As Geoffrey Chaucer said, “All good things must come to an end.” He was on to something in Troilus and Criseyde, and like all good literature, his words ring as true today as they did in the fourteenth century. Because by coming to an end, we’re paving the way for better things.
I was sad to wrap up the semester last week. What an inspiring group of students … and wonderful group of storytellers! To round out the semester and complete our conversations about your path to publication, we talked about how to build an online presence, and how to market yourself and your book. Remember the Three P’s: Publicity, Promotion and PR. Every author has to incorporate some combination of the Three P’s into their routine at some point, regardless of how big and successful you become.
Think about how you can tie in different ideas from your book to potential media coverage or events. Like the wheel on a bike, each concept represents a different spoke. Think about character, setting, theme … somewhere there’s a fun tie-in. With Peggy Noodle, Hula Hoop Queen, the natural tie-in is hula hooping and everywhere I go on behalf of promoting Peggy Noodle, we have a Hoopla.
When building your online presence, consider a free blog service for your Web site (like WordPress or Blogger), and Twitter. There are also Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, Google+, Reddit… the list sometimes seems endless. Pick something that works for you and stick with it. Since we’re writing for children, remember it’s likely you’ll have a large number of readers who aren’t old enough for many social media platforms — but their parents are, and they might follow you.
We’ve covered all the nuts and bolts of writing for children.
- You can develop a plot map and character sketch.
- You can improve your figurative language skills.
- You know how to format your manuscript.
- You can edit and streamline your work.
- You can identify your audience and search for an agent, editor or publishing company.
- You can write a press release and plan for marketing and PR.
- You can develop your own brand identity, and build an audience through social media.
- You know the difference between agented and un-agented submissions.
All’s that left is for you to write it. Now get to work!
We’re getting down to the wire! Each week we’ve gotten closer to preparing our work for submission, and this week we used our manuscripts and synopsis to develop our query letter. We looked at the basics of formatting manuscripts, and submitting materials. Remember, each acquiring entity may have its own process, so make sure you research it online before you submit.
Remember: Match the tone of your query letter to your manuscript (if it’s humorous, you can write it lightheartedly; if it’s a darker story, keep your query more somber). A good query contains all of the necessary information you need to convey to the editor/agent/publisher you’re writing. It’s the first place they see your personality and writing style. Streamline it so it only includes the pertinent information, and make sure your query has these key elements:
- biographical information
The publishing process can be a long and arduous process, but it’s also creative and fun and exciting. Don’t forget that finishing your book is only step one … what follows is a lengthy period of shopping around your manuscript, finding a publisher, perhaps finding an agent, editorial rounds, illustrations, cover art–the list goes on–or, deciding to self-publish. Like I said: lengthy, but exhilarating.
The biggest thing we focused on this week was writing your synopsis. Think of it as the premise, or primary plot, of your book. It follows the basic arc of your story. Try to keep this between three to five pages. If you’re submitting a picture book, clearly your synopsis will just be a paragraph or two – just enough to explain it.
The literature synopsis game was fun, and a good way to see how challenging it can be to pare down a full story into a single sentence. We challenged ourselves to write a 1-sentence synopsis (and after our lengthy conversation on contracts, I’ve left you to decide if you’ll try a 1-paragraph synopsis at home). One thing you should think about when beginning to work on your synopsis: do you think it’s easier to write your synopsis before you begin working on your book, or after you’re finished. I know my answer … but every writer should discover his or her own best practice.
We also discussed a selection of publishing terms, like: hook; blurb; copyeditor; partial; pitch letter; query letter; synopsis.
- A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
- Miss Nelson is Missing, by Harry G. Allard Jr. and James Marshall
Editing your finished manuscript can be quite a liberating exercise … like clearing enough space in the garage to finally get the car in.
If you’re disciplined, you can make it all the way to the end of the book before you begin your heavy editing; otherwise, you’ll get caught in an endless loop of perfecting a paragraph, page or chapter to death and never finish.
Some key concepts we covered this week were:
- foreword story and back story and
- streamlining and editing your work.
We also spent time learning how to edit your work, from basic grammar to streamlining your sentences. It’s important to streamline content without changing the story. There are three places you can adjust your pacing (these are defined in your class presentation slide decks):
- sentence-level pacing;
- paragraph-level pacing; and
- page-level pacing.
Look for ways to cut out redundant or unnecessary words; get rid of dependent clauses (those phrases separated by commas that, if you read them on their own, don’t count as sentences); get rid of offending prepositions (“raise your hand up” or “sit down on the bench”); axe the intensifiers (“I’m very sorry” or “he was very handsome”); and don’t action your scenes to death (avoid the seven steps it takes to get from the couch to the playground and all stops in between–just say she went to the playground). These are the tip of the iceberg in terms of tips, but when you begin making a concerted effort to practice the easy stuff, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to edit.
Remember the difference between forward story and back story, and when to use each. Remember to pay attention to plot, character and writing when you’re editing. And remember that you might miss things on your first pass … so it’s okay to have multiple drafts of your WIP, and multiple passes at your editing. In time you’ll be able to catch more flaws per pass, but give yourself a break. Though you need to submit the very best version of your manuscript as possible, it will go through an editorial process once it’s with a publisher. OR, if you’re self-publishing, it is crucial that you hire an editor to finalize the guts of your book.
- Holly Lisle: Pacing Dialogue and Action Scenes – Your Story at Your Speed
- Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) – Identifying Independent and Dependent Clauses
- Narrative, Transitions & Maintaining Forward Momentum In Your Story
- 5 Writing Tips: Harlan Coben
How can you create a niche, or a memorable character that appeals to all readers … across all ages? That’s the big question we asked (and worked on) this week. I really enjoyed our discussion on memorable characters, too. Our bookshelves at home are filled with books that span Ferdinand and Harry Potter, to The Lightning Thief and American Gods. Yet each book that I can pull off my “keeper” shelf has characters that call to me and invite me to read the stories over and over again. Like a great movie, I can re-read a great book and enjoy it every time.
Some key concepts that we covered this week were:
- Point of View
The main character in a story is generally known as the protagonist; the character who opposes him or her is the antagonist. Character is revealed by how a character responds to conflict, by dialogue, and through descriptions. During our discussion on what makes memorable characters, we talked about universal traits that appeal to young readers–things like honesty, humor, bravery, persistence.
– – > Remember: The characters you want to write are the characters you want to read.
- Kids Whose Parents Read to Them Understand Up to 1.4 Million More Words
- Key Concepts and Literary Terms
- Top 10 Questions for Creating Believable Characters
- Adding Dimension to Your Characters
- PBS | 10 children’s books that feature diverse characters
- NPR | 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900
- NPR | The Ultimate Backseat Bookshelf: 100 Must-Reads for Kids 9-14
- Six Obsessive Characters in Fiction
Where do ideas come from? That’s a good question, and one you’ll be asked all the time. It’s like there’s a magic formula writers have that make us exotic from people who don’t rely on the written word for a living. If only there was an easy answer … because ideas come from anywhere. Everywhere.
Discussion: If you look at the world around you, you can draw from music and images, pop culture and the day’s headlines, writing prompts and journaling, and even from publisher submission calls. We looked at a handful of authors who use Pinterest for inspiration, from creating fashion and image boards to develop the look and attitude of their characters.
Books like Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great and Eleanor & Park use very current issues to tell important stories young readers can relate to.
In my mind, I’m a great planner and a great plotter. In reality, I split the difference at about 70% flying by the seat of my pants and 30% planning. Mostly.
The best thing about being a writer is that there’s no one correct way to write your story. Whether you follow a whim, the three-act structure or storyboarding, find something that works for you and stick with it. In working on better learning the business of publishing (in this case, any genre), we discussed the difference in premise, story, plot, hook, and theme.
Discussion: Know the elements of your book
Your book is more than a collection of words that make the reader smile. There’s purpose in there, and intent, particularly since we’re writing for young audiences.
- Theme, premise and plot work together to tell a great story:
- Theme: what the novel is about.
- Premise: the starting place (also called a hook).
- Plot: how the characters change along the way.
Identifying the Three O’s can help you find potential holes in your plot and address them.
- Objective: what does the character need to do?
- Obstacles: what is stopping the character from success?
- Outcome: what happens when the character finishes?
Remember: write with a purpose, because your readers will read with a purpose. Also, if you’re having trouble identifying concepts like plot, theme and conflicts in your own work, chances are your readers (including agents, editors, publishers) will, too.
Last week’s homework assignment was to bring a couple of your favorite children’s books. Here are some we discussed:
- Sleeping Dragons All Around
- Old Black Fly
- The Number Devil
- Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
- Danny and the Dinosaur
- Amber Brown is Not A Crayon
- Aunt Isabel Tells A Good One
- The Invention of Hugo Cabret
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
- The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The things that drew us most dearly to these books were the same things that appeal to young readers: the illustrations and simple stories, the playful arrangement of the words, great use of figurative language (alliteration, personification, rhyming, onomatopoeia), the absurdity of the concepts, and universal concepts (like friendship and acceptance). Challenge yourselves to include these elements in your WIPs.
What a fun inaugural class … we’re small, but we’re mighty! I think we’re going to have a great semester. To kick it off, we looked at the basics of children’s literature, including: Audience, Page and Word Count, and Genre.
Now that you’ve got an idea, how exactly do you begin? The blank page before you can be overwhelming. We discussed some ways to move beyond the blank page, including writing exercises to get the ball rolling creatively. Other ways to combat writer’s block: find inspiration in everyday life; take a walk; mine your memories; start a journal; take up tennis. Change your setting and focus your attention on something mindless for a few minutes, and then try again.
Figurative language is a great literary device to include in all children’s literature. Metaphor and simile are the most commonly used, but remember the other fun ones: onomatopoeia, personification, oxymoron, paradox, allusion, idiom, pun, and (my favorite) hyperbole. Smart wordsmithing can take a good manuscript and turn it into a dazzling story. Figurative language can also offer an economical way of getting an image or important point across.
Be sure to check out the SCBWI. They offer a great support network, and informative conferences.
- Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 2019, 31stedition, by Robert Lee Brewer
- How to Write A Novel, by Nathan Bransford
Diverse Voices: The 50 Best Culturally Diverse Children’s Books
Writing Irresistible Kidlit, by Mary Kole
- How to Write A Synopsis, by Nathan Bransford
- How the Publishing Process Works, by Nathan Bransford
- Book Publishing Glossary, by Nathan Bransford
Writing for children might represent a fantastic journey for you, but never forget that publishing is a business. The more you can learn about the industry, the better you can navigate your way to life as a published author. Knowledge is empowering.
During this eight-week course at CCCC, students will develop and begin writing a manuscript for a children’s book during our classwork workshop periods. Additionally, we discuss the business of writing for children, including how to identify publishers, how to write a query and synopsis, and how to market your work.
Writing for Young Audiences is offered as part of CCCC’s Creative Writing Program.