Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Seven Easy Steps to Write a Query Pitch

Writing a query pitch (not an elevator pitch) requires one to pare down their story to seven sentences or less. Whether your story is a picture book or an adult novel, writing an effective query pitch is challenging. There are several formulas online and after trying several, I came up with the following questions to help me state the key points in my pitch when sending out query letters.

1. Who is the main character (MC)?

2. What is the MC’s problem?

3. What is the MC’s goal?

4. What are the obstacles preventing the MC from obtaining their goal?

5. What’s at stake? Make it personal.

6. What happens if the goal is not reached?

7. For picture books, how does MC solve the problem?

For middle grade and older, read the back jacket copy of published works. You’ll notice it doesn’t state how the character solves the problem, it is more of a tease or left unanswered.

I sent my 4-sentence picture book query below to an agent who she requested the manuscript.

When Charles visits his grandma in the country, he misses the excitement and noise of the big city and wants to go home. Charles tries to adapt to his new environment by making his own noise. After several attempts of making smaller noises, his imagination kicks in and soon enough the whole farm is in an uproar. Charles is enjoying his time with his grandma and can’t wait for his next visit!

Breaking it down:

When Charles (1. MAIN CHARACTER) visits his grandma in the country, (4. OBSTACLE, NATURE OF COUNTRY IS QUIET), he misses the excitement and noise of the big city (2. MC’S PROBLEM) and wants to go home. (5. WHAT’S AT STAKE, NOT VISITNG GRANDMA). Charles tries to adapt to his new environment by making his own noise. (3. MC'S GOAL). After several attempts of making smaller noises, his imagination kicks in and soon enough the whole farm is in an uproar. (7. MC SOLVES PROBLEM). Charles is enjoying his time with his grandma and can’t wait for his next visit! (6. IF GOAL NOT REACHED, CHARLES WILL NOT COME BACK)

Excluding how the problem is solved, my query would have looked like this:

When Charles visits his grandma in the country, he misses the excitement and noise of the big city and wants to go home. Charles tries to adapt to his new environment by making his own noise. Charles solves his problem and is enjoying his time with his grandma and can’t wait for his next visit!

Adding how the character solves the problem makes the query stronger.

If the seven sentences or less doesn’t work for you, use the number that you need to answer the above questions, but keep the pitch to two or three short paragraphs.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Writing in Verse

Writing is hard, no matter what age group you write for, and writing in verse is even harder.

Here’s why: the rhyme and meter has to be perfect; the story still needs a narrative arc with increasing tension, the main character needs to solve the problem and the story needs a satisfying ending; and many times, the writer focuses on the rhyme and meter that the story elements are left behind.

You may say what about books that are lists, there is no narrative arc, no main problem for the character to solve, it is simply a list. A list it is, but those books are written by award-winning authors whose books are bestsellers.

For example, Duck & Goose How Are You Feeling? by author illustrator Tad Hills, as the title suggests, several emotions are illustrated – selfish, proud, frustrated, and others. His books are sweet and charming with name and character recognition.

I read some authors that write in verse, write out the story in prose first. Once they are satisfied that the story has all of the story elements, and has been revised and revised, then they work on the rhyme and meter.

In addition to studying stories in verse and reading books on craft, I suggest reading reviews on Amazon (School Library Journal), Kirkus Reviews and Betsy Bird’s blog.

I feel book reviews from reputable sources are a teaching moment. They tell us what they liked about the story and /or what was lacking and what was excellent. Whether you write in verse or prose, it’s all about the story.

Board Books, reviews by Betsy Bird


Kirkus Reviews


Sunday, August 28, 2022

How Are MG Novels Different from YA Novels

One of the first decisions a children's novel writer must make is will the novel be a middle grade or a young adult? Knowing the differences will save you an enormous amount of time and inconsolable frustration. (Been there, done that.)

I wrote a 70,000-word YA, revised it many times, had several critiques including paying for whole novel critiques. The last critiquer suggested “it’s more of a middle grade than a young adult.”

Ok, I thought. I can make the changes, it shouldn’t be so bad. Shortly after I started, I realized I’ll have to check and revise almost every sentence, delete scenes, change scenes and add scenes. It was a nightmare and I realized I would be rewriting the entire novel. (I have shelved that project until I can decide what to do with it.)

I’ve broken down the differences between middle grade and young adults novels. 

1. MG basics: Age of readers, 8 to 12; word count 30,000 to 50,000; age of protagonist usually 10 to 13.

YA basics: Age of readers, 13 to 18; word count 50,000 to 75,000; age of protagonist 14 and up.

2. Romantic relationships: MG: holding hands, having a crush, innocent kiss or first kiss and starting to like someone as more than a friend.

YA: character can be sexually active and relationships can involve deep feelings of love.

3. Language: MG: swearing should be avoided (even though we know that many in that age group swear). Your book could be banned because of profanity and parents won’t buy it. 

YA: swearing is more acceptable, but don’t do it gratuitously, in other words, is the swearing appropriate to the situation, the emotion that is being displayed, etc.

4. Violence: MG: brutal viciousness (stabbing, machine gun slaughters, etc.) are not acceptable in this category. Remember the reader is as young as 8 and in third grade. Your book will be banned or rejected by editors or agents.

YA: violence is acceptable, but it should serve a purpose and not thrown in because you’re trying to make the book edgy or feel this will make it YA. YA books can also be banned for sexual content, language and violence.

5. Their world: MG: their focus is on home, family and friends and their place within that structure. They may engage in pretend play. They are dependent upon parents for transportation, money, food, clothing and shelter. Even if they have a part time job, they are not able to meet all their needs. They do not think long term, for example, what college do they want to attend, etc.

YA: they have more freedom, more experiences and more opportunities which means more decision making. They drive, they may drink, do drugs, etc. They may make poor choices because they are inexperienced in the real world of adulting. They start thinking about the future: going to college or not going, what do they want to do with their life, etc.

6. Interpreting experiences: MG: they will be having new experiences and new feelings that will be foreign to them. They may have trouble processing them and understanding them.

YA: when they have new experiences, they may be able to draw on a past experience to help them interpret the situation.

7. Language and voice: MG: simple sentence structure (not easy reader structure), but the sentences are not punctuated with a lot of asides and howevers and extraneous thoughts and are usually written in third person.

YA: sentence structure is more complicated, there can be multiple clauses within a sentence and the sentence could be a whole paragraph. The voice is usually first person.

8. Ending: MG: these usually have a happy ending or end with hope. The main character is transformed because of her experience and now sees her world with a different perspective.

YA: the ending can be happy or sad. Through their experiences or journey, their world has crashed into the real world. The main character is trying to find their identity, their purpose. Some of these questions have been answered and some not, but they know the answers are out there.

If you’re writing MG, read MG and pay attention to the sentence structure, vocabulary, word choice and if using analogies, make sure they are relatable experiences to the MG reader.

The same applies if you are writing for YA. Read them. Study them. Pay attention to content, message, amount of sex, violence and language.

For more information and my sources:

Friday, July 29, 2022

Triggering the Reader's Emotions

Having characters pull on your heart strings make them more relatable, more dimensional. When you’re revising and you’ve checked off all the boxes on your manuscript, plot, pacing, dialogue, setting, conflict, character, etc., and you’ve done this many times, but you still feel there is something missing. The answer could be there is no emotional arc or strong emotions for the reader triggered by any character.

Who do you want the reader to love or hate? Is there a character you want the reader to root for or feel sympathy for?

If you’re stumped on how to draw out the reader’s emotions and you’ve read more books on craft, maybe it’s time to splurge for a targeted writing workshop. There are tons of workshops and conferences, many are promoted on Twitter or do a google search.

Once you’ve decided on a workshop, check the workshop’s schedule to see how many workshops are being offered that day, are they mostly question and answer panels, are they hands-on writing exercises, is there too much free time, etc.

Highlights Foundation is reputable and offers dozens of different workshops. The subject choices are many, prices affordable, lodging and food are included. Workshops can be in person, virtual or on-demand. I highly recommend them and have attended several.



The link below is for an on-demand course on writing for the emotional impact.



This link is for an article on the three basic emotions and how to create them in your characters.




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

THE 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.