July 24, 2009

Bedtime, Kittens and Grandparents - Oh My! Picture Book Topics to Avoid.

Author Darcy Pattison has a great article on "Picture Book Topics to Avoid". Dial editor, Liz Waniewski spoke on this topic at an SCBWI Arkansas conference in 2007. Darcy asked Liz to update the list for 2009. Lucky for all of us - she did. Liz W. states that these topics aren't necessarily bad topics. It's simply that your writing must rise above the competition to be noticed - and ultimately acquired. Be aware that other children's book editors are probably seeing the same topics in their slush pile. Hoping to get noticed? Avoid these topics and write about something unusual. On a personal note, I'm delighted to see that Christmas stories and barnyard tales have dropped from the list. Good news for me, as Tonight You Are My Baby is a Christmas book and currently under editorial consideration is a barnyard tale! What to do if, like me, your topic is also on the popular topics list? Give it a twist, end with the unexpected, surprise the reader, give it a new voice. Put your creative hat on!

July 13, 2009

If the shoe fits....finding the right critique group

A good critique group can be counted among a writer's top ten tools. For some writers, it may take a few tries to get just the right group. Others are fortunate to find a lifelong alliance with their comrades. Critique groups can be online or local. I have a wonderful online buddy who is professional, timely and excellent at identifying the weak spots in my manuscripts. She is honest about the readiness of the manuscript and challenges me when she feels I can write better. Our only face-to-face meeting was our first meeting. We hit it off and have been happily critiquing ever since. I also belong to a local critique group - we met through a SCBWI conference. The joy of a local group is the challenge of a deadline. We meet every six weeks and this demands revised/new material. We also enjoy the interaction of hearing the other comments, which often leads to additional brainstorming. Sprinkle in a lot of good laughs and you have a great critique group. The July/Aug. SCBWI Bulletin included a wonderful article written by Jolie Stekly and Sara W. Easterly comparing critique groups to dating. These authors included some valuable tips:

The SCBWI is a great way to meet other writers who may also be looking for a critique group. Ask at meetings, network or post on the SCBWI boards.

Community classes through the library and community colleges are also a networking opportunity.

Put the word out on Twitter.

Be proactive and dedicated. Finding the right group doesn't always happen immediately.

Be clear about your goals and commitment. Your group will having more staying power if you all have the same expectations. Some groups are more casual - meeting occasionally. Others like to have a firm date. Be honest about your time, experience and needs before joining.

The search can be difficult, but certainly worth the wait when you find a trusted group to share frustrations, have some laughs and challenge you to write better. The road to publication is a long one - we can always use more friends along the way.

July 6, 2009

kids + vacation = no writing (No Sweat)

Many members of the writing community worry when their writing world is turned upside down by summer activities. Kids are home from school, vacation homes with no wireless, visiting friends/relatives, and the temptation to spend all day outside (okay, this one is actually mine). What's a writer to do? Journal! Author Kristi Holl offers a number of great suggestions in her blog. Be sure to read Part I and II. Kristi suggests journaling your experiences, feelings and dreams during this time. We may lack the time to work on our manuscripts, but we can take a few moments to capture our feelings. It's cathartic, rejuventating and also gives us wonderful material when the crisp autumn air hits us again. What other helpful tips? I've used this summer to finally finish several articles. It's easier for me to focus on one, smaller piece than the overwhelming revision of an entire book manuscript. Research and have fun! Where are you visiting with your children? I'm writing an article about marsupial animals. Off to the zoo we went! Had a great time with the kids and some wonderful research. Does your manuscript involve a museum? A water park? The Liberty Bell? Fourth of July celebrations? Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the day. Another helpful tip is to use this summer to try your hand at different marketing techniques. Don't have a blog yet? Make that a summer goal. Give Twitter a try. Need a Powerpoint presentation for school visits? Have your kids help you. Last summer, my kids showed me the ins/outs of creative Powerpoints. With the school year full of homework, sports and packed schedules, it can be difficult to find the time. Summer is about relaxation and rejuvenation - both will be a huge boost to your writing. Set a few easy goals, journal and look at creative ways to improve your writing. Enjoy!