Monday, September 13, 2021

Tips to Be a Better Writer

Give yourself permission to write. Don’t feel guilty for ignoring the housework, the laundry or turning down someone who is requesting more of your time.

Select or alter a location that is conducive for your writing and figure out your best writing time. Is it the splinter of daylight, the setting sun or a Sunday afternoon? Try to work everything else around your best writing time.

Join a writer’s community. Check your local library or bookstores for events or meetings. Or join online groups.

Find a critique group or partner. We become blind to our manuscript’s weaknesses, having a fresh set of eyes can give us insight and help problem solve. Be willing to revise again and again.  But learn when to say no. If you’re not a part of a writer’s community, you can find online critique groups.

Write or percolate. For some writers, they are most productive if they write daily, but others prefer to percolate. Ruminating plot lines, character development or storylines until they are ready to write it out.  There is no “right way” to write. Do what works for you.

Get inspired. Visit an art museum; listen to complex music; learn something new, sky diving, yoga, carpentry; read a different genre; if you write fiction, read nonfiction; exercise. Learning or doing something different gives you a new perspective and stimulates creativity. Exercise stimulates new thought patterns that foster inspiration.

Read books in your genre and age group. Read books on improving your craft.

Learn the difference between early readers and picture books, middle grade and young adult, young adult and adult fiction, literary and commercial fiction, mass market or trade publications. Knowing these differences will help you target agents and editors more effectively.

Polish your query and be professional. No gimmicks: scented paper, confetti, glitter, etc.

Acknowledge your progress, one page or one chapter is better than none. Celebrate your acceptances, be it a 4-line poem or a 250-page book!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Why Comparative Titles and Where 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:

1. Publishers use comp titles as a gauge to show how well new titles might sell.

2. Use Amazon to start your search. Look for books that are similar to yours in subject, 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. 

3. 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.

4. 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 link written by Star Wuerdemann  How to Find Compelling Comps for Your Books also includes tips from an agent and QueryShark.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

What is the Shape of Your Story?


Kurt Vonnegut was a renowned novelist and satirist best known for Cat’s Cradle, a satire on modern man and the fate of our planet, required reading in many high schools, and Slaughterhouse-Five, a science fiction novel involving jumps in time and aliens. Below is a link for his talk on The Shapes of Stories.

Using humor and a chalkboard, he explains the shapes of some familiar story plots, for example, boy meets girl and Cinderella. Other story plots are succinctly explained and graphed in the text. A video is included in the link.

Also included on Amanda Patterson’s post are links for writing tips from Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, Alfred Hitchcock and Edgar Allan Poe.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Different Ways to Structure Your Picture Books

You have your characters, and you have a story in mind. Now it’s time to think about structure. Which of the following techniques will work best for your story?  I'm using examples that are familiar or that I had on hand.

1. Alphabet: You must use every letter of the alphabet (in order) and there still needs to be a story, otherwise, it’s just a list. In HI, KOO! A YEAR OF SEASONS by Jon J. Muth, written in verse, he highlights the letters of the alphabet in succeeding order as he describes the seasons.

2. Compare and/or contrast: You are comparing two characters against each other. In the end, both story lines come together. Think city mouse, county mouse.

3. Counting: You don’t have to count to infinity and beyond, but the usual number is 10, and again, you need a story or it’s just a list. DOGGIES by Sandra Boynton teaches the children the different barks of dogs and one cat while learning their numbers.

4. Days of the week: First rule, list all or none. Listing the days of the week sets up an expectation for the reader. They know as the week gets closer to the end, something big will happen. Akin to the “ticking clock.” In THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by Eric Carle, the caterpillar eats his way through the days of the week and morphs into a butterfly.

5. Ending where you started (circular): Story starts at home or place X and ends at home or place X. Another way the story could end where you started is repeating the opening phrase or a part of it at the end. Think Wizard of OZ.

6. Months: List them all in the proper order, and you still need a story line. In THE TURNING OF THE YEAR by Bill Martin, Jr., written in verse, he brings forth the joys of each season.

7. Question and answer: Character asks another character questions. In A SPLENDID FRIEND, INDEED by Suzanne Bloom, the duck asks the bear questions about what he’s reading, what he’s doing, what he’s thinking, is he hungry? Bear doesn’t answer, but the duck does. 

8. Repetitive phrase: Kids love the rhythm of repetitive phrasing, but that alone is not enough. The story will still need one of the other structures listed. Two of my favorite repetitive phrases are “Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!” and “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom will there be enough room?”

9. Seasons: List them in order and don’t forget the story line. THE REASONS FOR THE SEASONS  by Gail Gibbons explains the solstices, equinoxes, the earth’s tilt and orbit and what children and animals do in each season.

10. Story within a story: This is when an adult tells the child a story about something that happened to them (the child). KNOTS ON A COUNTING ROPE by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambaut has the grandfather telling the boy a story of his birth, he was frail and weak, but survived because of his strength and will to use that strength to deal with his blindness.

11. Taking a trip: The goal is not just the destination but getting ready for the trip and the struggles or discoveries along the way. THE BAG I'M TAKING TO GRANDMA'S by Shirley Neitzel tells a packing story from two viewpoints, the child’s and the mother’s. The child packs too many toys and no clothes, mother, of course, wants less toys and clothes. The boy outsmarts his mother and gets to take his toys.

Another category of picture books are mood books. These books typically don’t fit any of the above classifications. They are not problem oriented books, character or plot driven books, but books on wonderings, imaginings, inspirations or emotions, for example.

I WISH YOU MORE  by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld is a book on wishes, wishes for inquisitiveness, friendships, treasures, peaceful moments and more.

Closing note: Take an hour on the library floor or the bookstore, pull out random picture books and see how many of the above techniques are used in the same story.

For my source and more detailed information, check out WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul.



Tuesday, March 23, 2021

GOD BLESSES ME by Della Ross Ferreri

Della Ross Ferreri is a teacher and children's writer. She is the author of picture books, board books and early readers. Della's latest book, GOD BLESSES ME, is an engaging and sweetly-illustrated lift-the-flap board book for toddlers.

I interviewed Della with my top five questions.

1. What was your best source of inspiration that led to a picture book?

Thanks for inviting me to your blog, Val. That's a fun question because my best sources of inspiration are my kids! The funny or quirky things they do and say often spark my creativity. 

My 2019 picture book, BEEP! BEEP! SPECIAL DELIVERY, features an adventurous little boy who drives his truck on an imaginative journey. This story was absolutely based on my son when he was a toddler. He was truck obsessed, always zipping and zooming his little truck around the house or backyard. 

My 2019 board book, HUGGLE WUGGLE, BEDTIME SNUGGLE, highlights the sweet relationship between a father and daughter which definitely mirrored our own bedtime silliness. Now that my own kids are older, I find inspiration in reading stories or freewriting or sometimes an idea just pops into my head out of nowhere -- in the shower, taking a walk or driving to work. 

My latest book, GOD BLESSES ME, came to me on  a day where I was overflowing with gratitude and feeling blessed about the big and little things in my life.

2. We hear frequently that a serious writer should have their butt in the chair for eight hours every day. What is your writing schedule like? Do you feel guilty when you write less?

As a full-time teacher, it's challenging to squeeze in writing time. I work in short bursts, mainly at night or on weekends, and can only put eight hours of butt in chair in July and August. I try not to feel guilty, except, of course, when I piddle away too much time  on social media or watching TV. I have to work on that! A bit of fun news is that I attended my first writing retreat in the fall. I can't wait to get away again to focus on my creativity.

 3. As a writer, what have you learned through experience that you did not learn through books or outside sources, if any?

Writing for children is certainly an on-going journey. I continue to grow and develop as a writer and have drawn from many sources over the years -- books, classes, webinars, editor critiques, agent feedback and writing groups. One thing experience has taught me is patience -- patience to keep working on a story, layer by layer, word by word, and most importantly, patience to let a story sit for a while so I can pull it out and look again with fresh eyes. Experience has also taught patience with myself -- patience in accepting that story problems and writing challenges are par for the course, and that solutions will bubble up with time. 

4. Were there disappointments with any of your books? Projects canceled or editors left and projects abandoned? 

Several manuscripts have come really close, but the biggest disappointment was when a certain picture book was on the verge of an acceptance and the publisher changed their mind. I was so bummed. The silver lining, however, is the editor who was gunning for the story asked if I would be interested in connecting with an agent in the hopes that the manuscripts could be shopped for a new home.                                             

I'm incredibly grateful for that referral as it ultimately landed me my agent! As for that picture book manuscript? I'm converting it to a beginning reader chapter book/graphic novel. That's another thing I've learned from experience -- never give up!

5. Finally, any recent good news or new projects on the horizon?

We have board books, picture books and chapter books on submission. Although, it's too early to know if an offer is coming in, there is editorial interest on a couple manuscripts so hopefully good news is forthcoming.

This was a fun interview, Val. Thanks for featuring me on your blog!

In 2019, Della had three children's books published: PRECIOUS BABY, a sweet board book for new parents to share with their baby; BEEP! BEEP! SPECIAL DELIVERY, an action-packed picture book for truck-loving kids; and HUGGLE WUGGLE, BEDTIME SNUGGLE, a playful daddy-daughter bedtime board book. In addition, her stories and poems have appeared in Highlights High Five, Highlights Hello, Ladybug, Babybug and Clubhouse Jr. As a co-founder of CWHV (Children's Writers of the Hudson Valley) she helps organize local writing workshops and conferences.    

Della lives in Hyde Park, NY. She is married with three children and two  guinea pigs. Besides writing and teaching, Della enjoys reading, movies, traveling, disc golf, leisurely walks and cheering for her family at running races, basketball and baseball games. 

For more information about Della, visit her website:             



Friday, February 12, 2021

Picture Book Workshops

Some writers have an innate sense of picture book structure. Maybe they’ve taken a few workshops or attended a few conferences, while others have figured it out by studying hundreds of picture books or reading countless books on craft.

But, if you’re like me and have written and submitted enough paper manuscripts to deforest a small park, it can be frustrating. (Fortunately for me and our planet, most submissions are now electronic.)

Perhaps the answer lies in more revisions, brainstorming better ideas or instruction. That said, I’m a devote fan of the Highlights Foundation Workshops and have attended many. They are offering an online picture book workshop on plotting from April 5 to May 6, 2021. 

Click the link for more detailed information.

Below is a bonus link from Diana Murray, who was on the Highlights' faculty for their Getting to Know Your Rhyming Picture Book Online Course plus Onsite Retreat.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Why Do Writers Need Critique Groups

Besides ideas and a burning desire to write, writers should have a critique group or partner. Critique groups or partners serve an important role by being objective, non-emotional readers. They are detached from your words which make it easier for them to spot weaknesses in your manuscripts such as logic problems, pacing or plot problems.

But be careful. New writers tend to have blind faith in their critique groups or be doggedly obstinate about their writing. By that I mean, the new writer doing everything or nothing their critique group suggests. Doing either one is a bad idea. The key is balance. One must be open to changes and at the same time know when to trust their gut and hold firm. Trusting your gut comes with time and experience.

For example: if you’re writing a story about a little girl who dances with unicorns every night and your critique groups says it should be dragons because they’re “hot right now” or make it dinosaurs because “all kids like them.” Don’t do it. Unless you feel as passionately about dinosaurs or dragons as you do about unicorns.

Write what you feel passionately about. If you write to follow trends, it will show in your manuscripts with a lackluster prose.

Finding a critique group or partner is hard, but necessary. Not only should they write in the genre that you do, but they should have some experience with writing or critiquing.  If you write romance novels and your critique partner writes nonfiction picture books, you’d be better served to find someone who at least writes novels.

You may go through several critique groups or partners, but eventually you’ll find a match. When that happens, treasure them!

When you’re done with your manuscript and are happy with your revisions based on your critique group, beta reader or gut, let the manuscript sit for a while. When you go back to it, you’ll have fresh eyes and will do more revising.  

 Before submitting your manuscript, check out the following link.