Sunday, February 21, 2010

Writers: What Printer Do you Use?

Computers are wonderful.  They store hundreds of documents, manuscripts, cover and query letters.  there's just one thing that they can't do on their own–print hard copies!

As I revise and finalize some of my drafts into polished pieces (and I am getting much closer!), the pressing need for a better printer looms overhead.  My pee-wee inkjet that sucks down ink cartridges like it's water in the desert.  And I swear, it must have humps like a camel, storing the ink somewhere...because I can't believe how few pages actually get printed per round of cartridges!

So, to all you writers out there, adhering to publisher's requests and sending hard copies out until publication graces your work:  What printer do you use?

I'm assuming that most of you are like me:  on a budget, have a family that's probably going to use it even if you strictly say it's your 'home office' printer, and are so busy that replacing cartridges can be a two week task...(you know, the flashing red light sort of grows on you).

Laser?  Ink Jet?  Color?  Black and White?  Duplexing?  One paper tray?  Brand?  Affordable supplies?  Long-lasting toner?

Oh, and please recommend one that doesn't jam up all the time!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Do I Really Have to Submit My Work? A Call for the Publishing Fairy

I've written more than a dozen pieces since the beginning of this month.  February's muse has certainly been good to me (perhaps that's why my blog posts have been lagging lately).

I've had some steady freelance work, my critique groups have been giving stellar feedback to my most recent manuscripts, and my winning contest entry is published this month.

That being said, I've yet to break into the children's market.  Why?  I haven't played the game.

That's right, with a pile of more than 25 picture books and MG stories, I've still not submitted anything to a publishing house.  Why not?  Probably because I've educated myself–a lot–and I know what to expect!  I've read almost every How To, Market Guide and other book on the topic of getting children's literature published.  With so much success in my writing endeavors lately, perhaps I'm afraid of that first inevitable "rejection letter." Or, perhaps, I'm such a perfectionist that I want to be that "one" diamond in the rough who gloats, "the first thing I submitted got published."  Either way, I'd rather spend the extra time now doing research and enjoying a shorter path to success later.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Are 500-Word Picture Books a Thing of the Past?

Three times each week, I load up the minivan with three book-loving kids and a baby as my duty within our neighborhood school carpool.

Most often, the two older ones have their noses so deep in Percy Jackson or Harry Potter books that if I want to ask them a question, I'm prepared to repeat it several times.

And by older, I mean 7 and 8.

Returning to my writing work after the carpool "break," I find myself flipping through the Writer's Market books all too often.   A top request:  500 words or less.

I pulled out some of my three year-old's books, noticing that about half of her favorite titles actually have more than 500 words.  Rule of thumb or not, this observation made me feel better as I stared at my own list of children's book manuscripts, about half of which glare back at me with word counts nearing 800 words...

Are my children and my neighbors' children the exception?  Are all books with pictures doomed to be slashed to their skeletons until the word count dips below 500?  Are publication "rules" contributing to the attention deficits that younger generations now seem to have?  Or am I just too stubborn to cut, cut, cut?!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Editor or Sandwich Artist? Keeping Etiquette Alive in Critique

After an incredibly busy weekend spent far outside the "writing world," I dove right into Monday morning with a backlog of manuscripts I'd promised to critique.

Most of these critique groups are online, meaning I only know the other authors in a "virtual" sense.  So it's with little knowledge of the actual human being behind the work that the former editor-in-chief in me delves into ripping apart the manuscript.

That being said, I know all about the "sandwich method" and try to employ it–I start with something nice, load in the meaty criticism and then top it off with another "nice slice" of bread.

This Monday morning, I feel more like I'm making tortilla wraps than Texas-Toast club sandwiches, though.  The "bread" part of each sandwich has been minimal, at best.  But the pieces I'm editing aren't getting worse–I am the one getting pickier.  And, if I've come up short on compliments, I look harder, following my own version of the rule: "If I can't say anything nice, I'm not doing my job."  This rule of mine applies even in one of my tell-it-like-it-is writing groups, "Truth in Critique."

The more and more I edit other writers' works, the more insightful I am becoming about any work I read or write.  I honestly feel blessed to have the opportunity to read and critique quite a number of pieces on a weekly basis, and in turn have my work viewed from a fresh perspective.

As I resume my critique work this afternoon with the final three in my backlog, I'm going in with a recipe:  flatbread instead of tortillas, or perhaps a double-decker with a bun stashed right in the middle. 

Off to lunch, first though– all this sandwich talk sure makes a writer hungry!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

As Writers, We Must Not Forget to Read

On the fourth day of this Picture Book Marathon, a challenge to write 26 picture books in 28 days, I took time out from my busy scribbling to read about 10 other short stories, articles and nonfiction pieces.

Quickly, I was reminded that to write well, one must be well read.

Writing a book a day is not easy, even if the target goal is only about 500 words.  A lot of time gets wasted hitting the delete key, or staring at a blinking cursor.  Or getting up to do laundry and dishes after each sentence.

After reading several stories, including one called "Zindy Lou and the Dark Place" I was reminded of the importance, especially in children's literature, of including only what's essential.  Because I typically enjoy reading memoirs, historical fiction or creative nonfiction, I often relish minute details and descriptions.  I was reminded, quickly, that going off on tangents undesirably adds to restricted word counts and will distract a young reader.

Furthermore– I enjoyed each story that I read, despite the absence of poetic wanderings.  Proof that reading can further direct and inspire me to become a better writer.

I realized that when I write (even if I've created a storyboard first) I don't always know exactly how the story will end.  But once the ending gets written, it is crucial to go back through the story and eliminate or reword details that are now "bridges to nowhere."

Yesterday's picture book for the marathon came to me quickly because I had taken an hour of time out of my day to read.  I sat down to type, determined to take my idea and only type a skeleton.  Sentences shouldn't be longer than 10 words, and details that were not essential or foreshadowing were omitted.

I–and my husband–was amazed that such a simply written story could be so powerful.  But thus far, it's my favorite one!  Three cheers for being concise.

Perhaps all of this writing for children will help me with my freelance work doing copywriting and more.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Children as Inspiration: Why I'll Never Run Out of Picture Book Ideas

A few weeks ago a suggestion came from one of my online writing groups that if you ever need a fresh idea for a new story, simply go ask your kids.

Well, I have a very imaginative three year-old, and decided to test this theory out and see what would happen.  Just before I tucked my daughter into bed, I asked, "What should Mommy write about next?"

"Two Elizabeths."  She smiled.  The answer had taken a split second.  I must have had a confused look on my face, because she immediately followed up with an explanation.  "I mean, Mom, what if there were two girls with the same name!"

And the ideas began to form.  I kissed her goodnight and ran to the computer.  It was time to write the story of two girls named Elizabeth.

As often happens with writing, the final product frequently looks much different than the original intention.  After producing a 15-stanza fairytale picture book about twin princesses named Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II, though, I was delighted at the result.

And the next day, when I read the "un-fairytale" of two royal sisters who prefered sardines instead of eggs and toast and playing in the mud rather than performing courtly duties, my daughter was also delighted.

It seemed that others in my critique group enjoyed the piece as well, as the edits were pretty minimal and the comments overwhelmingly in favor of the piece.

Now, will the publishers be delighted?  Only time will tell...

But while I'm waiting for a response, I've got quite a list of crazy story starters to keep me occupied–all courtesy of my little girl's glorious brain!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Black History Month: Rich Inspiration for Children's Books

Today marks the first day of two important events in my household:  Black History Month and the commencement of my first Picture Book Marathon. 

Using a wealth of stories and inspiration from great African-American leaders, cultural heritage and more, I've decided that my first of 26 picture books written this month will be a fable/tale based on the African & Caribbean character "Anansi," and his first trip to America.

For those unfamiliar with Anansi, he is a notorious spider that has been wreaking havoc in African and Caribbean tales alike for generations.  Growing up on a Caribbean island, my husband admits he loved reading Anansi stories and now he is beginning to pass on these tales to our children.

I am excited to begin the process of writing Anansi's journey to the New World.  What will bring him there?  What inspiring characters will he meet?  Will his unruly behavior continue or will he work hard to change and achieve what no one thought possible for such a sneaky character? 

And, we'll see if the work gets written in Creole or English...or both (like many of the books)!
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