Saturday, June 25, 2022

Crafting Your Hook

We were thrilled to have Elizabeth Law, Senior Editor and Backlist Specialist at Holiday House run a workshop at our June 2022 CWHV Event on writing your manuscript's hook. She was humorous, knowledgeable, approachable and a real delight.               

Crafting a compelling hook is essential in getting an agent's or editor's attention. If your hook doesn't grab or appeal to them, they will stop reading. When writing  your hook, try to put the key words in your title or in the first 25 words of your description. Always highlight the conflict or tension.

Several examples of hooks were discussed, along with several formulas for crafting your hook. 

1. Book A meets Book B (for example: Mean Girls Meet Parent Trap)

2. My book, (title) has the sexual tension like Twilight but with pirates instead of vampires. (State what is similar and what is different.)

3. Character + Context + Stakes

Our hands-on-exercise was working on our hooks, sharing them (optional) and then getting Elizabeth’s feedback. 

If you’ve received letters from agents or editors with nice compliments like great writing, great characters, etc., but no acceptance offers, it could mean there was no hook and therefore they didn’t know how to sell it or there was no emotional arc. 

Besides identifying your story’s hook, remember RATS when researching your comp titles: Recent, Accurate, Tasteful, Specific.

Tips on researching and finding examples of hooks were discussed.

Thank you Elizabeth for a wonderful and fun afternoon! You can find Elizabeth on Twitter @elawreads

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Dos and Don't of Querying Agents

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.


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 the 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 a middle grade and a young adult novel. There are important distinctions between MG and YA novels.


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.


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Picture Book Reviews for Children on the Autism Spectrum

THIS BEACH IS LOUD! by Samantha Cotterill (author and illustrator) is a story about a young boy who doesn’t like loud sounds or different textures, but he is super excited for his beach outing today. He wakes up Dad, makes breakfast, packs for the beach and gets himself dressed.

The beach is busy with lots of people and different sounds. Dad finds a spot that is empty and a little isolated. On the way to this perfect spot, the boy is bothered by the feel of the sand in his boots and bathing suit, and the sand is hot! He wants to go home.

Dad teaches him a relaxation technique. The noises increase, but the boy uses this new technique, and they make it to their isolated spot. They enjoy their day playing in the sand and the boy can’t wait to return to the beach.

Published by Dial Books For Young Readers, 2019. The illustrations are ink, charcoal and block printed on watercolor paper.

Two of my favorite pages are double spreads. The first one is the use of panels moving left to right. The first panel shows a quiet activity with little noise. As the panels progress, the noises increase as shown by the text getting larger and thicker and the activities around them become chaotic, ending with a plane overhead. The reader sees the anxiety increase on the boy’s face.

The next page is the second double spread. The pages are filled with different noises, bigger and thicker text but with a bulls eyes radiating from the child’s head with the concentric circles growing bigger. The boy is uncomfortable and anxious, with hands to his ears and eyes closed, while Dad is enjoying the noise and activity. Dad then encourages his son and reminds him of his relaxation technique.

This page illustrates that to many noise is just noise, but to others who don’t like loud noises, it is a different experience entirely and not pleasant.

I AM UTTERLY UNIQUE: Celebrating the Strengths of Children with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism by Elaine Marie Larson, illustrated by Vivian Strand.

This alphabet book, from A to Z, describes the unique talents and gifts of many children on the autism spectrum in a positive and entertaining way. Some of my favorite lines are: “I have Precise Pronunciation.” “I have an XXL (eXtra, eXtra large) memory.” And “I like unusual words like Yakow, Yapok, Yarak, Yeanling, Yelt and Yellowlegs.”

The illustrations support the text and are colorful, diverse, fun and self-explaining. The picture book is designed in AT Pelican and Avant Garde. Publisher is Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2006.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

The Craft of Writing

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 courses, local writing courses at their community college, attend writers' conferences or workshops, read writer blogs and/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

Don't forget your local bookstores or libraries. Read their community calendar, not only do they post upcoming book signings, they host writer's groups, book clubs, etc. If you're looking for a critique partner or group, finding one through a bookstore's writing group or library is a possibility. If your local bookstore or library isn't offering a writers' group, ask about starting one.

Read books on craft, in addition to learning the different elements of writing (viewpoint, plot, chapter structure, character, etc.) you’ll be able to study published works with a critical eye that will help you in your own writing.

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.

 Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Should You Use an Unreliable Narrator

One of my favorite picture books is THE TRUE STORY OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS! by Jon Scieszka. Besides the attitude of the wolf, the fun is knowing he’s lying, and for little kids who know the real story, they enjoy being in on the secret.

For adults, when they discover the author is using an unreliable narrator, they must question everything they thought they knew about the characters and the story. The story becomes more interesting. This literary device encourages readers to keep reading to discover what else the author is hiding and why.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins uses an unreliable narrator. Rachel, the main character, also a drunk, thinks she witnessed a murder. As she investigates, she becomes personally involved with the case and entangled in the lives of the other characters. Can the reader believe a black-out drunk?

There are three types of unreliable narrators:

1. Deliberately unreliable: Narrators who know they are lying. They lie because the point of view is theirs and they can tell the story whichever way they want.

2. Evasively unreliable:  Narrators who aren’t aware they are lying. This can be the author’s way of telling a story so that it proves something or serves his purpose.

3. Naively unreliable: Narrators who tell the truth, but lack the information. For example, child narrators are truthful, but don’t understand the way the world works or understand the consequences of what they’re seeing or hearing.

If you use an unreliable narrator, make sure your narrator has a reason for deceiving the reader. Confuse the reader just enough so the reader doubts or questions the narrator; is the author lying, and why?

Below is my source and a link to the top ten unreliable narrators.


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

How Does a Book Get Paired With a Plushie?

Have you ever wondered why some books are packaged with a soft toy or stuffed animal and others aren't? What makes that book ripe for a toy or plushie? 

Books that might be a good fit for a plushie have a distinctive character, are part of a popular series or a single title that has an expanding lot of readers. But who gets those gears turning? The author or the agent?

The link tells the story of how one agent negotiated a plushie for one of her clients. The making of a plushie by Tracy Marchini

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

November 2021 CWHV Fall Event

Our debut in-person Children's Writers of the Hudson Valley (CWHV) conference, since Covid, was a delightful success! We met at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Poughkeepsie on November 6, 2021.  

We began with registration and fellowship. This was the first time, since our last CWHV conference in June 2019, that many conference  attendees met face to face. Attendees chatted, shared coffee and cookies and genuinely enjoyed seeing old writer friends.

Our opening speaker was Alison Weiss, acquisitions editor at Pixel+Ink. In 2016, she was named a Publishers Weekly Star Watch Honoree. She was friendly, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and well prepared. Besides lecture and discussion, there were writing exercises and a three-page handout.

Alison discussed different approaches to planning and building a series across diverse age levels and genres. We discussed the different kinds of series, developing your character through interview, packing a suitcase and a letter from your character’s nemesis. We worked on our pitches and brainstormed book ideas for series potential. You can follow her on twitter @alioop7 and learn more about Pixel+Ink at

Our second presenter was K. L. Going, an award-winning author. Her first novel, FAT KID RULES THE WORLD was named a Michael Printz Honor Book, and was included on YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults and on their list of Best Books for the Past Decade. Kelly has participated in prior conferences and is always a joy to listen to.

Kelly talked about different strategies to explore the creative process. Her exercises were unique with multiple stations, one table dealt with taste, texture and smell. Another table offered multiple cards with varying characters, settings and situations. 

There was a table with enlarged black and white photographs that inspired me to write a backstory. What are they doing? Where are they going? Other tables offered prompt cards and postcards to stimulate one's creative juices.

To visit Kelly on-line go to, twitter at klgoing, instagram @ klgoing

Critiques were offered on-site by Alison Weiss, K.L.Going and Jalen Garcia-Hall (editorial assistant with Scholastic, Inc.)

We want to thank our presenters and our industrious attendees for supporting us and making our return to hosting conferences an informative and fun afternoon!                                                          


K.L. Going
Alison Weiss