Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Yellow Flags for Finding an Agent or a Date

This is not a scientific approach to selecting an agent or an online date, but a more visceral method. We’re going with the gut! I’m having a little tongue in cheek fun with this post.

1. Do they pass the stink test?

Agent - Does the agency have a website? Does it list an address, clients, book sales, submission information, contact numbers?

Date - Is the person always asking about your bank account, investments and how much cash is in your wallet? When you call their phone, do they only answer in whispers? 

2. Do they promise more than they can deliver?

Does the agent tell you “you're the next Stephen King or J.K.Rowlings”? If so, run away! Be suspicious of hyperbolic compliments.

Is their profile picture a beauty queen or handsome beefcake, but when you see them you check your cell phone for an eye screening test?

3. Do they take more than they give?

Does the agency charge reading fees, submission fees, a higher than standard percentage for representation?

Is the date high maintenance? Do they always complain about the movie, dinner, your appearance, along with a hundred other objections? Is the date always late, never happy, a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately person”?

4. Are they what they represented themselves to be?

A legitimate agency with real clients, book sales, etc.

Is the date as active as their bio says they are or is the date really a couch potato who claims to sky dive, BASE jump, and wrestle bears with their bare hands? (Former lives don’t count.)

5. Once you've signed on with an agent, do they cause more grief than pleasure?

Do you have to make repeated phone calls about royalty payments or status updates to the agent? Do they return your calls or emails?

Does the date’s negative attitude about everything have your friends on a suicide watch?

6. Final words of caution

Beware of agencies that send snail mail correspondence with flowery fonts, multicolored inks and envelopes full of confetti (so you can clean up the party after you open the envelope).

Beware of gents or ladies that keep an overnight bag in their trunk. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

DUDLEY'S DAY AT HOME by Karen Kaufman Orloff

"What does Dudley do all day while we're away?" a little boy named Sam wonders. Mom explains that Dudley does ordinary dog things: he eats, he naps, guards the house, and plays. But in Sam's  mind, Dudley's day at home  is anything but ordinary. Fun pictures by illustrator Renee Andriani depict Dudley cooking up pancakes, playing games with the cat next door, and an array of other silly things. Hmm...is this really what Dudley was doing all day?

I interviewed Karen Kaufman Orloff, author of  DUDLEY'S DAY AT HOME, and listed my top five questions.

1. What inspired this story?

Our dog, Bailey, most likely!  Bailey passed away a few years ago, but she was the most fun, loving pet. She always seemed more like a person to me than a dog. So, I often wondered what she did when we were out and she was hanging out by herself at home. Of course, I let my  imagination run wild!

2. What is the longest time you have worked on a story before you submitted it? The shortest time?

That’s a little hard to say, because I’ve written so many stories – both novels and picture books (many are still unpublished) that I think I’ve forgotten!  I will say that I never submit anything to an agent or publisher until I run it by my writer’s group and get their input. That’s invaluable. Then I tend to keep rewriting over and over until I love it. So to try to answer your question, the longest time could be a year or more, and the shortest time is probably more like a couple of weeks.

3. Did you study English in college? If so, do you find that helpful in your writing?

I did. I started out as a journalism
 major, but found  
I didn't  have the  temperament  to become an  ace 
reporter. So  I switched  to English at my college,
Hofstra University. I took several creative writing 
classes and   always  enjoyed  them. I even took a screen-writing class.                                                                     
I  also learned  a good deal about the publishing
business because, as it happened, Hofstra had a
brand  new publishing  studies  program  at  the  
time, which  became  my "concentration"  within the English Department. I had always loved writing, and studying publishing, editing, and creative writing in school made my dream of being a real writer one day more possible.

4. What is your best advice or suggestions for newbie authors doing school visits?

I love doing school visits because I love interacting with the kids. I personally enjoy smaller groups for that reason. So that’s one thing I would suggest to authors just starting out. Try to keep the groups small, if possible, so you can really talk to the kids, answer questions, ask them questions, etc.  

Also, have a general idea of what your presentation will consist of, but know that sometimes, depending on the group you’re talking to, it can morph into something else.  And finally, keep it light! Kids love humor, so try to be funny, personable, and interesting.  When you’re not sure what to say or if you still have time left in your presentation –wing it!  Have the kids ask questions. They always come up with great ones.

5. Do you have any parting writing advice?

Really, the best advice I can give is not to be critical of yourself
when you are writing a story. The first drafts (or second or third, etc.) are usually terrible, but it doesn't matter. Just get the story down and then go back and rewrite like crazy. 

Rewriting is so important because it will polish your story. The goal is to make it SEEM like it came right out of your head that way, but you'll know you worked on it like crazy many times. It's kind of like Fred Astaire, I guess. He made it look so easy, but you can imagine all the hours of practice it must have taken him to do a dance. 

Karen Kaufman Orloff is the author of many children's picture books, including the award-winning I WANNA series (I WANNA IGUANA, I WANNA NEW ROOM, I WANNA GO HOME). Some of her more recent books include SOME DAYS; GOODNIGHT, LITTLE BOT and MILES OF SMILES. DUDLEY'S DAY AT HOME is her 12th book. 

Karen lives in the Hudson Valley with her family and enjoys visiting schools and libraries. Her books are available at your local booksellers.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

My Top Ten List for Character Building

We can all agree that building characters your readers will care about is essential for good story telling. If the reader doesn't care about the characters or what happens to them, they'll stop reading. Been there, done that. I admit, I felt guilty for not finishing the novel from a well-known author; I was more than two-thirds of the way through. The only reason I read as much as I did was because I was told "it gets better." But it didn't.                                              

We've all seen lists on character building. My list has some examples, and I hope, thought provoking questions.

1. What is your character’s perspective? Are they a Pollyanna or a Debbie Downer?

      2. What assumptions do they make about people? Do they give them the benefit of the doubt or assume they are trying to rip them off, get more money from them or use them?

3. What do they value? Money/material things, family/friends, education, service or caring for animals?     

4. What’s their moral code? The end justifies the means or it’s okay to cheat or steal as long as they don’t get caught?

5. What’s their impossible dream? If your character’s dream was to be the first woman on Mars, it’s not impossible, but the odds are against it, hence my term the impossible dream. But it says a lot about their character. 

6. What’s their belief system? Are they someone who feels they don’t deserve to be happy, but find themselves deliriously happy in a new relationship? How will they react when their belief system collides with their new reality?

7. What’s their biggest secret?

8. What line won’t your character cross?

9. What keeps them up at night?

10. What’s the worst thing they’ve ever done?

Photo by Heino Elnionis on Unsplash


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Writing Tips and Books on Craft

No matter what form of publishing writers strive for (traditional, self-publishing or hybrid) or what genre or age group you write for, you need to learn the craft of writing. This can be achieved through college and graduate level courses on writing and studying children's literature. 

But that is not practical advice for many writers. Many writers, I dare say most writers, take online writing workshops, local writing courses at their community college, attend writers' conferences, read writer blogs or read books on craft.

I also suggest joining twitter. There is an active writing community and it's a good source for locating writing workshops. Use the hashtags #WritingCommunity, #WritingConferences  #WritingWorkshops #WritingClasses

Spend time at the library reading, especially, if you are interested in writing board books, picture books, easy readers or early chapter books. I still recommend reading some craft books on picture books so you know what to pay attention to while studying the younger formats.  

For middle grade, young adult or adult, pay attention to the following: viewpoint, dialogue, pacing, rhythm, setting, sentence structure, descriptions, characters, chapter structure, escalating tension, climax, resolution and denouement.

By reading books on craft, in addition to explaining the different elements of writing, you’ll learn how to study picture books and novels with a critical eye.

My favorite craft books for novel writing are listed below:



DIALOGUE by Gloria Kempton

PLOT & STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell



SECOND SIGHT by Cheryl B. Klein

 My favorite books for picture book writing are the following:


SECOND SIGHT by Cheryl B. Klein. (Cheryl uses a clever device to explain and demonstrate how to write a picture book.)

My last reference book is THE FIRST FIVE PAGES by Noah Lukeman. This book lists the pitfalls and common mistakes on your first five pages. It’s important to note that whatever mistakes you made on your first five pages, you probably made throughout your manuscript.

Remember, writing is an apprentice program. You learn by doing. Read and write often. With patience, dedication, hard work and perseverance, you can become a writer and a published author.




Saturday, August 29, 2020

Cubs In The Tub and Huggle Wuggle, Bedtime Snuggle

CUBS IN THE TUB by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Julie Downing is a story of Helen Martini, who had an abundance of love to give, but an empty nest. One day her husband brought home a lion cub who had been rejected by his mother. Helen bathed him, feed him, snuggled him and tucked him in. The cub flourished, and then one day, he was sent away to a different zoo in another city.

Helen needed to nurture and give love, but there was no little creature, baby or cub, to receive her affections. One day her husband brought home three baby cubs. The cubs had different personalities and played and teased each other, just like brothers and sisters do. She loved and cared for them, until one day, again, it was time to return the cubs to the zoo. But this time it was different. She would not let her babies go to the zoo alone. CUBS IN THE TUB is the true story of the first woman zookeeper at the Bronx Zoo.

Children will love this story about a mother’s never-ending love. They will enjoy reading about the cubs’ antics with each other and the emotional expressions on the cubs’ faces. The art is soft with warm colors and beautiful details fill the pages.

HUGGLE WUGGLE, BEDTIME SNUGGLE BY Della Ross Ferreri, illustrated by Mette Engell is a bedtime board book. The book describes the usual nighttime routine starting with a cuddle, a book reading, bathing and teeth brushing, but the routine takes a dramatic turn when Dad and child have a game of hide and seek leading to animals bouncing on the bed, animals dancing and Dad going Ka-Boom! The text is a fun, read-a-loud written in rhyme.

Toddlers will enjoy this story and the interactions between Dad and child. HUGGLE WUGGLE, BEDTIME SNUGGLE is sure to be a bedtime favorite. The color palette is bold with joyful, expressive faces on the characters, including the stuffed animals!  


Thursday, July 30, 2020

Building Better Characters

At some point in every writer's career, they've heard their characters are flat or one - dimensional or need more development. What does that mean and how does one fix it?

Fortunately, I found this blog.

Kristen A. Kieffer's blog is packed full of writing advice from writing stronger characters to outlining a novel. Click 33 ways to write stronger characters for a discussion with lists on how to improve your characters. That's 33 ways of character development with one click! Once there, you can read her other blogs on how to write a story or how to make revisions, to name a few.



Sunday, June 28, 2020

Tips for Querying an Agent

Always be professional and courteous when sending out query letters to agents. This will be your first introduction to the agent and you want to make a good impression. Below are tips to guide the newbie and refresh the seasoned writers.

1. Address the agent formally by their last name: Mr. or Ms. Smith followed by a colon. You may address them by their first name if you have a relationship with that agent or the agent addresses you by your first name.

2. Remember your query letter is a business letter. Use spell checker, be concise, don’t ramble on about your story or yourself, don’t put yourself in a negative light (listing how many times you’ve been rejected), don’t use flowery fonts, do be respectful. Nathan Bransford's How to format a query letter

3. Follow the agent’s guidelines. If they want the query and X number of pages pasted in the email, don’t send attachments and vice versa.

4. Read their profiles to see what they represent. Don’t send genres they’re not interested in. You are wasting your time and theirs.

5. Don’t get cute or clever with the query letter. One writer turned the query letter into a question and answer format about the writer. The end result was the query letter was all about the writer and very little about the writing project.

6. Do try and highlight your writing voice in your query letter. This can be accomplished by taking text from the manuscript and using it in the letter. Text that is funny, witty or a clever turn of phrase gives the agent a taste of your writing style and hints about the story.

7. After you make your submission, do not call or email the agent pestering them if they received it, did they read it or when will they read it. Believe it or not, reading their slush pile is not their primary job.

8. Be respectful of their time. Their primary job is taking care of their current clients including tracking down royalty payments, getting submission packages ready for editors they want to query, reading manuscripts and making revision notes for current clients, negotiating deals with editors over current submissions and negotiating contracts once an offer had been accepted to name a few of their jobs.

9. When you receive a rejection letter, do not contact the agent complaining that they didn’t tell you why the manuscript was rejected it or how to make it better. 

10. If you receive a detailed revision request from an agent (multiple pages with thoughts, comments or suggestions on how to make the manuscript stronger/more marketable), you owe that agent first look

11. Know the acceptable word counts for your story. Don’t send a 2000-word picture book or an 80,000-word chapter book or middle grade. This is an instant rejection. You can find word counts online. 

12. Pick a lane. Don’t write your story, intentionally or unintentionally, so it straddles the line between middle grade and YA. There are important distinctions between a middle grade story and a YA. Writer's Digest Key differences between middle grade and young adult

13. Always be courteous and considerate of the agent’s time. Never insult, threaten, berate or belittle the agent. Being rude never works in your favor and agents do talk to each other.