Thursday, October 18, 2018

Why Does the Publisher Want Comparative Titles and How to Find Them

At some point in your querying process, you’ll be asked to list comparative titles. I found this request/requirement daunting and intimidating. I could not remember any books that I thought were comparable to my story. I felt defeated before I had even started.

Luckily, I have a writing community that was extremely helpful and steered me in the right direction.

Some basic facts:
Publishers use comp titles as a gauge to show how new titles might sell.

Use Amazon to start your search. Look for books that are similar to yours in subject matter, genre, age group, fiction or nonfiction. You can also pick the brain of your local librarian. Ask them if they know of similar titles to your book.

Don’t use bestsellers as a comp title. Chances are your book will not be a bestseller and you should look for modest-selling titles.

To find modest-selling titles, use Amazon to find similar titles and check the reviews. Bestsellers can have hundreds of thousands of reviews, modest-selling titles may have less than 1000.

Bonus: click Five Tips for Finding Comparative Titles for more tips, my source and more detailed information. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Important First Line

The hardest part of writing a novel, or any piece of writing, may be the opening line. The first line must catch the editor's or the agent's attention. Once a book is published, it must compete with every other book in the store. 

Who hasn't stood in front of a bookshelf, selected a book in a non-scientific manner (based on its title, jacket cover or even color), perused the back cover or the first few lines of the first page and rejected it?  For whatever reason, the book didn't resonate with you or pique your interest enough to make you parade to the register with said book in hand.

As writers, we’ve all stared at the blank page. Sometimes becoming painfully paralyzed by the importance of the first line, we developed writer’s block. A debilitating illness affecting writers by rendering them unable to construct sentences. (Throws salt over shoulder)

Let me ease your suffering. The rescue medicine is Seven Ways to Create a Killer Opening  by writer and Writer's Digest contributor Jacob M. Appel. He lists seven different ways to start your story or novel. Using one of his techniques might help your manuscript get out of the slush pile and into the hands of an editor or agent. And ultimately, one of the envied positions on a bookshelf near you. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What Is Your Story's Hook?

Simply stated, your hook is what makes your book unique. Your hook is just as important as your story's characters, plot, climax and resolution, if not more. Can the reader relate to the hook, is it marketable and will the reader feel it's worth their time?  

Once you’ve identified your hook, ask yourself, would an age appropriate reader for your story care about it. For example, would a 12-year-old boy care if his mother gets a promotion and his father stays home doing childcare? Probably not, but he would care if his whole family went on vacation and left him home alone.

Your hook can be a statement or a question. 

In THIS TINY PERFECT WORLD by Lauren Gibaldi, will Penn stay in her small town with her boyfriend, start a family and run the family diner or will she leave and pursue her dream of becoming an actress in a big city?

In GEMINI by Sonya Mukherjee, Clara, a conjoined twin wants surgical separation, but her twin, Hailey, does not. Can Clara convince Hailey to have the surgery?

IF I STAY by Gayle Forman, after a tragic car accident leaves Mia in a coma, she must choose to fight for a life without her parents and brother or give up and die.

RAIN REIGN by Ann M. Martin, Rose, a girl with autism, has to decide whether to look for her lost dog or stay home where it’s safe and familiar, but never see her dog again.

FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway, Grace, who always knew she was adopted, tells her adoptive parents that she wants to find her birth mother.

Think about some of your favorite stories. What made you read the book? A good exercise to help you identify and write your hook is to read the back cover of novels. You can also include your hook in your query letter.

Before you spend months or years working on your novel, spend time thinking of a hook that is identifiable, unique, one that is strong enough to be turned into a book (a product that can be sold) and one that a reader will care about.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

June 2018 CWHV Conference

Photo by Doug Dundas
June 9, 2018, the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley celebrated its 6th annual writer’s conference with old and new writing friends at the Hampton Inn & Suites in the Hudson Valley.

Our Keynote speaker was Jennifer Donnelly, a New York Times Bestselling author, who spoke of her writer’s journey. It was inspirational to hear how long and how hard she worked on her first novel (over 10 years!). There’s hope for all of us!

She also hosted a workshop on writing historical novels and discussed how her research led to traveling as she wrote her first novel, A NORTHERN LIGHT, winner of the Carnegie Medal, the LA Times Book Prize, a Printz Honor, and named “One of the 100 Best Young Adult Books of all Time” by TIME Magazine.

Lesa Cline-Ransome
Lesa Cline-Ransome, an award-winning author, led a workshop on character exploration through observation, research and memory in non-fiction picture books. If you want your story to be authentic, research is crucial. A bonus to researching your facts is that it can stimulate  your creative juices and lead to other ideas. The writing exercises were to write a story a 6-word story and write a first line based on a photo that she displayed.

Meredith Mundy
We broke for a delicious Panera’s lunch, networking and bookstore.

In the afternoon, Meredith Mundy, Executive Editor at Abrams Appleseed, discussed the importance of the first line in your picture books. Your first line should leave the reader wondering what happened or why? The writing exercise was to take the first line from your manuscripts and rewrite them using the tips we learned in the workshop.  
Bess Cozby, Editor at Tor/Forge Books, led a workshop on world building in fantasy, science fiction and dystopian novels. She discussed the power of perspective and how characters are shaped by their reactions to time, place and the choices that they make. The writing exercise involved putting your characters in difference environments and how character choices were related to past or present experiences.

Gary Giolo and Susanna Reich
Our closing speakers were Susanna Reich, an award-winning author, and Gary Giolo, a New York Times Bestselling author on writing biographies for children and young teens. They discussed primary and secondary sources for research, different methods of research and not leaving the writing behind. They closed out the session with music and song.

Additional manuscript critiques were done by Sarah LaPolla, agent at Bradford Literary Agency and Barbara 
Paulding, Editorial Director of Peter Pauper Press.

Check out #CWHV for my tweets during the conference. 

A special thanks to our faculty, Bess Cozby, Jennifer Donnelly, Gary Golio, Sarah LaPolla, Meredith Mundy, Barbara Paulding, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Susanna Reich; our book seller, Merritt Bookstore; the CWHV team and Kara Cerilli, an attendee who showed up with her camera and took pictures.
Our conference would not exist without the continued support from our hardworking attendees. The CWHV team thanks and appreciates you.

To receive updates about our current or future conferences, sign up for our newsletter.

“Thank you for organizing such a great, intimate conference. Please keep me on your email list. I would definitely attend future events. I was thrilled to meet Jennifer as I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I read Northern Lights.” Debbie St. Thomas, 2018 attendee.

Sarah LaPolla
Barbara Paulding

Bess Cozby


Thursday, May 31, 2018


Children love to tattle, especially on their siblings. To every mom’s dismay, it’s hard for children to discern when tattling is necessary. I recently read MILES MCHALE, TATTLETALE by Christianne Jones, art by Elina Ellis.

Miles Mchale is a frequent tattletale at home and at school. The teacher can’t take it anymore and holds a contest. Whichever team tattles the least for one week, wins a prize. With the help of a pledge, the children learn when it is okay to tattle. But, even with the pledge, Miles doesn’t understand when to tell and when to keep silent. Not only is he causing his team to lose, his friends are upset with him. He decides no more tattling. When his sister takes a cookie and gets hurt, he needs to decide is this a tattle or telling moment. And has he learned the difference in time for his team to win?

I think this book is an excellent teaching tool, the explanations are kid friendly, the pledge is easy for kids to understand and remember, the characters are animals with personality and the kids will enjoy the tattling situations.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are children who are quiet and shy. This can cause parental angst. FUCHSIA FIERCE by Christianne Jones, illustrated by Kelly Canby is a story about a fearful child who prefers living in the shadows.

Fuchsia Fierce is not a bold child, but quiet, shy, tiny and timid. Her parents send her to Confidence Camp, but she makes up excuses why she can’t participate in swimming or climbing a wall or telling a story.  Fuchsia finds camp boring while the other kids are having fun. At the next activity she decides to join in. Her friends are supportive, and she feels emboldened to try new things. She tells her parents what she has discovered about herself, things that she is good at and things she needs to work on. She is still quiet, shy, tiny and timid, but learns she can be brave, strong and fearless. And learns being tiny is not a bad thing and even has its advantages.

I think this is a wonderful book for the shy child. I also like the subtle lesson for the parents. For example, when Fuchsia refuses to participate in climbing a wall, she is given the responsibility of helping with the equipment. With each activity that she refuses to do, she is given a task related to that activity. The child doesn’t feel left out or different or ostracized. She learns she can still participate while gaining confidence. Love that!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Highlights Workshops and Other Conferences

I’m a big fan of writing conferences, especially the Highlights Foundation Workshops. The faculty is always experienced, knowledgeable, approachable and friendly.

Some workshop topics include learning how to write board books, picture books, novels, fairy tales, mysteries, poetry, nonfiction, how to market your book, school visits and many others. 

Questions to investigate when considering a writing conference: Is the faculty scholarly? Do they write or have expertise in the subject of their workshop? Are they published in that subject? 

Reading their bio critically will answer most of these questions. If there is no education listed, check their website for school(s) attended or prior jobs. If publishing credits are absent, do an Amazon search.

What is the format? Lecture or hands-on-workshops? Peer critiques? Panel discussions? Pick a format that meets your current needs.

Writing conferences abound and many are excellent. Do your research, ask others who have attended them or trust your gut.

Click the link below to see a full list of Highlights workshops with descriptions.
This link is to an upcoming Highlights picture book workshop on June 7 - June 10, 2018 with Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison.

30 Conferences for author, bloggers and freelancers

A state list of conferences (not all inclusive, but a mix of small and large conferences).

Bonus link!
Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison have posted a list of 9 Picture Book Topics to Avoid.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tips for Observing and Using Body Language

As writers, we frequently hear that one of the best ways to make our characters more three-dimensional is to observe people. There are the usual public places: malls, playgrounds and sporting events, but what if you can’t leave your house. The cable guy is coming, the car’s in the shop or inclement weather.  

Watch cable news. Since they are all news all the time, they have a variety of guests that provide ample opportunity for viewing different people and their body language.

Tune into MTV. Their reality shows usually have eccentric characters and they’re typically younger than the cable news’ guests. Besides their body language, listen to their speech and note how they are dressed.

For the fun of it, watch a TV minister. They are frequently dramatic with bouts of weeping, kneeling, shouting and even fancy footwork.

Observe your own family and friends. How do they walk into the room? Do they shuffle? Stride in like they’re on a mission? Head held up or down? What do they do with their hands? How do they sit? Where are their feet? Are they kicking you?

Consider having your characters interact with their environment. You can manipulate the setting, so they can touch or move something that is important to them, distressing to someone else or heightens the plot.

You can also influence how the reader feels about a character through body language. Suppose you don’t want the reader to like the character, you don’t have to give him negative personality traits (abusive, rude, ill-mannered, etc.) which could be cliché.

Give him disgusting body habits: he eats his own ear wax, picks his toe nails at the dinner table or sneezes on his hands and then wipes them on the furniture. Gross, right? I’m immediately detached from this character just from writing it.

For writers, researching body language is easy.  All we have to do is train ourselves to watch people critically.