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Archive for April 2010

Lisa Graff, former Associate Editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, spoke to the SCBWI members about the importance of distingushing their project from the hundreds of other project that land on an editor’s desk. She covered the need for a fabulous cover/query letter that would catch an editor’s eye.

For those who are not sure what the difference is between a query and a cover letter Lisa provided a simple explanation. She said for the most part they are the same letter. The difference is that the cover letter is sent with a submission.  Query letter do not include a submission for the editor to consider for publication.

Prior to selecting the publishing house to query or submit a cover letter and submission to, it is important to do your research. Finding the right publishing house will increase your chance of getting an acceptance. Go to the library or a bookstore to see what books are selling. Check out the publisher’s catalogs. Get a copy of the Writer’s Market Guide or other similar books to see what publisher is accepting submissions. Once you’ve determined what publisher you think fits your work best, be sure to follow their specific guidelines.

Now you are ready to write your letter.

That is when Lisa answered the question that is often on the mind of a new writer,  What should I include in my cover letter?

First, she said, you should make your cover letter your professional introduction to an editor. Be concise but brief, not more than a page of text. Editors are busy people, just like us.

In your letter, you should describe yourself and your project.  Your letter should detail your publishing history as well as demonstrate that you are a rational sane person who they would love to  do business with.

Then, you should wrap up your letter with a gracious thank-you.


Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency, was one of the speakers at the Iowa SCBWI conference this past week. She revealed the type of books that she is currently looking for: a lyrical voice, tight characters and complexed character in character-driven/plot-driven books in the genres of Middle-Grade and YA, though she does picture books occasionally.

Eight Ways to Make your Manuscript Stand Out is what her presentation focused on.

1.          Find your voice as a writer.  A new writer might ask What is voice and How do you find it?   Ammi-Joan expressed it best by explaining it is the writer’s own unique way of expressing themselves.  This happens when a writer puts themselves inside their character head.  Ways that you can develop your voice can include: determining whether or not your character will be in the first or third person or writing a diary from your first character’s point of view. You can brainstorm and write down what you come up with for your mc.

2.          Be unique like everyone else. It might sound strange but finding out what you are all about just might make your story stand out.  Knowing yourself will give you a unique angle to your work. A mother who is raising a child with Aspergers knows what it is like to deal with those challenges. A writer who is a single dad raising a daughter knows how hectic that can be to navigate the different ages. They bring their own experiences to their writing.

3.          Start with a bang. Your title should be something that catches an editor’s eye. It is the first thing that they will read from your submission. It should evoke a promise of what is to come in the book.  

             Then, it should be followed by a great first line. For a pb book, it gets your reader to the gist of what the story is all about. Given the limited word count, getting to the gist is crucial.

            A great first paragraph sets up the conflict. It tells the reader what the main character desires. It lets the reader know about the setting of the story.

          In a novel’s first chapter, the writer should foreshadows events that will come the novel in chapters that follow. It should make the editor as well as the reader want to continue reading.

4.          Do you want your manuscript to be the best it can be before you send it out for an editor to consider? Ammi-Joan Paquette  suggests getting involved with a critique group that you trust. The second or third set of eyes can see things the writer might miss.

5.          Accept the value of revision. Writing is a process. Revision time is  a time to explore the various options or techniques that you will  use to construct your character, plot, conflicts: things like first person vs. third person. Consider giving your reader a visual break by using a variety of sentence lengths. Mix in some dialogue, or provide some white space.

6.          Consider the “tone” of your submissions. Evaluate the readability of your manuscript. Is your main character real? Do they talk like real people talk? Can you see the characters as real people?

7.         Raise the stakes. Think about the worst thing that could possibly happen to your character. Make it exciting. Make sure that you fulfill the promise that the beginning of your story gave to your reader.

8.         Let it seep. Once you are done revising, you should leave your manuscript alone for a few days, a week or even a month. Give it time. It allows you to come back and look at your work with fresh eyes.

8b.      Ammi-Joan added a post-script.  She said to give your submission a sense of depth. Have it entertain the reader, yet bring something else to the table.

After the Conference, Groups Gathered for Photos.

Med Bickel and Dorthoria Rohner are two of  the friends that joined others for a picture to remember the conference.

An Aspiring Author Nina Johnson

The conference is a chance to see old friends I met at prior conferences. I met Nina Johnson at the Fall Iowa SCBWI conference in Des Moines last October.  It was great to see her again.

Be sure to check out  She has such great advice.


Dialogue usually is a major part of your story, so making sure your dialogue works is very important.  Here are some things to consider when going through that first draft.

  1. 1.  Are you punctuating dialogue correctly, so that you neither confuse nor distract your readers?
  2. 2.  Are your characters speaking naturally, as they would in reality, but more coherently?
  3. 3.  Does every speech advance the story, revealing something new about the plot or the characters? If not, what is its justification?
  4. 4.  Are your characters so distinct in their speech–in diction, rhythm, and mannerism–that you rarely need to add “he said” or “she said”?

Dialogue has to sound like speech.  Most people don’t speak precisely or concisely enough to serve the writer’s needs. Good dialogue has several functions:

  • To convey exposition: to tell us, through the conversations of the characters, what we need to know to make sense of the story.
  • To convey character: to show us what kinds of people we’re dealing with.
  • To convey a sense of place and time: to evoke the speech patterns, vocabulary and rhythms of specific kinds of people.
  • To develop conflict: to show how some people use language to dominate others, or fail to do so.

Dialogue can convey character, but check to make sure you haven’t gotten bogged down in chatter that doesn’t advance the story.

Dialogue that conveys a specific place and time can become exaggerated and stereotyped.  Be careful.

Dialogue that develops conflict has to do so while also conveying exposition, portraying character, and staying true to the time and place.

Some Dialogue Hazards to Avoid:

  • Too much faithfulness to speech: “Um, uh, y’know, geez, well, like, well.”
  • Unusual spellings: “Yeah,” not “Yeh” or “Yea” or “Ya.”
  • Too much use of “he said,” “she said.”
  • Too much variation: “he averred,” “she riposted”
  • Dialect exaggeration: “Lawsy, Miz Scahlut, us’s wuhkin’ jes’ as fas’ as us kin.”
  • Excessive direct address: “Tell me, Marshall, your opinion of Vanessa.” “I hate her, Roger.” “Why is that, Marshall?” “She bullies everyone, Roger.”

Some Dialogue Conventions to Consider:

Each new speaker requires a new paragraph, properly indented and set off by quotation marks.

“Use double quotations,” the novelist ordered, “and remember to place commas and periods inside those quotation marks.”

“If a speaker goes on for more than one paragraph,” the count responded in his heavy Transylvanian accent, “do not close off the quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph.

“Simply place quotation marks at the beginning of the next paragraph, and carry on to the end of the quotation.”

Use “he said” expressions only when you must, to avoid confusion about who’s speaking.  Try to avoid signaling increasing tension by moving from “he said” to “he snapped,” to “he snarled,” to “he bellowed furiously.”  The dialogue itself should convey that changing mood, and make such comments needless.

Action as well as speech is a part of dialogue. We expect to know when the speakers pause, where they’re looking, what they’re doing with their hands, how they respond to one another. The characters’ speech becomes just one aspect of their interactions; sometimes their words are all we need, but sometimes we definitely need more. This is especially true when you’re trying to convey a conflict between what your characters say and what they feel: their nonverbal messages are going to be far more reliable than their spoken words.

Speak your dialogue out loud; if it doesn’t sound natural, or contains unexpected rhymes and rhythms, revise it.

Rely on rhythm and vocabulary, not phonetic spelling, to convey accent or dialect.

If you are giving us your characters’ exact unspoken thoughts, use italics. If you are paraphrasing those thoughts, use regular Roman type):

Now what does she want? he asked himself. Isn’t she ever satisfied? Marshall wondered what she wanted now. She was never satisfied.

If you plan to give us a long passage of inner monologue, however, consider the discomfort of having to read line after line of italic print. If you wish to emphasize a word in a line of italics, use Roman: Isn’t she ever satisfied?

Hope you find this helful.  Remember to share any tips you use to make your dialogue work.


I recently was asked to talk about being a member of multiple critique groups and here are some of my thoughts.

1.     Multiple critique groups with different schedules allows me to work on multiple projects at one time.

2.     They help me spot my own mistake because I recognize those mistakes in the writings of others. I have learned to trust their opinions.

3.     Having more people with fresh eyes I get feedback on the good, the bad, and the ugly. The input makes me a better writer. They keep my characters real.

4.   As a moderator of two groups, I have learned when to step up and say something and when to keep my mouth shut and  let the group work out a problem. I’ve watched others do this and modeled their behavior.

5.     Groups members help me pinpoint specific problems. If more than one person has issues with a section of my submission, then I know I need to take a look the section.

6.     Being in a critique group gets me ready to avoid potential rejections. It help me learn to accept constructive criticism and teaches me the value of the whole revision process.

7.     Group members come from various parts of the USA and have different personalities, so they each bring something new to the table. I get the benefit of their experiences.   

8.    Group members provide encouragement. They push me to set goals. They recommend books and courses I can take. They keep me updated on what is happening in the writing market. They know what it takes to be a writer and provide emotional support.

9.    Being in a critique group makes me more disciplined. I have deadlines to meet.

I’ve been participating in the new Twitter chat, #pblitchat on Monday night.

12 noon for all Eastern states
10am for Western Australia

10pm for EDT (New York)  7pm for PDT (LA)

When asked what agents are looking for in submissions to them from potential clients, Mary Kole, Associate Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, explained that she prefers character/plot driven stories. To find out more about Mary go to:


I am an aspiring picturebook writer with some magazine credits just no picture book contract yet. I know it is coming and I am more than willing to work for it.

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July 2009

April 2010
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My Favorites:

I love the children's movies Wizard of Oz and the Neverending Story. Both movies make me feel the lesson that hope is alive and well. After seeing UP this past week, it just might have a chance at being added to this list.

I love the cool colors of blues and purples.Those colors are peaceful for me.

I love The Velveteen Rabbit. Even as an adult, I still feel the urge to cry when he becomes real. I know, silly, but a good book can make me laugh and cry as it takes me on a magical journey.

Authors and Illustrators:

Authors, Author/Illustrator, Illustrators that I know and/or Like.


C= Children

MG= Mid Grade

T= Teen

YA= Young Adult

A= Adult


Bonnie Adamson *

Kathi Appelt *

Tedd Arnold


Natalie Babbit

Molly Bang

Bonnie Becker

Jan and Stan Berenstain

Judy Blume

Tracey M. Cox

Linda Crotta Brennan *

Jan Brett

Janie Bynum *

Eric Carle

Pam Calvert

Nancy Carlson

Beverly Cleary

Kevin Scott Collier

Sharon Creech

Doreen Cronnin

Tomie dePaulo

Kate DiCamillo

Kathleen Duey *

Dotti Enderle

Jan Fields *

Denise Fleming

Mem Fox

Kelley Milner Hall

Amy Heist

Kevin Henkes

Ellen Jackson *

Jeff Kinney

Jackie French Koller

Ursula K. LeGuin

Leo Lionni

Lois Lowry

Mercer Mayer

Robert Munsch

Laura Numeroff

Linda Sue Parks

Dav Pilkey

Patricia Polacco

Peggy Rathmann

Bethany Roberts

David Shannon

Aaron Shepard

Donna J. Shepherd *

Cynthia Leitich Smith

Jerry Spinelli

Diane Stanley

Chris Van Allsburg

Rick Walton *

Lisa Wheeler

Mo Willems

Karma Wilson *

Audrey Woods

Jane Yolen *

Favorite Websites:

Favorite Blogs:

• ShelfTalker: A Children’s Bookseller’s Blog
• Alice’s CWIM Blog
• A Fuse #8 Production
• Cynsations
• Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent
• Editorial Anonymous
• Miss Snark’s First Victim
• Writing for children and teens

Favorite Quotes.

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