Quotation Inspiration: Writer’s Block

I know lots of writers who suffer from writer’s block. I like Barbara Poelle’s creativity prompts in the Oct 2018 Writer’s Digest, including: “Take your favorite antagonist in any film or novel and write a scene where they are the hero.” I love Salina Yoon’s Duck, Duck, Porcupine books. This makes me want to try to write a scene where Big Duck is not a fool and is actually the hero. That would be quite a challenge!

She goes on to say, “That blank document doesn’t have to be your next opus–it just has to keep the current flowing until you find that one piece of driftwood and hang on for the ride.” Such great advice. You don’t have to write something great–just write SOMEthing!

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My Week: Following Up on Submissions [Notes from a Working Children’s Writer]

Hi, writers! This week’s audio update about my writing life is LIVE! If you’re interested, please hop on over and give it a listen.

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Safety Harness–Activated! Getting Work Done when the To-Do List Is Ridiculous

Right now, I feel like my writing life is a roller coaster ride, and I’m just hanging on for dear life. My to-do list is ridiculous, and the rational part of my brain knows there is no way it is all going to get done. And that part of my brain knows I just have to focus first on the highest priority things.
roller_coasterThe lower priority tasks…well, I will get to however much I can.
One thing right now at the top of my list is 3 storytimes I will be doing over the next couple of weeks at Minnesota libraries. Each one will be on a weekday morning, so it will be mostly preschoolers and toddlers, though possibly some homeschooling families as well. I need to be prepared with an hour’s worth of material, but also be fully prepared to cut things shorter if everybody is squirmy.
So what I’m about to do is go through my newly created PowerPoint and make my list of props I have to buy, which right now includes toothpaste and a bag of fabric leaves. I also need to check my timing and make notes about how I’m going to make these poems interactive for this very young age range. We’ll be spinning and barking and laughing a lot, I hope! I’ll also be sharing bits from two of my three forthcoming 2019 books, so that will be fun!

Preparing for the top priority things like presentations I’m getting paid for, that’s just non-negotiable. It’s like wearing the safety harness on the roller coaster. I have a lot of things like that, and those things WILL get done, even if I have to work nights and weekends to do them well. But I compare the less essential things on my list, like keeping up with my social media and working ahead to create teacher materials for my spring books, to waving my hands in the air or making silly faces for the photo they take while you’re zooming down the hill. If I can manage them, awesome. But if I can’t, I’m not going to beat myself up.
I hope none of you are beating up yourselves, either!
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My Week: Happy Dance News [Notes from a Working Children’s Writer]

Hi, writers! I was trying to figure out a way that you could subscribe to the page on my laurasalas.com website where I’m posting my weekly updates, but technology has thwarted me. So, from now on, when I update that page, I’ll be posting just this super brief statement below. Nothing catchy or personalized here, but if you’re a subscriber to THIS blog, then you’ll at least get notified/reminded to go check it out on my other site. If it’s of no interest to you, of course, just delete the email and ignore the message. Thanks for your understanding!

This week’s audio update about my writing life is LIVE! If you’re interested, please hop on over and give it a listen.

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What’s on My Writer’s To-Do List that Is NOT Writing

[Thought I’d share this from my morning pages today.]

Whew. I am a little overwhelmed right now with promotion stuff and speaking stuff and marketing research for submissions. With three books coming out in the spring, I guess that’s to be expected! Still. I feel like I need to put my own writing on hold for at least a couple of weeks right now while I work out some plans, at least—even if I don’t actually get the promo materials created or all the prep work done for various speaking things.

Here’s what I have to create/plan/figure out in the near future:

NCTE-RELATED STUFF

NCTE: Roundtable activity for No Need To Wonder How To Promote Student Voice – I have a few ideas. Need to choose one and prep it. This will be a hands-on activity for my topic: Using Images and Curiosity to Spark Poetry. All old-school. No technology. Need to create a handout, too.

NCTE: Panel presentation for Voice, Vision, and Variety: Empowering Students with Innovative Nonfiction – I’ve created a basic PowerPoint I like for my section. I need to create a great handout to go with it. And may need to revise my PP depending on what decisions we all make as a group once we start talking about the details of this presentation.

NCTE: Panel presentation for Writing Poetry In the Wild: Using Place, Play, and Perspective to Empower Student Writers – I have a million unrelated thoughts thrown into a document, but nothing cohesive. I have promised “Laura will share her own experiences of poeting in the wild along with some suggestions for simple, adaptable student activities.” So I need to round up some samples to share of my own poems written away from home, my thoughts on how my writing (and students’) benefits from that, and a couple of fun prompts or activities. Need to create a handout.

NCTE: Newly found opportunity to speak directly to educators for 20 minutes about one of my spring titles, Snowman – Cold = Puddle and how to use it in the classroom. That part is key. Am thinking about finding a teacher attending NCTE to co-present this with me. Need to approach educators. Need to decide on 3-4 diverse activities that can be explained/demonstrated/or even completed together in a hands-on way. Need to create a handout and figure out a tight plan for this 20 minutes.

NCTE: Create one or two promo pieces that can be given out at all three book signings, all four speaking sessions, and the Children’s Book Awards Luncheon, where I’ll be a table host. Maybe one is specifically done for NCTE and includes all my spring titles, plus my NCTE schedule, plus a url or QR code for where they can download all my handouts. And then the other one should be an updated piece not specifically for NCTE but that highlights my most recent books and gives all the where to find me online, etc., info.

NCTE: Review the guidelines for support each publisher has offered and how I need to go about receiving it. (One publisher is giving me a badge; another is offering $250 toward my travel expenses, etc.)

NCTE: Answer second publisher that offered to sponsor me as table host at the awards luncheon once I hear back from first publisher about whether two publishers can co-sponsor. I don’t know the etiquette of that at all!

NCTE: More miscellaneous stuff to do: Make my flight reservations. Look for a roommate. Register and pay for CLA Breakfast if my 3rd book signing time (the only one not yet scheduled) doesn’t interfere with the time of the Breakfast. Create an imagepoem postcard and order it to give away at NCTE. Other poets like Irene Latham and Margaret Simon have done this in previous years, and I loved what they did. No promotion. Just a gift of a poem. Create new biz cards. Mine is almost 2 years old.

STORYTIMES

3 September storytimes at libraries: These were all booked by one central person, who has filled out the basic info on my form. I need to check and see if the same session will work for all three (if they are all for same age range and are the same length). Then start creating my interactive storytime session(s) for them.

FOR MY SPRING BOOKS

For each of my three spring books, Snowman – Cold = Puddle, In the Middle of the Night, and Lion of the Sky, I need to:

  • Obtain hi-res art for promotional materials from the illustrator (and get any specific limitations on using the art)
  • Get hi-res covers from the publishers
  • Come up with an approach for the book trailer
  • Create the book trailer
  • Review the awesome ideas Lisa Bullard brainstormed for my spring titles
  • Create a couple of stand-alone classroom or storytime activities to go with the book and put them online
  • To make the activities valuable for teachers, I really need to look at What does this activity help you do? Work on making inferences, teaching metaphors, offering writing prompts?
  • Create a print promo piece (in collaboration with the artist in some cases) to actually hand out at events
  • Start a Pinterest board
  • Make a page on my website
  • Add to the My Books part of my website
  • Decide whether I’m going to do a giveaway of some of my author copies
  • Figure out if I want to try to do a blog tour again
  • Brainstorm possible partnerships/donations/special sales opportunities
  • Come up with a simple, fun, age-adaptable activity I could have at my table for kids to do when I am signing or at a book festival or something

Then, for all three books together:

  • Is there some way I can promote all three books? They are related by the thread of poetry, though the three books are very different. Need to do some deep thinking and brainstorming on this.
  • Do I want to try a book launch party at a local indie bookshop?
  • Any way to do a poetry-palooza next April for Poetry Month – something different? Bigger?

MARKETING RESEARCH

  • Comb through my manuscripts to see if I have anything suitable for Editor A, who recently sent me a rejection that ended with, “But keep sending me more of you work as it would be great to get another book with you lined up.”
  • Comb through my manuscripts to see if I have anything suitable for Editor B, who recently moved to a new company and is editing a different kind of children’s book now. Don’t THINK I do, but she has invited me to send anything I have that might be appropriate, so I want to take a very close look.
  • Reread my FRACTIONS ms to see if it’s a close enough fit to submit for the call Charlesbridge has put out for math stories.
  • Do research and create marketing lists for BEAGLEY and HALFSIES.

Okay, even though this huge list is intimidating as all get-out, just getting all my thoughts here together in one place is actually helpful. And while I don’t usually go for the metaphor of books as my children, in a way, that helps in this case. While I’d much rather be writing (or playing with my kids), this background stuff (like reading parenting advice or taking kids to the dentist) is what my books need to find their place in the world. I want them to reach readers, so I need to embrace (as much as possible) this promotional side of things.

Also, I now don’t feel as guilty taking time away from writing right now. It’s clear that a lot of hours are going to go into this. And I don’t want all this happening after New Year’s (even though I won’t start really promoting these books until then), when I want to just enjoy their arrival in the world.

So as I make my Status Sheet for September in the next few days, there’s going to be a lot more non-writing stuff on it. And I have made my peace with that. It’s a short-term thing, and I feel thrilled and blessed to have three picture books coming out in spring. This is simply part of that process.

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My Week: Road Trip Writing [Notes from a Working Children’s Writer]

Hi, writers! This week’s update includes a bit of how I worked while Randy and I went on a quick road trip to Chicago, as well as some back and forth communications with editors. Plus updates on my various projects. If you’re interested, please hop on over and give it a listen. Update: My giant treadmill box is on the front porch as I write this. Step 1 in the Grand Office Plan: check!

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My Week: Notes from a Working Children’s Writer

Hi, writers! I’m trying something new. It’s an audio recap of my work/progress each week. Technology dictates that I host these on my personal website, not here at Mentors For Rent. If you’re interested, please hop on over and give it a listen. Would love your feedback. I’m going to try this for a few months and see if people find it useful or interesting to listen to. If not, it will quietly slink away ;>)

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How I Do Publisher Research and Submit My Children’s Book Manuscripts: Part 6: Submit!

MY SUB SUBMIT

Previous entries in the series:

Part 1: Overview
Part 2: My Tools
Part 3: Publishers Database
Part 4: Describe My Manuscript
Part 5: Make My Marketing List

Part 6: Submit!

I have always loved logic puzzles. You know, the kind that start out, “Alfred, Benjamin, Christopher, and Devonte all live on Main Street. They have an elephant, a fish, a greyhound, and a horse as pets. They are an ice cream maker, a juggler…” Then they give you some clues, like, “The person who has a pet giraffe is not the juggler.” And you chart everything out and try to figure out which person goes with which pet and job and so on.

logic puzzle

Image: Salix alba, via Creative Commons

Submitting manuscripts is a lot like a logic puzzle. There are a lot of ways to figure it out, and each step affects the next step. My process is rather intuitive and amorphous, which is no help to you! So, in the spirit of being practical, here are the basic rules I try to follow. Remember, this is AFTER I have created a marketing list for each manuscript, come up with words and phrases to describe my manuscript, and identified specific editors and comparable titles (when possible).

  1. I make submissions monthly. You might choose to do yours every other Friday, every Wednesday afternoon…whatever works for you.
  2. I try to keep each manuscript out to 2-3 editors at a time, unless I specifically wrote it with a particular editor in mind or I am submitting to an editor who only considers exclusive submissions (a rarity). I mention in my cover letter that the manuscript it out with one or two other editors.
  3. I do not submit a manuscript to an editor who already has a manuscript of mine that she hasn’t replied to yet.
  4. Once an editor replies, I generally wait a month before sending something new. I don’t want an editor to—consciously or not—delay replying to me because she knows something else will hit her inbox IMMEDIATELY.
  5. I do not send a manuscript to another editor at the same imprint or publishing house if one editor there has already rejected it. Some of the Big Five publishers have numerous imprints working independently, and it’s okay to submit to different imprints in that case. For example, MacMillan owns Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Henry Holt and Company. I would possibly submit a book to one after the other rejected it, IF I felt the book matched both publishers.
  6. I do not send a revised manuscript to an editor who sent me personal feedback UNLESS the editor indicated a willingness to see a revision.

So, each month, usually near the end of the month as I’m realizing, “Oh, crap, I haven’t made my submissions this month,” I sit down to send out manuscripts.

Here’s where I consult my submissions plan database (excerpt below):

sub db 2018

In my chart, yellow=possible market; pink=has the ms currently; blue=already rejected the ms. I go through my listing of manuscripts and identify:

1)       which manuscripts are not out with three editors
2)       which of the editors I regularly submit to don’t have anything from me right now

Then I begin the dance of matching manuscripts to editors. Maybe I have two in mind to send Cowboys to, but then further down the list, I realize one of those two is just PERFECT for Houseboat. So I send Cowboys to the other and Houseboat to the second one.

Maybe a reply I get to one manuscript will affect other manuscripts. For instance, I recently got a rejection where the editor told me she really liked a manuscript but had a preschool-themed picture book coming out soon so wasn’t in the market for that. Well, I had that editor down as a possible market (yellow box) for a different preschool-themed picture book, too. So, I had to get rid of that other yellow box so I wouldn’t submit that particular ms to her in the future.

It takes a lot of listing, shuffling, and crossing people out, but eventually I have my list of what I’m going to send where that month.

There are tons of good resources for actual query/cover letter writing, including the e-book Lisa Bullard and I wrote, How to Query. Here’s a good article by Jo Hart on the topic, too. And a search on Google will bring up plenty more resources.

Really, writing the query or cover letter is the easy part, once you do it a few times. Hopefully, this series has helped you do all the preliminary steps you need to so that you’re submitting to the right editor with an accurate and compelling description of your wonderful manuscript! Good luck!

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Lyrical Language Lab…and Me!

As writers, we think a lot about words. Big words. Little words. Rhyming words. Vivid words. So many words! Everything we create depends on them. But sometimes the right words are elusive. They aren’t leading to the sound or rhythm or voice that we want. So really drilling down to the nitty-gritty of words, how they work, and how to choose the most effective ones is a super skill for writers. That’s what the Lyrical Language Lab is all about.

For years, I’ve heard awesome things about Renée LaTulippe’s fabulous online course, and I’ve recommended that others check it out. It’s an excellent advanced course that’s particularly appealing to me as a picture book writer and poet, though the language skills explored in depth inform ALL kinds of writing.

logo_2018_0718

Now, something awesome has happened. I am going to co-teach Lyrical Language Lab with Renée this fall! That means half your feedback will come from Renée, and half will come from me. I’m so excited!

If you’ve asked me about a course on poetry or verse picture books–this course is for you.

If you’ve looked at one-day online conferences and worried that they were too general–this course is for you.

If you feel like you are doing the basics right, but you need to move to the next level with your writing–this course is for you.

Basically, if you want to improve your control over your use of language–yep, this course is for you!

Here’s a sample of the kind of in-depth lessons included in the Lyrical Language Lab 8-week course, excerpted from the lesson on lyrical prose.

What is lyrical prose?

Lyrical prose…

  • is rich, layered, and descriptive, but not overwrought or sentimental
  • conveys images with fresh but natural language
  • is poetic, rhythmic, and musical

The passage below is the opening of the marvelous Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. As you read, be aware of

  • the author’s craft
  • when and how the poetic techniques of imagery, simile, metaphor, and other figurative and sensory language are used and how they support the story
  • when and how poetic sound devices are used
  • the use of specific diction and how it supports the story
  • the rhythms, cadences, and pauses within the passage

I also encourage you to read this excerpt out loud so you can better “live” the literature and hear the sounds and rhythms crafted by the author.

Click the image to enlarge and zoom for reading.

So what’s going on here? Lots of poetic technique! Let’s take a look:

  • RED = Figurative language and imagery. Every simile, metaphor, and image is true to the MC’s voice. We know she is a country girl, and this is held up by the use of such phrases as “a caboodle of houses roosting” and “like a filly trailing behind a mare.
  • FUCHSIA = Diction. The author’s choice of specific words and expressions also supports the setting and tone, and helps define the MC and other characters. On page 4, Gramps uses the phrase “a hill of beans,” a phrase that in regular writing would be avoided because it’s a cliché. But it’s perfect as dialogue for Gramps, because it’s authentic to what a real grandfather — or any of us, really — would say in everyday speech.
  • PURPLE = Repetition. Creech uses a lot of repetition and parallel structure (as in the list of reasons on page 5) to add emphasis and create a certain rhythm and musicality. This technique also gives us more insight into the character and what is important to her, and sets up the “style” of this character’s voice. From the first few pages, we know what to expect in terms of how this character expresses herself. Repetition also adds to the humor.

I am super excited to do this, as I love to teach. And we are going to give our feedback in video clips, which will be great (though a little scary for me, too). One of the things that makes it exceptionally complex to critique metered writing is that it takes forever to try to explain it and break it down in writing. Since we will be giving our feedback via video, students will hear us reading their work (invaluable) and commenting on it.

Collaborations are tricky, though, and while it always sounds like two teachers should mean half the work, that’s not the case.  Renée and I will need to communicate a lot with each other as well as each of us communicating with students. I think we’ll be an excellent team, but we are only committing to the fall session together at this point, and there will be limited spots available. If you’d like to be notified when registration opens, go to her website and sign up there. (You will only receive notifications about the course–you won’t be subscribed to anything else.) I’ll also make announcements in my Writer Can Be… newsletter, though they won’t be as timely as Renée’s notifications. (Subscribing to either of these just expresses interest–it does NOT obligate you to register for the course.)

Please share this post with any of your writer friends or groups you think might be interested. Thanks so much!

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How I Do Publisher Research and Submit My Children’s Book Manuscripts: Part 5: Make a Marketing List

MY SUB marketing list

Previous entries in the series:

Part 1: Overview
Part 2: My Tools
Part 3: Publishers Database
Part 4: Describe My Manuscript

Part 5: Make My Marketing List

Before I start sending out a manuscript, I always make a list of the possible markets that I have in mind.

I have done this in different formats over the years, including one document in the folder of the project that is simply a list; one document that lists the potential markets for ALL of my projects currently in submission; and, most recently, a database (of course) of all my projects in submission and their potential markets.

But that’s just the mechanics. More important is how you determine which publishers to PUT on the potential match list for your manuscript. Basically, I identify and describe my manuscript, and then I look for publishers (and specific editors) who publish that kind of book. It sounds simple, but it’s not.

Take heart, however. This is why you’ve been reading PW Children’s Bookshelf and building your publishers database. This is why you have perhaps subscribed to PublishersMarketplace.com and HornBookGuide.com. Perhaps you’ve attended state or national librarian or educator conferences and you’ve lugged home catalogs and pored over them. Maybe you religiously purchase Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market  and study the listings. This is all good stuff, letting you pick out the information one speck at a time that will ultimately lead to your having a decent understanding of who publishes what.

cowboys_Pschemp

Photo: Pschemp  They could be knitting, you know :>)

Let me show you an example from a manuscript currently making the rounds. I’ll change just a few details and call it COWBOYS CAN’T KNIT.

Here’s how I filled out my describing it database fields:

MC tone pace MC’s problem flavor kind of ending
artsy down-to-earth trots lonely western solves an out-of-this-world problem and gets the confidence to be just right in this world

Here’s how I’m describing the book, which is a 400-word picture book manuscript, in a few sentences:

“I’m getting in touch with a new picture book manuscript, COWBOYS CAN’T KNIT. Cowpoke Kevin loves to do the usual cowboy stuff. Riding. Roping. Roaming the open range. But he also likes to knit scarves, write songs, and sketch. He’s, well, awfully arty for a cowboy. The rest of the cowboys, especially Dirty Dan, are not too fond of Kevin’s hobbies. But on a cattle drive, when they all encounter a menacing (maybe) group of aliens, Kevin saves the day in a surprising way.”

After I know how I want to pitch it, I start choosing publishers whom I think might possibly be a good fit.

First, I think about my existing relationships with editors. This is sort of a gut reaction kind of thing and grows out of ongoing relationships. Of those editors, I put Peachtree’s Kathy Landwehr, Boyds Mills Press’ Rebecca Davis, Sterling’s (formerly) Meredith Mundy, and Roaring Brook’s Connie Hsu. Awesome! Four possibilities right off the bat.

I also read through my Publishers Database carefully, seeing what job changes or acquisitions I’ve noted that might make an editor a possibility. Maybe there’s an editor there who has given me positive feedback and invited more submissions who has just moved to a new publishing house. Even if COWBOYS DON’T KNIT isn’t the kind of thing she would have acquired at her previous publisher, I might submit to her if I think it could be a fit at her new publisher.

I go to HornBookGuide.com and do a search on picture books with a keyword of “individuality” and then read a bunch of reviews. Which books can I find that feel like kin, but not a twin, of my manuscript? Publishers won’t publish two books that are TOO similar, because they would compete with each other for sales.

Kelly diPucchio’s Gaston (love that book) feels like kin, so I put Atheneum on my list. Leila Rudge’s Gary leads me to put Candlewick on my list. And so on.

If I find a book TOO close to mine, then I don’t add that publisher to my list. In fact, I make a note on my list NOT to submit to that editor/publisher. Paula Wiseman, for instance, published the book I used as a structural mentor text for this manuscript. The storyline and topic was totally different, and maybe she would not have picked up on the similarities, but it feels too close to me. And Meredith Mundy later rejects this manuscript because it is too similar to Cowboy Camp (by Tammi Sauer, one of my favorite authors, though this was a title I hadn’t even read!). If I had realized that before, I wouldn’t have submitted the title to Sterling. Live and learn.

Then I consult PublishersMarketplace.com to find specific editors’ names. For instance, I see there that Antoinette (the companion book to Gaston) sold to Emma Ledbetter at Atheneum, so now I have a particular editor’s name to send to, plus at least one comp title to mention. (“I love Antoinette, which you acquired, and I think the same readers might enjoy this book.”)

At PublishersMarketplace.com, I also search for Picture Book Deals that are tagged with the keyword “individuality,” and I come up with a couple more possibilities. And I read through all Picture Book Deals announced in the past year and find one more name to add to my list—not tagged individuality, but with a humorous western setting.

Along the way, I might be visiting publisher websites to study their most recent catalogs, doing searches in Google to see what a particular editor has said in blog interviews or industry articles, or trying to find who edited particular books that I think are great kin to my manuscript. I’m also circling back and trying many other keywords besides individuality. One way to find other keywords is to start with a book I already think has the same feel to it as my book, even if the theme is different and the topic is different. Then I look up that book in HornBookGuide.com and see how it is tagged. That leads me to other possible keywords to search for.

Gaston doesn’t reveal any new tags for me…

gaston

…but Where Oliver Fits leads me to try Self-acceptance as a keyword.

Where Oliver Fits

So then I have a new search to do.

And so on.

This is not a short process. I spend hours creating my submissions list for a manuscript before I start sending it out. I try to come up with at least 10 markets, each with a specific editor’s name, and each with at least one comp title to mention. I’m not saying I’m always successful at all of that, but that’s the goal.

Good luck! We’re almost to the end of the series. Next week, I’ll talk briefly about how I decide how and in which order to submit!

 

 

 

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