- Plan when you invest in your writing. I waited five years before I signed up for a Highlights workshop. I wanted to be better at my craft and have some projects that could benefit from being workshopped. I also looked for specific faculty and topics that would stretch me as a writer. I found the perfect fit with Nuts & Bolts Science. I knew Jen Swanson and Miranda Paul were excellent teachers since I've attended conferences where they'd been speakers.
- Although I've read and studied nonfiction for children, I'd never written science, so I plunged into writing an informational picture book about gardens using a child's POV. My critique group and writer friends helped me revise and polish my WIP before I sent it to Highlights. My advice? Take a manuscript that you can't make any better on your own to a workshop. ( Be prepared with a second manuscript, too, just in case the opportunity arises for a second critique.)
- Although it's comforting to attend conferences/workshops with a writer buddy, sometimes going alone will push you to meet new people and network. Now I have a "tribe" of 20 new science writer friends: a snail scientist, an entrepreneur who created a STEM magazine for children, an Ohio writer who is now a contributing editor for Cricket Media, and the amazing author Sarah Aronson. (She gave advice about creativity, the writing doldrums, and shared pieces of her newest book JUST LIKE RUBE GOLDBERG.) Be open to meeting new people who will enrich your life.
|Sarah and Kathy|
Fab Faculty TidBits
Take four wonderful professionals (Jen, Miranda, editor Sam Gentry, and Ohio author Tracy Vonder Brink ) together for almost five days, and soon you've had a master class in writing nonfiction, pitching, and a how-to on cracking the magazine market. There was so much insight from these women who generously shared time, knowledge, and books with us. I'll share a chunk of knowledge from all these super stars. (Newbie note - very dark skies in Honesdale PA, so you should plan to star gaze.)
|Tracy Vonder Brink|
|Jen Swanson, Miranda Paul, Samantha Gentry|
- All lucky attendees received a critique from Samantha, plus we had our choice of two more critiques - one with Jen and one with Miranda, depending on whether we wrote middle grade or picture books. (This is why you bring several solid pieces.)
- Back matter REALLY matters to Miranda Paul. She had us do a useful exercise that helps writers get an overview of back matter. Take a stack of picture books, fiction and nonfiction, and read them quickly but study the back matter and make a list that includes type of back matter (author note, charts, fun facts, etc), how many pages of back matter, audience for the back matter (educators, parents, children) and if the tone/style fits the front matter.
- Jen Swanson swoons for research to make science sing. She begins by going to the library to actually browse the nonfiction section. Serendipity is the name of the game. Jen enjoys hunt, finding both adult and children's books on her topic. For internet research she begins her working bibliography by adding raw links, footnotes at bottom, and then uses Citation Machine or another service.
- Many of Jen's National Geographic middle grade books rely on interviewing experts. She has many tips regarding experts (a person working in the field or a PhD.) You'll find them at universities or by googling your topic. Then email them to see if they have interest in helping you and indicate what publisher you are pursuing. She recommends an email subject line like this, "children’s author working w/Nat Geo looking for an interview." Add your experts in the acknowledgements and give them a book. Best advice from Jen? Don't skimp on research.
|Attendees taking notes and absorbing information|
- Samantha Gentry, Assistant Editor at Crown Books for Young Readers, Random House and PRH, engaged attendees by throwing a pitch party. We recreated a twitter pitch party in real life after Sam shared pitch strategies. Sam thinks having a social media presence is helpful for a writer. She suggests picking two options from what she labeled "the trifecta," Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Follow folks who do SM well, such as Josh Funk, Sarah Albee, and Jess Keating. She stressed creating a community network with local booksellers, libraries, schools, and your local writing community.
- Finally, Tracy Vonder Brink gave us a solid background in writing for children's magazines. She has a stellar acceptance rate. She's sold eleven stories and is now employed by Cricket Media. Writers can dig through manuscripts that didn't "work" as books or write a story with research that didn’t go into a book. Writers should analyze magazine issues in detail. Look for ratio of simple sentence to compound/complex sentences, if questions to the reader are common, and if the reader is addressed as "you." Aim to mimic style, voice, tone, content as much as possible with your submission. Tracy feels she's been most successful when she takes a issue's main topic and thinks outside the box for a story. Her boss, Elizabeth Huyck at ASK, looks for magazine pieces that open out to larger questions or fundamentals.
Happy scientists and writers on the trail