Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tuesday Tip #16: Keeping Track

Of course it is absolutely ESSENTIAL to keep track of what stories you've sent to which publishers at what time. But what is the best way to do that? I've tried several different methods and the easiest for me is a simple spreadsheet in Microsoft Works or Excel. It is so easy and you can even print up reports at the end of the year to add up all your totals: total submissions, total rejections, total acceptances, total $$ raked in, etc.

Mine is a simple table that looks something like this:

Manuscripts 2009 (this is the heading)

Title..........................Publisher.......Date Sent.........Reply............Comments 

Grace's Big Chase          Henry Holt         10-18-08            Rejected         Responds if interested

That is a sample entry. In the past, I have included a column for "publication date" and "payment," mainly for magazine pieces. I'll probably add those in if I ever get around to submitting to magazines again. Make sure you keep a back-up file of this spreadsheet in case of unforeseen computer trouble (gasp!).

Other fairly simple methods of keeping track of your manuscript submissions is to keep an actual file folder with manuscript tracking forms in it--one sheet per story. Put the title at the top and then make columns for publisher, date, reply, comments, etc. Of course, this is a little more tedious and harder to search. Then again, if you do it that way you won't lose it if your computer crashes. You could also do the same thing with index cards and keep them in a recipe box. Sort them by genre/format/age range if you're a really versatile writer like me (grin).

Whatever your method, keep it as up-to-date as possible. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tuesday Tip #15: Puzzling

This tip mainly goes out to those writers who haven't been published AT ALL--no magazines, e-zines, email newsletters, etc.--but who have the goal of being successful as a children's writer.

I have not achieved my ultimate goal of having a published book, but I have made it into several online publications and print magazines, including Highlights for Children. What is the secret to breaking into a big name market like Highlights? It's the same as any other publication: write what they need, when they need it.

The editors over at Highlights are kind enough to send out a wish list to their writers now and then. So I at least have a clue what they are looking for. But what about those writers who have yet to make it into the "published Highlights author" club? (no, there's not really such a club--that I know of).

Try what I tried. Send puzzles! Highlights publishes a wide variety of puzzles and activities, as do most other children's magazines. These are relatively easy (and fun!) to write, and are a much easier sell than stories and poems (either that or I'm just better at writing puzzles than stories...hmmm).

The first piece I ever sold to Highlights was a puzzle, and since then I've sold more puzzles and some poetry. I've sold more puzzle/activity pieces to children's magazines than any other type of magazine submission. It's a great way to get your name in there and possibly open the door to selling other types of work!

Here are some puzzle/activities to consider submitting:

Logic puzzles
word puzzles
word searches
picture puzzles
simple crafts

Do your homework, though. Make sure you know what types of puzzles a magazine publishes before you submit!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday Tip #14: Writing Poetry, part 2--Rhyme Time

Do you want to write rhyming poetry that rolls off the tongue and is such a pleasure to read that poetry lovers will come back to it again and again? If so, you've got to master the art of meter! A poem can have the most colorful, lively, moving language and perfect rhyme, but if its meter is off, none of that matters. If your reader stumbles on one line, you could lose him (or her)!

But what is meter?

Meter is rhythm, the regular pattern of stressed and unstressed beats in a poem.

The first step in understanding meter is to be able to identify the metric pattern in a given poem. Let's look at a familiar children's song as an example.

Twinkle, twinkle little star
how I wonder what you are
up above the world so high
like a diamond in the sky.

The meter reads like this (CAPS are the stressed beats):

LIKE a DIAmond IN the SKY

This is a very simple pattern and fairly easy to duplicate. Here's an "off the cuff" example:

Dragon, dragon soaring high,
bursting flame as you fly by.
How I love to watch you glide.
Will you take me for a ride?

I'll try that again, and purposely mess up the meter:

Dragon, dragon soaring high,
a flash of flame bursts as you fly by.
singing the hairs on my head
turning my face bright, bright red.

A potentially cute poem, but only once the meter issues get resolved.

Meter doesn't have to be that simple. It can get rather complicated and funky! But for now, try writing your own words with the same rhythm as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Write in such a way that the natural stresses on words fall in the right places, so that the reader doesn't have to force it to fit.

Have fun with it!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Me and dragons

I like dragons.

Dragon movies, dragon books, drawings of dragons, sculptures of dragons. When I was a kid, one of my favorite songs was Puff the Magic Dragon. I used to draw a certain scene over and over: a castle, with banners waving in the wind atop the towers and a dragon in the moat.

It was this scene that led to my first novel. As I sat on the floor, drawing pictures with my 4-year-old girl, she asked me to draw her a castle. So I drew the castle with the dragon in the moat. I kept following her lead, adding a burst of flame and a girl--a princess, naturally--running in terror from the flame-spouting beast. I then added a little speech bubble above the dragon that read: Don't you want to toast marshmallows?

My daughter, filled with compassion for the dragon, said, "Oh, the dragon is lonely."

A very simple idea was born. Possibly an over-used idea, but I ran with it anyway. I had intended it to be a picture book, but the story morphed into something much longer. I ended up with a very rough draft of a bad middle-grade fantasy novel, Glint: The Dragon of Fire Mountain. My first novel ever! I worked on that story for years, editing, revising, polishing it up and learning A LOT on the way.

It has not been published, though it has been submitted to several publishers. One publisher even requested the whole manuscript and sent it back to me with constructive criticism! There is hope for that story yet.

And I still love dragons. Every time I see a dragon toy or sculpture or book, I'm tempted to buy it. Today I was in Borders books and saw the little dragon puppets they have there. Some have three heads! One of these days, I will give in to that temptation and bring one of those dragons home with me. Then there are the "pen dragons" that I see at the Summer Arts Festival each year. Or the beautiful dragon paintings seen at that same fair. Why don't I ever buy one? Because I think I'm being selfish and silly and can find a better use for my family's money.

I did bring one dragon home with me today, though. We left Borders with a new book, The Dragon in the Sock Drawer, by Kate Klimo. A completely unselfish purchase for my little boy (who also has a thing for dragons).

I'm sure he'll be willing to share his dragon book with his mommy.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Recommended Recent Reads

I finally read Brisingr, by Christopher Paolini, the third book in the Inheritance Cycle. To be honest, I read it several weeks ago and it took me a few weeks to get through it (I admit taking a break from it to read something else).

It is a long book, and ended a long way from bringing the story to a resolution (as in, finally killing that darn Galbatorix). I don't mind long books, though, and overall I think it was very good. It didn't draw me in and hold my attention quite as well as Eragon or Eldest and I didn't feel any urgency to get to the end, but I also didn't get bored. There is a lot of fascinating stuff going on in Eragon's world ( though at times it felt like too much), which should please most epic fantasy fans. I will be happy when the fourth (and final) book comes out.

While I took a break from Brisingr, I read Hate that Cat, by Sharon Creech. It is the sequel to Love that Dog, a novel-in-verse I think I have mentioned here on the blog before. Great book! Every bit as sweet and moving as the first. Not quite as sad. Loved it! If you want something you can read in just one evening, you can't go wrong with these two.

Another recent read was Inkdeath, by Cornelia Funke, the third and last of the Inkheart trilogy. Inkheart is one of my all-time favorite books and is a perfectly lovely story all on its own, but I enjoyed the other two in the trilogy as well.

Inkdeath was excellent. It was a darker story than Inkheart or Inkspell (no surprise, given its title), with a little more sadness and death. But it is a hopeful story and also has some humorous bright spots, some romance, and plenty of action. Cornelia Funke has a gift for creating truly vile baddies. The book ended differently than I thought it would, but it was a satisfying ending. I can't wait to see what Ms. Funke comes up with next.

My most recent read was Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, by Lynne Jonell. My daughter picked it up at the book fair, and when she was finished reading it, she insisted that I read it before beginning any other book. This book hooked me immediately. Humor, sadness, mystery, adventure and fantasy abound in this delightful tale. I read it in less than a week, which is saying a lot considering how little time I've had for reading lately! Perfect book for some light, fun reading.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Tuesday Tip #13: Writing poetry, part 1

Do you dream of being a published poet or possibly writing a rhyming picture book some day? Maybe you've always loved poetry and would like to try your hand at it. Here are a couple tips to get you started.

1. Read poetry—all kinds. Study it. What makes it appeal to you? What do you not like about it? What do you think when you come across poems with choppy meter or near rhymes? Knowing what appeals to you in others’ poetry will help you find your own poetic style.

2. Write, write, and write some more. Polish your poems until they sparkle. You may have a great ear for rhyme, but that doesn’t mean your poetry is as good as it could be. Rhyme is only one part of the equation, and not the most important. A good poem—whether rhyming or not—uses the fewest words possible to get the point across. Take the time to learn about rhyme and meter (we'll talk more about that later). Practice various forms of poetry, such as couplets, cinquains, haiku, free verse, etc.

Reading list: Dr. Seuss, Jane Yolen, Jack Prelutsky, Shell Silverstein, Sharon Creech's LOVE THAT DOG

More to come next week!