The National Book Foundation announced that among its 2007 winners, Sherman Alexie won the Young People's Literature Prize for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown & Company). The story is based on the author’s own experiences. The description is "a heartbreaking, yet funny story that chronicles the adolescence of one contemporary Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he seems destined to live." I haven't yet read it, but I plan to. As a YA writer, it's always a good idea to learn what quality literature is being published for teens. Besides, I have found that some of the best books out there are written for middle grade and young adult readers.
So it's not surprising to me that those who write for TV want their piece of the pie. After all, though it may look easy to those not in the know, writing is challenging. And it comes from your own knowledge and skill. Why shouldn't you be compensated any time someone else makes more money from something you created?
I wish the writers who are striking good luck in their fight. A win for them helps us all.
What do you think? Have you been impacted by unfair contracts as a writer?
But aside from that, what they had to say about why manuscripts get rejected echoes all that I wrote about in How to Publish Your Children's Book, and what I say whenever I speak to writers' groups. They also offered other random, but helpful tips. So, it was clear that they know their industry.
Here are 15 of the tips they shared, in no particular order of importance. May they be of use to you and lead to a major book contract.
1. Don't sacrifice the story for a rhyme. Using a word just because it sounds like it fits is not good writing. And by the way, a lot of editors won't even look at books that rhyme anymore because they say it's too difficult for writers to do well.
2. Grammatical and spelling errors are an immediate turn-off and reason for rejection. Editors don't have time to correct mistakes you should have looked at before sending the manuscript to them.
3. If your book sounds too much like something that is already published and well known, publishers won't want to repeat it. And don't try to compete with a children's classic. Your work will immediately be compared to it.
4. Make sure your picture books have characters who are children. (Despite a few critical responses I received for saying this myself in my last newsletter entry, there are writers who forget this.)
5. Mysteries for children are slightly different than that for adults, and the only way to learn the distinction is to read the genre. A good series to look at right now are the Kiki Strike books by Kirsten Miller.
6. Trends are fine to pay attention to. The hottest now are vampires, pirates and environmental or "green" books. But just as soon as the trend is met in the industry, it can quickly turn into enough already. So beware the rush to write to a trend.
7. In a picture book manuscript, sometimes it's not the number of words you write, but the message they convey. Every word has to matter. They have to give insight into the main character and move the story along.
8. The book's conflict should be clear within the first two pages.
9. Familiarize yourself with the correct genre terms or you give yourself away as someone who doesn't quite know what you're sending an editor.
10. Author Judy Blume once said you should start your manuscript on the day that everything changes for your character.
11. Books need problems and resolutions.
12. Kids love their grandparents, so as a topic, it's a great relationship to explore.
13. Read the dialogue aloud once you've written it so you can hear if it has a natural rhythm and sounds realistic. To that end, listen to how kids speak so you get it right.
14. Don't bother writing an alphabet book for the time being. They only sell if they have a big name attached, like Steve Martin's.
15. Pay attention to all the details you write to be sure they make sense. If the family is moving furniture, can a four-year-old main character move a sofa by herself? If she can, the author has to explain why she has strength beyond her years.
1. When pitching (querying) to an editor, present only one idea. Frontloading your pitch only makes both ideas get lost.
2. Don't try to trick the editor into liking your idea. A catchy headline or phrase is great, but not if it ultimately turns out to be different than your actual story idea. It works for the National Enquirer, but not most publications and book publishers.
3. Have a clear and brief statement that outlines your story. If you have to preface your idea with an explanation, you've lost your chance at selling it.
4. Go for the human interest angle. In other words, what would make an editor take your idea now? Is there an upcoming event to promote? Someone who has overcome a problem that illustrates what you want covered?
5. This is particularly important for those who don't yet have clips: Do not mistake a published blog entry as a writing sample. Unless it was an assignment from an editor, it doesn't count as a writing sample. But if you are going to use blogs as your opportunity to practice being published, make sure the writing is dynamite. Once it's on the Web, it can't be retracted. Oh, and as I told the students, employers do check Facebook and My Space pages to see what kind of person you really are. Make sure you represent yourself well.
There's much more to say on all of these topics, but I have a magazine deadline to meet. So stay tuned.
But the main thought I walked away with, and emphasized to her, is what has made parenting easier for me is that I've always reached out to other moms for support: to complain to, check in with, reveal my worst moments to, and to get advice from. And I've done the same as a writer. I have several different outlets through which I can reach out to other writers to complain to, check in with, reveal my worst moments, and to get advice from.
If you don't already have a group of like-minded writers to talk to, join a group at your local library; join a local writer's organization; or join any one of the national organizations. You can check on my site at www.lizaburby.com for some of the organizations I belong to so you can get an idea of the variety out there. But I have also made friends with numerous local writers, many of whom freelance for me. It helps because they know the local market as I do, so we can help each other. Sometimes that help means referring work. So, what are you waiting for? Parent or writer or both? Reach out to others. We all need the extra arms--even if you don't call yourself "Octopus Mom."
The National Book Foundation announced today that the following are finalists in their Young People's Literature category. It's always a good idea to read what the industry considers to be the best current available books for children. It helps you to clarify what publishers are looking for. And it's just good reading.
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown & Company)
Kathleen Duey, Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
M. Sindy Felin, Touching Snow (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic Press)
Sara Zarr, Story of a Girl (Little, Brown & Company).
The independent publisher, Alma Little, is looking for children's manuscripts, specifically picture books, early readers and middle grade fiction. They're also looking for new illustrators. Take a look at their site, www.almalittle.com for submissions guidelines. It's always nice when they want us to come to them. Good luck!Read more