Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Spotlight on Flashlight

This is not an ad...it's a shout out.

I’ve published with a lot of great houses, each one offering a different experience. But one of those publishers stands out as unique. Flashlight Press – the smallest house I’ve worked with. In 2007 they published Grandpa for Sale, a collaborative work between my good friend, Vicki Sansum and myself. (Writing it together is another blog post for another day.)

Unique? If you’ve ever worked with Flashlight’s founder and editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, you’d understand. Shari saw more in our little PB than Vicki and I ever envisioned – word choices…plotting…illustrations. And it didn’t stop there. Because of her dedication “Grandpa” went on to win three awards, became a nominee of both the Arizona and Indiana State Reading lists, and was named a Borders Original Voices selection.

There were numerous reviews, interviews and articles connected to it. And it was even featured on the Dr. Laura show. That’s more accolades than all of my other books combined. (I wish I had someone like Shari behind those too!)

And “Grandpa” is not alone. All of Flashlight’s books have won numerous honors. Check out I Need MyMonster by Amanda Noll, illustrated by Howard McWilliam. 


There’s barely room on their webpage for all the kudos that fabulous PB has raked in…deservedly so. 

What’s Flashlight’s secret? Quality over quantity. Two to four books a year allows for a lot of nurturing. That’s something Shari and her crew do well.

If you’d like to submit to Flashlight, PLEASE read their guidelines first. And if you get an acceptance, you’ll have a whole lot to shout about.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Writing Easy Readers - Or How to Get 2nd Graders to Love You

Early reader chapter books – I’ve written more than a dozen. Thought I’d share a few writing tips on how I made mine successful.

Be specific.

What I want to convey: The main character, Tray, spots the same old stray cat messing up the flowerbed.

What I wrote: “Old Gray’s back,” Tray said, peering out at the scraggly gray cat squatting in the flowerbed.

See what I did? First off, I gave the cat a name. It tells the reader that the cat has been in the yard so many times that the family has nicknamed him. And I gave the cat an action. I have him “squatting” in the flowerbed. That word alone suggests what the cat is actually doing in the flowerbed.


We all use them. Kids love them. Similes are the perfect “showing” technique. They provide a gage that helps the reader visualize the object.

Here are a few of mine:

The cat stayed right in the middle of Mom’s prize roses, flinging dirt like a raging bull.
His head felt like a balloon losing air. I can’t pass out!
The dumpsters were lined up like train cars. 

These are just fun.

Two glassy green eyes peered out.

He soon transformed – flesh to fur – and ready to end this thing for good.

No way he’d ever potty in the petunias.
Sentence Structure

It’s important to mix it up and keep the tale far from the dreaded telling, telling, telling… Occasional sentence fragments are fine. And throw in a POV question here or there.

Be playful.

One technique I use is interrupting the sentence with a one or two word thought or sound.

Just when he thought he couldn’t draw another breath – pah! – he spit up a furball.
He licked his lips – Yum! – then set it down.
He jumped over the fence, rounded the corner and – CRACK! – butted heads with Mouser.

As usual, you’ll want to keep exclamation marks at a minimum. But with this age group, you’re allowed a few extra.

So there you have it. The next time you sit down to write a chapter book, I hope my examples are useful.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I Sumtimes Mak Errors


To proofread my own work, I usually have to set it aside for about a decade. Yep, I’m that blind to my own errors.

There are lots of proofreading methods, but this week I heard about a new one. Reading your manuscript in a different font.

Cool, right? And since I’ve made past errors on these posts, I thought I’d give it a shot.

The most common advice for proofing is to read your story out loud. I do this. And I’ve found that reading it as Christopher Walken works best.

Then there’s the method of removing yourself as author - putting your mind inside the reader. Okay, I rarely find typos, but dang that writer is good. I’m a huge fan.

I’ve also been told to read my book backward - last word first – Yoda-style. But if I’m putting myself inside the mind of my reader, it totally spoils the ending.

I’ve found the most effective method is uploading it to my Kindle. Reading it in book form raises my proofreading IQ. I can’t change the font type, but I can change the size. So I read it in large print while having dinner at 4:30.
But now I’m wondering, should I proofread each manuscript in a font best suited for its genre?

Would this work for humor?





Okay, whatever. I gave it a shot. If you find any typos here, remember, it’s not me...it’s the font.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Now What?

On January 4th, I told you I’d done something I hadn’t done in 12 years. Submit to an agent. Today I had a first. A rejection from an agent.

I didn’t submit to her with a sense of euphoria. I’m not upset, depressed or feeling worthless. No bubble was burst. But since receiving the “I didn’t love it” reject, I’m pondering the ever frustrating question:

Now what?

I could query another agent, but what if the manuscript really isn’t all that lovable? I certainly don’t want to burn bridges with anyone I might want to rep me in the future.

I could pay hundreds of dollars to a freelance editor to help me whip it into shape. But that’s a risky step. All that money for one editor’s opinion?

Then there’s the option that has crossed my mind a gazillion times. Design some cool covers, hire a copyeditor and throw it all up on Amazon. That would be the easy route. And I could man the helm – a major perk for a control freak like me. But then again, I’m no more a Joe Konrath or Amanda Hocking than I am a Stephen King or Janet Evanovich. To be successful on Kindle, you have to be consistent, a quick writer, and offer 2 or more books a year. Quick and consistent, I'm not.

And then there’s the practical choice. Put it in a drawer and go to the next project. Distance has always been my friend. But that drawer is already overstuffed.

So help me out here, guys. What would you do?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Resisting Change

So last week I sent a submission to an agent. Along with the attachment, I gave her some basic info – short blurb, editor interest (yes, it has some), and I threw in a little bit about another YA of mine that is currently with an editor I had queried and sent to on my own. I concluded with, “I am open to any and all revisions.”

I am.

But that wasn’t always the case. For me, revising is a struggle. Once my words are on paper, changing them is like rearranging Stonehenge (forget it Feng Shui folks). Since they seemed so perfect the first time, my brain would freeze and I just couldn’t think of anything to replace them. And putting the manuscript in a drawer didn’t help either. I’d pull it out a year later and think, “Wow, I wrote this? It’s good!”

But I learned a neat trick. Stop thinking of myself and look at it through my agent’s or editor’s eyes. What are they seeing that I’m not? And what about the reader? What do I want them to take away from this? My books should be a shared experience, not I love this, so should you.

I’ve learned over the years that it’s not just your writing, voice and plot that sells. It’s your revisions. If you’re not willing play well with others, you can kiss those contracts goodbye.

And those beautiful pieces of prose that I just can’t part with? They’re in a folder called “Outtakes.”   

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I've Gone and Done It!

I did something today that I haven’t done in over 12 years. I submitted a manuscript to an agent. And it’s only the second time I’ve ever done it. It’s a little scary, but I’ve been in this business long enough to know that it's...well…business. Over the years my skin has thicken so hard it makes a slurping sound when I apply lotion.

So I’ve done it. It’s out there. And I really like this agent. I think she’s a good fit for me. She’s with an excellent house. She’s young and energetic, not that that’s a criteria for a sale, but I’ve always been partial to zany. And when I met her at a previous conference, she smiled a lot.

But just like my previous agent, this was a referral. I like the referral part. It’s easier when someone introduces you – someone respected by that agent. That gives you a kick start. And if things don’t work out this time, I have other friends who would happily refer me to their agents. I don’t know how many kick starts it’ll take to ignite the engine, but I’ll sweat that later (!!!).  

If you’re looking for an agent too, here’s a great blog post from yesterday called “How Do You Know If Your Agent Is Any Good?” It’s mighty helpful. 

Fingers (toes and eyes) crossed that this agent is the one! I’ll report back one way or the other.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Yep, I'm Back.

A few months ago I dismantled my old blog. Bleh…gone. And what better time to start anew? New year. New blog.

2011 was as good to me as a bowl of high fiber. Crosswire won two big awards, finaled in the Spurs and was named an honor book by a prestigious group of South Carolina librarians. And my two Gingerbread Man PBs were in a race to the lowest Amazon rankings.

I also saw two milestone graduations. In May, Dori received her Master’s in International Affairs and will soon be working for the State Department. And a couple of weeks ago, Adrienne got her BA in Media & Communications. After a whirlwind summer, interning at The Daily Show, she’s ready to conquer the world.

And me? I just got a new book contract. (We’ll ignore the weight gain!!!)

2011 brought one sad, but major change. I recently ended my twelve-year relationship with my agent. Within that twelve year period, she saw me grow from a whiny wannabe to a published author. And I saw her grow from a newbie agent to a publishing powerhouse. But within twelve years people change. Goals change. Life changes.

But enough somberness and reflection. Hey…2012! I’m ready.

So? What do you predict for the coming year?