Category Archives: Education

Book Resources for The Nian Monster

Xingling, the main character in THE NIAN MONSTER, is a resourceful girl. When confronted by a ravenous monster, she keeps her wits about her in order to fend Nian off. She’s not afraid to ask for help, either. Over the past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get THE NIAN MONSTER into the hands of readers. I heard over and over how everybody loves freebies. So in addition to swag like bookmarks and magnets, I decided to offer additional book-related resources. And, like Xingling, I reached out and asked for help from my community — the wonderful kidlit community.

Here are a few of the resources that were created for my book:

A Teacher’s Guide: Arguably, not every picture book needs a teacher’s guide, especially if it’s fiction. But I felt that there were enough cultural and geographical aspects to my book that a teacher, librarian, or parent might appreciate a guide with more information about Chinese New Year, curriculum-related activities, and discussion questions. I discovered that teacher’s guides can vary in length and cost. Being a debut author, I opted to hire Anna Chan Rekate, a debut teacher’s guide writer, but also a very experienced elementary school teacher. Anna did an amazing job — she even included a personal recipe for sesame noodles! You can download a copy of the teacher’s guide here.

A Book-Related Craft: I confess, I LOVE crafts. My basement is filled with boxes of craft materials and random objects that I save just in case I might need them for a craft. I did a lot of crafts with my sons when they were younger and I knew it would be great to have an activity for after my story time events. Kids love things that they can make themselves and bring home, plus it connects them to the story in a different, more tactile way. The incredibly creative Kirsten Cappy of Curious City (try saying that 3x fast!) developed an origami bookmark craft and illustrator Alina Chau drew the Nian Monster so that it looks like Nian is “eating” the corner of your page! Download the template here and make a Nian bookmark with your kids (or for yourself)! Kirsten and her intern Sophia even made an instructional video, which you can watch below or on YouTube.

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The Nian Monster bookmark will chomp on your page!

 

An Event Kit: I knew I needed to reach teachers and librarians, but I was at a loss about how to do so. Again, Kirsten Cappy came to my rescue. She has access to an extensive network of educators. Kirsten recommended creating an event kit so that educators could make story time with THE NIAN MONSTER an interactive experience. The event kit includes instructions and a template for creating a giant Nian mask. An adult can pretend to be Nian or the kids can “feed” Nian fish, noodles, and sticky rice cake just like in the book (fake fish are used — no live fish will be harmed during story time). The event kit is available at Curious City.

Here's me channeling my inner Nian Monster!

Here’s me channeling my inner Nian Monster!

Whether your book has yet to be sold or is headed for publication, it’s not too early to think about what kinds of resources you want to offer your readers. I added an Author’s Note to THE NIAN MONSTER when it was still in manuscript form, explaining the symbolism of the Chinese New Year foods in the story. If there’s an aspect of your story that you think readers would like to know more about, you might consider adding a short Author’s Note as well. And if you decide against it, there are plenty of opportunities to develop and offer educational resources after publication.

Good luck and thank you for celebrating my book launch week with me! Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post (or any EMUs Debuts post this week) to be entered into a giveaway of THE NIAN MONSTER.


andrea-wang-author-photo-2016

Andrea Wang’s debut picture book, The Nian Monster (Albert Whitman & Co., December 2016), is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market and is working on a middle grade novel. Andrea is a former environmental consultant and now writes full-time. She recently moved from the Boston area to Denver, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and a dog that will do anything for food. That pretty much describes her family, too.

You can find Andrea online at http://www.andreaywang.com, on Twitter under @AndreaYWang, and on Instagram as @andreawhywang.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Book Promotion, Education, Picture books, resources, Uncategorized

The Journey

I love the subtitle on this blog: From Deal to Debut: The Path to Publication. When I think of the Path to Publication, I picture a whole throng of writer-ly/illustrator-y people, all traveling together, a Pilgrimage to the City of Being Published.
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We all arrived on the Path in different ways. Some of us joined it early in life, some came to it later. Some of us have made the pilgrimage many times, others are toiling on, and on… and on, with nothing to show for it but blisters on our feet. Some are weighed down by the journey, while others seem to skip merrily along, book deals raining down on them like confetti at a parade.
But here’s the thing. Unlike many professions, especially creative ones, the Path to Publication for children’s books is populated by some of the greatest people you will meet. In my experience, my fellow travelers are all rooting for my success. Here are some of them:
• My teachers- Elementary school, Jr. high, high school… all the way up to the extremely talented faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts. All along the way I’ve been fortunate to have great teachers (including librarians!) who have encouraged me to write. Thank you!
• My critique partners- Whether I’ve been a member of a critique group or just an informal manuscript exchange, I’ve gotten great feedback, both the “I love this!” kind as well as the, “I’m kind of confused about why the principal would ride a pony to school” kind. You know who you are. Thank you!
• People in SCBWI- I joined SCBWI about ten years ago because I heard it was a great way to learn more about the craft of writing and illustrating. What no one told me was how very, very supportive everyone has been. Oh, I’m sure SOME member SOMEwhere must be a jerk, but by far the norm is to have people who are encouraging, excited about my progress, and willing to share their experience. You know who you are. Thank you!
• Fellow students- When I began this journey, I wanted to approach it like the teacher I am. I wanted to go to school. I found a college that offered a master’s degree in writing for children. Unfortunately, I had a small baby and I had taken time off from teaching, so both time and money were at a premium. But ten years later, it worked out, and I found my home-away-from-home in Vermont College. It also came with a whole bunch of brother and sister writers who are my mentors and cheer squad. I love you guys! Thank you!
• People in my agency group- Not only was I blessed with a fabulous agent (Are your ears burning, Ammi-Joan Paquette?), signing with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency came with an instant cohort of talented writers and illustrators. Thank you!
• Friends and family- Okay, they’re not all officially writers, but when it comes to people cheering me on from the sidelines, these folks can’t be beat. You know who you are. Thank you!
So with all these wonderful people who are rooting for my success, what’s my response? It has to be to come alongside others on the journey and be part of their support group. For people just beginning their journey, to point them to the books and groups that helped me. I was once there. For people who are close to publication, to encourage them. I’m right there with them. For people who have reached the destination, to be their promoter and cheer for them. Hopefully someday I’ll be there, too, but for now, I’m enjoying the journey because of my other travelers. You make the path worth it!
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by | September 4, 2014 · 6:41 am

No’s Job, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rejection

     “Dear Author,
Thank you for your recent submission to XYZ Publishing Company. I regret to inform you that …”

Does this letter look familiar to you? If you’ve ever tried to submit a manuscript for publication, chances are you’ve gotten a response similar to this at some time in your writing career. I remember the first one I ever got. I was in college, and my professor had suggested that I submit the dummy that I had done for his literature class to his publisher. Finally- FINALLY- I would be a published author! And at such a young age!

I sent it in. I waited. After a week, every time I went to the mailbox I was sure that this would be the day I would get my SASE back with a contract in the mail. I began to think about changing my major from teaching to writing.

After a few more days (okay, six months), my SASE came back! I pulled out my manuscript dummy and… a tiny postcard that began, “Dear Author…” I was crushed. I cried. I sent it out again in a massive simultaneous submission to every publisher that did picture books.
I got a massive simultaneous rejection.

But I kept writing. I kept learning. I joined SCBWI. I went to conferences, joined a critique group, and took classes. I kept submitting, but I submitted smarter. (Turns out that some publishers only publish certain kinds of books! Who knew?)

I got a LOT more rejection letters.

But. While each rejection letter still felt like, well, a rejection, I noticed that after a while they changed. I was getting some letters that began, “Dear Ms. Van Slyke.” There would be a reference to my actual manuscript, like they had read it. And sometimes the editor would tell me why it wasn’t a good fit for them.

I started to look for an agent. And- oh, goody!- NEW rejection letters came pouring in!
I eventually did get an agent. Unfortunately, it was, shall we say, not a happy match. The rejection letters stopped coming to me. But, as I later learned, that was most likely because no manuscripts were going out. I came to the decision that an unproductive agent was worse than no agent, so we parted ways.

Fortunately, I did get another agent, and manuscripts began going out again. As proof, I started getting rejection letters again. By this time, though, either because my writing had improved or (more likely) my agent was matching them more closely to the right editor, the rejections were very specific. And they started coming with offers to look at more of my writing, or even to look at a manuscript again after a few changes.

Now, after a few sales, I’m still getting rejection letters. LOTS of rejection letters. But I look at them differently now. Instead of focusing on the “No,” I look for themes. Does a manuscript get rejected because it’s weak or because the publisher already has a pirate book on their list? Do I see several of the same comments on the same manuscript? Perhaps it’s time to try another revision based on that feedback.

Most of all, though, rejection letters mean that I’m doing my job: writing. Submitting. Revising. Submitting again. Writing new manuscripts.

Because sometimes instead of a no, there will be a “Yes.”

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Editor, Education, Panic, Patience, Publishers and Editors, Rejection, rejection and success, Uncategorized

One Hour A Week — Or Less

“I’m allowed to draw for one hour a week,” says my 16-yr-old SAT student. Anime characters look up at me from the pages of her sketchbook, as wide-eyed and alarmed as I am. “My mom says that’s enough.”

Enough for a teen who’s aiming for a career in medicine or law, she means. And what other career would a mother expect her daughter to go into after she pays through the nose for one-on-one tutoring, SAT classes, and weekend AP courses?

Makes sense.

But this student’s work is good, and I can tell she’s sneaked in a lot more than an hour a week to fill up this sketchbook.

“You can’t neglect this,” I tell my student. “If you keep at it, you could do something special with your art.”

But she will neglect it, mostly. She’ll convince her mom to let her take AP Art, but she’ll agree to major in something more practical, and eventually her studies will push out all time for drawing.

Many of the students at the Bay Area tutoring center where I work are barred from creative activities. Declarations like the one above seem to go hand in hand with a question my students ask me all the time: “Why do you work here?” Usually I answer with something to make them laugh. “Haven’t you seen this place??” I exclaim while gesturing at posters of punctuation marks made into cartoon characters.

The real reason I work part time at a tutoring center (instead of full time as an engineer/lawyer/doctor/CEO as falls in their realm of possibility for careers) is that I want to spend a lot of time with my five-year-old and I want to spend a lot of time writing (and–crazy–I actually love tutoring and teaching). Sure, I’d also like to spend a lot of money–but I’m not willing to devote all my time to making it.

When I explain this to my students, I can never tell if they understand it or not. In any case, it’s the right choice for me right now.

Is it a choice I can encourage my students to make?

Well, their parents are paying me to help them get into top colleges, so I should probably keep my mouth shut when I’m not extolling the praises of the UC system.

But when I look through a student’s treasured sketchbook, when she shows me her short stories posted online, I can’t be complicit with “one hour a week is enough for creative endeavors.”

At the same time, I know these students’ parents are trying to save them from the precarious financial situations I’ve been in more than once. It feels irresponsible to say, “Pursue your art! Don’t worry about the money!” when I know how much time I myself spend worrying about money.

I usually stick with a middle road. I tell my students, “You can major in engineering if you feel that’s what you need to do, but you can still write/draw/dance on the side.” This is a lie. Already these kids are being told that their art is at best a distraction. No way they will stick with it when the pressures of MIT come down on them. No way they will seek out classes or mentors or fellow artists while they’re competing for a spot at Google. I imagine them finishing school, completing internships, working out of a cubicle for a few years before suddenly remembering how they used to copy that one character over and over until they got it right. Or going back to that short story they never finished, and wondering how it should have ended.

And then what? Quitting their lucrative jobs in spite of the student loans that hang over them? Maybe they’ll take up sketching again as a hobby. “Just a hobby!” they’ll say as they paper their cubicles with drawings. Maybe they’ll start to lose sleep working on that old manuscript before bed. Maybe they’ll find a way to incorporate animation into their jobs.

Deep down will live stifled horror, or maybe something as harmless as faint regret, at never having developed their talent. And the rest of us will contend only ever with the ghost of their art, wonders never expressed and never observed.

parker photo Parker Peevyhouse works as an SAT prep course instructor and tutor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also works as a substitute teacher at a K-8 school. Her debut YA novel, FUTURES, will be published by Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin in 2015.

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Filed under Creativity, Education, Writing and Life

Not-So-Deadly Deadlines

I love deadlines. Usually.

“Ummm… that’s due TOMORROW??”

I have a confession. I’m a terrible procrastinator. (Well, actually I’m a fabulous procrastinator. Ask my husband. “Have you made those reservations yet?” he will ask me. *Gulp…)

In fact, as I write this, I have deadlines for three projects. All due tomorrow.

*Deep breath* I can do this.

A few years ago I decided the time had come to finally get my master’s degree. After considering many options, I decided to do a crazy thing. I would take a leap of faith and apply for Vermont College’s master’s program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Not only would I be adding a suggested 25 hours of reading and writing per week on top of teaching full time and being a wife and mom, I would need to complete 20 packets of work during the two-year program, including new manuscripts every month.

Where was I going to get ideas for 20 packets worth of new stories?? Oh, if I were working on a novel, maybe. I could add a few new chapters a month. But I write picture books. That’s two to six new story ideas every month.

The first month was covered. I had a few manuscripts saved up that I could pull out and submit. (It was a good thing, too, as we ended up moving that first month to a new house after living 17 years on our farm.)

Then came the second month. Again, I had a few stories I could dust off, plus a brand new idea or two. The third month rolled around, and once more I had new ideas. Every time I would come down to a due date, the ideas were there. Every time I hit “Send” I was sure that the idea well was now dry. Yet the next month would come, and with it came more ideas.

How was this working? Did panic get the creative juices flowing? Did I have a cooperative muse? Was it the power of prayer?

Panic and prayer notwithstanding, I think the secret lies in having a deadline. Deadlines help me organize my priorities. I am the WORST in the summer when I don’t have to show up for work. Somehow, the morning slips by without anything getting done. But if I have a deadline, it bumps laundry, weeding, and checking my email to a lower place on my “To Do” list, and I actually end up with something to show for my time.

Deadlines make me accountable to someone besides myself who will be expecting results. Not just any results, but my best work. When I am accountable to a critique partner, my agent or an editor, I don’t want to disappoint them. They are expecting something good to land in their inbox, and I don’t want them to see shoddy work, or worse yet, an empty inbox.

Finally, regular deadlines make me develop the habit of writing. And while practice may never make me a perfect writer, it certainly helps me improve my craft. I know that unless I actually show up to do the work, any creative juices, chance muses or divine interventions will pass me by.

So if you’re facing a revision, in need of some inspiration, or working on a new story, having a deadline just might be a lifeline.

Congratulations to Melanie Fishbane, winner of a copy of Adi Rule’s STRANGE SWEET SONG!

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, craft~writing, Deadlines, Deadlines, Education, Faith, Panic, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing and Life

Why Writers Should Be Readers

galley box largeAs a writer of books for children, the most difficult thing for me to admit is that I wasn’t a big reader when I was a child (which is very a-typical for kidlit authors). I read and loved a lot of picture books during my elementary school years, and then some Amelia Bedelia early readers, but I can literally name—on just two hands—the novels I remember finishing before I graduated from high school. They were pretty much all by Judy Blume and Roald Dahl.

I look back now and can’t figure out exactly why I wasn’t a big reader—my parents both read incessantly and took me to the library all the time—but I have a clue. Truth be known, reading was difficult for me. More often than not, I felt frustrated because I would read five or ten pages and then realize I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t remember which character was which or how they knew one another. I didn’t feel attached to the story at all. As it turns out, I had a learning disability that I didn’t know about until I was in college. But I won’t put a label on it now because this isn’t the point of my post.

The point of my post is to say this: My writing ability has taken a very long time to develop because I wasn’t a big reader until I was in my twenties. And now I’ve been playing catch up for the next twenty years.

I started with non-fiction (typical for a college student), moved on to the adult market, then finally—for the first time in my life—truly discovered the magic of middle grade and young adult novels. And that’s when I fell in love with reading. It became an addiction.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King says, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

I wholeheartedly agree. Reading is, by far, the best thing a writer can do to sharpen his or her storytelling skills. Yes, you also need to write and write and write, for development, but very little improvement will take place if a writer isn’t learning from others through a process similar to osmosis. Exposure to excellent storytelling, and lots of it, can’t help but rub off.

As a reader, the more books you read, the pickier you become about loving a book verses just liking it. Or even finishing it. Right?

The same thing has happened to me as a writer. The more I read, the easier it becomes to pick out what makes a plot work and what hurts it. The characters in a great novel become my friends, and just like it’s simple for me to tell someone what I like about my real-life BFFs, I can more skillfully tell my readers what makes a person attractive or repulsive (at least to me). And I can also better understand, by reading excellent books, what my own weaknesses are as a writer. I struggle with the details of setting—how to make it feel natural without overdoing it—and transitions. (Why is it so darn difficult to move a character from one room or thought to another?!)

But when I see the masters at work, I learn. And I absorb.

And this is another critical element: A writer needs to know and understand the genre and market they’re writing for. If you’ve been involved with critique groups and read enough pages from beginning writers (and believe me, I was one of them, so I’m not knocking anyone), it’s likely that you’ve heard sample pages that don’t fit the parameters of the author’s intended market. Perhaps it’s a picture book with 3000 words. Or the story is about seniors in high school, who should be thinking about college applications and their unattainable crush, but is instead filled with pranks on teachers and middle grade gross-out humor.

Knowing what works in each market, and what doesn’t, is obviously paramount to your success. And you’ll only know this if you’re intimately familiar with your chosen genre.

And then there is pacing. This is another thing I struggle with. I think of a cool scene that I’m dying to get to, or that awesome moment when my two main characters finally get things right, and I want to make it happen that very moment. I want the plot to move over so my characters can make out express everything they’ve been holding back. But the best pacing uses restraint for a slow burn; it builds up for a worth-while reveal. It makes a reader work for the rewards. And it also knows when to push all the details about the carpet and drapery out of the way and get on with the story.

I love that about reading, because good pacing is something that can only be understood through experiencing it. It can’t really be taught, and it’s certainly difficult to master.

Another benefit of continuous reading is recognizing clichés or overdone plots. While it’s true that there are “no new ideas, only new voices” editors likely won’t even read your first page these days—no matter how stellar your writing is—if your pitch tells them that the new girl in school is unavoidably attracted to a mysterious boy who is actually—gasp!—a vampire/werewolf/dark angel. While this pitch in various forms sold book after book about seven years ago, writers who keep up with the ever-changing trends will likely know better than to spend their time on a similar plot (but check back in another seven years).

And the #1 reason to read: isn’t reading THE BEST THING EVER, anyway?

I’m still not a fast reader, and my struggles with attention haven’t entirely faded, but once I get hooked on a good book, I’m gone. I’m in heaven. And I want nothing more than to help my own readers experience this same emotion.

So tell me, what has reading done for your own writing? Has it helped you avoid overdone plots or character types? Honed your skills? Does good writing put you in the mood to work? It surely does that for me!

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.

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Filed under Advice, Character Development, craft~writing, Education, reading, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing and Life

The Secret Formula for Getting Published

secretformulaYears before I was even offered a contract, new writers started asking me if I would tell them how to get published. Some have asked if I would connect them to an agent or an editor. Others have wanted to know how to write a surefire query letter.

These are the same questions I asked established writers when I was new, and every question is a good one. Every one of them is important if a writer wants to eventually work with a respected, traditional publisher. But—trust me—if I knew a quick-and-easy secret formula, I would’ve used it a long time ago.

If there *were* a step-by-step process, however, it might look a lot like this:

1. Blood

2. Sweat

3. Tears

4. Repeat

But since we’re talking about the Children’s market, rather than the Stephen King method of getting published, perhaps I should use the ABCs to impart the best advice I have to offer:

A: Attend Conferences and Workshops

You don’t need to attend conferences and workshops, but I’m telling you, I would’ve never been published if I hadn’t made the investment in a good education. And I’m not talking about my college English classes.

Writing and selling a manuscript is tough stuff. The good news is that many brilliant authors have done it before you, and especially in the Children’s/Young Adult market, they are more than willing to share their knowledge and experience. At conferences, you get the opportunity to learn from their presentations, ask them questions, and even benefit from their critiques of your work.

Editors and agents are often in attendance as well. Not only does this give you an opportunity to get a feel for what type of manuscripts they’re looking for, but in most cases, you’re then given the okay to submit to them directly. And this is a big deal. Every major publishing house I know of is closed to open submissions, meaning that you need a reputable agent to submit the manuscript on your behalf. And more and more agencies are closing their doors to open submissions, too . . . which means you need to have an “in” with them as well.

So how do you get that “in?” By attending a conference where that agent or editor is presenting.

As far as conference costs are concerned, it’s important to do some serious research. There are workshops aplenty—many of them very beneficial—that are less than $100. And there are also several that are over $1000. Some are even $2500 and beyond. Personally, I’ve never seen a workshop in this later category that looks worth the price (in fact, I think the majority of these highly-priced workshops are predatory). So definitely look into the details, find some conferences or workshops that meet your needs, and decide if the price seems reasonable.

For the Children’s market, you’ll find an excellent array of upcoming events at www.SCBWI.org. And my personal favorite week-long conference—for cost, improving craft, networking, and its impressive track record for connecting writers with their future agents or editors—is called Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. You can find more info about it at www.wifyr.com  (I’m not paid for recruiting, I swear! I’ve just attended it several times and love it).

B: Be Active in the Writing Community

Form genuine relationships with people who can both formally and informally mentor you. Learn as much as you can about the business from them. BUT keep in mind that it generally makes an author uncomfortable when you ask them to hook you up with their agent/editor. If you are genuine friends with an author, then he or she has likely read some of your work, so if they feel it’s a good fit for their agent/editor, they will likely tell you. Otherwise, do your due diligence, just as they did, and query the editor or agent yourself.

Where do you start if you want to get more involved in the community? Thanks to the internet, the world has become a very small place. Technically, there’s no need to even travel away from your laptop when it comes to making new friends, so get out there and make some. Start following writing blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages, especially those by successful authors. Then just . . . absorb. Listen in, and eventually jump into conversations.

Another critical step for a beginner is to find a critique group. And make sure you connect with writers who write for your same genre, or your experience will likely go sour. For example, if you write picture books, then join a group with PB writers only. Even the best novel writer in the world could steer you wrong with their advice for writing a picture book (which are totally different animals!) And vise versa. It takes some effort, but if you seek out like minds, you will eventually find them. And don’t be afraid to leave a critique group if it’s just bringing you down—killing your confidence. Critiques are usually beneficial, but what’s the point if you’re not being productive? Sometimes a writer just needs to step back and take some time to sort things out on his or her own. But keep in mind that if you continue to hear similar comments that particular issues aren’t quite working in your manuscript, then they aren’t quite working. Editors and agents will see these same problems as well, so figure out how to make the issues work, then revise the manuscript. (Like I said: Blood, Sweat, Tears, Repeat.)

Let’s go back to conferences and workshops because they’re the best way I know to do some critical networking. Some people claim that it’s who you know in this business that can get you a book deal, and guess what? They’re often right. But it might not be what you’re thinking. It’s more like who you know, and what they can teach you. Or . . . who they know, and what they tell others about your manuscript.

I landed my first major book deal last May, and it was the direct result of one Important Person in the industry—who had read my entire manuscript—telling another Important Person (during a typical morning commute in NYC) that she felt my manuscript might be a good fit for Bloomsbury. And it was. So very good things can come from simple networking, which often results in forming genuine friendships.

C: Create a Quality Manuscript

Attending conferences, networking with other writers, and joining a critique group will also teach you a lot about craft. And nothing you do will be as important as writing a quality manuscript.

For new writers, especially, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of selling a book (how to write a query letter, how to get connected with agents and editors, etc). But no matter how well you know the publishing business, it won’t mean a thing if you don’t know the craft of writing.

And . . . no pressure . . . but you have to know it well enough to stand out in a sea of millions of others who want a contract just as much as you do.

This will never happen if you’re only doing networking, or seeking opportunities to meet editors and agents, and certainly not if you spend the majority of your time dreaming about how you’ll spend the money from your first book deal. Writing a quality, deliciously-marketable manuscript—that an editor won’t be able to pass up—only happens when you:

1) HAVE YOUR BUTT IN A SEAT

2) YOUR FINGERS ON A KEYBOARD

3) YOUR MIND ON THE STORY

That’s the real Secret Formula, my friends. Now, stop reading this and get to work! You have a book to sell!

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Agents, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Editor, Education, Publishers and Editors, Writing, Writing and Life

Waiting by Rebecca Van Slyke

Waiting

Lord, please grant me patience. And I want it RIGHT NOW!

 

Last month I wrote about getting The Call. As with most deals, I had to wait until it was official to be able to share my joy with my family and friends. When I could finally announce something, I got the same reaction over and over: “That’s WONDERFUL! You certainly have waited a long time for this to happen!”

Yes.

Yes I have.

I’ve been waiting to be a “real author” for a long time. When I was four years old, I discovered that books were made by real people. I wanted to be one of those magical people called “authors” and “illustrators.” So I wrote stories on my Big Chief notebook and drew pictures on typewriter paper.

Skipping ahead to college, I took an educational literacy class where the professor offered us this choice: write a research paper, or write a children’s book. That was a no-brainer for me. I spent happy hours writing and illustrating a picture book. The professor liked it so well that he gave me an A… and passed the book along to his publisher. Unfortunately, they did not publish picture books, but it was all the encouragement I needed. The next thirty-mumble years were spent sending manuscripts out. I started with the first story, but gradually added others. I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes. I joined SCBWI. I learned. I wrote. I sent out new manuscripts. I read. I went to conferences, to classes, to lectures. I learned more. And I waited. Every time I sent out a manuscript I knew that this could be the time.  And it wasn’t. Again and again it wasn’t.

I just went back and re-read this last paragraph and realize how pathetic it sounds. Good gravy, what was wrong with me? Why didn’t I give up? Thirty years without a nibble? That right there is some special kind of stupid.

Except I was making progress, I could tell. I finally took the plunge and decided to do more than take an occasional class. By now I was a teacher, and I did what teachers do. I went back to school. I got a master’s degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. That led to getting an agent. Now I was guaranteed to get an offer.

But the offers didn’t materialize. I watched classmates sell a book. Or several books. I had several near-yesses. I tried not to be jealous. I kept writing. I kept waiting.

A quote from Anne Lamott’s book, BIRD BY BIRD helped:

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark; the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.

So while I waited, I watched and I worked. I cheered on my published friends. I became more involved in my regional chapter of SCBWI. I started giving talks on writing. I critiqued. I mentored. I didn’t give up.  And the dawn DID come. I switched agents, and, after still more waiting, I got The Call in June.

So now that the excitement has settled down, what am I doing? Waiting. Waiting on revision notes, decisions on illustrators, opinions and decisions on new projects.

I have several friends who are waiting to get The Call. They’re close, I can tell. I know because they’re showing up. They’re waiting, and watching, and working.

Some of you reading this are in “waiting for The Call” mode. I need to tell you not to quit. Keep waiting, but while you’re waiting, keep watching for the next opportunity. Will it be a class? A conference? A chance to help someone else on the journey? Keep working to improve your craft. Write. Read strong literature. Illustrate. Study. Read craft books. Show up. And never, never, NEVER quit. Because The Call could be waiting just around the corner for you, too.

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Anxiety, Education, jealousy, Rejection, rejection and success, Thankfulness, The Call

Teacher Appreciation Week

This is a book I wrote in elementary school. The definitive sequel to Julie of the Wolves, in which the main character travels to San Francisco to live with her pen-pal. Why yes, I did the cover art myself! Don’t you think the dress made out of white-out is a nice touch?cover

My fourth grade teacher really earned this dedication (and not just for saving his laughter for the teacher lounge!)

dedication

Finally, the “About the Author” page.

about the author

(As it turns out, I am much better suited to be a writer than a marine biologist.) —Melanie Crowder

I was very fortunate to have teachers from an early age who encouraged my writing. Mrs. Wandschneider told me to keep writing when I was in fourth grade. In fifth grade, Mr. Holm laughed so hard at one of my poems that he cried. In seventh grade, Mrs. Mueller said something I wrote gave her chills. And, in high school, Mr. Harrell relentlessly pushed me to get better and Mrs. Veidemanis had me read Nora Ephron for inspiration. Thanks to them, I always saw myself as a writer, which made all the difference. —Pat Zietlow Miller

I had so many great teachers, I really don’t want to pick just one. Instead, I’d like to say thank you to each and every one of them. I was always a rule follower who loved school, but I’m still sure it wasn’t easy teaching the shy little know-it-all hiding in the back reading the paperback tucked inside her textbook. These days, my son has a favorite teacher from an earlier grade whom he still talks about nearly every week. In his words, she is the best teacher ever, because, he says, “She never told us what to do, she just inspired us to do it.” Not an easy feat to pull off, but such a lofty goal for all of us to aspire to, I think. —Laurie Ann Thompson

Most of my teachers were outstanding, The rest get to have a villain named after them in my novels. But seriously, having been a teachers’ aide, I can tell you firsthand that teachers are *way* under-compensated for their work and that they deserve those summers off (even though most of them continue working or furthering their education over the summer). —Carol Brendler

My favorite teacher was Cookie Schneiderman, although I never dared call her “Cookie”. I couldn’t figure out WHY her name was Cookie, but I thought it was pretty awesome and I wanted to change my name to Cookie, too!

Mrs. Schneiderman just happened to be my neighbor–our backyards shared a common wooded space. All my third grade classmates thought I snuck over there to steal test answers, but I was invited over for milk and cookies (real cookies) and chats about books and writing.

I admit, I was the teacher’s pet. It was obvious from the first day of school when she asked me to help pass out name tags. The other kids rolled their eyes and coughed “pet”, but I thought it was a privilege to be the teacher’s favorite. I strove to impress her.

Unfortunately I don’t recall exactly what she told me about writing, but she encouraged me and didn’t laugh when I said I wanted to be like Roald Dahl and Judy Blume. She let me write extra-long stories when the assignments were only 100 words–she knew I wanted to go further.

I’ve been trying to get in touch with Mrs, Schneiderman, but so far no luck. Are you out there, Cookie? Let’s get together for milk and chocolate chip. —Tara Lazar (nee Mahon)

From elementary school through college, I had so many teachers who encouraged my writing that I feel bad singling out just one! But I would like to share my appreciation for my 9th-grade English teacher, Lois Bassen. She was a published and produced playwright, and probably the first adult I’d ever met who was a serious writer. I still remember the big creative writing assignment she gave us for the year: write a fairy tale and then use the ideas of psychologist Bruno Bettelheim to analyze it. It was a revelation to think that something I wrote might be as worthy of close reading and analysis as classic Greek myths and great European novels (which Mrs. Bassen did a great job of teaching us, too). That class was the place where I started to realize that becoming a published author wasn’t necessarily a pipe dream, but something that hard-working real people could accomplish. —Tara Dairman

…and to round it out, Laurie wrote an entire post on the topic here!

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Melanie Crowder Author PhotoMelanie Crowder graduated in 2011 with an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of the forthcoming middle grade novel, PARCHED (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2013). A West Coast girl at heart, Melanie now lives and writes in the beautiful (if dry) state of Colorado.

Visit her online at melaniecrowder.net.

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Filed under Education, Thankfulness

A Stupendous Glimpse into Fan Clubs

In GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES, by Mike Jung and illustrated by Mike Maihack, middle-schooler Vincent Wu belongs to the best Captain Stupedous Fan Club in the world. While another, more inferior, group carries the title of Official Captain Stupendous Fan Club, Vincent and his friends are the most knowledgeable, and therefore, superior.

I was surprised to find that the “fan club” idea has been around forever. In fact, one site that hosts a bazillion fan clubs, fanpop.com, even has a Dinosaur Fan Club with 1600 members, although contrary to Flintstone reruns, people were not readily available to appreciate the object of their desire. Oh, wait, that’s not what they meant…Let’s rewind a hundred or so years ago, before the advent of social media (remember then?). According to Samantha Barbas’ book, MOVIE CRAZY, the first movie star fan club originated in 1910, almost as old as the movie star concept itself.

My favorite superhero, hands down! She rocks that patriotic bathing suit.

Boy, has idolatry changed over the years. Social media has increased interest in fan clubs, bringing together people from all over the world with similar interests. On Facebook, I searched for a Michael Jackson Fan Club and had to keep hitting See More Results until I got Carpool Syndrome. Oh wait, that’s from all those incessant trips back and forth to the kid’s gymnastics classes….sorry, Carpal Syndrome, I think it is. Anyway, I stopped counting after ninety. They came with all sorts of titles to differentiate themselves, such as the much smaller, but more serious Captain Stupedous-like fan club called The Michael Jackson Real Fan Club, boasting 39 members.

I know you really want to know what the largest fan club is at this time. Back in my day, not that I will tell you what day that was, David Cassidy held the honor of being the largest fan club in history with more members than the Beatles and Elvis Presley’s fan-base combined. No surprise there. (Yes, I did finally take down my Partridge Family poster.) Apparently, that honor may go to a Korean boy group called Dong Bang Shin Ki, with over 800,000 fans.

As Vincent Wu finds out, there are many benefits to forming a fan club. For instance, you might get to fly around, chasing gigantic robots or something. A current benefit to joining one today is that it’s the secret way to get concert tickets. While Miley Cyrus may be sold out in about negative-33 minutes after you call Ticketmaster, the members of her fan club get to buy them presale. Who knew? Also, by joining Miley’s club, you get access to over 120,000 photos. Didn’t realize there were 120,000 photos of her, so this comes as real news to me. You also receive live Twitter feeds, whereby Miley shares her philosophy, such as this gem:

To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving.

Oh, wait, upon further research, that quote’s actually credited to Woody Allen’s film Love and Death. Never mind. Anyway, at least as a fan, you know that’s how Miley truly feels about love.

As you can see, the Captain Stupendous Fan Club originates from a rich and evolving history. You don’t have to be BIG to be important, you just need to have heart. And Vincent Wu, in GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES, has loads of that. Too bad it’s fiction or I’d join. Oh, wait, this just in: Mike Jung has a real Captain Stupendous Fan Club card!

Just print and cut out and you, too, can join the club

Like me…Apparently, Mike thought I was worthy, after all….

Oh, yeah, I’m one of the gang now

This makes me wonder, is it really fiction, or is Mike Jung actually Vincent Wu in disguise? Hmmm, do I smell sequel potential? One can hope….

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Filed under Book Promotion, Education, Research