FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR JUNE – FIRST PAGES

by the Mavens

 

Aack! The year is half over. How did that happen? If you’ve spent the past six months thinking about the book you want to write, this is a good time to get started. And where do you start? With the FIRST PAGE. Here’s what the Mavens have to say:

CHERYL ZACH: First Pages are vital. You must catch the reader’s interest at once. Years ago I heard award-winning author Richard Peck say that he used to give himself ten pages to grab the reader’s attention; now it must be done on the first page. And it’s not just a restless young person you must mesmerize–it’s also the agent or editor who will be your first reader. If your book makes it to print, it’s the book store buyer or the clerk who puts it on the shelf, or it’s the parent of a young child if your book is a picture book. First pages matter.
For a young adult novel, on that essential first page you need to establish who the main character is, give at least a hint of the problem and the setting. Sound hard? It is. The first page will go through innumerable drafts. You’ll write it, edit, rewrite  many times. Read it aloud, read it to your critique group. Write it again. Hone it, tighten it. For sure tighten it. Every word counts. {Do not do an info dump–try to tell too much on what the book is about, as if you were giving a book report. You want to show; use action, dialogue, sensory details. Bring the story to life immediately.)
Go back through your most loved novels or picture books. Old favorites are allowed, but be sure to read many new books, too. See what the current best sellers are, what editors and readers like today. See what skillful writers can do with a few lines, a couple of paragraphs, to grab you by the throat and not let you go.

LAURIE KNOWLTON: What’s so big about first pages?
First pages are not EASY. They need a great deal of thought and rewriting, and rewriting.
Riveting first pages are imperative because they introduce your reader to the main character, the setting’s time and place, and a story problem, quest, or journey.
Your opening line should GRAB your reader making them want to read the next line, and the next line, and the next line. In those lines the writer needs to make the reader care about the main character and what they are up against. The reader needs to feel the conflict. A good way to do this is through strong sensorial action and dialogue that fills in the gaps.
Your first page is either going to keep your reader reading or putting down the book and moving onto something else, or someone else’s book. Don’t let weak first pages keep your reader from consuming your book!

DAWNE KNOBBE: First pages usually become a page further into your chapter. Don’t be afraid to “cut to the chase.”

STEPHANIE JACOB GORDON: Eve Bunting always said: “Start with the moment that’s different.” That means the event that makes your character take notice and react. That moment should be important to your character, make a difference in his/her life, create a situation where something is at stake for the character. The reaction may be physical or emotional, but it should be something that will hook your reader and create a page turn in order to find out what happens next.

JUDITH ROSS ENDERLE: Don’t be surprised if you toss out your first page or even your whole first chapter once you’ve completed your first draft. That’s a lot of firsts, but sometimes you don’t know if you’ve started in the right place until you’ve found out where your story ends.

Happy summer! Happy writing!

 

 

FIVE WRITING TIPS FOR APRIL

The Mavens

The April tip topic is Plot, Plot, Plot. Some writers love to plot, some hate to plot, and almost all writers have those “I’m stuck” moments when plotting their stories. What tips do the Mavens have for you as you PLOT, PLOT, PLOT? Let’s find out:

Laurie Lazarro Knowlton:

The biggest mistake I see when critiquing manuscripts is that the writer has all the early components of a story: The WHO: A Main Character and Sub Characters. THE WHERE: Setting, a WHAT: Problem, challenge or quest, But then they fail to follow plot basics:

Identify a strong reason for main character’s motivation. Hunger Games = saving her sister, Dorothy and The Wizard of OZ = Desire to get home

Plot has to involve the main character working through a series of tries/events to solve the problem, challenge or quest.
Each of the tries needs to increase in difficulty.
Emotion binds your main character and the reader.
No one else can solve the problem for the main character.
The main character has to grow in wisdom and strength in each of the failed tries leading the character to a believable solution.
Plot is the main body of your story using up approximately ½ to 2/3 of your text. Be sure to review your plot basics when writing!

 

Stephanie Jacob Gordon:

Every plot for me begins with a WHAT IF…?

One idea and my brain is off to the races.  OFF TO THE RACES….  A kid who loves racing what a great idea if I only knew something about horses, or racing, or liked horse stories.  But I don’t.  And Black Beauty is still a classic.  So that is not my WHAT IF.

But what if you are driving along through Ohio farm country with your writing partner and you see a bunch of pigs piled on top of each other and one of you says, “What do you think that pile of pigs is doing?”  WHAT IF…?  And the book A PILE OF PIGS is born.

For as long as I can remember, my friend Judy and I have been writing partners and conference buddies and Co-SCBWI RAs, RACs, Board Members, lecturers,teachers, editors, and anything else ones writing life provides.  So “what if” people all over the world start calling you the bad babies…  WHAT IF…?  And the book THE TWO BADD BABIES is born.

What if you need a plot? Grab your characters, look at their problems, then “what if” all possible solutions. And you, too, may soon have a book in the works.

Cheryl Zach:

Plot comes from conflict, conflict begins with a problem. If you don’t have a problem to solve, you don’t have anything to write about. Character is all important, but character without conflict is a big blob of shapeless nothing. Beautiful writing, maybe, but just an essay or character sketch in disguise. Literary novels, so called, can devolve into this if this writer is too self indulgent. The simplest way to think about plot is that it is what happens in a story or book and, baby, something better happen. (One important hint: it better be the main character who resolves the problem.)

Dawne Knobbe:

You want to give your readers some surprise. It is easy to fall into cliched plots. Make sure you put an original spin on your story. What happens and why it happens can make your plot original.

Judith Ross Enderle:

As a writer, you’ll find your best story path. Some writers do a lot of preplanning: chapter outlines, character interviews, and detailed research. Others dive right in from the moment an idea hits them. There is no right way to write. But, if you are starting out, preparation can give you confidence that you’ll be able to get from the first word to “the end.” That means figuring out ahead of time what happens to the characters in your story and that’s called plotting. A plot involves jeopardy for your characters, hard work on their part to move ahead as they struggle to solve a problem, and more jeopardy. Each move your characters take triggers additional moves and additional problems as a result of those moves. You’ll need action to generate drama, and conflict to build tension and keep the reader turning pages. So, if you plan, plan, plan you won’t have to plod, plod, plod, and you’ll be confident that you are off to a good start with your plot, plot, plot. One warning: characters get stubborn and have opinions. It IS OKAY to change your plot as the story develops. Nothing is permanent until the book is printed.

FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR MARCH

The Mavens

  The Mavens are back with more writing tips, this time on birthing characters. What would a story be without characters? Not a story. Characters include not only people, but some story characters are animals, inanimate objects, and fantasy figures like ogres, fairies, wizards and more. So here are our character tips:

Laurie Knowlton:

After you’ve written the basics, hair, eyes, gender, ethnicity, family, age, INTERESTING characters need to be ACTIVE, VOCAL, FLAWED, and QUIRKY.
Interesting: Your main character needs to do something out of the ordinary to catch the reader’s attention. “Out of the Ordinary” = beginning of the story incident.
Active: A perfectly content main character is BORING… Active characters that need, want, desire something are motivated characters.
Vocal: Dialogue shows us, without telling us. Dialogue moves the story forward, by giving us tid-bits of information that develops the story line.
Flawed: Your protagonist is a nobody without strengths that move them forward and flaws that produce friction. Will or won’t the MC succeed based on their strengths and weaknesses?
Quirky: What is the one quirky thing about your character that makes them unique? Do they have a pet frog they take everywhere with them? Do they dance when they are waiting in lines? Do interrupt other characters always sending the conversation in a different direction? Do they always smell like what they’ve eaten? Do they twitch every time they get next to the opposite sex?
Add interesting, active, vocal, flawed, quirky traits to your character study and your character will be one that your readers want to get to know!

Cheryl Zach:

Since for me, characters and story ideas come hand in hand, that’s usually the same as asking, ‘Where do you get your ideas?,’ the answer is pretty much everywhere. Some of my YA books, such a RUNAWAY, came straight from news stories–of course, I changed the ideas right away, but that’s where they started, and then I had to wonder, who was this teen girl, this teen boy, who was caught up in this situation? A couple of books came from episodes that happened at the high school where I taught before I stopped to write full time–again, the real life was altered drastically, but that was the germ of the idea. Sometimes it was something that happened to my children. (My daughter, after I began publishing, would preface her conversations with: Now, you can’t put this in a book!)

Most often, it was something that happened to me, when I was a kid, again often changed, a little or a lot. Right now I’m working on a story about a military family–very pertinent to today’s news. I was a military brat, and I know a lot about that life style. I have to update it, of course. You always do, unless you want to make the book a historical. <grin>  Anything a decade ago or more is historical for kids. And of course everything about a historical setting–clothing, houses, furniture, food, lighting, transportation, all details big and small, must also be accurate and be included without being obvious about it. Remember that your characters would take it all for granted.

Sometimes characters come out of thin air, and you’re not sure where they come from. Benny, of the BENNY AND THE NO GOOD TEACHER and other Benny books, floated into my head when I was sitting at a writing conference. I know he owes a lot to my son and my brother, actually, but mostly, he is himself. Developing characters, now that’s a whole other topic.

Stephanie Jacob Gordon:

For me, giving birth to my characters has been only slightly easier than it was giving birth to my children. But in one way both had two somethings in common. No, one was not the spinal that took away the pain. Believe me, there will be pain. The two things both share in this –no matter how hard you push–characters and babies don’t emerge until they are ready, and no matter how tired you get, they won’t leave you alone until you deal with them. Oh, and here’s a third thing they have in common: years from now you will look at your children and your characters and you’ll be glad you birthed them.

Dawne Knobbe:

Characters are complex. After you have sketched out your character, take him or her out into the real world and decide how he would react in different situations you find yourself in.

Judith Ross Enderle:

Characters often sneak up on you and once on scene demand their story be told. Listen carefully to what they have to say. If you ignore them, you will be pestered. Once you acknowledge their presence, then get to know them. Ask questions about everything: life situation, best and worst traits, current big and little problems, friends and family, details like favorite foods, colors, favorite sayings, hobbies, all the bits that make the character as unique as you are. Don’t limit this information-gathering to your protagonist, but also birth the story antagonist and even the minor characters so you know how they will act and react in the scenes that move the story plot forward. Is all this work worth it? Ask any author who’s received a letter from a reader wondering if you personally know the main character. Absolutely! Because then you’ll know you’ve done your job birthing real characters.

FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR JANUARY

by FIVE FABULOUS MAVENS

          It’s a new year, so for 2018 we are offering something new on our blog. At the end of each month we’ll post five tips on one particular writing-related subject, one tip from each of the Mavens. Our first topic is WRITERS’ NETWORKS.

From Dawne Knobbe: Start a private Facebook group page with your writer friends to share industry information. You can post upcoming events, editors who are open to submissions, writing tips, etc. It’s easy. Here is how to get started:

How to Create a Facebook Group

  •      Find “Add Group” From your “home page” on Facebook go to the Groups section on the left side menu and find “Add Group”
  •     Click “Create New Group”
  •     Name Your Group
  •     Add Members
  •     Choose Privacy Setting
  •     Click “Create”
  •     Choose an Icon
  •    Complete “About” Section

From Judy Enderle:  JOIN SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators  This world-wide organization is dedicated to the creation and promotion of children’s literature. Membership is open to published and unpublished authors and illustrators and others interested in writing and illustrating books and other material for young readers. Visit www.scbwi.org to learn about all they have to offer.

From Cheryl Zach: Conferences are great for networking, as are any events where writers gather. If you’re shy–and many writers are introverts–going to a workshop or discussion group or any event with a predetermined subject to discuss will help break the ice. Put your area of interest–picture books, YA, nonfiction, etc.–on your name tag. This will make it easy for another attendee to start a conversation with you. Remember to smile. And remember that it’s bad manners to rush an editor or agent and try to give them a long verbal version of your current WIP. If they’re open to a short pitch, they will indicate it. Otherwise just smile, make a comment about their presentation, thank them for coming. . . And keep their email for queries if they noted they are open to those. If it’s hard for you to get out to group events, there are online groups you can join, publishing news you can read. SCBWI and other writing groups have discussion boards and local newsletters.

From Stephanie Jacob Gordon: TWO not ONE GREAT IDEA

Writers need a computer or a pencil or pen and paper and a good light to see by and a drink and snacks (OK, I really like snacks when I write). But along with my snacks, I need Judy. You see, we have been writing partners for 39 years. Judy keeps me going, motivated, and nagged to death when I am not writing. But you may not have a writing partner (you may not have mine), so you write alone, lonely, without someone to tell you if you are any good at writing, someone to  encourage you to keep at it, or someone to tell you to give it up and get into plumbing and make some real money. What are you going to do?

Excellent question. I have two answers. Two because they are connected and number two probably will connect to most of the suggestions in this month’s tip list.

#1) TAKE A CLASS. Any writing class in whatever genre will help somewhat, but a class in writing for children, taught by a successful author, successful editor, or successful agent is a good place to begin. Not only will you learn some very important stuff to further your writing ability and career, but you will also meet writers. I met Judy in Eve Bunting’s class through UCLA. Will you meet your forever writing partner? Maybe, maybe not. But you will meet many like-minded people who are, like you, actively pursuing how to write for young readers. You will all be in the same place, at the same time, and be able to progress together. And you will make a friend or two or ten, like Judy and I did in Eve’s class.

#2) FORM A CRITIQUE GROUP. In fact no matter where you meet other children’s book writers, think critique group. Do they want one? Do they have one? Would they like to start one with you? Will they have room in theirs for you to join? When I met Judy I was new to Malibu, but she was already in a local group and I joined her group. When Eve’s class was over, all eleven of us started a group and we traveled to each other’s homes for our every-two-weeks meeting. Judy and I traveled farthest, but we had each other to talk to and slowly became best friends. YAY for writer’s classes! One of our group dropped out due to a work commitment, but the ten of us left became friends and all of us are published! Some of us are pretty well-known writers, too (sorry, not a name dropper, but I do know some amazing writers). From Stephanie, who is lucky to be Judy’s writing partner and 1/2 of Jeffie Ross Gordon . . .thanks to Eve’s class.

From Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton: OTHER EYES

Your writer’s instinct, along with your agent and your editor, have let you know that you are off track somewhere in the manuscript you’ve been slaving over. But where? And if you know where, how do you approach a fix? This is where “other eyes” might come into play. Over time, you’ll learn which writer friends connect with you and your work. Make an agreement to be “eyes and ears” for each other when you are stuck on your story, when there’s a hole in the plot that seems to keep getting deeper rather than filling up, when you are ready to make confetti out of your manuscript. You can do this via computer so friends don’t have to live nearby. Be respectful of each other’s time. Some friends may have time to answer and others may not. It can take many heads  and many hearts to birth a good book. And when you write acknowledgments for your book, don’t forget the “eyes and ears. (Laurie is deep in manuscript revision right now; she is the author of this month’s blog post. So this tip is ghostwritten by another Maven.)

 

 

 

5 Tips for Rewriting After a Critique

By Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

So, you finished a manuscript and you have taken the manuscript to a critique group.

Your “Happily-Ever-After-Hopes were:
1. That everyone would love your manuscript.
2. That it was ready to send out to a publisher.

But, even though the critique group saw great merit in the story, they also saw flaws. Bummer!

Three examples of flaws could be:
1.Your story is flat. (That usually means-your plot is lacking. A plot is a series of events where the main character goes about trying to solve the story question. This usually happens with the main character trying to solve the problem with a series attempts without success.
2. You’re telling the story, you’re not showing the story. (Telling vs. showing. Telling is just that, you are a narrator telling a story. Showing means you let your characters show their thoughts and feeling through dialogue and actions.)
3. All your characters are the same. (Each character should have a purpose in moving the story forward. Each character should have their own quirks and ways of expressing themselves.)

So now that you have input, what do you do?

Sit on it. Let the new information roll around in your head.
Decide what input is valuable to your story. What rings true? If someone said something that you don’t think rings true for your story and your character, then put it aside. But if you hear the same type of comment more than once, I suggest you act on it
Go to mentor text. Read, read, read! This helps you to see how other authors moved through a story and accomplished a credible, satisfying story.

Re-acquaint yourself with the right way to:
A. Build a Plot B. Show Don’t Tell C. Write Believable Characters

Go back to your: A. Reference books B. Your favorite author’s How-To web pages,
C. Read/Listen to the How-To Web pages and You-Tube professionals.

THEN begin rewriting. Write, and then sleep on it. The next day, re-read and then ask yourself: A. Did I accomplish what I set out to fix? B. Is it strong enough? C. How could the wording be more sensorial?

Rewrite. Sleep on it. Then ask yourself the same questions. Repeat until you are satisfied with your story. Then take it back to your critique group. Keep working until you get the story that you will be proud to have out there!

You can do it! Good writing happens when rewriting.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU . . . (sing on)


by Judith Enderle
Birthing characters can be challenging.Iin a book, each one must have a reason to be there and each character—whether protagonist or antagonist—must be unique. So how do you do that?

(Right at this point I’m tempted to say: “If you find out, let me know.) But I know how. It’s the doing that is the challenge.

Here are a few details that help me get to know my characters (please expand these lists as you birth your book characters):
Traits: like temperament, intelligence and knowledge, determination
Appearance: height, weight, coloring, health
Family: number of siblings, is your character oldest, youngest, or in the middle? Living situation. Parents and relatives. Economic status.
Personal: secrets, brags, embarrassing moments
Friends: longest, newest, best, many or few?
What matters most to your character? What is your character worried about?

Sometimes interviewing the characters helps you find the details you need.
You’ll need the most information about the protagonist and the antagonist, but get to know the secondary players so their actions and reactions make sense as the story unfolds.

Last, but not least: don’t forget the little things: good and bad habits, tics, favorite words and phrases, great smiles, evil eyes, favorite piece of clothing, nicknames . . . This can be the longest list of all.

Guaranteed, your writing will be easier if you know your characters so well you’d recognize them if they moved next door.

Happy Spring!

Theme Vs. Plot

The theme is the thing.
Not that plot is not important–without plot, your novel is a jellyfish, no bones, no skeleton, no internal structure to give it shape and structure and hold it erect. Character-driven novels can be wonderful, but those totally devoid of plot are very difficult to pull off. At the risk of sounding contradictory, I think well developed characters are likely the most important element in a good novel–but that’s another blog.
Plot is what happens in a novel, and it’s much to do with the novel’s conflict, how the main character and others go about struggling with and resolving the conflict/problem: coming to a –we hope–victorious, or at least, bitter-sweet conclusion. (I hold with the late, great Madeleine L’Engle who said, if I may paraphrase, that a writer should always leave at least a glimmer of hope at the end of a YA novel. Adult readers can deal with a totally tragic ending, younger readers don’t have the experience as yet to cope–they need some optimism in a book’s conclusion to carry into their own life challenges.)
I’m sure you know the basics of plot and conflict: the main character must resolve the problem him or herself instead of an adult or an act of blind fate coming in at the last moment to make all things right, and so forth.
But that’s still not theme. Theme is the basic and overall idea that hangs behind the whole novel, that guides the momentum behind the character’s growth and change, his/her struggle with conflict, reaction to the setting, reaction to other characters, and more. Other writers have commented that theme comes from the characters’ issues–or perhaps, I might add, their issues develop partly from the theme.–and the theme grows from the writer’s heart. It’s possible you might write using a theme you don’t believe in, but I don’t really see how.

In the YA manuscript I’m working on now, working title: An Ounce of Courage, the protagonist has been relocated, after the death of his military father and much against his will, into a small isolated village from a much more cosmopolitan setting. His immediate conflict is being beset by the local high school bully. His bigger conflict is that he’s afraid he’ll never live up to his hero dad.

(My dad always said,’ Stick up for the little guy.’

My dad wasn’t on the bus.)

The theme, though, has to do with the nature of courage and the process of becoming a man, a journey every male teen has to make.  You might wonder why a woman is writing this book? The short answer, the story wouldn’t leave me alone until I started to write it.  Longer one: My writing has never been restricted to characters of one gender. : ) I do have a younger brother and a son, and now three grandsons, two growing old enough to begin this process. And perhaps sometimes a little distance is a good thing. . . And I am an army brat, so the backdrop of the story is one I’m very familiar with. There is a girl in the book, too, who is an important character, and she also has challenges to face and decisions to make. Courage is not just a question for boys–or men.

I feel every word and every page of this manuscript deeply, whatever the gender of the protagonist, because the theme matters. . . now my job as a writer is to make sure the reader does, too.

images-4Cheryl Zach is the author of Hearts Divided, Book 1 of the 4 book Civil War YA series, Southern Angels, and many other YA and MG novels.

PRESENTING: AN INTERVIEW WITH MAVEN CHERYL ZACH

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CHERYL ZACH, AUTHOR OF SOUTHERN ANGELS

1. How much research did you do and how deep did you have to dig to make the Southern Angels series feel authentic? What was your best source of information? What was the hardest information to find?

I did a great deal of research for the 4 book YA Civil War series, Southern Angels. All in all, I spent three years researching and writing the four books. I did as much primary research as possible. That means info from sources who lived during the time period of the books and who wrote letters, newspaper stories, private journals or diaries, and they give the best look at the time period. The only downside is that you have to take into account that everyone will have his/her own bias. Three people who knew Lincoln would have three different opinions of his characters, for example. I did also use secondary sources, i.e., history books about the Civil War where the authors have done their own research and gathered it together into a book such as The Civil War in Virginia, and so on. These authors will use footnotes to show their sources, which helps me judge the value and accuracy of their material. Although my books are fiction and more concerned with romance and relationships, and what happened on the homefront–where women and girls had a challenging time during a war happening all around them–I still wanted the background to be accurate.

2. What made you decide to reissue the series yourself and did you find the self-publishing path difficult?

I decided to reissue these books because I think they are among the best of my young adult novels, and because I put so much effort and time into them and I hated that they were out of print and unavailable. In particular, the fourth book was never printed by the New York publisher who originally put out the books–loooong story there, basically that I lost my editor who moved to another publishing house and thus lost any support–and I had many unhappy readers who never found the final book in the series. I wrote an earlier column on doing it yourself–I had some problems early on, but it wasn’t too hard overall.

3. Why did you choose to write the books as a series rather than as one long novel?

I wrote four medium length books because I showcased four girls, to give as many views of the conflict as possible. Elizabeth is from a wealthy Virginia plantation but has a domineering, cold-hearted father. She originally supports the South, but falls in love with a Yankee soldier and changes her views on the war and on slavery. Victorine is a Creole beauty from New Orleans who is a die hard Confederate, though she also becomes more enlightened about the evils of slavery. When New Orleans falls to Yankee rule under General ‘Beast’ Butler, she is almost thrown into prison. She will reject the man her father has chosen for her to marry in order to make her own choice. Hannah is enslaved, grows up alongside Elizabeth on the Stafford plantation. She aides other slaves to escape on the Underground Railroad. Though she has sworn never to marry while she is still a slave and her children could be torn away from her, she falls in love with a free man of color (some did exist in the larger Southern towns) and eventually makes the dangerous race toward freedom herself. And last, Rosamund, the Tennessee girl, lives under Yankee rule after Grant has taken the Tennessee valley. She has one brother in the Northern army and one brother who supports the South. Although her family has never owned slaves and she supports the Union cause, she finds it hard to live under a conquering army, especially when despite herself, she falls in love with a dashing vagabond Confederate soldier. The four books cover the conflict from the first cannon fire upon Fort Sumter (three of the girls are attending a boarding school in Charleston, SC.) to the end, when weary soldiers finally make the journey home. And all along, the girls grow and mature and learn that they can make a difference, each in her own way. And love may survive, despite the peril and uncertainty of war.

4. What do you want readers to discover and take away from reading about the civil war? What makes this period of history fascinating to you?

The biggest theme of the books is that what an individual does, the actions a girl/woman takes, does matter, and that you can make a difference.
The Civil War itself, parts of the country fighting against other parts, was an exercise in tragedy and futility, something we might remember.

5. Does this series fit into the school curriculum and at what grade level? Will you be doing a study guide when the series is complete or will there be a separate one for each novel?

I am putting a study guide on my website, http://www.cherylzach.com,/ which would be helpful to teachers, home schoolers, and reading groups. Schools study the Civil War, depending on the state, often in 4th or 5th grade, again in middle school, and in the junior year of high school. These books are rated 6.5 in reading level, but good students usually read above their grade level, and as a former high school teacher myself, before I stopped to write full time, I know the difference in reading levels between middle school and high school is actually pretty small. As for the interest level–well, I’ve had letters and emails from readers from pre-teen to adult!

6. How long will readers have to wait for the next three books?

All four books are now available, in ebook and trade paperback, from amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and other retailers. Hearts Divided is Elizabeth’s story, taking her from Charleston to Virgina and back to Charleston. Winds of Change sees Victorine home to New Orleans and then farther afield. A Dream of Freedom gives us Hannah’s tale and finishes Elizabeth’s love story, and Last Rebellion takes us to Tennessee and Rosamund, last of the girls to find her true love, and gives us final glimpses of all four girls

7. What one bit of advice would you offer writers who want to write historical fiction?

Finally, my advice for a would-be historical writer: history is a wonderful tool for the imagination. With so much going on, you never want for ideas. You need to do your research in order to make the background and settings accurate, but beware of allowing the research to slow down or stop your story–keep the pace fast and stay focused on your main characters–even if George Washington did sleep here!

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!

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.