Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Tap the Synergy: Writers Helping Writers ~ by Julie Phend



There’s a common perception that writers tend to hole up with their computers and rarely interact with others, or that they're so afraid of copyright theft, they jealously guard their secrets. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the solitary hours that go into developing and penning our ideas, writers are generous people who freely offer their time and talents to help one another.


Let’s look at some ways to tap into the creative synergy of this vibrant community.

Critique Groups:

When I interviewed writers on how they help one another, critique groups topped the list. In such groups, writers offer advice to one another by pointing out unclear passages, overused words, point of view and grammar errors. They hold each other accountable by expecting work to be submitted on a regular basis. They share tips about agents, publishers, comp titles, and more. Critique partners offer moral support and provide encouragement when the going gets rough, and cheer for each other when good news is shared. Writers often develop lasting friendships over years of meeting with a critique group. 

First Readers:

Writers frequently act as first readers for other writers. Drawing on their own experience and expertise, they can point out places that still need revision and suggest ways to market the work. There’s no better first reader than another writer.  


Joint Marketing Efforts:


Groups of writers can extend their success by engaging in joint marketing efforts. I belong to a group of local writers, Lake Authors of the Wilderness. Because we all write in different genres, we don’t critique, but our monthly meetings still offer support, encouragement, writing and publishing tips. Our joint marketing efforts include purchasing space at book festivals and craft fairs. We take turns manning the booth and making sales. The diversity of our offerings helps to bring in customers.  It's a win-win for everyone!





At conferences, writers network and present, sharing their expertise. Conferences are great opportunities to pick up helpful tips, meet and mingle with new and old friends. They can be large or small--often organized by professional organizations such as Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). These conferences can be good sources for finding critique partners, and help to fill a writer’s creative cup.


Podcasts and Webinars:

There are a plethora of podcasts and webinars through which writers reach out to other writers. These presentations, targeted toward specific needs and interests, serve as ongoing training for writers and help introduce listeners to important developments in the publishing industry.


Write-ins/Virtual Writing Spaces:

Many writers find it helpful to write with others. This can be in an actual location, such as a coffee shop, or a virtual writing space. These groups offer structured time to write, with breakout sessions to discuss, ask for feedback, and offer insight. Writer Carol Nissenson works with a Virtual Writing Space hosted through Instagram. 


Other groups that offer online meetings include:


Many writers volunteer their time and talents to write blog posts on topics of interest to other writers.

There are many, many more! Beth Schmelzer, who sent me a marvelous list, says, “So many blogs, so little time. Each blog has a different style, perspective, and appeal to readers and writers.”  Find one that speaks to you.




Spread the word:

One of the most important ways writers help each other is by spreading the word about each other’s books. We can all join this effort. When someone you know publishes a new book, attend their launch party and review the book on Amazon and Goodreads. Buy the book, give it as a gift, and ask your library to stock it on their shelves.


Linda Acorn Budzinski sent an inspiring story of how a writer friend helped spread the word about her book, Em and Em. The writer and her daughter co-reviewed the book for Your Teen Magazine. The daughter’s friends all read the book, and one of the friends' mother, who is a TV producer, brought the book to her company’s attention. As a result, the book was optioned for television.


Suzi Weinert in my Lake Authors group had a similar experience. A writer friend recommended Suzi’s book, Garage Sale Stalker, to Hallmark, where she worked. As a result, Suzi’s book and characters became the basis for Hallmark’s popular Garage Sale Mystery series.


Writer Natalie Rompella reminds us of the Golden Rule. “Whatever you’d like others to do for your book, do it for theirs.”



Tap the Synergy:


Linda Acorn Budzinski sums it up: “Writers help me all the time through moral support, friendship, feedback, and just plain understanding the life of a writer when no one else seems to!”


Tapping into the expertise and energy of the writing community is well worth the effort. You’ll learn much, form lasting friendships, and find support for every step on your writing journey.


A Shout-Out:

Finally, a big thank you to the generous writers who shared their stories and tips for this article: Linda Acorn Budzinski, Dana Wilson Easley, Barbara Ellen, Pam Evans, Kathryn Gaglione Hughes, Jennifer Loizeaux, Sharon Lyon, Carmela Martino, Eileen Meyer, Carol Nissenson, Natalie Rompella, Joyana Peters, Beth Schmelzer, Debra Kempf Shumaker, Ann McCallum Staats, Amy Thernstrom, and Suzi Weinert.


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Chapter Books: What's That All About, Anyway?


You’ve probably heard the term “chapter books,” and been mystified. Don’t most books have chapters? What is it about these titles that sets them apart from novels?


According to the Canadian Children's Literacy Foundation, children between 2 and 5 are learning that words in print represent the words we speak, and the letters stand for sounds. Between 5 and 8, children move from the novice stage to the decoding stage (using their knowledge of sound-letter relationships to figure out words), and finally, to fluency.  (Click here for more: link)


Picture books are an important part of that first step -- learning to associate words and sounds. Chapter books are for readers who are becoming independent and will still benefit from illustrations in the story.


Remember Frog and Toad? These classic books by Arnold Lobel were meant for beginning readers, coming in at a length of 2281 words. Even though the vocabulary and sentence structure was simple, the story and emotions were fully realized. That’s a key for all chapter books: the stories are engaging and compelling while being accessible. They give readers between ages 5 and 8 relatable stories -- and a sense of accomplishment, too. Success reading these books puts them on the path to reading longer works when they get older.


Chapter books come in a variety of lengths to suit their readers. Generally speaking, the longer the book, the older the reader. 


A survey of some chapter books turned up these word counts:


Jasmine Toguchi series, by Debbie Michiko Florence

         Super Sleuth, 10,047 words

         Flamingo Keeper, 9929 words


My Furry Foster Family, by Debbie Michiko Florence

         Truman the Dog, 4,049 words

         Apple and Ani, the Hamster Duo, 3875 words


The Ballpark Mysteries by David A. Kelly

         The World Series Curse, 12,975 words

         The Triple Play Twins, 10,658 words


The Chicken Squad by Doreen Cronin

         The First Misadventure, 3689 words

         Bear Country, 5522 words


Franny K. Stein by Jim Benton

         The Invisible Fran, 4,177 words

         Attack of the 50-ft. Cupid, 4,209 words


(This is by no means an exhaustive list! A visit to your children's librarian or bookseller will give you a chance to see the range of chapter book series currently in print. )


Chapter books usually are published in a series, for a couple of reasons:

📕  Because they are usually 48 to 128 pages, these published books have narrow spines, which can make them hard to find on the shelves. Multiple titles in a series make the books more visible to readers and buyers.

📕  Kids love them! When a kid enjoys a book, they want more – and as soon as possible!


That brings up a practical point about submitting chapter books: You need to have at least a couple of finished manuscripts and a set of ideas ready when you submit. You’ll send the two manuscripts and the summaries of at least four ideas. This allows the editor to consider how the characters carry through, from one book to the next, and what additional adventures they may have.


Now, the bad news. Chapter books are a hard sell. However, if you have characters that you love, who are having adventures that your readers will relate to, go for it. Tell their stories.

Be warned, though: If a publisher does decide to pick up your chapter-book series, you’ll need to write fast and well to keep up with your fans’ demands for more books! And what a terrible problem to have, eh? 


To learn more, I suggest the Highlights Foundation's excellent courses about writing early readers and chapter books. 



Wednesday, May 17, 2023

DIY Blog Tour to Promote Your Book

 by Sue Heavenrich

Remember Blog Tours? Those week-long, sometimes two-week-long events came with a schedule for tour stops, author and illustrator interviews, drawings and giveaways. If someone missed a stop, they could link back to a previous post. 

Blog tours were a thing – until they weren’t. “What happened?” I asked a publicist.

“Blog tours are still happening,” she said, “but in a different way. Many of the blogs have migrated over to Instagram, and the content of the reviews has shifted as well.” Instagram, it seems, allows for more talking points, better photo opportunities, and briefer posts. 

Betsy Bird, who writes a wonderful blog, mused on blog tours recently. “… when blogs started to disappear, they left a significant gap in the marketplace,” she wrote. “When a publisher wants to get the word out about a book, what do they do? They can pay for advertising, but if you’re a small publisher you just don’t have a ton of money to do so, and if you’re a large publisher you’ll only be able to highlight a few titles from your upcoming season...”

Publishers may not be organizing blog tours, but some writers still do. Last year Annette Whipple organized a tour for her book Ribbit! the Truth about Frogs.

“I wanted to promote my book,” Annette said. “Despite the incredible feedback I’ve had from people about my books (including the other books in The Truth About series), most people hadn’t heard of them.” So Annette decided to use the power of the kidlit community to show off her newest book. She reached out through a couple of kidlit Facebook groups and her monthly newsletter. Once she gathered a team, she created a Facebook group where they strategized ways  to generate buzz around the book launch date. Then she emailed PDFs of the book to all of the bloggers and team members. She also mailed small packages of fun froggy swag to her launch team.

Teresa Robeson’s blog tour came about accidentally. She wasn’t planning to do a launch party for her book, but her friends wanted to share her book on their blogs. Vivian Kirkfield reached out to bloggers she knew and created enough posts for two weeks. That meant every day there would be something about her or one of her new books. 

Jennifer Swanson also reaches out to bloggers, offering to email a pdf or link to an e-galley. While many authors focus on getting the word out close to their book’s launch date, Jennifer is less concerned. “I'm fine with bloggers interviewing me and then spreading out their posting times – it extends the life of your book launch.”

Tips for a DIY Blog Tour
  • Blog tours and book launch teams take an incredible amount of time, even when they’re small. 
  • Read blogs and keep a list of the ones you like, where you see book reviews and/or author interviews. 
  • A few months before your book launches, reach out to bloggers to create your team. Think about blogs that reach parents and homeschoolers, too. You want to end up with 6-10. 
  • Organization is essential. Use a calendar or other means to keep track of when bloggers will feature your book – you don’t want them on the same date.
  • Think about offering a book for a drawing (sometimes publishers are happy to provide a book).
  • If a lot of friends want to help out, think of them as a “promotion” team. They can post a review on Goodreads or Amazon, ask their local library to buy a copy, and post things on social media such as a photo of your book and the caption “currently reading”
  • If you don’t want to do a launch tour, think about a blog tour focused around a holiday.

A huge thanks to these folks who generously shared their blog tour tips and experience. Check out their websites and go read their books!

More DIY Blog Tour Resources:

“Everything You Need to Know about Organizing a Blog Tour” from the Author Newsletter (Penguin Random House)

How to Get the Most Out of a Book Blog Tour, from the Writing Cooperative

Talking Story Facebook group

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Meet Author & Guest Blogger Michelle Garcia Andersen! Find Out How YOU Can Become a Guest Blogger, Too! by Kathy Halsey

The GROG is excited to have guest blogger Michelle Garcia Andersen with us today. Michelle will post occasionally on a variety of topics throughout the year. Michelle and I met via a mutual author friend, Sherry Howard.

Welcome, Michelle! We’re happy to have you join us on occasion to share what’s happening in your writer’s world. It will be refreshing to have a Bend, Oregon contributor tell us about what’s trending with kidlit folks who live on the West coast.

Kathy:  I know you have a teaching background. Tell us what you taught and how that helped you decide to take the plunge into children’s writing?

Michelle: I spent most of my teaching career teaching kindergarten and second grades. My favorite time of the day was always storytime. I read to my students every day, even when I taught older kids. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easily you can get bogged down with tasks, and it’s easy to let that read-aloud slip by.

I’m passionate about children’s literacy and love teaching kids to read. I used to wonder if I could write the types of books I was using in my classroom. When I stopped teaching, I decided to try my hand at it. I studied the educational market and did a lot of preliminary work before sending out any writing samples. Now most days, I’m either working on a personal project or writing an assignment for a work-for-hire job.

If you are curious about work-for-hire, I highly recommend Laura Purdie Salas’s book, Writing for the Educational Market: Informational Books for Kids. I started here and learned a lot.

Kathy:  So you also have substituted in your county library system. What were/are your duties? What is your favorite area to work in? What did you learn that you can share with writers that we may not know about libraries? Did it help you with your writing?

 Michelle: I substitute for my county’s library system and my local school district. Subbing is perfect for me because it allows me the flexibility I need for writing. Also, it gets me out from behind my desk and into my community. As a library associate, I help patrons with their requests and shelve books upon return. My favorite area is the kids’ section because the books have such beautiful and fun cover art, and I usually stand in front of these shelves daydreaming and checking out more books than I put away.

I wanted to work at the library because I love being surrounded by books and ideas. The library is my happy place. Even though I spent a lot of time there before being hired, I was still surprised to learn about the many additional resources the library provides other than just books and computers. 

Libraries service their communities through various programs and numerous outreach events. For instance, are you looking for some work-for-hire and need help updating your resume? Your local librarian will likely know whom to connect you with and how to help. Did you recently purchase a new computer for that novel you’re planning to write? Need some technical assistance? Ask your librarian. They may have a tech service department where you can schedule some one-on-one time. Or maybe you’re writing a cookbook, and you’ve wondered what all the fuss is about regarding those air-fryers? Perhaps your library has a ‘library of things’ where you can check out things other than books and give them a try before you buy. Libraries are amazing! I hope to write a blog post about libraries someday.

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Michelle's Debut Picture Book!

Kathy: You write both middle grade and picture books. Tell us a bit about that: how is the process of writing similar/different for those 2 audiences?  What topics are you drawn to for each age range? What’s on your TBR list or a few books you’ve recently read that you’ve enjoyed?

 Michelle:I started with writing picture books, but I always knew someday I’d give middle grade a try. By the end of 2022, I decided to dedicate 2023 to writing the MG that’s been rattling around in my brain for the last few years. 

The most obvious difference between an MG and a PB is the word count. With middle grades, I can write descriptions and a lot more dialogue. But the fact remains—every single word must count, whether there are 500 words or 25,000 words.

I enjoy realistic fiction middle-grade novels and love books that make me laugh and feel. I tend to find the same things funny that most twelve-year-old boys do, so writing for this age group fits me well. I also love humorous and clever picture books. 

My new year’s resolution this year was to read one recently published and one classic middle-grade book per month. One book that I enjoyed was Starfish by debut author Lisa Fipps.  It was my first time reading a novel-in-verse, and it was excellent. I’m interested in learning more about this style of writing.

Kathy:  I understand you’re subbing work now. What’s your submission strategy? Tell us about the difference between querying WFH vs. MG and PB? 

Michelle: I’m not out on submission right now, but I plan to be very soon. My submission strategy starts with a strong cup of coffee. I write my query, pitch, synopsis, and whatever else is required, then walk away. Soon I’ll be back, reread what I wrote, berate myself, drink more coffee, and try again. This process continues until some point I move on from coffee to wine, and by then, I’m so sick of myself that I say a prayer, hit send, and hope for the best.

Check out Michelle's website here!