Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Week One on the Submission Trail

      This has been an interesting week and I'm just getting started. I actually went to a library this week with my two littlest kids (4 and 2). The girls loved it and I brought the Andrea Brown Literary Agency Bookshelf list. It was so nice to have a purpose when looking up books to check out. Although, I must say that a small town library doesn't have everything one would want. I may need to travel to the big city to look at some of the books that seem more along the lines of the story I'm currently wanting to publish. But, it had quite a few titles and is giving me a good feel for the stories that they are looking for.
     This week I'm going to begin filling in my spreadsheet to help me keep a basic idea of all of the stories I'm reading. When I took Rick Walton's Picture Book Course a few years ago he taught us to pick ten recently published (within the past seven years) stories a week and write down the story summary (on the inside/back of the cover), what we liked, and what didn't work for us. It was a great exercise. I feel like I'm back in class mode again and it's really fun. Plus I get to read all of these fun books with my girls and they LOVE it! I'm also tracking the agency, Publishing house, and what books are similar to ones I've already written and how.
    Another thing that I've done this week is: SUBMITTED! At the beginning on June is the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference in Utah. They're offering a $500 Fellowship Grant and submissions for the grant were due today. I submitted at 11:00pm last night and realized this morning that I'd forgotten to submit my Author Bio, so I promptly remedied that error. It's a good thing I submitted early! I have done my best on every segment of the submission and even if I don't get the grant I feel like I've already won in my heart. I submitted something for the first time in four years and it was a strong submission! It's amazing what a specific focus will do for productivity. Wish me luck! I'll keep you informed.
     What are you doing for submissions? Have you started the trail with me? I'd love to have some partners to work to alongside!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Why Can't I Submit??

     I have come face to face with my submission weaknesses in the past two days. Last night I attended a "gathering" at the LDStorymakers Conference in Provo, Utah. I told a lady that I had a middle grade novel I've been working on for three and a half years. I even told her about the request I received for the first fifty pages of said novel last October at the Write Here in Ephraim Conference. She asked, "So, you've sent it in then?" I hung my head and said, "No. I'm REALLY close to having it ready. I'm going to Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers in a month and I'm getting it work-shopped. After that I'll send it in." I felt my whole body go red as I watched her mouth drop open. "Send it in!" she said, "It's never going to be perfect."
     I find myself doing this often. I write a story and keep re-writing until it's "perfect" or I submit it to one agent--if I'm lucky--and then move on to the next. I've heard the latter approach is a great way to do things, since it gives you experience with writing and gives you a whole bunch of titles to present to a future agent. However, I realize that if I never submit I will never be getting a chance to present a whole list of titles to an agent.
    These are the phrases that I use to excuse myself. Do these sound familiar?
         I'd much rather write than do the work it takes to find an agent.
         If I'm researching I'm not writing and I need to write.
         I'll figure it out later.
         I don't have the time to do this.
    Well, today I decided I was going to crack down on myself and make this querying thing HAPPEN! I sat down and opened Querytracker,net to see my past submissions. Seven submissions (not many) which happened THREE YEARS AGO! I can't even believe that it has been that long since I submitted anything. So I thought to myself, I need to submit--today. I have over twenty picture book manuscripts. At least three are ready for submission. SUBMIT TODAY!
    I clicked on a link to a submission form for the Andrea Brown Literacy Agency and read:
First Name [Yep, I know that, For sure and for certain.]
Last Name [I'm on a roll. This is easy.]
Email Address [Can do!]
Biography [Wait, what do I know about myself? What applies? How long should this be? Whole life story or a one sentence synopsis on my life? And publishing credit? NONE--because I never submit anything! I'm sure I wrote one of these once. I'll find that later. Moving on. . . ]
Website Address if you have one [None. . . but that's all right. I don't need one. Right. Next question.]
Blog Address if you have one [Yep! Got me one of those! Wait. . . how long has it been since I've updated it? Umm. . . WAY TOO LONG. I can fix that though.]
Twitter Handle if you have one [Well... I guess that's the same answer as the Blog address question.]
Have you previously published other books? Yes/No [No, but I'm sure they won't hold that against me.]
Have you ever been represented by a literary agent before? Yes/No [Nopers.]
If this query was a referral, who referred you? [I wish. Next question.]
Title, Genre, Word Count [FINALLY, some questions I can answer!]
Query Letter [Do I seriously need to write a letter for a book that has only 500 words? What else can I say about it? I guess I've got to work on this. ]
First ten pages of your book [Since it's only two pages, I guess that counts?]
Pitch one sentence pitch for your book [Yikes, I haven't even thought about that.]
Similar Books [You mean I've got to read other books before I can do this? I just want to submit my book! Aww. . . forget it. Where's my next project?]

   When I hit the end of the form and that last thought hit me I realized that this is what has been stopping me. Every time. I'm not tackling the problems head on. I say it's too hard and get back to what I know best. But I've decided that I'm changing my ways. I've identified my struggles and have created a plan on how to improve. Here it is:

Submissions--What’s Holding me Back?
And how I’m going to overcome these

1. Who is accepting books (easy: Querytracker.net,
SCBWI: The Book, and Publishers Marketplace)
2. What books do the publishing houses I'd like to
submit to currently have published? (a little more
complicated. I need to look at a publishers website
every day and make a list of books they've
3. I need to read more picture books
a. I need to go to the library at least once
a week and check out new picture books from
the lists I've created from the above--include
on lists which agent represented each book.
b. I need to look at books that may reflect my
own and see if what I've written already exists (bad)
or is similar to something already out there (good).

1. I need to get my blog back up and running. Even if
I'm not submitting I need to get this started.
My blog will reflect the research I'm doing each week
to get to the point of submission.
2. I need to start my Twitter handle going again--similar

I need to update my SCBWI profile if I want to have any
clout with the Children's marketplace.

I need to polish my manuscripts one last time to make
sure they are ready for submission. I have three
stories that I think are ready and my Middle Grade is
ALMOST there. I will certainly submit all of these
by year end.

Query Letter:
1. I need to write a one sentence book synopsis that
is catchy and explains the main concept of the

2. I need to write a biography about myself and include
my SCBWI membership as my "credential"
since that's all I've got right now.

Wish me luck! For those of you struggling with the same thing. I'd love it if you'd join me on this journey. It's going to be amazing and hopefully we'll see some results. As my Mary Kay upline, Martha Kay Raile, always says, "You're 200% more likely to get what you want if you just ask for it." Well, here we go!

(Note: I've updated my SCBWI membership! Wahoo! Can't wait to get "The Book.")

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Figure It Out Already!

      This is the phrase I mentally yell at my brain when I'm learning something new. It doesn't really work, but I keep yelling it anyway. The learning comes in the application for me--always. Sometimes it comes after multiple applications. So when I learned about Martine Leavitt's Mechanics of Desire from my friend Heather Clark I thought my world had completely changed. She basically states that you need to know, from the start of your story, the desires of each character--especially the protagonist. You need to know their emotional desire as well as their concrete desire. If you want to read more about the concept (which you should, because it's brilliant and makes writing so much easier), follow the link to Heather's blog and read all about it. 
     I've been writing a novel, still writing a novel, the same novel I've been writing for two years now. Of course, each time I tackle it, the novel completely changes. You know why? Because I have never figured out my characters and what they want. I think I've got it, but I don't. I'm so close--but I'm never quite there. So I decided to scale back a little and start with a simple picture book that I've been stuck on for a few months. The writing and images are beautiful. My characters, Billy and Penelope, and the conflict they face, are unique. However the story itself ran into a storm and I started writing about the rain instead of the characters. I couldn't move forward. Penelope was running around with a boat over her head and Billy was cowering under a porch. The storm had too much power and the characters couldn't win. Can you guess what I did then? Yep! I stopped writing it. 
     After applying the Mechanics of Desire I figured out that the storm didn't matter, it was just background to what Billy wanted--HIS desires. So now that I've figured that out, I have to bring the focus back around to Billy and allow the rain to do what it will. Billy has purpose, desires, announced strategies, and conflict every step of the way. Even in a picture book, this type of determination will help move the story forward. I am excited to write again. I think that if I can meaningfully apply this concept in a small setting, I may be able to do so in a larger one as well. I can guarantee I'm not done mentally yelling at myself, but even small wins like this are super helpful. There's much more learning to do!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Make Every Word Count

I recently won a Picture Book critique from Sharlee Glenn, Author of Keeping Up With Roo, Just What Mama Needs, and One in a Billion. I was excited and a little nervous having an amazing published author look over my book. I picked a manuscript that I put together over two years ago and haven’t looked since. I liked the basic concept, but it didn’t quite have the punch I wanted it to pack. Sharlee gave me a few line comments, like, “I really like this alliteration sequence” or “Woa, wait, who is this?” But there were two comments that struck me the most.
The first statement was: Don’t write anything that can be shown in a picture.
At first I cut everything--and I mean everything--that was visual, but after showing it to my critique group they weren’t happy. They wanted to feel the scenes. They wanted emotion, action, and description. When I looked at back at what Sharlee said, I realized it was an overarching critique to help me with word count, but I still needed to write out the actions along with the story and feelings of my young protagonist. However, that statement alone helped me focus my story better.
The second statement was: Picture books for young readers have 200-500 words. I know that as a parent I like reading shorter books to my kids, so I took the advice to heart. My manuscript was almost 1,100 words. So if I cut it down by more than half, I would have something closer to submission ready. Seems easy enough, right? However, it took me over a week to take the word count down to just under 500. Making every word count is something critical in the Picture Book process. I’d heard that phrase hundreds of times, but after picking my manuscript apart, I have come to truly understand. The scenes flow better, the action is more powerful, and the themes are easier to find. Overall, I have a more engaging story with half the word count.
To be honest, I’m still working on improving it. My writer’s group has seen it many times. I’m just about ready to send it to my Beta Readers, but I really feel like it’s almost to the point where I’d feel comfortable submitting it to an agent. I want to thank Sharlee for taking the time to look at the book for me and for offering such a great critique. Any time you have a chance to get advice from a professional, take it! I’m sure glad I did!

What are some words of advice you’ve received that changed the way you look at writing?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Studying Craft

     I have been working mainly on my Middle Grade novel over the past few months since Nanowrimo, so new content has been pretty sparse, but I'm still learning, attending conferences and practicing my writing skills. Learning craft is probably one of my biggest challenges with writing, but I've found a few resources that have helped me, and wrote this blog entry about it a few months back on Real Writers Write:
http://www.realwriterswrite.com/2013/10/studying-craft.html. Check it out and leave me a comment!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Being Flexible is the Key

It wasn’t my idea, it really wasn’t, but I’m doing it anyway… NaNoWriMo that is. Ever heard of it? 50,000 words written in one month--November. My good friend and Critiki member, Heather Clark, said she was doing it and asked if anyone wanted to join in. My first reaction? No way Jose! I don’t have the time or the motivation to write a whole novel in one month, especially November. Who was the crazy person that set it during the busiest time of year? Second reaction? Well, maybe it would help me get this story I’ve been thinking about out of my head. Heck, why not?
I  still didn’t want to say the words, to commit to it, but the question was looming. If you know anything about me, once I make a decision there’s no going back, you can count on me.  This storyin  has to be written, I might as well do it quick, so I said the words, “I’ll do it!” So there you have it, I am doing NaNoWriMo.
For two weeks I’ve been focusing on outlining, brainstorming characters and relationships, getting down to minor details, and prepping for this major goal. I have never written anything close to this many words in such a short period of time, but my heart is in it. I feel prepared and now I’m just itching for tomorrow morning to start the first scene of this novel or perhaps the third chapter, which brings me to my point.
The thing that has helped me the most with this huge goal is remembering that I need to be flexible. I can allow myself to write badly, as long as the concept is on the page. This book is not going to be perfect when I get to the end. The language will not be consistent from start to finish. The character’s voices won’t be completely defined. It’s basically brainstorming on paper, but it WILL BE ON PAPER. I may make changes to characters or settings as I write, but I will continue to write and mark with an asterisk things that change. If I need to brainstorm more or find something better to fill a scene, I will mark it with a comment and plow forward to the end. Of course having a great support system helps. That’s where my husband, crock pot, washing machine, and critique group come in.

This isn’t my first time shooting for a big goal. When working for a promotion in Mary Kay I knew it would take more focused work to get to where I wanted to be, but it was always for a short time. “Short term sacrifice for a long term gain.” Big goals push us, they motivate us, and they can be the very things that turn our careers around. So I’m doing it! Will you join me? Nanowrimo starts tomorrow morning! I’d love to be your buddy, look me up: janelley33.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Discovering Characters: A Proper Introduction

I’ve mentioned before that I have been having difficulty with my current middle grade project. I’ve realized that my stopping point boils down to, “Now what would that character say?” or “What else would this character do?” But I don’t have any good answers. I’ve re-written and brainstormed and re-written again only to figure out that I don’t know my characters well enough. I’ve read books, attended conferences, looked online and read in my genre. I’ve filled out character questionnaires and done character interviews, but even then I ask myself, “Well, how am I supposed to know what my character has in his pocket?” or “I have no idea what she would say about her best friend.” Every answer I come up with feels forced and doesn’t help me get any closer to understanding my character.
Recently a friend of mine and member of my critique group, Heather Clark, attended WIFYR and went to a class taught by Martine Leavitt that changed her life and as a result, mine. You absolutely have to read her recent blog about it on Real Writer’s Write. In using the “Mechanics of Desire.” I’ve finally grasped the question that has alluded me for years: How do I develop my character?  
In recent brainstorming sessions I’ve started with a miniscule idea of who my characters are (on both sides of the coin--protagonist and antagonist). Then to flesh them out I’ve started a document for each main character. I write a separate line for each aspect of my character and fill in:
Emotional Desire
Concrete Desire
Controlling Beliefs
Announced Strategies
By doing this I really get into the character’s head. I understand who they are and why. From here, any quirks they have, skills they have, or objects in their pockets only make the character that much deeper. By understanding my characters desires and motivations, I can easily go from one scene to the next, which is where my other plotting resources (Dan Well’s Seven Point Plot Structure and Craig Nybo’s “How to Write a Novel”) will come in handy.

I have come farther in brainstorming this particular version of my story than I have ever been before, just through fleshing out the characters. I think that once I’m done figuring out my main characters the rest will come. I can’t wait to write “The End” on this first version of my story and get back into editing. Have fun discovering your characters and bringing them to life. I know I will!