does fantastic picture books reviews from a writer’s perspective.

Clara Bowman-Jahn, Clarbojahn’s Blog: Clara is another writer I “met” at WriteOnCon (see why you should attend that conference??).  Clara is also a fellow Writers’ Platform-Building Campaigner and has been doing a much better job keeping up with it than I have – lol!  Her posts are very helpful to writers wherever they are in their journeys.

Bagni di Lucca: I “met” the two ladies who write this blog, Debra and Liz, while I was in Italy.  They encouraged me in my writing about the Italy trip, and I have come to live vicariously through their blog.  I think of them as “off the beaten path,” not just in Italy but everywhere they travel.  They provide the juicy, intimate details of a place – the things you wouldn’t necessarily think of seeing first.  They turn ordinary into extraordinary and the photography is stunning.

Stacy S. Jensen: A fellow Coloradan (although we haven’t met in person yet) and children’s writer, Stacy’s blog and her Facebook page are packed with goodies for writers seeking to improve their craft and make their way along the publishing journey.  Our degrees of separation keep getting smaller, and we are just going to have to meet soon (hint, hint).  She’s led a fascinating life and, like me, places an emphasis on the practice of gratitude in her weekly Thankful Thursday posts.

Sana Johnson Quijada, A Friend to Yourself: Sana’s comment to my “call for help” post was her first, and I am so glad I got to “meet” her and familiarize myself with her blog.  She is a psychiatrist and a writer using her blog in a very important way – teaching us how to be a friend to ourselves by evaluating our thought and behavior patterns to weed out those that are not in service to our well-being.  I dare you to read a few of her posts and not be inspired.

Susanna Leonard Hill: Susanna must be one of the most supportive bloggers of children’s book writers and readers that I know.  It seems every time I leave a comment on a kidlit blog, Susanna has already been there.  She is a multi-published author of many wonderful picture books, including the adorable Punxsutawny Phyllis (niece of Punxsutawny Phil of Groundhog Dog Day fame).  She does pitch contests, giveaways, fun Friday photos and more.

Rebecca Gomez: Rebecca writes poetry and fiction for kids and is also an artist.  She writes very thoughtful posts about the art of writing for children.  Obviously a fellow grammar geek, I love this post of hers on apostrophes.

Julie Farrar, Traveling Through…: Julie Farrar is also a fellow Writers’ Platform-Building Campaigner.  She is a woman, like myself, searching for work and a life with more meaning and passion.  Her posts are beautiful and thought-provoking, and as an added bonus, she lives in Germany and posts gorgeous pictures from there!

Sons of Thunder: This fellow’s blog tagline is, “God, Cuisine, Life, Poetry, Music, Ships, History, Treasures.”  That about covers it. 🙂  Therefore, I think everyone can find something on his blog.  I’d also like to add that he is the most creative commenter EVER.  Seriously, his comments are better than my posts – lol.

Alice: Alice, I have no link to any additional information about you :-(, but thank you for your comment!

Alison Pearce Stevens: Alison is one of my online critique group members.  She writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books and magazine articles.  Her science writing is top-notch and I never fail to learn something when I critique them.  She is also shopping a middle-grade novel which I read, critiqued, and LOVED!  She has laser-sharp instincts, which makes her an excellent critique partner.  My writing is much better because of her insight and honesty.

Lynnette Benton: Lynnette writes not one, but two creative writing blogs, including Polish and Publish: Tools and Tactics for Creative Writers.  An accomplished writer and creative writing instructor, she shares her wisdom and street smarts with all of us.

Hannah Holt, Lightbulb Books: Hannah is the only person on this list I’ve met in person – at last year’s Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference.  She didn’t make it this year because she had twins early in 2011 and they’ve kept her pretty busy these days. 🙂 Her website is fun and quirky, and one of her picture book manuscripts won a Letter of Merit from the Barbara Karlin Grant Committee this year!

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Patrick Ross of The Artist’s Road.  On the same day I was wavering about submitting the piece, I read a on his blog, The Artist’s Road, entitled, Do You Suffer from “Not Quite” Paralysis?  Give it a read if perfectionism has ever gotten in the way of just getting something done and sent out.

I love the fact that connections made on social media networks turn into real friendships, and that asking for help in this venue is the norm rather than the exception.  Thank you all, once again!

When was the last time you asked for, and received, help in a way that touched you?


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*ETA – This list is a compilation of my thoughts after reading loads of articles and dozens of draft queries in different venues (including critiques of my own queries).  It is NOT based on any one particular query I may have seen in a particular venue.  🙂

That’s right.  I couldn’t stop at ten, so fifteen it is.

I’ve been thinking nonstop about queries lately, both because of WriteOnCon and because I am at that stage with a couple of my manuscripts. After reading many “how-to” articles and draft queries on countless blogs, forums and writing boards, I’ve come up with my own list of don’ts.  Some of these are common sense and you’ve probably seen them elsewhere.  Some of them are my own.  Keep in mind that querying is personal and subjective.  You may disagree with some of these or be able to point to examples of queries that led to contracts even though they made use of a “don’t” on this list.  That’s fine.  Always trust your gut.  These are the ones that work for me.

  1. DON’T misspell the name of the agent/editor.  Most agents say a misspelled name is not a deal-breaker for them, especially if their names have an unusual spelling.  Still, I say no excuses here.  Check, re-check and check again.  This information is readily available online.  You only have one shot to impress this person, and misspelling his or her name is not the way to do it.
  2. DON’T make any spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes. Unlike #1, most agents are not as forgiving about careless mistakes.  If you make them in a one-page letter, they’ll assume you’ve made them in your manuscript too.  These people work long, long hours and read thousands of queries every year.  They are looking for a reason to reject you.  Don’t hand it to them on a silver platter.
  3. DON’T mention the fact that you are unpublished (if applicable).  They’ll assume you’re not if you don’t include pub creds in your bio.  If they love your writing, it won’t matter to them.  So why point it out?  Instead, focus on the credentials you do have that relate to your writing (writing associations, critique groups, awards, etc.)
  4. DON’T say “so and so” was the inspiration for this story unless it is a nonfiction biography.  The reason?  They don’t really care that your daughter said this cute thing one day and the rest is history.  They care about the story.  You’re wasting precious real-estate in your query letter to convey something that isn’t important to them.
  5. Likewise, DON’T mention anyone who loved your book unless that person or organization is highly respected and well-known in the industry.  Of course your kids love your book.  So might your second-grade class.  And your mom.  Unfortunately they don’t make publishing decisions, so their opinions don’t count for much (sorry!).  On the other hand, if you’ve written a book of poems for kids and Maya Angelou loves it and is willing to go on record and help promote it, then by all means…
  6. DON’T say how long you’ve been working on the manuscript.  Doing so is almost certain to hurt you either way.  If you admit it’s been ten years, an agent will wonder why it took so darned long and if you will ever be able to write a book again.  If you say it took ten days, they may assume you haven’t taken it as seriously as you should or you are querying prematurely.
  7. DON’T send gifts of any kind with the query letter.  Seriously.  Just don’t.  It’s creepy and it will make you stand out in all the wrong ways.
  8. Don’t say your story will be an instant best-seller or make any other promise that you don’t know for certain you can make good on.  Not only with the agent/editor not believe you, they probably won’t believe anything else you say about your manuscript either.
  9. Don’t say your book is awesome/thrilling/a page-turner.  This is similar to #8, but more nuanced.  Here you’re not making a claim about potential sales, but you’re breaking another cardinal rule of writing – “show, don’t tell.”  Your query needs to show the editor/agent how great your story is.  If you simply tell them it is, they have nothing to base it on but your opinion.  And I hate to say it, but you’re not exactly unbiased are you?
  10. DON’T use the words, “I believe…”  In my previous job, I did tons of persuasive writing, and using the words “I think, I believe, I hope you will find…” is the number one mistake writers make when they are trying to be convincing.  As writers, we are supposed to project confidence.  You want your readers – in this case agents or editors – to trust you.  Make sure they know they are in good hands.  Why should they believe what you say about your story if you’re not even sure yourself?  Luckily, this error is easy to fix.  Before:  “I believe this story is timely because the World Cup will take place in Brazil in 2014, which will spark interest in Brazilian culture.”  After: “This book is timely because the World Cup will take place in Brazil…”  Which one sounds stronger?  I know we’re all trying to be polite and respectful in these query letters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be sure of yourself when it comes to your story and your writing.
  11. DON’T use a question in your pitch.  I once made this mistake in a query of mine, and when I got a critique from the awesome query-ninja Elana Johnson, she called it “weaksauce.”  When I asked why, she said something to the effect of, “People will either know the answer or not care, or maybe both.”  Example: “Will Prince Fancy Pants slay the dragon and make it back to the castle in time to save the princess before the hourglass runs out?”  Answer: “Yeah probably, but now I know how the story ends so why bother reading the book?”  MANY of the agents and editors commented on their distaste for questions as pitches during WriteOnCon, making me eternally grateful that Elana gave me this advice more than a year ago so I could stop making that rookie mistake.
  12. DON’T send form letters or mass mail.  The “Dear Agent” letter doesn’t work and it’s just plain lazy.  If you can’t come up with a reason why you want to query that specific agent, why would even want to be represented by that person?  Another reason to avoid mass mailing is that you also give everybody the opportunity to mass reject you.  Then what?
  13. DON’T discuss your ideas for marketing tie-ins like plush dolls, toys, etc.  Don’t we all wish our writing would lead to a TV/movie/retail franchise?  It’s not going to happen to most of us.  If you spend your precious space in a query letter going over all of your great ideas for just such a campaign, the agent will be left to wonder how important the writing is to you.  Here’s the other thing: the only stories/characters that turn into a franchise are from books that are bestsellers.  See #8 if you’re starting to think it’s a good idea to back up your marketing plans with the statement that your book will be a bestseller.
  14. DON’T lie or stretch the truth.  Just because you met one of your prospective agents’ clients or colleagues at a conference does not mean that person is a reference.  Don’t say, “I got your name from…” or “I was referred to you by…” unless it was crystal clear that person intended to refer you.  Otherwise, you will burn bridges both with the agent and with the author or colleague (because they will follow-up).  Unless a person actually says the words, “You can use my name,” or s/he makes the introduction for you, it is not a referral.  I once wrote a query where I mentioned that I had worked with one of this agent’s clients on the specific manuscript I was querying (true).  That was how I personalized the query.  I also made it very clear that I was not implying a referral.  Although that query was rejected, it came with a personal response and an invitation to query other projects.
  15. DON’T let all the dos and don’ts of querying paralyze you into never sending out any queries.  This is the most important and probably the most difficult “don’t” on the list.  It’s hard enough trying to decide when a manuscript is “finished,” much less add in the stress of writing the perfect query letter.  At some point, you just have to go for it.  I still get butterflies every time I hit the “Send” button on a query, but I also know the work isn’t doing any good sitting on my hard drive.  Sure, if I don’t send any queries, I’ll never get rejected.  But I’ll never get accepted either…

Now for a bonus round.  If you haven’t heard of the Query Shark (Janet Reid from FinePrint Literary), get thyself over to her site at once.  These two titles came from her and gave me a laugh (even though they’re based on actual queries!)

“Don’t quote rejection letters in a query.” Uhh.. okay?  *scratches head in bewilderment*

“Don’t query if you’re dead.”  I will surely try not to.  If I’m dead, I might have bigger problems than the fact that I’m unpublished.

And here’s an article worth reading from the title alone…

25 Reasons Your Query Letter SucksWrite It Sideways

Finally, some query resources you can’t afford to overlook:

Agent Query

Query Shark – The Shark does bite, but only if you deserve it.

Query Tracker

Writing a Query Letter – Posts from the aforementioned Elana Johnson, who is also the author of an e-book on the subject called From the Query to the Call.  I own it, and I can tell you it’s very helpful.

And a couple of my own posts on the subject:

How to Write a Winning Query – notes from Elena Mechlin’s (Pippin Properties) conference talk

A Good Query Letter is Like a Skirt – from Andrea Brown’s talk at Big Sur in the Rockies

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go compulsively check my inbox every five minutes check my email to see if I have any responses yet…

Agree or disagree with my don’ts?  Any other resources you want to share?  Let us know in the comments.

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The biggest event of this week was sending the kids off to school, including my baby to kindergarten.  That is about the only thing that could be bigger than WriteOnCon – the amazing online conference dedicated to writing for children, provided for free! by its organizers.

Quotes on Gratitude

“Giving thanks for abundance is sweeter than the abundance itself.” — Rumi

“Saying thank you is more than good manners.  It is good spirituality.” — Alfred Painte

“Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot.” — The Hausa of Nigeria

Gratitude List for the week ending August 20

  1. Both Em and Jay had excellent first days of school.
  2. Jay LOVES school, and his teacher.
  3. The passel of hot air balloons that greeted them as they walked down to the bus stop
  4. The fact that Jay has Em to help him as he adjusts
  5. Claudia, our friendly and helpful bus driver
  6. The delicious and nutritious hot lunches available at school, courtesy of chef Ann Cooper and her team with the School Food Project
  7. Now that the kids are both in school at the same time and in the same place, I can work predictable, regular hours for the first time in five years.
  8. What a way to start a work week! WriteOnCon – packed to the gills, once again, with inspiration and solid tips that can be put into action NOW.
  9. The organizers of WriteOnCon, who, out of the goodness of their hearts, take the time to provide this conference at no charge.  Check them out: Elana Johnson, Shannon Whitney Messenger, Jamie Harrington, Casey McCormick, and Lisa and Laura Roecker.  Follow them, thank them, BUY THEIR BOOKS!
  10. My friend Corey Schwartz, who is always there to bounce around ideas and provide writing encouragement.

What are you grateful for this week?

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I am very late to the promotion game with this one, but just in case you are a children’s book writer and you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of months and weren’t aware that WriteOnCon starts today, now is your chance to get on over there and register.  Three full days of online sessions led by bestselling authors, top agents and editors.  Topics range from perfecting the craft, how to write a query, seeking an agent, and marketing and promotion.  And MORE!  There are sessions on picture books, middle grade and YA and critique forums for each.  All of this is provided by the lovely organizers for the incredible cost of — FREE!

Finally, if you enjoy the conference, consider making a donation to WriteOnCon of any amount so they can continue to bring us this unsurpassed opportunity to learn, grow, and make amazing contacts.  Even $5 makes a big difference.  You can go here to donate.

As for me, now you know why my blog will be silent for the next three days…

P.S. Many of the agents participating in WoC also accept work for the adult market, so I would encourage all writers to check it out even if you don’t write for the children’s market.

So, are you going to be there?  Let me know so I can look you up!

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Here to teach you, I am

One of the coolest things I did this week was watch The Empire Strikes Back with the kids.  My all-time favorite of the Star Wars movies.  And while the things Yoda says are not exactly about gratitude, they certainly are wise.  A strong spiritual teacher, is he.  So in lieu of quotes on gratitude, this week, sharing my favorite yoda-isms am I.  Enjoy.

Yoda Quotes

“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.

“For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us… and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this… [nudging Luke’s arm] crude matter! You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock… everywhere!”

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”

And a fun favorite…

When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good, you will not, hm?

Gratitude list for the week ending August 13

  1. Well, watching The Empire Strikes Back with the kids.  Em’s reaction to the “big reveal” of Luke’s father was the exact same as mine.  NOOOOO!  She hasn’t stopped talking about it since.
  2. Two “date nights” with Mom.  One nice dinner out and another to go see The Help.  I almost never like movies made from books I love, but they did a great job with this one.
  3. In preparation for WriteOnCon this week, drafting two query letters and starting a comprehensive revision on another manuscript I have brewing.  Good to be back in the game.
  4. My first post-Italy pilates class.  Felt good to start to counter-balance the impact of the pizza, pasta, gelato summer.
  5. Crickets chirping (I know I said that last week too, but it’s so lovely to work at my computer in the evening to their nighttime serenade)
  6. The health of my family and friends.  I am always thankful for this, but tragedy struck a dear friend of a dear friend of mine this week, which always puts the important things in life in sharp perspective.  My heart is with my friend and her friend’s family.
  7. I have received unexpected and surprising compliments on my posts about Italy this week.  I’m glad, because I have so enjoyed writing them.
  8. My dictionary and my thesaurus.  And Rhymezone.com.  How my writing would be so much more of a struggle without them!
  9. Gearing up for the start of school – tomorrow!  This is bittersweet, as I’ll send my baby on the bus this year.  But he’s ready, so I should be too.
  10. Having a girl’s night with Em – getting a mani/pedi together

What are you grateful for this week?

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I know, I know.  Way late this time, coming as it is on Monday instead of Sunday.  I’m hoping for more regular blogging hours starting this Thursday, by which time both of my kids will be back in school. *Here’s me doing the happy dance.*  We’ve had a great summer, but I’m ready to get back to routine and especially to my writing time.  I am so full of ideas these days, I just can’t wait to dig in.

Speaking of writing, what I am most grateful for last week was the virtual WriteOnCon conference that was held Tuesday-Thursday.  Seven amazing women writers – Elana Johnson, Jamie Harrington, Jen Stayrook, Casey McCormick, Lisa and Laura Roecker and Shannon Messenger put together three solid days of blog posts, vlogs, live chats, workshops, query critiques and more.  All for kidlit writers and all for FREE.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Some of the highest caliber content on writing and publishing children’s books that I’ve ever seen and they organized and provided it at no cost to us.  I know I learned more over that three day period than I could have in six months, so this week’s Gratitude Sunday/Monday mashup post is dedicated to them.

Quotes on Gratitude

“If people offer their help or wisdom as you go through life, accept it gratefully. You can learn much from those who have gone before you.” — Edmund O’Neill

“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.” — William Shakespeare

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing.  It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” — Voltaire

Gratitude List for the week ending August 14

  1. All of the WriteOnCon conference, but especially the live sessions as well as Tiffany Strelitz Haber’s sessions on rhyming picture books.  I needed the advice, inspiration and hope she provided.
  2. My husband, for flying solo with the kids 4 nights in a row so I could be glued to WriteOnCon, go to my book club, and have a Girl’s Night Out.
  3. All of the wonderful people who commented on my query and WIPs that I shared on the conference forums.  I will put all of this fantastic feedback to work making my pieces better.
  4. My own online critique group.  My work wouldn’t be nearly as far along today if it weren’t for them.
  5. Karen Collum and Kat Apel for organizing the Twitter #pblitchats every Sunday.  I learn so much every time, and it’s wonderful to connect with fellow writers every week.
  6. Weather in the eighties, and taking Rocky with us on a family hike.
  7. Getting Em’s school shopping done.
  8. Girl’s Night Out to see the movie Eat, Pray, Love.
  9. An outdoor Margareaders meeting on one of my all-time favorite books – The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz-Zafon.

What are you grateful for this week?

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