Saturday, June 30, 2018

Week Three on the Submission Trail FAIL

     I've been having a hard time coming to terms with this blog post. I have to admit it, not only to myself, but to everyone that reads this article that I didn't do any research regarding becoming published this past week. I checked out award winning Picture Books from the library with the mindset of figuring out how the books were written and how to improve my own writing. Not to say this kind of research is useless, but I'm falling back into my old habit of avoiding attempting publication.
      I do understand that I can be productive still with the books that I checked out from the library, but last week my mindset was wrong and therefore I didn't do any research in regards to publication. This week will be different.  I still have the books I checked out. This week my job is to read the books, looking to see if I can find stories that are similar to my own or ones that I connect to in general, and do more research on the Publishing Houses that have published those books.
     On a side note, I did do some work at WIFYR the week before last regarding publishing. I got a lot of great information. Here are a few options for research that I didn't know about before that may be helpful for other people as well:
Agent Query Connect:  This site has forums set up to help authors query, network, and help one another. This seems like a really great resource for people looking to get published, like myself.
Twitter: It is best to follow agents to see what they're selling, looking for, what really bugs them, and to keep an eye out for pitch parties. I personally don't tweet much, but I would like to do more. Here are a few common twitter handles to follow if you're looking to get published:
#pitmad (Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult)
#divpit (Diversity pitches)
#pbpitch (PB pitches)
#SOAP18 (General pitching hashtag)
#MSWL (Manuscript Wish List)
#askanagent (Ask an agent questions)
#askkidlit (Ask children's literature questions)
#amwriting (Common thread among authors)
NOTE: Careful, you may become lost on these hashtags and lose writing time. Make sure you're searching with purpose and not just for creative avoidance.
Publisher's Weekly:This link is specifically geared toward children's literature, though they have other sub topics if you're looking at other genres. You can sign up for their free newsletters to see what is currently happening in the marketplace. It's great, up-to-date, information.
     I'm not going to be doing much this week when it comes to publishing. I think all of my limited free time will be writing time this week because of the holiday and our family vacation. Though I think I will hit a few of those hashtags and see if I can glean some good information! Good luck to you this week!!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Week Three on the Submission trail

     Okay, okay. So it may seem like my chronology isn't exactly true to the calendar, but it really is week three on the submission trail. Trust me.
      Summer is here and Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers happened last week. The week previous to that I was critiquing other people's manuscripts every free moment except for the day I went to the library and did some more research. I checked out award winning books again. Some were classics like Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit and others were more recent like Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny. According to Rick Walton, I should be reading stories that have been published in the past seven years, but with the limited time I had I wasn't able to find books that fit in that time frame.
       I have learned some things though, as I have been doing every week and hope to continue to do every week from here on out. First of all, I need to be more prepared. Prior to going to the library I need to do my research. I could stay in the library for hours and just peruse the shelves all by myself. No problem. My kids on the other hand. . . They have fun at the library, don't get me wrong, but at ages 2, 5, 7, 12, and 15 they can only stand being in a quiet place where they're not allowed to touch many things for so long.
       Second, of course, I need to look at publication dates and make sure they are recent publications. This will give me a better idea of what is being published now.
      Third, a trip to a local bookstore is a good idea. Maybe I'll drag my hunny to a bookstore for date night this week. This will ensure I don't break the bank but I still get my research done.
       This is my plan for this week.
       Now that I have my plan can I just geek out about Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers?!? It is such a fantastic conference for writers that are serious about becoming published! I was afraid that my novel wasn't worth the money I was spending on the conference, but that is not the case at all. Every penny I spent on that conference was worth it and will continue to pay for itself well into the future. I can already tell. Over the next few blog posts I'll get deeper into the things that I've learned and what I'm applying to my writing. I'm so excited to get to that application phase. I need to catch up on my computer critiques and get those sent out to the people in my class, but soon enough I will be able to begin implementing these new concepts/modes of research. I feel so blessed to have been a member of The Wolves--Trent Reedy's Workshop. Haaa-woooooooo!
        I can't wait to get going on this! Good luck this week!! If you're on the road with me leave me a note. I'd love to know I'm doing this with someone else.
     

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Week Two on the Submission Trail

      Last week I was able to get to the library again and look up some more books. This time I took Chronicle Books' book list and guess what? There wasn't anything there that I was looking for from them. Maybe people already know this, but not all publishing houses are carried in the libraries. This is important to know. If I get published I want a publishing house that will be carried by my library so my friends and acquaintances can check out my books. So I realized something very important. I will not be submitting to Chronicle Books. I'm not sure how common this is among publishing houses. I'm just starting on this journey, but I am learning a lot.
     My next line of research should be: how many books from Chronicle Books are sold at Bookstores and how many are only available online. I'm sure independent bookstores carry a different array of books than the big ones. So this may require a few trips to different bookstores. Shucky darn! Of course I always spend WAY too much money when I set foot into a bookstore. But if it's for research purposes maybe I can count it as a tax write-off? All right, maybe not.
      A valuable lesson I figured out this week was that I may be going about this whole journey the wrong way. I was taking my alphabetical lists of agents in the US that I could submit to and looking at their best selling list. But while at the library I decided that instead I wanted to check out award-winning books and top agents for Picture Book sales. Lightbulb! I really am figuring this out on my own--with no direction, obviously.
      Well, I asked the Universe (Google) who the "top literary agents" are and I found this website on the top children's literary agents. It breaks down how they determine the "top" and which agents represent which genre. It was a great jumping point although none of Kirsten Hall's Catbird books were carried at my library either. There are some fun artists and some fun looking stories, but I think the agency is too small to be carried here since I'm sure my small library has a tight budget.
      I moved on to Steven Malk from Writer's House. Unfortunately there are twenty agents in this particular agency. From the website it only says their names and the types of submissions they accept. You need to have either a current Publisher's Marketplace (PM) book or a subscription to Publisher's Marketplace to see their individual requirements and profiles. I personally have not yet invested in a subscription to this resource. I'm crossing my fingers that I get that grant I applied for last week. I'll find out in two weeks if I get it, but either way I'll be signing up for this website or checking out this book at my local library.
      On Writer's House's website they have an awards and bestsellers list.  I selected the Children's Book Award Winners immediately recognized The Adventures of Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend by Daniel Santat, which I own, and knew that I had struck gold. I made up my list, found a few books on the list and while I was at it grabbed a few more from each author. It has been a very revealing process. My kids have loved reading a few of these with me and some they really haven't enjoyed reading. It makes me wonder who makes those awards. Then again, some of the books I picked out were from a long time ago. So I guess it's best to look at the books most recently published. One of our favorites was They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel. It's a play of perspectives and very creatively illustrated.
     Another realization is that I'm not just looking at these books to see which ones are most like mine, but also to see what types of books are winning awards and doing well. I need to write to this level and possibly continue to develop my illustration ability so I can create interesting pictures to go along with my work. I know some publishing houses will not accept the story without pictures and others are fine finding an illustrator for you. My artwork is definitely not where I want it to be, but I'm getting closer.
   Well, it's been a fun journey so far. Here's to another week. I must warn you though that I may be a little behind. I am preparing for WIFYR in two weeks and have to do a bunch of critiques. Preparing for this conference has taught me to truly appreciate the job of an editor. I just hope I can push through. Good luck on your journey to publication!

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


Research:
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
published.)
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).


Marketing:
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
content.


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


Manuscripts:
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
story.

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!

"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?