Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Highlights of Nuts & Bolts of Science Writing 2018 by Kathy Halsey

What did I do on my summer vacation? One of the biggest highlights was my first Highlights workshop. In this post I'll share newbie tips along with writerly tidbits from our fab faculty. 




Newbie News
  • 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

Discovery!


Friendship


44 comments:

  1. Grrrreat post! Highlights Foundation provides such wonderful opportunities to learn and share and make life-long friends.

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    1. Sue, GROGger girl, you know that Highlights magic.

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  2. Thanks for sharing! Since I've never been there, I can see it through your eyes! How fun to have Jen & Miranda as teachers.

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    1. Tina, maybe you can hit one once you are back in the states again. Miranda * Jen are great teachers.

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  3. Wonderful summary of a really helpful and rejuvenating workshop. Thanks Kathy. Friends are the best part!

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    1. Maria, you were everywhere that week! So glad to meet up w/you again. Yes, friends are the best part.

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  4. Kathy, this is a really fun review of your workshop. I haven't done the science one, but I have experienced the Highlights magic -- isn't it the best? Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. And GROGger friend, TY, for helping me post it in NF4NF. It is a special experience.

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  5. Thank you for posting such a great article! I found your website perfect for my needs. It contains wonderful and helpful posts. Keep up the good work! München Fotos lizenzfrei

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  6. Thanks for the GREAT review of our workshop, Kathy! So glad you enjoyed it. Having you there was certainly a highlight for us. You were all a FANTASTIC group and we expect great things from you all!

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    1. Aww, so great to see you again, Jen, and have that car ride chat back to the airport.

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  7. Great post, Kathy! You were definitely a big part of turning a room (Barn, actually) full of strangers into this new group of friends who happens to have Science Writing, and our Workshop experience, now in common. There are lifelong friends who have less connections bonding them. Thanks!! :)

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    1. Why, thank you, "unknown." I know yo must be one of my new science buds! It was such an invigorating group of talented attendees.

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  8. Great summary. Great experience for you, Kathy. New doors seemed to have opened for you. Congratulations!

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    1. Ty, Mona, for reading the post. Highlights is a tremendous opportunity.

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  9. Wow! Definitely on my bucket list! Thanks for the mini trip!

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    1. Thanks, Angie for stopping by. You will lear so much.

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  10. Great post, Kathy! I, too, am starting to consider the magazine market, as I spent quite a few years writing journalism-style pieces for adults. Thanks for all these tips!!

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  11. Highlights is a dream. Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your amazing time doing what you love best-writing! Terrific tips from my CP!

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    1. Aww, Charlotte - I always appreciate your support and cheer. This was such a great experience.

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  12. Thanks for sharing this, Kathy! I attended a Highlights workshop years ago on writing for magazines, and it was incredibly helpful. I went on to sell articles to several good ones. So I'm sure this workshop will be a great launch pad for you!

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    1. Thank you, Deborah, and yay for you. I have sent of a sub package to Cricket media already.

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  13. Great post Kathy. I canNOT imagine having such amazing faculty to guide you the way these amazing women did. Having knowledgeable, engaged pros make for the best writer's gift to be sure. I am so psyched you shared this with us and that you gained so much.

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    1. Pam, it was a game changer for me. I so enjoy sharing what i've learned with my Mojo Women. Hugs.

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  14. This is a great post, Kathy; so helpful! Thank you for sharing what you learned at Highlights.

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    1. Love to share the wisdom of others, Nancy. We all learn that way..

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  15. Great post Kathy! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You's love Highlights - great place in nature, kinda like the WPWR.

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  16. This looks like so much fun!! I hope to go to Highlights some day soon! :)

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    1. Maria, you could be teaching there! TY for stopping by.

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  17. Thanks Kathy. This is very helpful. I am planning on attending a writing weekend at Highlights and am looking forward to it, even more now! Happy writing.

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    1. Elizabeth, you will love it! So tranquil and inspiring.

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  18. Thanks for the great post! I'm a science writer working on my first book for kids--a PB biography--so was very interested in the tips you shared.

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    1. Good for you, Ella. Check into Miranda Paul and Jen Swason's NF books, too. (Our faculty at this workshop.)Not all are bio, but all give examples of great writing and how to reach kids.

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  19. I am a longtime attendee and fan of Highlights Foundation workshops. I have learned so much from great faculty members and made lifelong friends. I am glad you had such a great experience. Keep spreading the word.

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    1. Hi Kathy, I sure do want to go back. I will spread the word. It is lifeblood to writers.

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  20. Sounds like a super experience, Kathy! Even this non-science kid found nuggets of knowledge & inspiration!

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    1. TY, Patricia. I am even noticing the science in nature now. Amazing.

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  21. I am so excited for your science writing projects, Kathy. Appreciations for the way you grouped the topics & ideas you came away with - a groovy comprehensive visit, as if we were there.

    This column also brings back ebullient memories - of a fabulous, direction-oriented, detailed critique from generous Jen at a Florida conference & fabulous instructive & inspiring days at the magical place you where you were - Highlights.

    I am also so excited for the forthcoming Rube Goldberg book by Sarah. (Always partial to illustrated biographies for kids.)

    I am still in touch with new writer friends I made at Highlights - I loved hearing about your new friendship crew :)

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    1. Jan, Jne is the best! Miranda gives such detailed critiques, too, with comp titles and big issue stuff. It was so cool to see Sarah's book! Hope you get back to Highlights soon.

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  22. Glad to learn more about your Highlights experience, Kathy. Great tips! Thanks!

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