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Friday, August 24, 2012

SCBWI Grants. Apply. Apply. Apply.


Dave Amaditz

How many of you have applied, or have ever thought about applying for a grant? Or should I say, how many of you have decided not to apply for a grant because you thought the chances of being selected were so slim it wasn't worth your time?

I suspect most of you would fall in the latter category. I say that, because I, too, have often had that thought cross my mind. If you’re a regular follower of our blog you may have noticed a post from July 27, 2012 titled,  Winner - SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant For a Contemporary Novel  - Dirty Secrets, YA- Persistence Pays:. If not, follow the link and check it out. http://rt19writers.blogspot.com/2012/07/2012-winner-scbwi-work-in-progress.html

I am the beneficiary of the SCBWI grant, and to say the least, I'm glad I applied.

However, life almost made it so it didn't happen.

I was busy with rewriting my story, work, family, and other things that make the hours and days pass too quickly. The deadline to apply for the grant was March 15, 2012. In late February or early March, while perusing the SCBWI website, I came across the link announcing the grants available to all members. Should I give it a try, I thought? Not much time left. Would I be able to pull it together... especially something that had a legitimate chance?

After carefully reading all the requirements, I decided it might be worth my while to apply.

The application consisted of three major parts: the writing sample, in which I had to include a synopsis of my work, a biography, and planned use of grant money. I thought I had a pretty good start on things because both my writing sample and synopsis were polished. (At least I'd hoped they were polished, and if they weren't, this was the chance to see what others outside my writing circle thought.) The second and third parts required a bit of work... only five or six or seven drafts or more compared to the thirty or so I'd put into my writing sample. In the end, I thought, even if I didn't win, the process would be great preparation for when I finally decided to send to an editor or agent.

To me, the exercise was worthwhile, and not only because I was awarded the grant. Win or lose, it would have given me a chance to see where I stacked among my peers. (Lose; back to the drawing board. Win; bask in a bit of glory.) On top of that, the whole process let me focus on my writing by putting together a professional package worthy of publication.

I highly recommend everyone who is an SCBWI member look into the grants available (there are many at the following link)  http://www.scbwi.org/  For those of you not members, I recommend you look into joining, because the grant process is but one small benefit of being a member.

Better late than never. What could it hurt?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It's Nearly Time to Write Again

        The light has shifted. It’s subtle, but it registers. For 20 something years that shifting light meant the start of school. For the next 20 years it meant the same for my children, along with the soft, steady hum of cicadas and crickets that seems to start with the rising of the mid-August sun and continue in monotone until its setting, and the odd cricket that makes it’s way into the house, throws its song across the room, bounces it off walls so you don’t know where to look.
In this bright, clear sunlight of late summer the rose petals appear somewhat temporary. As beautiful as before, but somehow giving the impression of a last hurrah, of an intensity that’s beginning to fade.
Crow calls have replaced the melody of the house wren. The whistle of the Kestrel Hawk seems louder, no longer competing with the symphony of birdsong. Within weeks the woody smell of drying leaves will make the sweet, intoxicating fragrance of black locust seem like a distant memory. 
From new mown grass to honey suckle to black locust to drying leaves, it’s time to think about writing again. Because for me, summer is the time to be out of my chair. It’s the time for digging in the soil, biking in the breeze, soaking in the sunlight. My brain needs a rest. It needs to unwind, wrap itself around exterior concerns. It needs to revitalize itself for that difficult job of going inside itself in search of the right word, the real problem, the honest phrase. I can see it coming, smell it, hear it. It’s just around the corner and I’m getting ready. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

4 Ways To Fail With Your Self-Published Book (before people even read the sample)--UPDATED



You can write a great book. You can edit and format it perfectly. And then you can sink it with a sales pitch that actually pushes potential readers away. Keeps them from even opening your sample.

Not every writer is a brilliant marketer, or even a good one. But these are pitfalls any careful self-pubber can avoid.


Cover design isn't pure art—it's mostly marketing. It's the poster for your book. Poe begs you (and your cover designer) to consider these points:

--Your cover should be similar to (but not plagiarize) current best-sellers in its genre.

--It should be true to the tone of the content (for humor, darkness, violence, horror, romance, etc.).

--Characters depicted on covers must match the age of the characters inside. (A surprising number of e-book covers make YA books look too childish.)

--The title (and, if possible, the author's name) must be clear and legible, even on the smallest smartphone screens. (Sadly, many experienced designers seem to forget this crucial rule.)

NOTE: Poe advises against using your favorite kid's artwork for your cover. The result may elicit coos from shoppers of a certain age. Everybody else (especially your target readers) will gag.

NOTE: Poe also recommends making sure your stock photo hasn't already been used for another cover in your genre. (There's one particular moody-teen-guy-in-hood stock photo that's already been used for several YA fantasy covers.)


--Make the blurb sharp and succinct. If the shopper needs to pull the drop-down button to finish it, you're already in trouble.

--Be sure to highlight the things that make your story different. Poe has lost count of fantasy novel blurbs that end with the blurry "and she enters a world she never dreamed existed." (The rule here is that if it applies to every other MC in fantasy fiction, from Alice to Harry and beyond, then it doesn't belong in the blurb.)

--Don't offer the moral or the theme. At least not in so many words. (Unless you wish to suggest that the lesson is supposed to compensate for otherwise weak content.)

--Don't review your own book. "This story will have your tots rolling on the floor. . . ." An author-publisher has virtually no credibility as a reviewer.

--Think hard before including a fulsome blurb from another e-author. If you do, make sure the blurber has real credibility, and that the blurb doesn't read like BFF Gush (see below).


--Use only photos and art that will appeal to your targeted readers. Corollary: Think hard before posting photos that might limit your appeal by advertising your age, gender, or convictions.

--Examine your author page for info that might define you as inexperienced ("I wrote this story for my niece, and she liked it better than Charlotte's Web, so. . . ."), unprofessional ("I'm a Nana who loves antiques, Irish setters, kayaking, and—when I can fit it in, LOL!—making up stories about the cute things my grandkids do. . . ."), unsuccessful ("after being rejected by twenty publishers. . . . "), or a whiner ("all my friends say this book should have been snapped up, but apparently editors have no faith in readers nowadays. . . .").

--Keep your page up-to-date. Poe is astounded at how often this rule is violated.


Granted, the review section of your sales page is largely out of your control. But not completely. When you're starting out:

--Shun BFF Gush. Effusive reviews by your relatives and pals are transparent and can hurt more than they help—especially if they're all you've got.

--On the other extreme, avoid the blank review corner. Your challenge is to seed the page with a few supportive and believable reviews. If your beta-readers (surely you haven't published without running your ms past a few of those?) gave you written notes, you might ask them to post digested versions. Or you might scout prolific reviewers (from blogs or book-fan sites), and offer them a free ARC in exchange for a review.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Poe recently learned that Kirkus will review Indie books for a fee of $425. You may use the review (or not) as you choose; you may also allow it to be published in the online edition of Kirkus.

NOTE: What if no beta or blog reviewers feel able to review your book positively? Think of bad reviews as saviors, not destroyers. Revising your self-pubbed ebook costs nothing but time. Grit your teeth, gird your loins, pull the book off the market for a while, and fix it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Using Technology to Work Smarter

by Marcy Collier

A few months ago I got slammed with a bunch of work deadlines for my day job, but I also had about 100 manuscript pages I had to critique. I had just received the new Ipad3 for my birthday and thought that there had to be an app to help me multitask better.

After much research, I splurged and spent the $2.99 to try the Voice Dream Reader. http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/voice-dream-reader-text-to/id496177674?mt=8.
Incidentally, this app has recently gone up to $ 4.99, which tells me it’s catching on with Apple users. My goal at the time was to be able to listen to someone’s story, while completing other work on my laptop. This app claimed to have dropbox integration and could read MS Word, Plain Text, Apple Pages, MS PowerPoint, RTF and HTML file formats. I downloaded it and with the touch of a button, it opened in Voice Reader. I plugged my headphones into the Ipad and the voice read me the entire story. The app comes with one voice, but you can purchase additional voices for $.99. Every so often, I would pause the reader, make notes in another open document, then move on with the story. This technology enabled me to get the story and critique done while meeting my own non-writing work deadlines. But wait, there’s more…

I started to think about how as writers we’re always told to read our work aloud or have someone else read your work. When you read aloud, you often hear mistakes or realize the cadence and the flow of a particular sentence or structure is not working. I loaded my manuscript onto Voice Dream Reader and went to work. I cannot believe how many changes I’ve made so far just by listening instead of re-reading work. I close my eyes and listen for slow scenes, wrong word choices, typos and the tone and actions of each character. This new revising process has shed a whole new light on my work, and I’m amazed at the number of mistakes I’ve caught by listening rather than reading.

If you have an almost finished manuscript or you critique a lot, check out the Dream Reader. This app was designed to help students and adults with reading difficulties, and busy professionals to catch-up on reading while commuting or exercising. But I think it’s an excellent resource for writers, too. If you’re looking for ways to use technology to work smarter, check it out!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Advice For Writers From a Seventh-Grader: No Boring Parts

Guest blogger: Grace Brown 

I love The Maze Runner by James Dashner. It’s one of my favorite books, right up there with The Hunger Games. But I almost didn’t keep reading it, because the first part was boring.

I liked the VERY beginning because it didn’t start off with the main character, Thomas, in his normal everyday life.  It started right in the dystopian world, a maze.  Right after the very beginning, though, it slowed down while the author set up a lot of details, which I didn’t like as much. From the time Thomas came out of the box (p. 3) until the girl shows up (p. 58), it felt slow. I’m not even sure why it felt slow; maybe because even though some things were happening, and I was learning things about the maze and the other kids, Thomas wasn’t really DOING anything.

So why did I keep reading? I was in a competition with a friend for who would finish first. I’m glad I kept reading, because it’s one of my favorite books, but I’m not sure I would have otherwise.  I probably would have, because it’s on a list of books that people might like if they liked The Hunger Games.

I’m not sure that I’ll change my habits and continue reading something even if it feels slow. Maybe, maybe not. I’m not crazy about reading the boring parts.      

So don’t write boring parts.  

Note by Grace's mother, Cynthia: I just about fell off my chair when Grace said the reason she kept reading The Maze Runner. For my part, I didn't find the beginning of The Maze Runner  boring at all. But compared to the latter two-thirds of the book, it is somewhat "slower." It is a wake-up call to me that 7th-graders have a different perspective from adults, and I need to continually be reminded of that. Certainly, many kids like things slowed down a bit, but many want things to move very quickly. 

Grace and I were talking about types of books (she prefers dystopias and fantasy), and I mentioned realistic fiction. I love this quote by her:

"Ugh. Realistic fiction. That's like those books they shove on you at school."

No doubt, a 12-year-old will tell it like they see it.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hooray for the Library!

     In a recent newspaper article outlining all of the ways to beat the heat during these dog days of summer,  I was thrilled to see my favorite place: The Local Library!  Yes, it was right up there with water parks, movie theatres, bowling alleys, and the zoo.  Allow me to list, aka David Letterman, my top ten reasons for visiting my community library;

10.  It has air conditioning.

 9.  I can read the New York Times for free.

 8.  Computers are available.

 7.  They offer wonderful adult classes, lecture series, blood pressure screenings, annual blood donation events and even aerobics!

 6.  DVD's and CD's are yours for the borrowing.

 5.  There are wonderful children's classes as well, oftentimes including special themed summer reading programs.

 4.  You can afford Movie Nights for the whole family, sometimes pets included!

 3.  Writer's Critique Workshops often convene there.

 2.  Authors come to speak and conduct book signings.

 1.  Did I mention that they have books there???  

What's not to love?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

To be continued (MG e-series with awesome main characters--Priscilla the Great and Hal Junior)


Oft-proclaimed advice in the world of indie e-publishing: publish multiple books, and publish often. An indie author's first sale (just as in the world of trad publishing) is the hardest to make. The best time to sell your sequel to an ebook fan is immediately after he/she's enjoyed Volume 1.

That's only part of Sybil Nelson's formula for success. She also offers vivid writing, clean editing, a hook that's trendy (but with a unique . . . flare), and a polished web promotion system that includes a blog (Prissy Fit) and music playlist for her MC.

Above all, Nelson gives us the lively, snarky voice of Priscilla herself.


By Sybil Nelson
CreateSpace, 2011-2012
Poe thinks this is humorous contemporary MG paranormal

First sentence: I awoke tied to a chair.

Brainy Priscilla's plagued by all the ordinary woes of a seventh-grade heroine in a contemporary novel--obnoxious brothers, worry-wart parents, a figure like a stick, unruly red hair, and a hopeless crush on Spencer Callahan.

Other challenges are not so quotidian. Her parents keep fibbing (rather clumsily) about where Mom is (South America? Dubai?). Priscilla's also showing signs of paranormal talents, like fire-starting and super-hearing. And (the flash-forward prologue warns) she'd better develop those superpowers fast enough to keep the bad guys from killing her.

Rated S for Snapped Up.

Last fall, Poe sampled the first book in another series, and is pleased to see that Volume 2 has launched:


Hal Junior 2: The Missing Case

By Simon Haynes
Self-published, 2012
Poe thinks this is MG sci-fi spoof

First sentences:

There was a young lad called Hal Junior,
whose homework was always peculiar.
His essays were bad,
His sums didn't add,
And his limericks weren't any good either!

Poe will allow Hal Junior to summarize the opening chapter (and his current relationship with his parents) in his own words: Nag, nag, nag, fire. Blah, blah, blah, explosion. Dangerous. Irresponsible. Punishment.

Hal Junior, in fact, is almost always getting punished for something. This time, the penalty will be babysitting the offspring of a VIP whose visit to the family's aged space station may result in an influx of money, or equipment—or at the very least, some real food to replace the ration bars they've been subsisting on.

Surprises ensue.

Rated Q for Queued to read soon