A Change of Scenery: Hiking for Writers

Trail Signs in Ravensdale RetreaThis winter has been wonderfully warm and spring-like in my neck of the woods, so I’ve been going on some fun walks. Thanks to a post by harrybipedhiking, a local blogger, I recently discovered Ravensdale Retreat.

This place is an amazing contradiction–A beautiful forest with a little stream that runs through it, packed between a busy road and railroad tracks. When you enter, you expect it to be a very short jaunt, but the trail keeps going and going. Then, at the lovely sign pictured above, splits into two trails which eventually lead to a grassy road to a gravel road to some less-traveled trails beyond.

The sun comes through the moss covered treesThe slanted light coming through the moss-covered trees made me think that trolls, gnomes and fairies had to be hiding everywhere. A frog taunted us, never to be seen. We decided he was a dimension-hopping frog because whenever we thought we were getting close to him, his croak came from a completely different direction. Often along the walk, the traffic noises  disappeared and it was easy to forget we were surrounded by civilization.

This forest definitely made me think of fairy tales and magical creatures. Inspiring for any writer. I will not be surprised if the scenes I captured in the many photographs I took end up in my stories even though I don’t write fantasy. A fern lined path

It’s easy to see how hiking can help a writer describe beautiful scenes, but how else is hiking helpful for writers?

Any form of exercise is great, for getting the blood pumping and oxygenating the brain cells, but I also found some fun articles specific to walking and hiking. Enjoy!

Why Walking Helps Us Think – The New Yorker

Hiking Makes You Smarter – Backpacker Magazine

writers-take-a-hike-if-you-know-whats-good-for-you – blog post

A circle of mushrooms on the end of a felled tree

A mini fairy ring of pink mushrooms

Booklist: Finding Books To Get Excited About

Books through a fish eye lensDuring my last visit to the library–on my mad hunt for middle grade fiction represented by agents I want to query–I happened upon Booklist, a magazine full of book reviews from the American Library Association. I browsed the magazine and noticed it also had a web component booklistonline.com.  

Though that site wants you to sign up, or subscribe to the magazine, it also links to a blog  The Booklist Reader which has lots of great book reviews, promo videos, articles and booklists. Just browsing the site to tell you about it, I found a book I can’t wait to read. I already put a hold on it at my local library (the book is on order).

The book is:

The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, by Sharma Shields

The sasquatch hunter's almanac book cover

I was first drawn to the book because I’ve started a middle grade fiction story about a Sasquatch hunter. Then, in the description it said that the Sasquatch is named Mr. Krantz–presumably after Dr. Krantz who I met while studying at W.S.U. It turned out that the author is from Spokane, WA. I was not at all surprised to see, when I finished the review, that I had been drawn to a review by a librarian at the Seattle Public Library.

This is not a children’s book, and most likely not related to my story in the least, but I’m very excited to read it.

How do you find books for your reading list?

Ever hunted a Sasquatch?

Sources For Guided Revision

A grassy path through the woods  Since my first read-through of my novel–in which I could barely read it for all the horrible typos and grammar issues and ended up hating my manuscript–I have been actively avoiding my novel. However, having given myself a strict deadline which is rapidly approaching, it’s time to get to work. As I am still in the early stages of this project, I thought I would look for some guidance to plot my course and hopefully find a call to action.

Searching the tag “revision” in WordPress led me to :

Nicole Dacanay’s blog Team Wanderlust – which recommended Brandon Sanderson’s videos and Susan Dennard’s in-depth information on Revising Your Novel complete with worksheets

and

The Write Shelf  blog – which recommended Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

While picking up Mr. Bell”s book from the library, I also checked out How I Write by Janet Evanovich with Ina Yalof

Having armed myself with all sorts of new tools, where will I start (after I fix all my typos and address my previous notes)?

Both Susan Dennard and James Scott Bell recommend printing out your manuscript and putting it in a binder. For my first read-through I thought it would help to print it to look like a book, so I printed horizontally with two pages to a sheet, double sided. This time, I’ll still go double sided but with larger print, double-spaced, vertically and put it in a binder. I’ll also print out Susan’s Worksheets to help keep my notes organized.

I think I will start my process by following Susan Dennard’s system supplemented by Mr. Bell’s “The Ultimate Revision Checklist” while keeping a copy of Ms. Evanovich’s “A Rewriting Checklist” close-by.

The most important message from my research today is : Stop sweating the small stuff and start with the big picture. It is more important for me to look at the plot, characters, and scenes in my story, so I need to stop staring at each sentence–that comes later.

Be Prepared: Inspiration Can Surprise You!

A flooded play areaYesterday, I had my whole day planned–the whole week actually–but while wandering the blogs of wordpress, I happened upon Catherine Austen’s Blog – Deadline? What Deadline? She had a post about writing contests for kids that ended with some no entry fee writing contests for adults. As usual, I find a contest I’d like to enter just before (or directly after) the deadline, but one got me excited: Highlights Magazine’s Fiction Contest.

I’ve tried entering some of my short stories for adults in contests and submitted to a few magazines, but I hadn’t  thought of writing short stories for kids. I was focused on completing chapter books and writing query letters. I loved Highlights Magazine when I was little, especially searching for the hidden objects throughout the magazine. So, I got really excited.

The theme this year is mysteries. This was a little challenging. How to write a mystery for kids in 500-750 words. I researched past winners and mysteries for kids from the library, but finally found inspiration from a mini-mystery with a funny solution from my past.

Once I came up with my story idea, I took a nice, long walk. On my walk I came up with my characters names, traits and quirks. I thought about how to build up the mystery before revealing the solution and when I got home, I wrote three quick pages of notes.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell this story in 500-750 words, or if I will submit it to the Highlights contest, but I’m excited about my new characters and the little mystery could be part of a larger story. You just never know where inspiration will come from.

I happened up two other blogs that might inspire ideas:

https://first50.wordpress.com/

https://writingcontests.wordpress.com/

Have you found inspiration in any surprising places lately?

Finding the Nearsighted Narwhal

A pod of narwhalsIt’s easy as a self published author to focus all of your promotion and marketing on the web. However, I recently experienced the joy of seeing my books on the shelves of a local bookstore and it feels great!

It all started with a facebook invitation to a Saturday night showing of local films. It looked like fun, so I looked up the location. It turned out that the films were being shown at a small bookstore called the Nearsighted Narwhal.

The store not only had a wonderful name, but the website said it took self published books on commission. It sounded like a great opportunity to get my children’s books into the hands of readers, so I took a look at their commissions contract.

logo for the Nearsighted Narwhal bookstore

2610A 6th Ave., Tacoma, WA 98406 253.301.4098 Sunday 10 – 6, Monday Closed, Tuesday 10-10 Wednesday-Saturday 10 – 7

As an artist and crafter, I have put items in stores on commission before–usually the store takes at least 60% of the sale price leaving the artist with 40% or less. The Nearsighted Narwhal only takes 30% of the sale price. So, I printed off the contract, signed a couple of my books and eagerly awaited the event.

I arrived a half hour early to conduct business before the show. I had expected the entire store to be crowded with books, with the amount of people self publishing these days, but there were three double sided free-standing racks at the front of the store, nicely organized with great visibility. There were some crafts in the middle of the store and the back of the store was filled with self published ‘zines.

I walked to the desk and introduced myself to the proprietors who put price tags on my books and walked them straight to the children’s book section at the very front of the store. It was wonderful.

The local films that were shown were entertaining and of high quality. I’m so glad I decided to look into this local event and that I found this great supporter of local authors.

Have you looked into places that might carry your books on commission? I’m thinking of looking into children’s clothing stores that take clothing on commission. They may also be interested in books.

Reading as a Writer: Today I learned something I do NOT want to know!

Writing in a nice outdoor setting.Recently, while reading a manuscript, I came across some dialogue that looked to be punctuated incorrectly, so I made a note about it that I intended to give to the author. This morning, I got online to find reputable sources that would back my claim. To my surprise, honestly horror, I found seven different sources that said: the rule for quotation marks in dialogue, if one person is speaking continuously over multiple paragraphs, is to start the speech with quotation marks and continue to put quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, until finally putting closing quotation marks at the conclusion of the speech. Only one source agreed with me, that if a single person is speaking, no matter how long their speech, the writer puts quotation marks at the beginning and closing quotation marks at the end.

I looked over the pages of dialogue in the manuscript again, since the overwhelming majority of style informants told me I was wrong, and I still couldn’t stomach it. Each time I saw the quotation marks at the beginning of a paragraph, it triggered new speaker in my reader’s brain. I tried to recall any memory of seeing this form of monologue before. I started tearing through the books on my shelves looking for just one other example, but didn’t find one. It looked like the characters in the books on my shelves didn’t give speeches–especially not the kind that would have separate paragraphs.

I wondered if this was an evolution of style, something new that I missed, but that wasn’t the answer: I’ve been reading a lot of current fiction lately. Those extra quotation marks just looked so wrong.

Another thing that bothered me about “the rule” was the reasoning. In all of the informative posts I read on the subject, the reason for the extra quotation marks was so the “lazy reader” wouldn’t forget that someone was talking. Honestly?  I’m supposed to put weird, out of place quotation marks within one character’s monologue–as a rule– because someone thought my readers would forget someone was talking? I’m going to go with rules, once learned, are meant to be broken.

I can’t imagine what it would take for me to put those distracting, confusing marks in my dialogue, but I now know better than to tell someone else that it’s wrong. At the moment I don’t see any of my characters giving long-winded speeches, but if they do, I’ll make sure they won’t speak in paragraphs. I do not foresee my readers ever being described as “lazy”.

Have any of you come across writing “rules” that you can’t abide? I’d love to hear about it.

How To Make Each Query Letter Personal

tulips on tableYou’ve written a hook to draw in the reader. You’ve summarized your story in a paragraph or two. You’ve ended the letter with a bio that makes it clear you are the only person to write your book. You received great feedback from online forums. Your critique group loves it. So it’s time to send your query letter off to all of the agents you selected, right?

Not quite yet.

First, make sure you know the agent’s name and spell it correctly. From everything I’ve read this is every agent’s pet peeve.

Second, you need to find a way to let each agent know why you would like them to represent you.

As you look through your list of agents you are going to query, think about why you chose them and make some notes (For tips on how to choose agents for your short list type Agent Query in the search bar above for previous posts on the subject). You may have chosen some of the agents on your list over another agent in the same agency. What was the deciding factor?

One important way to learn about agents is to read the books they represent. While researching in this way, you may discover that an agent represents an author you admire. If so, this is a great way to personalize your query letter. If you get really lucky, you may find a book the agent represents that is similar to yours in some way. A one to two sentence compare and contrast is the perfect way to show you’ve done your homework.

Another thing to add to your query is how your book fits with what the agent is looking for. Look at the agent’s blog, look for interviews, look for videos from conferences on youtube.com, look at their page on agentquery.com and publishersmarketplace.com to find the kinds of books they want. Mention their specific requests that pertain to your book and then offer your book for consideration.

Finding the right agent is all about patience. You not only want to sell your book and get it into the hands of readers, but you want to create a long-term business relationship with someone who will champion your work. Once you’ve put in the time to decide on the agents you want to query, let them know why you think they are right for you and your book.

Like the rest of us, an agent doesn’t want a bunch of form letters in the mail (email). Let her know that you’ve chosen her based on her merit and your belief that she will find the right home for your book based on her past sales, and you are much more likely to get a response.

Revision: A New Year, A NewLook

DSC06595I finally decided on a new theme. I went with Splendio. I’m still tweaking things, but I hope you find this easier to read and enjoy the new look.

Anyone else out there using Splendio have any tips or tricks to make this site look even better?

What do you think? Do you like the new look, or should I keep hunting the elusive perfect theme for this blog?

I look forward to your comments.

Querying and the Journey to Representation

Squirrel choosing a nut

I’m just a squirrel trying to get a nut, but which nut is the right nut for me?

As I mentioned yesterday, I have thrown myself into querying my chapter book MY MONSTER IS BETTER THAN YOUR MONSTER.

I’m very grateful for the many online tools I have at my disposal for researching agents and tightening up my query letter. I thought  I would share the sites that have helped me so far.

Agent Query – Here you can research agents by genre. You can hone your search to only find agents who are accepting queries, accept email, and/or are members of AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc.)

Agent Query Connect– The forum community of Agent Query. This is a great place to interact with other authors and get feedback on all aspects of your query.

AAR online – The website for the Association of Authors’ Representatives. Like Agent Query, AAR is searchable by genre. All of the agents listed here are members of AAR and are expected to adhere to their code of ethics.

SCBWI‘s The Book – Members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators have access to The Book which has a section of Agents by Agency. I like the way the information is listed.

Janet Reid. Literary Agent – This blog has a lot of great information about writing Query Letters

Jane Friedman – An in-depth article on query letter writing

I hope you find these tools as helpful as I have.

Best of luck in your search for an agent.

Marketing: Societies, Associations, Meetups and Clubs

A tiny shiny hummingbird on a branch

Like this tiny hummingbird, our books need to shine to be seen.

I apologize for neglecting you last week, dear readers. I received the fully copy-edited version of my chapter book and dove into choosing agents to query and revising my query letter. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, querying is a nerve-wracking full time job. Today, I posted my second revision, after many helpful critiques, on Agent Query Connect and hope I am getting closer. But that is for tomorrow’s topic.

In the past I’ve looked at writing societies and associations and didn’t see past the expense to the value. Now that I have two self-published books to promote and another that I’m trying to get agented, I joined both the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’m also really enjoying a biweekly writer’s social meet-up and many online clubs.

So, what are the benefits?

SCBWI: SCBWI is an international society with local chapters. Once a member, you have access to current information in every aspect of children’s book writing, illustrating and publishing. That alone is worth the membership price.They also offer many tools to promote your work and connect with other professionals. They have conferences and an online members’ bookstore.

PNWA: They have a member library to show off members’ work. As a member, you get a discount to their convention (which I’m thinking I might attend this summer). You can attend meetings from home on a conference call when you don’t have the time to drive out to a meeting.

Meetups and Clubs: These are great places to make personal relationships with other authors. I’m hoping the aforementioned are too, but I personally have found meetups and clubs to be a good place to ask questions and get feedback. You can also see what topics are important to other authors and learn from their experiences.

An important part of marketing is getting your book into people’s hands to create word of mouth. Meeting people through local associations, societies, meetups and clubs can help you get the word out.