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A New Direction

If you look up the word AUTHOR you’ll find most definitions mention writing a book, essay, play, etc. A broader definition includes anyone who creates something, i.e. a business plan, software, film. I rather like the definition I found at The Cambridge Dictionary online:

A person who begins or creates something

As soon as a story begins to grow in a writer’s head they are an author. Putting that story on paper is the next step in the journey an author takes.

As a writer, I’ve begun stories that were never finished, stories that were rejected countless times by editors, stories that were critiqued and stories that weren’t, and stories that were successfully published.

One of the differences between the creations that were successful and those that were not was the critique and editorial process. The creations of ALL writers will benefit from a constructive critique as well as comprehensive editing.

As I’ve searched for my new career focus, I keep coming back to the fact that I love working with words! I was reminded of that recently while doing some critiques for friends. And so I decided one new focus is to throw my hat into the gig economy ring!

gigimageMy goal is to help authors on their journey as they create magic with words. I look forward to offering objective critiques as others have done for me. You can find my services at Fiverr.

I’ll let you know how it goes!snoopy-writer

Are you an A.U.T.H.O.R?

Author is defined by Merriam-Webster for Kids as: a person who creates a written work. I like to share that definition with students because it is encouraging.  If you put the words on paper, you are an author.  You are a wordsmith, but you must also be brave and thick-skinned. If you want to be a published author, putting words on paper is just the first step. And there are things you can do to increase your chance of success.

Understanding the business of publishing is one key to success.  It is a business that involves many people, all of whom are hoping to make a living. I did not find success as an author until I began to study the business. The knowledge gained helped me target submissions and decreased the sting of rejection! For example, understanding how many submissions a publisher receives vs how many books they publish a year is eye opening, as is a look at resources like Publishers Weekly.  Any given week, a majority of their top 25 picture book best sellers were written decades ago.

Tenacity, according to my invaluable Flip Dictionary, is a synonym for patience and persistence.  Two of the words I wanted to use, but there’s no P in AUTHOR. However, maybe tenacity is really the right word. And writing is about finding the right word. Tenacity involves patience, persistence and determination.  To be a published author you cannot give up or be discouraged.  Despite the overnight success stories, most authors will be rejected MANY times (I have been hundreds of times) and they will have waited months for this lovely rejection news!

Hone your craft. An author is never done learning.  In the age of the internet, resources abound. There are blogs, online workshops, and online critique groups.  Join groups like the Author’s Guild or Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and you’ll find abundant information and links to MORE information. A critique group, or at least readers other than family and friends, is a must.  Like the game of telephone, what you see in your head does not always make it to the paper and into your reader’s mind.

Organize your time. Most authors have other jobs and obligations.  When I have time to devote to my writing, I have to decide how to utilize my time – do I work on a new story, revise an old one, research places to send a story, catch up on industry news, read reviews of books, read books in the genre I write, do a writing workshop, read a book about the craft of writing, market the books I have published, etc.! AND, don’t forget what may be the most important:  quiet thinking time, letting the ideas come and grow in your mind!

Read, read, read! If you want to be a published author you need to read. Reading books in the genre you write will help you understand what goes into a book that makes it from manuscript to library shelf. Reading any genre exposes you to words, language and the art of storytelling. And reading does one more thing-it supports other authors, which is what you are or hope to be!

I LOVE Fall

If you’ve been reading my blog you can’t help but know that I love to bake and cook with pumpkin so, as you might imagine, I love fall. But it’s not just the pumpkin that shows up in things from coffee to ice cream that I love.

fallbannerFall commands the attention of all my senses. The crisp air that requires a jacket. The leaves in hues of orange, yellow and red capture both my eyes and my ears when the crunch underfoot. That crunching creates a leafy aroma like the grinding of spices. I hear the geese call good by as the cross the sky in perfect V formation. The Red-winged Blackbirds gather and put on a nightly show swooping as one for weeks before they too head south. As the sun moves south it sets earlier and earlier. Walking in the dusk of evening, house windows glow and I imagine the of families gathered inside. And when I return home the warmth of a fire greets me. It’s fall!

When you are writing it is important to think about your senses. What senses are awakened by  a place, season,  or activity? Including such details, not in a big paragraph as above, but slipped in here and there will enrich your story and help your reader feel like they are in the story with you!

A Recipe

Now, who wants some Pumpkin Cinnamon Pull-Apart Loaf?!

Print a copy from here & watch a video of constructing the loaf!

Story Boards, Book Dummies & Page Breaks

Last week we took a quick look at picture book construction. All editors and publishing houses have their own methods, but in my personal experience, the editors I worked with laid out the words using a book dummy. They also noted illustrations ideas on those pages to share with me and the illustrator. Laying the story out is important because page breaks are. We want the reader to keep turning the pages ! So authors should be thinking about page breaks and story layout as they revise their manuscript.

TO DO THIS authors and illustrators might make a STORY BOARDScreenshot 2021-08-16 095053

To make a story board take a long piece of paper and  fold it so you get 16 rectangles and you will divide each in two for your 32 pages (see above).   These are called thumbnails.  You can plan your illustrations by doing a sketch or writing what it would be.  You can write your text in, but if it’s a lot of words you could put first and last word.

OR a BOOK DUMMY0414181557_HDR  

A book dummy can be made a couple of ways.  You could take 8 sheets of paper, fold in the middle and you’ll have 32 pages.  Or you can make a smaller one by folding a large sheet of paper in half one way and then the other.  Then cut on those folds.  Fold in half and you have a 16 page signature.  How many do we need to make  the most common number of pages in a picture book? 

Some things to think about

So how will you decide where to break your story? These are some things to consider:

Suspense:  Think about books you’ve read-picture books or chapter books.  One of the things that makes us want to turn the page or read more is wondering what is going to happen on the next page.  So suspense is important in thinking about your page breaks.

Illustrations:  You want your illustrations to be different on each page, so as you look at your text you think about how you might illustrate those words or use pictures to add to the story.

White space: In most books you don’t want so many words on a page that there’s not enough room for pictures or that it looks overwhelming to read.

Question in the text: answer on next page

Stop a sentence in the middle:  SYLVIA WAS LATE FOR SCHOOL, SO SHE TOOK A SHORTCUT THROUGH THE BUSHES AND ALMOST TRIPPED OVER A….  (KITTEN) on the next page

Transition words: Then, When, But, And, Until and Ellipsis SYLVIA WAS LATE FOR SCHOOL.  SHE LEFT ON TIME, BUT…

Rhythm: of quick page breaks, build anticipation

When an editor works on your story your page breaks might change, but thinking about them has helped you submit a better story!

Picture Book Construction??

IF YOU take the time to write a picture book, the last thing you want is for the reader to put the book down before they’ve finished it.  You want them to keep turning the pages.  So it’s important what we decide to put on each page.

WE OFTEN call any book with illustrations a picture book, but there are really 2 types of illustrated books: 

  • Story books: Where the text tells the whole story and can be read without illustrations 
  • True picture books: where the pictures and words combine to tell the story.

So you need to know which type of illustrated book you’ve written as this will determine the book’s length and how the story is laid out on the pages.

Next we need to think about how picture books are constructed.

  • Most picture books are 32 pages and there’s a reason why.
  • Picture books are made from SIGNATURES-not the kind where we write our name. In printing a signature is:  a group of pages that are printed on both sides of a sheet of paper. The paper is then folded, cut and trimmed down to the finished page size.  So pages are laid out and printed on large sheet which is cut in half (so you have 4 sides) then cut in half again (8 sides) and folded so you have 16 pages.  Most picture books have 2 of these.speechbubblebookpage

So you have 32 pages, but some of these may be used for a title page, dedication, copyright material.  So 28 pages for your story.signatures

With 28 pages it will be important to plan how the words will fit into those pages. Is there room in the story for rich illustrations that add to the experience and to the story? 

Next week let’s look at story boards and book dummies as a way to plan your story.

Wishing for Author Visits

We are all hoping that back-to-school this year means a return to something normal. School may never be the same as the pandemic will leave an indelible mark, both good and bad. As an author I hope that this year means a return to in-person author visits!

I had an opportunity to whet my appetite for this when I presented at the Appleseed Writing Camp. This a local camp for students interested in writing. They meet for 3 hours each morning for 2 weeks. I was lucky to spend a morning with 25 rising 4th, 5th and 6th graders. You think an author visit is all about the author inspiring the students. And certainly, that is the goal, but it’s no secret that authors benefit too.

An author spends a lot of time alone, well their characters are there, but … So visiting with students is a welcome change of pace. Authors get lots of rejections of their work, so when students look at your with those “you’re a rock star” eyes the affirmation is welcome. Students have wonderful ideas. If you share a work in progress, they might just provide the spark you are looking for to raise the story to a new level.

Slipped into my hand by a student

But the MOST important thing students give me is HOPE. To see them collaborating with each other, cheering each other on, pulling ideas out of nowhere, tells me this world will survive. There will be people to lead, people with imaginations big enough to find the answers, and people who will bring joy.

A student’s story start

Authors Study Too

Depending on where you live school may have already begun or it will start soon. Some students love school, others dread it. For the most part I always liked school. I like learning. I had to work, but things were easier for me than for some. There was the pressure of good grades, the drama of friends and the dread of a “bad” teacher. But all in all, from Kindergarten through grad school, I had good experiences.

craftsWhen you’re a kid you think, when school is done I’m done studying, but in time you realize the most successful people are always learning. Want to be good at baking-read (now days watch) about it. In fact just about any skill can be improved from gardening to car maintenance. And most professions involve continued study.

0414181745_HDRIt’s no different for authors. Yes it’s a creative process that involves ideas in our brains, but we read books, attend conferences and workshops. Successful authors are always learning not just about writing but also about the publishing business.

So as students and teachers head back to school think of your favorite authors and know that they may be opening a book, completing a lesson or listening to a lecture too!

Punctuation & Grammar-Ugh!

I’ve been thinking about school this month. All students have favorite subjects and subjects they dread. I was no different. While I loved the reading/writing/analyzing part of English I did not like the spelling or grammar. Diagraming sentences and rules of punctuation could be mastered for a test, but then were quickly forgotten. When I was in college studying to be a speech therapist those old parts of speech rules came back to haunt me because they are important when we look at language development. Fortunately for me, as I gravitated toward the adult medical population there was less need for this knowledge.

20210706_105246Then I began writing and punctuation, word use, sentence structure were important. Still as quickly as I looked up something, say punctuating dialogue it was gone. Overtime some rules stuck but I still second guess myself. Certainly, authors take creative license with some rules but not without a good reason.

English is a very difficult language to learn as a second language. Our rules are full of exceptions. Many words sound the same with different spellings and meaning. The same letter or letter combinations can have a different sound. Because we learn so much of this from birth, we muddle through without realizing just how difficult it is. As a speech therapist, when I began to work with people who speak English as a second language, I saw the difficulty first hand.

20210706_105338Now most of us can Google a rule if we are in doubt. If you prefer a book. Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Connor and Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss are both informative and more fun than a textbook!

 

Sketches & Comments

Mr. Worry is an example of the advice often given to authors to “write what you know”.  Mr. Worry was the first book I had accepted for publication and it was something I knew very well. This story, about a child with OCD, is close to my heart because it came from experiences my son and our family had with OCD. Many of the moments depicted in the story were similar to moments my son had, but not all.

Because it was my first book and because of my closeness to the story I was excited to receive the first sketches for comment. I liked the illustrator’s style, palette, and the things he chose to illustrate. (This book is more of an illustrated storybook, where the illustrations aren’t necessary to understand it.)

There was one illustration that concerned me.

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In the story Kevin learns to separate himself from the OCD by giving it a name. He calls it Mr. Worry. The illustrator’s depiction of Mr. Worry looked like a scary devilish creature. Since the book’s target audience was children who worry about things, I was concerned this would not be a helpful image. When I voiced my concern, the editor asked how I pictured Mr. Worry and I described something similar to what became Mr. Worry.

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The best picture books are a true collaboration between the author, illustrator and editor. Each brings their own vision and expertise. As is true in most things working together and listening to each other, makes the final product even better.

20210629_105703It’s time for a RECIPE! As a tie-in to the book it is a super easy ice cream recipe for Brownie Batter No-Churn Ice Cream found at DELISH.COM. 

Made and eaten by yours truly!

Make Room for the Illustrator

This month I want to talk about the relationship between the text and illustrations in picture books. There is a distinction between a picture book and an illustrated story book. The pictures in the former should add to the story. In the later they just show something from the story.

Think about a book like Jan Brett’s THE MITTEN where lots of things are happening in the pictures that are not in the text, but without them you wouldn’t understand the story. 

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Generally, picture books are shorter.  So, an author thinks about this as they write. They don’t waste words on descriptions unless it’s necessary to the story. An author needs to “leave room” in the story for the illustrator.

yoga-poses-1The entire text of THE DAY I RAN AWAY is written in dialogue. Grace recounts her day as her dad tucks her in. The bedtime scenes on the left side of the spread and the daytime on the right.

This posed a bit of an illustrative challenge. While the things that happened during her day were varied, the bedtime scenes would be somewhat repetitive.

Enter the creative editor, Shari Dash Greenspan. She suggested that Grace do bedtime yoga. I must admit that I was skeptical at first, but I loved the ways  Isabella Ongaro depicted Grace, Dad and Charlie dog winding with the simple poses. It added to the story.

 

TDRAwithgrace2In my text the little girl is not named and there are no dialogue tags.  Shari suggested I choose a name and that would be shown in the illustrations. The reader who looks carefully at the pictures will find her name.

I loved this idea and was thankful for it later as I began to talk about my book at schools or bookstores. Much easier to talk about Grace, than the little girl or the main character.

As you study picture books look at how the pictures add to a story. Are things missing if you just look at the pictures or if you just read the words?

 

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