Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Richmond Young Writers need your help!

Friends! Share this with everyone you know and make MAGIC HAPPEN over the next three days!
Richmond Young Writers is thrilled to be competing in the i.e. Start-Up Competition; getting voted into the finals will give them a shot at the whopping $10,000 prize and the securing of a new permanent home for their creative writing programs, special events and other sparkly wonderment. But they need YOU to get us there!


The three-day voting period is from 9am May 30th through 11pm June 1st. You can vote once every 24 hours, so vote THREE TIMES (please and thank you!)

Be sure to check out the sweet promo video here on YouTube - it's set to a beautiful soundtrack by Charlottesville musician Wes Swing.

If you've got a mailing list, work group or list of personal contacts with whom you'd be willing to share this, Richmond Young Writers would be eternally grateful. Forward away! UPDATE: Your support was overwhelming and SO exciting yesterday!  Unfortunately, the volume of voter traffic overwhelmed i.e.'s server, and some contestants weren't able to get votes until the afternoon, so it's been suspended for now. Here's what i.e. sent out: "But rest assured, we are working to correct the issue, suspend voting and re-launch the online voting period. In this way, we’ll level the playing field and give everyone a chance. It’s not ideal, but I think we can all agree that it’s the fairest, most community-minded solution. So, for now, consider the online voting suspended.  We are solving the technical issues and will be up and running again soon!  We will give contestants and the public at large plenty of notice before we relaunch the online voting (in the next few days!) so that everyone will know when to visit our website again to vote for his or her favorite contestant!  And, we’ll be ready to accommodate the amazingly HUGE community response!!" We'll let you know when it's back up.

Monday, May 21, 2012

On Giants in Children's Literature...

We pause to remember Maurice Sendak who passed away on May 8, whose art and stories entertained everyone without soft-pedaling life’s difficulties. His stories hummed with a dark undertone, lit with grotesque figures that dance and frolic across the pages. His ironic message, perfectly understood by children of all ages, echoed throughout: the world is often a sad and lonely place, so let’s kick up our heels and grab all the joy we can. In keeping with celebrating the world of children’s books, I was lucky enough to hear Anita Silvey speak this past Saturday (May 19) at the Richmond Public Library downtown. She was in town to talk about her newest book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book: Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life (ISBN: 978-1-59643-395-3). This is also the theme for the current celebration of children’s literature at the library. Ms. Silvey told us about her interviews with more than 100 leaders in the arts, sciences, business and politics who told her about their favorite children’s book and what that book meant in their lives. Each essay includes an excerpt and illustrations from the selected book and a commentary by Ms. Silvey. As I look forward to a summer of reading and writing, I will be sure to include selections from this book to inspire and enlighten me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

How To Get Published Without An Agent

Writer's Digest has an article entitled, "How to Sell Your Manuscript Without an Agent." In the article author Diane Kelly gives her real life strategies for landing a book deal without going through an agent. She outlines four main tactics:
1 Enter writing contests
2 Attend conferences
3 Volunteer at conferences
4 Build your platform.
I recommend reading the whole article for the details on each. However, the common theme for publishing success (with or without an agent) always comes back to building relationships. So in a nutshell: find ways to meet or make contact with editors, treat them respectfully and professionally, find out what they WANT to publsih, give them what they want. And if they give a rejection to your manuscript, thank them for their time and input and start over at step two. And remember, like Lana said in the previous post, "there are no failures, only rehearsals."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Joy of Making Mistakes

A couple of weeks ago, my agent, Molly Jaffa, and I were asked to present a panel at an SCBWI meeting. We were to discuss the porcess of finding an agent and developing the agent/client relationship. Molly and I sat down at breakfast and revisited the events that brought us together. As we started talking about the process (which, by the way, was a straight-up cold query letter), I saw a lot of things that I did wrong, things that I would not suggest to anyone who is going through the query process. In spite of myself, the result was positive.

The moral of the story is that making mistakes is part of the process. Don't let fear of making mistakes stop you from doing what you need to do. If there is any guarantee in life, it this: You will make mistakes. So expect to mess up royally from time to time and be ready to learn from it, or fix it, or try again, or whatever it takes to turn that mistake into a stepping stone.

Take sky-diving and brain surgery-- those things have to be done perfectly the first time. But writing is not one of those things. One of the characters in my book, FREAKLING, says this: "There are no mistakes, only rehearsals." I truly believe that.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Illuminations from the Illustrator

Illustrator Portfolio Redux
As Brian wrote in his post on Thursday, May 3, the SCBWI conference on April 28 was a great success! Thank you to all who came and participated. Thank you especially to those of you who handed in questions to the panelists. You raised some important points and helped generate lots of useful information. One question addressed to me was how to prepare an illustration portfolio for submission to an art director. This type of portfolio is different from the portfolio an artist might submit to a gallery or an illustrator might submit to an ad agency. I addressed this issue in my post on April 2, 2012, but a return visit is worthwhile. Basically, a picture book illustrator wants to demonstrate his/her ability to tell a story in pictures. Some points to remember are: make sure your characters have a consistent appearance from page 1 to the end of the book. Compose your illustrations from different points of view, from close up, at a distance, overhead, etc. It’s boring to always view the action from the same spot. Add in a visual subplot, if appropriate, that is only present in the illustrations. One way to demonstrate your ability to tell a story in words is to borrow a well-known story, like a fairy tale, and illustrate it from beginning to end. This is good practice even if you don’t send it out. Remember, you want to check the publisher/art director’s web site for specific instructions on what to send. Again, Jennifer Laughran presents an excellent summary of what is recommended in her November 6, 2010 post.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Spring Cleaning for a Writer

by Stephanie McPherson

     Scanning my bookshelves is an adventure. Most of my shelves are two books deep and interspersed with magazines, files, and plastic boxes full of Google articles on everything from Sicilian Easter customs to the Hubble Telescope. Like undergrowth in the jungle, my shelves have a way of spreading out slowly, but inexorably. Give me a foot or two of wall space, and I’ll find a way to squeeze books in.

     That can make it a real challenge when I’m looking for a particular item. Yesterday persistence finally paid off. I found the treasure I sought – a gem of a book coauthored by three people, two of them dear friends of mine: File…Don’t Pile! For People Who Write: Handling the Paper Flow in the Workspace or Home Office by Pat Dorff, Edith Fine, and Judith Josephson. Every few years, I try to reread that book. It was my cat Pablo who convinced me I was overdue. He jumped onto one of the taller piles on my desk, felt the pages slip under him, and slid to the floor in a landslide of papers.

     Edith, Judith, and Pat know the scenario. “Do you have an uncanny ability to misplace papers without leaving your desk chair?” they write in the first chapter. “Do you jam file folders until they bulge, clip piles of articles and save every draft? Is your side of the mountain poised for a paper avalanche?” Yes, yes, and yes.

     Armed with File … Don’t Pile, I began dividing my towering piles into sub-piles. I went through my cabinets and pulled out boxes, brimming with paper, from the closet. Needless to say, it was an all-day project. My sub-piles began to multiply like toadstools sprouting after a spring rain.  They took over my kitchen table and countertops, proving that old adage, “Things have to get worse before they get better.

     But they did get better. After a day of filing, I’m sitting at a clean desk. My countertops and kitchen table have become a paper-free zone. Well, at least temporarily I find that clearing out physical clutter helps clear out mental clutter too.  I feel energized, and my ideas flow more easily. My back doesn’t hurt from leaning against a lumpy folder on my chair. I feel so good that I think I’ll make spring housecleaning my papers an annual affair.  (Maybe -- gulp! -- I’ll even do it with my books too). Thanks, Edith, Judith, and Pat for reminding me to file – NOT pile.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Of Conferences and Swamp Castles

I had the great privelege of speaking at the SCBWI Mid Atlantic new members welcome conference last weekend with my talented cobloggers Lana and Hazel. The topic was "Paths to Publication." After a warm and wonderful introduction from felloow Virginia author, Kim Normna, I gave a brief summary of my personal path to my first children's publishing contract. I'd like to share it with you here in the hope that it can encourage you to pursue your dream even when you seem overcome by obstacles:

They asked me to say a few words about my path to publication. I think I can best explain my path with a little help from Monty Python. There’s a scene in The Holy Grail movie where the lord of the swamp castle is talking with his son.

He says:
           All the other kings said I was daft to build a castle in a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp as well. So I built a third one. That one burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up!    

And that’s sort of how my path to publication unfolded. My first “castle in the swamp” came in the form of a regional children’s magazine called, Kid’s World. I discovered their debut issue and noticed they didn’t have any fiction stories. I contacted the editor and asked if she’d like some fiction, and asked if I could be the one to provide that fiction. To my great surprise, she said “yes” and my first castle was under construction. I worked with Kid’s World for a year. During that time, I got to perform readings in schools, I gained experience working with a deadline and writing in general, and I experienced the joy of seeing my writing in print. Things were going well and I was pretty excited about my writing future, when the editor contacted me and told me that she and the publisher were no longer seeing eye to eye and they had decided to dissolve the magazine.

And so my first castle sank back down into the swamp.

So I began building my second “castle in the swamp” which came in the form of self publication. I was lucky enough to have a good friend who was a graphic designer. And after a few drinks I convinced him that publishing a children’s book together would be a good idea. We worked on the layout and design for a couple of months. I researched prices for book printing. I learned about ISBNs and bar codes and distribution. Finally, nine months later, DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD! was officially released! I performed readings at area schools and book stores. I received glowing reviews from several online review sites. Somehow I managed to get a brief TV interview with one of the local news stations. My book even managed to crack the Barnes & Noble top 100 children’s books (for about a half an hour) – I printed it out to make sure. Things were going so well that a distributor specializing in children’s books contacted me and offered to handle marketing and distribution for DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD! as well as my next book, PIGGIES. My second castle was well under way!...

Right until the month before my second book was scheduled for release. I received an email from the distributor saying they were filing for bankruptcy and they would be unable to perform the support and marketing and distribution they had promised.

And so my second castle sank into the swamp.

After a brief period of pouting, I went back to writing and submitting. I was starting to get really nice, personalized rejections. If there was such a thing as a good rejection, I was getting it. So I decided the only thing I lacked to get over the next hurdle was an agent. And so construction began on swamp castle number three.

I received an email from an agent at the Ronnie Herman agency saying she liked my query submission and wanted to represent me! Woohoo! Quickest castle ever, right? Not quite. The agent asked me to make a few revisions which I gladly did. Then she emailed to say the market was soft for the theme I’d chosen for my original manuscript. Thinking quickly, I emailed back to ask what she was looking for. She said she needed math themed stories. So I sent her one. She said it had potential, but she felt she wanted to devote more time to her other clients and could no longer represent me. So, I had an agent for all of a week and a half. But no pouting this time - I sent out a few more queries right away and received an email from an agent at Muse Literary. She said she liked my writing and kids would (and I quote) “love the whimsy of my story.” She included a list of about ten suggestions for editing the story and invited me to resubmit my revisions. I incorporated about half of her suggestions and made my defense for keeping the rest of the story the same. A week later I received a very terse follow up email informing me that (and I quote) “children would not be interested in my story.”

And I watched as my castle burned, fell over, and sank in the swamp.

Just as I was feeling completely defeated and was seriously considering giving up writing, something truly amazing happened! A fourth castle began to rise from the swamp! One of the “nice rejection” editors at Tiger Tales contacted me and told me she wanted to publish my latest submission, WITH ALL MY HEART. A few months later I received another offer of publication from an editor at a Sylvan Dell for a math title, called THE DEDUCTIVE DETECTIVE. The same math title I had originally written for my first agent.

So as I consider my “path to publication” and my quest for that grail castle, I have to stop and give thanks for the little successes and especially the many failures along the way. Because each sunken “swamp castle” helped lay the groundwork for my next success.

So if there’s any kind of moral to this rambling story of mine, it’s this:

If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results - then success is insanity squared!

So keep building your castles in the swamp and keep writing!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Guest Post by Kasey Tross

Let me introduce you to Kasey Tross, another children's writer from Richmond. Kasey wrote this post for National Poetry Month, which is April, but I'm a little late posting it. Luckily, it's perfect for May, the month we honor mothers. Here's Kasey . . .

KT: Thanks to Lana for giving me the opportunity to post here at Richmond Children's Writers! I am just about as new as new can be in the writing world, but after having 3 kids (soon to be 4) and always having a love for reading and writing, I am beginning to find my place. 

My current WIP is a book of children's poetry geared toward children in the Latter-day Saint (aka, "Mormon") community. As many have recently learned thanks to the national political campaign, we live a lifestyle that can be seen as being quite different from those outside of our faith and I wanted an opportunity to capture that from the eyes of a child. The poetry collection contains both religious and secular poetry, all of which have a lighthearted- and often humorous- tone. 

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I have selected two poems from the collection to share with you:

When Jesus was a Kid

When Jesus was a kid,
I’ll bet that He was smart.
I’ll bet that He was really good
At music and at art.
I’ll bet that He got picked
To be on every team.
I am sure that He played fair
And never would be mean.
I’ll bet He did His homework
First thing every night.
Certainly He checked it twice
To make sure it was right.
I’m sure He helped his mom
With cleaning and with chores.
I’m sure He always wiped his feet
When coming through the door.
His friends would surely smile
Whenever he came ‘round.
I bet that He would help you up
If He saw you fall down.
I’m really far from perfect,
But I’ll do as He did
So I can be like Jesus was
When Jesus was kid. 

Mommy’s Little Helper

I like to help my Mommy with the cleaning and the chores.
I use our nicest towels to clean messes on the floors.
When I find Mommy’s keys I go to put them right away.
I know that she won’t lose them in my special hiding place.
Some sticky candy on the floor will make my Mom a grouch;
I always help by stuffing it real far down in the couch.
My Mommy says that junk is all that she gets in the mail,
So any envelopes I find go in the garbage pail.
I do my work in secret so that nobody can see.
I wonder what my mom would say if she knew it was me?

 Happy National Poetry Month, everyone! 

 To read more of my writerly ramblings, please check out my blog, The Beautiful Thrifty Life (, The Silly Mom ( and Mormon Mommy Writers (