D.I.Y.–With Help!

For the last several years, I’ve been saying/thinking that I wanted to reissue some OP (out of print) Young Adult books, to make them available to readers once again. Finally, after finishing a new YA ms, I decided that it was time to make good on the promise to myself. Years ago I published what was to be a 4 book Civil War YA series called Southern Angels, about four Southern girls who live through, and make a difference, during the Civil War.

I put three years of my life into researching and writing these books (they were to be accurate enough historically to be useful in schools)  and then they were, I felt, badly mishandled by their big NY publisher. I lost my editor (she was hired by another publishing house) and all support before the books were all out, and the 4th book wasn’t even printed, tho I had written it and it had been advertised. I heard a lot of complaints at the time, and still occasionally, from people who couldn’t find the final book. So I’ve always wanted to see these books back in print. (I’m doing this more for personal satisfaction than in the expectation of making tons of $, BTW.) The books received good reviews and I found them in public and school libraries, and they should likely have been published in hardcover, not mass market, where they made it to few store shelves, as marketing picked up the indifference of the editorial staff. I was crushed.

I am a total newbie to indie publishing. I will soon finish, I hope, the process for getting out ebooks and paperbacks, and boy, have I learned a lot.

First, the cover. It took me three tries to get a cover designer. Another writer gave me a name of a good cover person, which I checked out online–her website had some great looking covers, and she agreed to do the four covers at a reasonable price. She gave herself deadlines, but missed them all. Finally told me, after being out of touch for several weeks, that she had health issues and couldn’t, after all, do the work. I wished her well and was sorry to lose her. Later, I realized that I had undoubtably increased her stress by asking for almost impossible demands as I did not understand the process–more on that in a sec. The second website I admired, the cover d. said she couldn’t take any new clients, she had enough repeat customers to keep her busy. Aiiig. The third person said on her website she would only take a few new clients, but fortunately did decide to take the job, after showing me some stock cover shots to make sure I would be happy with the costumes she could find, as, she said, right now Regency and Victorian are the most popular historical eras and therefore the easiest to find costumes for, Civil War not so much. I was ok with what she found, and we agreed to go ahead as I liked her work a lot.

So, first lesson. I knew from prior experience that large publishers hire models, dress them in appropriate costumes (for romance, anyhow, or YA, and other genres, too) and make sure they resemble the characters in the book–or, that’s the theory. A pro photographer does a photo shoot, then either the photo itself (in middle grade or sometimes YA) is used, or an artist is hired to make a painting, often acrylic, and the cover comes from that. This process costs thousands of $.

Obviously, an indie publisher/author can’t afford this kind of money. So, a cover designer working with indie’s uses stock model shots from companies who handle just that–photos of models and objects already taken. Legit designers buy these shots, as close as possible to what you want, use computer programs to change hair and dress color and perhaps manipulate shots somewhat–I’m not an IT person so can’t tell you how much can be done. They also put in a landscape or suitable background, they choose fonts and sizes of letters for titles, etc. and put it all together in well balanced and artistically pleasing arrangement for a good cover. Some covers don’t have people in them, of course, sometimes a clever idea is used, instead. You can look up examples of all of this in websites on line.

Some writers who publish ebooks do the covers themselves. I was quite sure I didn’t have that much artistic sense, and the one thing that often gives away a self-pubbed book is an amateurish looking cover. Sadly, people DO judge books by their covers. So I knew that I wanted someone good to do my covers, even tho it would cost money. (Prices vary hugely.) Many designers do predesigned covers which are cheaper and will work for some books: romance, mystery, women’s fiction, etc. I have 4 books in a series, so I had special requirements, and that wouldn’t work for me. I’m pleased with the progress of the first cover, think it’s going to look really good, and when it’s done will try to put it up here.  (PS I tried several times to put up the cover, but the file is too big, so sorry.  I will try to put it on my website, but not sure if I will have the same problem, will try to get around it somehow, even if I have to make a copy of a copy…  And I assume Amazon will have it in a short time.) I actually think it’s better than the original Big Company cover.)

Next, I’ll go to the company I choose and get the book put together, I’m doing both an ebook and a paperback of each book in the series.  These books were PAL books to start with, so they will remain so, if you’re familiar with SCBWI classifications. (BTW, I thought I would have to retype all 4 books, but a reader who emailed me–yes, looking for book 4– told me I could buy an external computer drive to hook up to my current laptop that would take the hard disks that I had had the book ms backed up on when the original computer, several computers back, on which I wrote these books, died suddenly. I was able to find three of the four disks, so only had to retype one, whew. I am revising the ms slightly as I go, can’t help myself! I do hope to have all four books: Hearts Divided, Winds of Change, A Dream of Freedom, and Last Rebellion, out by March, the first, Hearts Divided, in Feb.  (You can also scan hard copy into a file, if you have the right technology, or pay someone else to do it.)

The cover is likely the most expensive part of the process, tho you may also want to buy an ISBN, unless you get that from your distribution service, and that can be done. The friends I spoke to recommended d2d, (Draft2Digital) over Smashwords for ebooks, and CreateSpace, which is Amazon, for paperbacks, although Ingram also has a paperback program. I will let you know what I think when I get that far.

Onward into the future!

REALIZATIONS AND RESOLUTIONS

BY JUDITH ROSS ENDERLE

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In January one is supposed to make resolutions to mend one’s ways or achieve greatness or rid oneself of unhealthy habits.

Well, I don’t want to mend my ways; I realize I’m pretty happy with the way my ways are now.

I’ve achieved some greatness and lost some greatness and have landed back in the middle which isn’t a bad place to be. No need to resolve other than to keep moving forward and let the words fall where they may.

So that leaves unhealthy habits, usually involving food and exercise. I can swear off sugar entirely (I’m quite sweet enough), but that would be a wasted swear since I know right well that I’ll still have two biscotti with my coffee in the afternoon. So why waste a swear? As to exercise, I walk and I garden and I clean house, so my parts are moving, not too fast nor too slow. No need to promise to exercise more than that.

Thus I’ve come to realize that this resolution business is more of a taking stock, but it doesn’t mean you have to change a single thing. And how many of the resolutions actually last more than two months? Still, it is the first of a new year. How can I break tradition? So in the spirit of the new year, here are my resolves:

1: Change what I don’t like; keep what I like about me.

2: TRY to be more patient with myself and with others.

3: Make Words with Friends a reward, not a replacement for writing. A paragraph counts as writing, doesn’t it?

4: Make it one biscotti with coffee instead of two. (I know I won’t keep this one. See? A wasted swear.)

5: Be thankful for loving family and friends. This one I can do! I am so very blessed.

6: Get back to work. I can do this right now.

Off to a fine start. Six is a good number of resolutions for a year that ends in 6. May 2016 be a great year for you and yours and good luck with your resolutions. (Save your swears, you made need them when rejections show up, unless you’ve resolved not to let rejection bother you. Let me know how this works out, so I can use it for my resolution next year.)

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

By Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

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Over the past two decades I have been asked 4 universal questions by people interested in writing for children. I’d like to share the answers with you.

1. “What can I do to get published?” The answer is:
A. Do your homework.
You need to read, read, read. Read all the HOW TO books you can get your hands on. A few suggestions:
Ann Whitford Paul’s, WRITING PICTURE BOOKS
Barbara Sueling’s, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S BOOK AND GET IT PUBLISHED,
Harold D. Underdown’s, THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS
Lee Wyndham’s, WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS.

B. You need to read books in the genre that you would like to write.
Study the character’s development. What is his motivation?
What is standing in the main character’s way keeping him from accomplishing his goal? Identify the tension tools used to build the plot.
What did the author do to get the reader into the setting?

C. Attend conferences and workshops. Check your local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators group. They usually offer conferences, workshops, and critique groups in your area. National SCBWI also offers two conferences every year. One conference is held in California in August and a second conference is offered in New York either in January or February. You can locate the information on the web: www.SCBWI.org

2. “Do I need an agent?” I do not believe you need an agent. You can research possible publishers through the CHILDREN’S WRITERS MARKET. First look to see if the publishing house is accepting unsolicited manuscripts. (This means that they are open to un-agented manuscripts.) Second, see if they are accepting manuscripts in your genre.
After finding a publishing house is open and that looks like it might work for your genre and theme of your story, then research the publishing house on the internet.
Become familiar with the editors. Check to see if they have a blog. This will help you find out: What else has the editor published? What is her passion? What type of book is on his wish list?
Make a list of possible publishers and begin sending your manuscript out. Some publishers require that you submit only to them. This is called an exclusive submission. Other publishers will allow simultaneous submissions.
Always make sure you keep a record of where you have submitted your manuscript. Record the date you submitted the manuscript and if it is returned. If you are lucky enough to get a personal note from an editor, send a thank you note. If they made a suggestion to improve your story, get to work!

3. “How do I submit?” When you finish your manuscript it is important to have it critiqued by your peers or a professional. There are many authors and editors that offer critique services. Check your local SCBWI to see if there are members who have open critique groups or offer critiquing.
Make sure your manuscript is perfect. Check grammar, spelling, and punctuation. When your manuscript is ready, you will need to write a cover letter.

Use a regular business letter set up. Your letter should be short.
Dear Editor’s Name,
I have enclosed my xxx word picture book: NAME OF BOOK.
Then add some information about your writing history: Example: I am a former librarian and a member of the SCBWI and I participate in the local (NAME OF STATE) chapter. I have been published in the regional newspaper. Close the letter with a thank you for time and consideration.

An Example of proper manuscript format:

Your name.
Address,
City, State, Zip
Phone number
E-mail address Word Count

Center your title half way down the page.
by
Your Name

    Then begin your manuscript. It needs to be indented for every new paragraph.

Your manuscript should be double spaced.
You will need a header starting on the second page. Your header should include your name, the name of your manuscript on the left side and the page number on the right side. Every succeeding page should have the header on the top.
Many publishers request a SASE (Self addressed stamped envelope) so they can return your manuscript. Others say they will recycle the manuscripts so you do not need to send a SASE.

4. “Do I need an illustrator?” The answer is, no. Publishers have a “stable” of illustrators that they prefer to use. They know their illustrators are professionals: Their work is consistent and produced on time.
Let the publisher worry about the look of the book while you do everything you can to produce a quality manuscript. Once you and your editor have polished your manuscript. Start planning on having a book launch!

I hope these answers help you to get your work ready for publication! Good luck with your writing.

MY OCTOBER BLOG

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

file000910989872I belong to an online poetry group, we call ourselves The Cottage Poets (you know who you are). As usual we had taken this last summer off…until the end of October. It was a long hot summer! Each month, one of us takes a turn coming up with our prompt, and then everyone writes about the same prompt. I mention this because the last prompt was perfect since we didn’t begin our after summer return to The Cottage until nearly November. That prompt was…WHY I HAVEN’T WRITTEN. I do not make this stuff up.
My poem was terse and a little funny and a lot true. But it didn’t make me want to write. Thus, my October blog in November. I am writing this now because I am feeling overwhelming guilt. Not for not writing. I have really great excuses for that, and some are true. I have seen more doctors in 2015 that I ever saw from 1940 till December 2014. While the good news is that I have absolutely nothing fatal (except aging), I am not, nor will I be, getting any younger. My guilt is knowing that someone else has to pick up my slack. My fellow bloggers and I are aware of who that will be. Judy, of course. So here I am…writing.
I guess what I am trying to say here that whatever you are feeling, gung-ho or gummed-up, you are never alone. When you are writing, you have other writers who are there for you in so many places. Critique groups are a good place to start. You will become friends, fellow suffers, writing confidants, and shoulders to cry on. You will share insights, information, accomplishments, and successes. There are workshops, classes, conferences, retreats, and more. And when you are not writing, who understands why not? Those same fellow writers, your writer friends, your buddy non-writers in a slump with terminal writer’s block. Writers like me.
So, do we give up? No, of course not. We write blogs about why we don’t write. We write poems to say why we may never write again. We write emails begging for a kind word from a dear writer we know and love and who loves us enough to forgive us for not writing. And then they email back all the reasons they can’t write. What do we do when we have nothing, absolutely nothing to write about? We write about it.
Happy Writing!

How Writers Learn From Reading

cropped-Bigstock_24054800.jpg   by Judy Enderle

Being a writer changes the way you read. First you read a book to enjoy the story. Then you reread the book to figure out how: how did the author work the magic that kept you turning the pages?

On your second time through treat the book like a class in writing. Look for:

● what happened on that all-important first page.

● when were you aware of the problem and the conflict.

● why you cared about the main character. And if you didn’t care, what made you keep reading anyway?

● what important character traits helped to make the plot work. How were these traits shown?

● the roles secondary characters played. Why was each one important to the story?

● what the author did to put you inside the main character’s head.

● what made you “see” the setting. What part did the setting play in the story?

● how the plot built. How did each page, each paragraph, each chapter move the story forward?

● how the author created tension and conflict.

● surprises. Was there any foreshadowing of these surprises?

● the way the main character solved the problem. How did the main character change? How did the author show both and when?

● the balance between dialogue and description.

● the kind of sentence structure the author used. When were sentences longer? When shorter? And why did the language and word choices fit the story?

● chapter titles. How did they suit what happened in the chapters?

● the book title. Did it draw you in and represent the book well?

Writers never stop learning with so many great books available written by authors who show you “how” on each page.

What’s New in the Publishing World?

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I attended the 2015 Summer Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Los Angeles, as usual, with no particular expectations except that it has always been a positive experience.  This year it seemed particularly filled with exuberant energy. (Having the delightful Mem Fox give the first keynote may have set the mood.)  I won’t try to give you an overview of the entire conference–there were official bloggers who can be found on the SCBWI.org website, as well as–for members–the annual Market Report.

In general, however, it was reported that children/YA book sales were up 21% in 2014, and up though somewhat less the first part of this year. (Last year’s sales were increased by movie tie in’s.)  Several new children’s imprints have been formed, including Epic Press, Flat Iron Books, and Imprint, the last from MacMillan.  We did not get a printout of the report this time, and most attendees I talked to are hoping they go back to that next time.

Publishers are again more open to short picture books, (short as in 500 words or less) character or narrative driven, and nonfiction is also of interest, especially on nature or the physical world, and they prefer that nonfiction also read like a story.

We were told that anything goes in middle grade: quirky action, classic MG, mystery, adventure, fantasy, nonfiction. Apparently 60% of kids read both digital and print.

YA is still the industry hot spot, but there is a lot of competition. Editors are very selective, and they receive many submissions. Contemporary realism dominates among published books, but editors are open to other genres, including S-F and horror. Pubs are keen to find new ways to reach readers, trying e-book subscription services, among other things. And of course, editors are always looking for good writers and illustrators, the ones who go just a little bit further.

I know I came home ready to write. : )  Hope you are, too!

Cheryl

P.S.  I would have made the photo smaller if I could have figured out how, and that is if it comes through at all. I’ve already wiped out the whole darn blog entry once, aggggg.

 

 

What’s New in the Publishing World?

tnI attended the Summer 2015 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s Conference In Los Angeles without any set expectations except that it’s always a worthwhile experience and found it infused with an upbeat attitude this time around. I won’t try to give you any comprehensive report–there were official bloggers who reported on the conference, which members can find on the SCBWI.org website, along with the latest Market Report and other members’ comments.

Basically, however, the market report said that sales of children/YA books were up 21% for 2014, also up so far this year but not as much; apparently media tie in’s drove some of the sales last year. The demand for picture books is picking up,  publishers open to short, character-driven or narrative-driven fiction, and also non-fiction especially about nature and the physical world.  They also want non-fiction picture books, bios and others, that read like a story.

Middle grade: anything goes, the presenter said:  quirky action, classic MG, adventure, mystery, elements of fantasy . Apparently 60% of kids read both digital and print.  And YA is still the industry hot spot, although editors are very selective, and there is a lot of competition. Editors receive many submissions, and contemporary realism dominates published books. They are open to other genres, too, especially S-F and horror. But editors and agents are looking for good writers and illustrators.

I came home ready to write. : )  Hope you are, too.

PURPLE MOUNTAIN’S MAJESTY

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

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I am going to be honest here…I have not been writing. I was on a roll for a while. Then the editor we were working with went up in a puff of smoke and the publishing house disappeared. I just lost momentum and desire. Since then, I have avoided writing like the plague. The only writing I have wanted to do…have done, is the poetry I share with my group, The Cottage Poets. And my poems have rarely been warm and fuzzy, they’ve been mostly venting. This last year and a half has been up-ending. I feel like I have been walking on my hands with my head in my underwear. I have not had a clear vision of how I see my life proceeding or if I expect an upward or downward progression facing me in the future. I suddenly don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I can’t decide whether this came about because, after 74 years living in Southern California, I decided to move. A move I felt I had to make for financial reasons. A move that took me away from my family and some of my dearest friends. Or perhaps it is because some of my personal setbacks…like turning 75 this month, finding there was no more cartilage in my knees, learning to live (again) with a fifteen year old (my beautiful granddaughter, Sarah), or because my dog, Izzi, has decided she likes my daughter best and pretty much ignores me.

It is amazing to me, at my age, to live in a place where I don’t know where anything is or how to get there if I find out. Where I don’t know anyone I see, although every lady looks like someone I am sure I met at an SCBWI Summer Conference at one time or another. Where people are genuinely kind and courteous and young and old hold the door for me, waiting patiently while I limp through. Where traffic in my town goes 25 MPH and I am fine with that. AND the scenery is mind-boggling, stunning, peaceful, green-green-green. There are lakes everywhere. Quaint abounds. Vintage is the norm. And I have never yet met a tree I didn’t love. On our meanderings, my daughter Jackee driving, me looking right and left so quickly I get car sick, my favorite exclamation has become OMG! OMG! OMG!

The best OMG! My birthday. It was amazing. Laurie Knowlton came from Ohio, and Dawn Dixon came from Arizona, and Judy came from Bellingham (WA…lol). We partied and laughed and talked and talked and talked for 9 days straight. It was everything a birthday celebration should be. Thank you, Loveys.

My life in Mount Vernon, Washington is everything my life in LA environs wasn’t. I am older than I have ever been before. I am happier than I thought I’d be. I am gearing up for something. Judy, ever positive, hopes it’s writing. I miss my grandkids and my great kids. I miss my friends…you know who you are. I am up here waiting…when can you come by? I’m ready for another party (and it’s a great excuse for not writing.)

To Outline or Not to Outline, That is the Question. . .

by Cheryl Zach

With due apologies to Will….
Some writers call it jumping into the mist–that is, you have the idea and you just leap into the writing, with no outline to guide you. Other writers pale in horror at the prospect of starting a book with no concept of where they or their characters are going. When I took a decade off from writing for teens and children to create historical romantic adventure for grownups, the first few books (penned as Nicole Byrd) were written with my daughter, Michelle Nicole. (Later she felt overwhelmed by life and small babies–hers–and I went on as Nicole Byrd by myself, with good wishes all around.) We had similar writing habits–except for plotting.
I have the kind of brain that jumps from point c to point g, then maybe back to f and on to p. That used to drive Michelle bananas; she wanted to go from c to d to e to f, much more logical, I admit. But my brain wouldn’t work that way, probably why I’m not a plotter, but a pantser–another nickname for ‘flying by the seat of your pants.’
I do know where my characters are at the start and where I expect them to end up (once even that changed, and I had to call my editor and explain meekly that–honest to goodness–my main characters wouldn’t do what I wanted them to, and the book was going to end differently than I had expected.  However, that book, RUNAWAY, became an award-winning YA novel.) I know the conflict that faces each character, I know their backgrounds and motivations. From there, it’s a matter of following my characters and seeing where they lead me.
Right now, I’m working on a YA novel, and the middle is frustrating me because I’m a little unsure of where it’s going. That’s the problem when you don’t outline–but as I said, it’s not really a choice. Some writers profit by having a chapter by chapter outline, and they relish its security and guidance. Some writing books will tell you a plot outline is totally necessary. But some authors just don’t work their best from an outline, if they can make one at all. (Yes, from long practice I can fake a synopsis for my editor when I need to. But trusted editors understand me well enough to know the story will take its own direction.)
For me, the most important thing is knowing my characters inside and out, knowing where they’re coming from and what conflict/problem they are facing. Then I just watch to see what action they will take to overcome the obstacles, and how they will grow in the process.
In this book I knew my main character had to end up in Egypt but wasn’t totally sure why. She has a big problem–her mother has been abducted, and now her whole family is in danger. (Always ramp up the conflict, heighten the peril as the story progresses.) How is my MC going to rescue her mother and defeat the Baddies? I’m not yet sure, but I can’t wait to find out–it’s sure to be exciting!
Stay tuned, and good luck with your own plotting, whether you outline or not. : )

REDISCOVERED WRITING

by Judith Ross Enderle

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MAGIC can happen when you clean your office or your desk or your garage files, or when you go through your computer documents.

The magic is in rediscovered manuscripts that you abandoned or that were rejected. (Even happens to famous authors.)

You may be surprised at how good the manuscript was and still is. Perhaps it was rejected because the timing wasn’t right (YA wasn’t selling; yes, there was that time) or there were too many books about . . . or no one was interested in American History (and now there’s a children’s book award for this very thing). Whatever the reason, you abandoned the manuscript.

But another look, fresh eyes, more experience as a writer can make a difference. Old manuscripts can be revived, reborn, become new and better.

As you sort, start a possibility file. And, when you are ready, analyze one or more of these abandoned manuscripts. Ask yourself:

Would the title tempt me to take this off the shelf?
Does the story need to start in a different place or time?
Did I pick the right main character? Did I choose strong names?
What if I changed past tense to present tense or vice-versa? Same with first or third person.
How much do I read before my mind wanders? Why?
Is the pacing off with too much time getting started, a slow middle, an ending that happens too quickly?
Do all the characters sound alike?
Does the main character solve the problem? Is there a problem?
Do I even care about the main character? Why or why not? Is there a reason for every secondary character to be in this story?
Are there sensory details? Is the story grounded?
Will today’s kids want to read this story if I revise it?

While much of this applies to novels, take another look at picture books and nonfiction manuscripts and all of the writing you’ve tucked away in boxes, bins, drawers, and on your computer. Maybe you didn’t have enough for an illustrator to work with in those picture books, but they might be magazine stories. Maybe you need to update your research for that nonfiction project and find out how it fits in the school curriculum. Perhaps it can be made more reader friendly.

Whether you are moving to a new home or doing spring cleaning or just procrastinating about your current writing project, dig deep. You never know what magic might be waiting.