Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It's Writers Wednesday and the topic is Cover/Query Letters.

These two types of letters serve basically the same purpose: introduce your work and inquire about possible interest on the part of an editor or agent. A cover letter is sent with a manuscript (the entire manuscript for picture books, a partial for chapter books) or book proposal (for non-fiction work). A query letter is sent when you are not permitted to include your manuscript. The query is similar to the cover letter, but it will include more story detail because it must hook a reader's interest sufficiently to persuade them to ask to see your manuscript.

A cover/query letter is the first piece of your writing that a prospective editor or agent will read. This is your opportunity to introduce your work and yourself as well as provide a glimpse of your writing style and expertise.

Before you inquire, research the publishing house, editor or agent. Does your work fit their criteria? Double-check their website for the most current information on submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. If the publisher or agent wants an exclusive look, be sure to mention that is what you are giving them. If they accept multiple submissions, you must let them know if you currently have the work submitted somewhere else.

Format: Plain white 8 1/2 x 11 paper or your personal business-style letterhead, typed, single-spaced in standard business form. Your letter should be no more than one page and ideally you want plenty of white space in your letter. Provide all your contact information: name, address, phone numbers, email. If you are employed in some other field, do not use that letterhead.

Your letter should be clear, concise and at the same time give the reader a sense of your personality. Avoid colored papers, inks, patterns, prints, borders, clip art, or cute fonts. Proofread to catch all grammar, spelling or typo mistakes.

Your letter should be structured more or less like this:
  • Opening: Address your letter to a specific person if possible. Double check the spelling of their name and their current company title.
  • Paragraph #1 Provide the title, type of book and word count. If the book is intended for a particular publisher's line, mention it.
  • Paragraph #2 This is the moment when you hook the reader's interest in the story. Your passion and hard work are showcased here. Provide a description and brief synopsis of your story in a style similar to the tone of the book. A synopsis should not withhold the conclusion. Avoid a "to discover the ending, you'll have to read the book," tease. What is the book about? What's the theme? Why are the characters special? What is the conflict? These are questions you want to answer without sounding like you're checking them off a list. This paragraph will be the reader's best picture of how well you write. Let your enthusiasm come through, but avoid the hype: this is the next Newbery, NYT best seller, Harry Potter, etc.
  • Paragraph #3 And now for a bit about you. Include significant publications, credentials, background, memberships in professional writing societies -- as it relates to the work you are submitting. If nothing applies then skip this paragraph. Don't talk about the letter to the editor that made it into your local newspaper, or how your friends, relatives or third grade class loved your book.
  • The closing: Make this a polite farewell. Mention any enclosures: manuscript, SASE. Don't leave them with a deadline, "If I don't hear from you by such and such a date, I'm sending this somewhere else.
Mail your submission via standard mail, no return receipts, etc.

Cross your fingers and hope for the best. Then get busy writing that next great idea!

Monday, June 28, 2010

It's Monday and I'll be brief. I'm on my way out of town for the day, but I wanted to share some news about my picture book, The Gingerbread Cowboy (HarperCollins 2006).

  • Scholastic acquired rights in 2009 for their School Book Clubs and a paperback edition of The Gingerbread Cowboy is now available through them.
  • More recently, Pearson Eduction has acquired subrights for their program: Opening the World of Learning. This program will provide English/Spanish books, audio CDs and Story time cards.
Here's the answer to Friday's Famous First: "On early summer mornings, Millerton is a sleepy town, its houses nodding in the heavy air," is from 2003 Newbery Honor Book, A Corner of the Universe, written by Ann M. Martin.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted today at The Art of Irreverence by Amy Graves.

"Have you ever slept outside on a hot summer night?" That's the first question of many in "Have You Ever Done That?" written by Julie Hofstrand Larios and illustrated by Anne Hunter. This story in rhyme explores the joy of discovering nature's simple summer pleasures as a pair of speakers compare their experiences and inquire, "Have you ever done that?" The watercolor and ink illustrations are both beautiful and mysterious. This poetic book is a tantalizing reminder that adventure can be found everywhere if one is willing to look.

Friday's Famous First: Can you identify the title and author of this first line? "On early summer mornings, Millerton is a sleepy town, the houses nodding in the heavy air.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Ugh! Not again." It's the writer's lament. Faced with yet another rewrite are you wondering where to begin?

Writer's Wednesday is focused today on the revision process.

Okay. You've just left your critique group or gotten feed back from a friend, spouse, etc. If you're lucky they had some specific suggestions to offer, but often as not the response is a vague, "It needs something, but I'm not sure what." Great! You probably already knew that. Now what?

Before you take pen in hand and bleed all over your manuscript, ask yourself these questions.
  • What is the theme? Jot down your answer in five words or less: Love conquers all, There's no place like home, Friends make life worth living, Believe in get the idea.
  • What is the premise? State what your story is about in 30 words or less: A Kansas farm girl is transported to a magical world where she teams up with a scarecrow, tinman, and lion to battle an evil witch and find her way home.
  • What is the arc for each of your main characters - protagonist and antagonist? Keep your answer short. One or two sentences per character should be enough. Remember this isn't about what they do. This is about who they are and how they change over the course of the story. Often it is about self-realization, but it doesn't have to be a change for the better, particularly with the villain.
  • What is the blurb? Write a brief summary, about 100 words. This is your contract with your readers...a promise of what they will find within the pages of your book.

Keep this information front and center as you re-read your story. These answers should inform each scene. Is the writing true to at least one of these points? Ask yourself, "So what?" Descriptive narrative and colorful dialogue are great, but do they also move the plot forward, develop characters, address conflict?

Notice the ways in which your story may have evolved and be open to the changes. Has a minor character taken on more importance? Have subplots disappeared or new conflicts emerged? Correct or eliminate the weakness and embrace the strengths.

Most important of all...believe there is an end in sight!

Check out the interview of first-time author, Elizabeth Eulberg at Cynsations. She offers some wonderful encouragement for writers struggling with the revision process.

Monday, June 21, 2010

This is the first Monday of my Summer Vacation. My school was closed last week, but what with meetings, projects to complete and numerous demands, it was anything but a vacation so I've decided it doesn't count.

Now I'm thinking about Summer Reading, something I encourage all my students to do. If you're looking for reading material, you'll find reviews for some very interesting titles at:

Here is the answer to Friday's Famous First: "Jim Webb's luck was running muddy when Bass Reeves rode into town," is from the 2010 Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner -- Bad News for Outlaws: the remarkable life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted today by Two Writing Teachers.

With Father's Day fast approaching, I've selected the 2007 edition of "If: A Father's Advice to His Son" by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by Charles R. Smith, Jr, the 2010 winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award.

Smith's dynamic sports photography gives this classic poem a modern edge. The book includes notes about Kipling, who won the 1907 Nobel Prize in literature, and an explanation of why Smith selected this poem for interpretation.

Here is Friday's Famous First: Can you name the title and author of this first line?
"Jim Webb's luck was running muddy when Bass Reeves rode into town."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's Writer's Wednesday:

Here are more SCBWI Critiquenic Thoughts to Consider while revising your picture book manuscript.

Thought #2 Word Choice: Avoid "began to" - "started to" - "tried to" as they slow the action -- go straight for the verb instead: began to run = ran, etc. Use the active "jumped" over the passive "was jumping."

Thought #3 Watch those adverbs: "walked quietly" could be: tiptoed, skulked, crept, etc. Each word lends a different shade of meaning. A writer's job is to find the exact word to convey the thought or action.

Yes, your writing should be descriptive, but with only 500 - 1,000 words to play with, every word must do more than merely describe. Let your picture book language engage the reader, provide insight into character, and suggest the motivation behind the action.

Check out "Kill Adjectives and Adverbs" for more on descriptive language.

Monday, June 14, 2010

On Saturday, I was privileged to be one of the leaders for a SCBWI Critiquenic. I had the opportunity to read the work of some wonderfully imaginative picture book writers and make suggestions along with other members of the group. There were a number of thoughts that applied not just to the specific works under discussion but to picture book writing in general that are well worth sharing.

Thought #1. Your story must capture the imagination of an illustrator. Use a picture book dummy to break down your story and then ask yourself what is the picture. Remember that the illustrator is relying on your words alone to be inspired. You won't be including notes about the artwork so be certain that you've created action-packed word pictures within the text.

Here is the answer to Friday's Famous First: "I was not very old in 1938, just six, and a little thing," is from the Newbery Honor Book - The Upstairs Room, written by Johanna Reiss.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted today by Kelly Polark.

My offering is the book The Night Before Summer Vacation, written by Natasha Wing, and illustrated by Julie Durrell. As the title suggests, this book is written in the style of the Clement Moore poem and details the preparations made by a family for summer vacation.

Here is Friday's Famous First. Can you identify the title and author of this famous first line?
"I was not very old in 1938, just six, and a little thing."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It's Writer's Wednesday.

Check out the post on Keeping Your Story's Narrative Focused by author Janice Hardy for Rewrite Wednesday at her blog: The Other Side of the Story. She's provided a writing sample for reading then followed it up with commentary on each paragraph of the story in which she points out the gradual drift in focus.

Lack of focus is a problem many writers experience as they try to keep readers informed about aspects of character or backstory, but the end result can slow the action or push the story off track to the point that the reader can become uncertain of the point of the story.

I try to keep these questions in mind as I write:
  • What is my story about?
  • Is this information pushing my story in the right direction?
  • Do my readers need to know this information?
  • And if they need this information, do they need it at this exact point in the story?
  • Am I telling or showing?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Do you have a book to sell? Part 5. After time out for Memorial Day, here is the last in this series on selecting books for my library collection.

How do I whittle down my list to the Must-Haves? In part 4, I discussed the fiction collection. Now it's time to give non-fiction equal attention. My goals are similar.
  • Engage all the students as readers. In this case, I'm going to need books across the K-6 reading levels to introduce topics and provide in-depth information for research, and report writing.
  • Develop appreciation for the ways in which information can be organized. I'm still looking for exemplary writing, but in non-fiction I want students to see organization, clarity, and careful research modeled in the books they utilize.
  • Support the curriculum: I want titles that support the instructional standards and content for grades K-6.
Once again I will turn to reviews to help me sort out my preferences from among the dozens of books that exist on each topic. How well does the book attain its stated goals and work for its intended audience?
  • I'm watching for key words and phrases such as: well-researched, thoughtfully structured, evenhanded, comprehensive, current, uncluttered, easy to read, and yes, entertaining.
  • Along with the quality of the writing, I'm looking at the organization of the book as a whole: table of contents, index, illustrations, quotes, primary source material, timelines, tables, charts, grafts, maps, glossaries, bibliographies, and related websites (where appropriate to the subject) can provide added value.
How does your book measure up?

Here is the answer to Friday's Famous First: "The trouble with running away is you know what you're leaving behind, but not what's waiting up ahead,," from the Coretta Scott King Honor Book, The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted this week by The Cazzy Files.

A conversation yesterday evening with wonderfully talented glass artist Laila Asgari led me to contemplate inspiration as today's theme which led, eventually, to this delightful book of poetry. Don't ask me how my mind works...I'm just happy to have this to share. "Flamingos on the Roof," by writer and artist, Calef Brown is a collection of twenty-eight poems in a variety of forms that are whimsical, mythical, nonsensical, and definitely inspired.

Here is Friday's Famous First: Can you name the title and author for this first line? "The trouble with running away is you know what you're leaving behind, but not what's waiting up ahead."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It's Writer's Wednesday

I've had several questions recently about query letters and what type of biographical information to include.

Bios vary depending on the type of project you are submitting. The first thing a publisher wants to know is if you have publishing credits. Ideally, you've had successful sales of a work similar to the one you're submitting. Even if that is not the case...say you've been published in recognized periodicals and now have a book you are shopping...the fact that you've been published in another genre can work to your advantage. It tells the editor/agent that you have some experience.

If you're unpublished, perhaps you have writing or literary experience as an editor, writing instructor or English professor.

If you are writing non-fiction, you'll also need to demonstrate that your are a credible expert on the subject of your book. If you write about rocks and minerals, the fact that you're a geologist is information your publisher wants to know.

Think of your query letter as an interview and your publisher as a potential employer. Then remember that publishing is a business. What makes you marketable? Do you lecture or have some sort of name recognition or following that is large enough to account for a portion of the reading audience.

If this doesn't apply, don't worry. Ultimately, it's all about the writing.

For more on this topic read: How to Write a Successful Query by Moira Allen.

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer