Thursday, May 27, 2010

Look Who I Met!

It's another Jemma Hartman lookalike! I met this cutie-pie when I put out a call for girls who loved the book and wanted to be in my new book trailer. Can you believe how much she looks like Jemma?

I had so much fun spending time at a local park interviewing girls about their experience reading Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire. Does it get any better than being surrounded by girls who love your book? I don't think so!

Monday, May 17, 2010

How To Revise a Novel: Steps #4 and #5

I totally forgot to finish explaining my revision process! I guess my only excuse is that I was busy revising. In any case, let's take a moment to review:
Step #1 is Look at your work objectively.
Step #2 is See the big picture.
Step #3 is Write until it's true.

If you've done all that, it's time for Step #4: MAKE THE WRITING SHINE.
This is the step most people think of when they hear the word, "revise." This is red-pen-correction stuff. This is The Elements of Style and Essentials of English (books I consult quite often while revising). At this point, your ideas are solid. It's time to make sure you've expressed those ideas in the best possible way.

Here are a few things to consider:

1. Are your sentences in the best order? Are they clear?

2. Have you chosen the best words?
  • Look out for word echoes (using the same word too often, too close together)
  • Replace adverbs with more specific verbs.
  • Try to stay active with your language.
  • Be true to your characters' voices.
  • Don't use two words if one will do.
3. Have you been consistent with the point of view and the tense?

4. Have you searched for punctuation and grammatical errors?

5. Have you gotten rid of typos? (Try reading your manuscript backwards to catch these.)

If you've done all this, you are ready for the last step in the revision process.
Are you ready?
It's a doozy!

Step #5: REPEAT.

Yep, you read that right. Repeat. Go back to Step #1 and begin the process again. Each revision pass will bring you closer and closer to the amazing manuscript you have in your head. And when you really and truly don't know how to make it any better? That's when it's time to submit it to an agent or editor.

Good luck!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Request for Revision is NOT a Rejection (and other important tips)

Today I talked to a friend of mine whose husband wrote a young adult novel. My friend said her husband was so frustrated and disappointed because it seemed impossible to land an agent. She wanted to know if he should just try to submit directly to publishers. After I spoke with her for a while, I discovered her husband had made some typical newbie mistakes. So here, for anyone thinking about trying to find an agent, are some tips:

1. Do not submit to 50 agents all at once. Why? Because chances are, you still have work to do on your manuscript. Even if you think it's perfect, I promise you, it's not. It is great to have a list of 50 potential agents. But you should only submit to 5 or 6 at a time. See what the response is. If you get all form rejections, you might want to take a long hard look at your manuscript and your query letter. You might want to take them to a critique group or a book doctor or a published author. If, however, you get some personal rejections, see what the common themes are. Then revise your manuscript to make it stronger. The big problem with sending to 50 agents at the same time is that you have nobody left to submit to when you improve your manuscript. Your impatience has cost you dearly.

2. If a reputable agent gives you specific feedback and asks to see the manuscript after you've revised it, do a happy dance, and Get To Work! This is not the agent's way of letting you down gently. Believe me, the agent would just send you a rejection letter! This is your Big Opportunity. Even if you don't agree at first with the agent's comments, try to see what he or she is saying. Be open to revision. Seriously, if you don't want to revise, you really shouldn't be an author.

3. Don't tell anyone (agents or editors especially) that kids are loving your manuscript. Although it may be true, there is no way for anyone to know if the kids really just like you and the fact that you wrote the story. It doesn't sway agents or editors at all, but it does make them think you are an amateur.

4. Don't submit directly to publishers. Even though I sold my first two novels without an agent, I don't advise this today. The market has changed. Publishing has changed. An agent is pretty necessary in today's climate.

5. Be persistent, patient, and positive. Chances are you have a lot of revision, rejection, and more revision ahead of you. Every author does. But stay true to your dream. Stay true to your craft. Don't give up. Make your manuscript so unbelievably great that it will not only catch an agent's attention, but it will also go to auction, win awards, and become a best seller.

6. Lastly, remember why you are writing in the first place. I hope it's not to make millions of dollars and retire to some island in the Caribbean. Because I gotta tell you, that's highly unlikely. But if you are writing because you have to write, because you have a story to tell, a story that matters... then keep going. When I was writing my first novel, I taped this mission statement up next to my computer and I consulted it often: I am writing stories that will touch children's hearts and souls and make them see the world and themselves in a new light. That gentle reminder helped to keep me on track. What's your mission statement?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

My Mother's Day Wish

My birthday comes just two weeks before Mother's Day, so it makes it kind of tough for my husband and kids to come up with thoughtful ways to make these days special for me. In past years, I've told them I want the day off on Mother's Day. I don't want to walk the dog or clean anything or do any laundry or shop for any groceries or cook anything. I pretty much just want to read and write and relax and feel appreciated. And my wonderful kids and husband usually come through.

But there's a problem.

It's true that I get the day off, and it's true that they take care of the little things, like cleaning up after breakfast and walking the dog. But the other tasks? The laundry and grocery shopping and meal planning and stuff? I don't do it, and neither do they. So the day after Mother's Day becomes a great big catch-up day for me.

Who wants that?

So this year, I've told my sweet husband what I want for Mother's Day. It's not a new dress or a dozen roses or a sparkly necklace. (Though you wouldn't see me complain about any of those things.) What I really and truly wish is for my family to plan what we'll be eating for dinner every night this week. Then they'll all go to the grocery story and buy everything we'll need for all the meals, including side dishes. They'll make sure we have food for breakfast and lunch, too. Then they'll put all the groceries away and even fold the grocery bags and store them properly.

That would seriously be the best Mother's Day present ever. What about you? What do you wish for Mother's Day?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Brain Burps About Books

With a title like that, you know it's gotta be good! Brain Burps About Books is an interactive, live Internet talk-radio show that focuses on anything that concerns great books for kids.

Hosted by author/illustrator Katie Davis, the show explores a range of subjects, from how teachers can extend books in their classrooms, to the inside scoop for aspiring children's writers who'd like to know how others got their start. Guests range from Newbery medalists to booksellers, agents, bloggers, and editors. (And on Monday... me!)

On Monday, May 10th at 4pm Eastern, Brain Burps about Books will examine the question, “How do you help a child who has to deal with death?” Katie (who happens to be hilarious and brilliant!) invited me to talk about my middle grade novel, Julia's Kitchen, about a girl whose mom and sister died in a fire.

I'll be joining New York Times Bestseller (The Kissing Hand) Audrey Penn discussing her new book, Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories, about a child whose classmate has died due to an accident.

Child psychologist Dr. Paul Donahue, author of Parenting Without Fear will talk about the benefits of using books to help kids deal with difficult issues such as loss, grief, and mourning. The show will wrap up with Bird Bytes from School Library Journal blogger and New York Public Librarian, Betsy Bird.

I'm really looking forward to this interview because I have strong icky feelings about "bibliotherapy," and I get very uncomfortable thinking that kids who have experienced grief might be "prescribed" my book. However, I'm a huge proponent of using books as "vaccinations." In other words, the time to read about death is long before you have to face it in real life. But that's just my opinion. I can't wait to hear what everyone else thinks.

Please call (347) 857-4428 on Monday, May 10th between 4-5pm Eastern (That's 3-4pm in Chicago, people!) to add your comments or questions to the show. The stream and archives are available at