Q&A & Q&A & Q&A, Plus A Chance to Win an Hour of My Editorial Time ~ A Free Webinar ~ A Writing Contest ~ A New Book Out This Month, Edited by Me ~ Upcoming Conferences ~ Six Links ~ And a Cat 
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Hello, friends (over 500 of you now!) --

I put out my standard monthly call on social media for Q’s to A, and got so many interesting queries that I’m devoting almost this entire issue to them, divided into the topics of Writing, Publishing, and Marketing. I hope you find these quick bites of information useful at the end of the summer, and they help you warm up into happy reading and writing in the fall. 

BUT! Before we get to the Q&A, please check out the #KidlitCares Auction going on now to benefit the Red Cross's Hurricane Harvey efforts. Author extraordinaire Kate Messner has organized donations from nearly 200 agents, editors, and authors, offering critiques, Skype visits, signed copies, and many other prizes. You can bid to win an hour of my editorial time, for instance, where I'll critique a selection of the manuscript, consult on what book you should write next, or line-edit a query letter for you. Thanks for your interest, and bid early & often!

Is it okay for a chapter book to switch POV chapters? Mine is that way but i can’t remember reading one.

I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t do this, although, since your book is for beginning readers, I’d advise you to keep the POV structure simple (e.g. you alternate POVs with every chapter, and the relationship between the two characters becomes clear by the end, if it isn't clear from the beginning). And of course make sure both POVs are truly necessary for the book to do what it’s meant to do. 

I would love any tips on how to make the setting come alive. Seems sometimes the setting is like a character.

I’d say treat the setting like a character, and try to develop it the way you would a character. Some questions to contemplate:  What is the history of this place? Write out a timeline of it. What did it look like before any beings lived on/in it—its landscape, its climate? If it’s a human-made place (e.g. a house or a business or a town), who built it, and for what purpose, and why at that location? Who has occupied this place since, and how have they used it? If there were a “spirit of the place,” what would that spirit be like, and how would it have reacted to each of these occupants? Think of at least three specific details for each of its historical iterations:  the kind of flora and fauna that dwelled there, a game played there, the surnames of the families that lived there. Which of those details have survived into the present day of your story? 

A couple of my writing friends submit picture book text with the spreads already figured out and numbered. From my experience, a pb in production goes through so many changes, any pre-thought-out structure would be useless. So is it useful to an editor to receive a pb text with the spreads numbered? Or is it something they would not pay any attention to?

As an editor, I find spread numbers at least moderately useful because they show me (a) that the author has a sense of picture-book structure and has tried to write to it, and (b) where the author sees the page turns, which demonstrates in turn how the author builds up drama in the book. You’re right that the structure can change completely by the time the book actually comes out, so the effort may be useless! But as an initial indicator of the author’s vision, I don’t object to it. Other editors may disagree, though, or find them an infringement of the editor’s or illustrator’s prerogatives. The best bet may be to write the book within the 32-page ladder, so you get all the benefits of thinking about that structure, then remove the numbers before submission. 

[I lost the text of the original question here, but a writer asked something like:  “I’ve been told that the kids in my middle-grade adventure novel are too chaperoned and accommodating to the adults, but this feels right and realistic to me. What should I do about it?”]

This is a tricky problem, because it runs up against both present reality and one of the Great Laws of Children's Literature. In present reality, kids must be supervised at all times or parents can be accused of negligence -- and many kids like such supervision, in my understanding, or may not want to be without their parents or break the rules. And yet it is also a Great Law of Children's Literature that any middle-grade novel must be centered on a child who is free to act as necessary, who will drive the action and ultimately solve the story, and grown-ups, by their very nature, get in the way of all of that. It will be very difficult to find an editor who does not believe in this Great Law, so It seems to me you have three options here:

1. Quash your instincts. If you’re protecting your characters and making sure they’re always adequately supervised, you are acting like your characters’ mother. As much as you might love your characters, you need to remember you are not their mother:  You’re their Fight Club manager, and it’s your job to get them into trouble, or let them get themselves into trouble, and then maximize that drama on behalf of readers. This can be hard to do, but if you want to write an adventure, you have to let go. 
2. Find a way to make the adults less responsible or less able to save the day. The circumstances will depend on the plot of your novel and the nature of your characters, but:  Perhaps the mom is an alcoholic or works the night shift, so while she’s around, she’s not always reliable as a guide. Or perhaps the dad knows he’s a helicopter parent, so he’s consciously trying to step back and have his kid take more risks. Or perhaps the terms of the adventure dictate (for whatever reason) that only a person under the age of 18 can solve the final puzzle. Something like that might let the parents be present, but still provide a limitation on their powers that allows the child to act.

3. Shape your novel for a market where adult-centrism will be appreciated. I’m not sure about this one, but perhaps your book could work in the Christian children’s fiction market, where readers might appreciate more deference to parental authority? 

I wish you the best of luck with all of this.

Free Writing Webinar!

Earlier this month, my colleagues Jessica Echeverria, Stacy Whitman, and I hosted a webinar called "Shaping Up Your Manuscript:  A Conversation with Our Editors," with particular focus on revising for Lee & Low and Tu Books' New Voices and New Visions Awards (see links to our guidelines below). The recording of the webinar is now available to replay for FREE at the link here. Enjoy!


When people finally get a publishing deal…. Is it really the end-all-be-all most aspiring writers imagine? Or is it just a stepping stone? 

This depends very much on the writer, the project, and what the writer wants out of their writing career. Getting a deal will definitely make you happy for a night, or a week, or however long the buzz of the news lasts! But then you will have to get down to revisions, which can take away some of that buzz. Likewise, holding your book in your hands for the first time—your thoughts in physical form—is another huge thrill! But then, if you are like most writers, you might worry about marketing it, and how it will perform, and what Kirkus will say, and whether a second book will do as well . . . In sum, a deal is usually not an end, but a beginning to a lot of other joys and concerns. 

Which is as it should be, I think. Because if a publishing deal is an “end-all-be-all for you,” that implies you’ve been writing solely for the chance to have your writerly worth recognized—that the recognition by some outside force (an agent, a publisher) is all that matters to you. And I hope instead that the work matters to you, that you take pleasure in the writing, that you want to see how far your gifts can go and find out what more you have to say. I’m going to quote from The Magic Words here, from Chapter 3, on “Using and Developing Your Gifts.” (The second paragraph includes some wisdom from the multi-published and excellent novelist Gwenda Bond, among others.) 

Cultivate a Purpose. Why do you write? Do you need to see a story completed, or get paid, or receive praise, or teach a lesson, or simply think out loud? If you can identify your reasons, they can help keep you going through the long trek to finishing a story or novel. The more you can make your purpose depend on you alone—that you want to work through your own questions about the afterlife, say, or your magical forest on the page is more of a home to you than your actual house—the easier it will be to carry out that purpose, as you won’t be reliant on other people to get what you need emotionally from writing.

If your sole purpose in writing is to be published, I would encourage you to think further about this, particularly about what you believe you will get out of being published. It is meaningful and exciting to see a book with your name on it and your thoughts in it, and to get paid for those thoughts, and being a published writer can certainly change your life. But it’s equally important to recognize that publication in and of itself will not solve your problems or make you happy long term, and it may even create more stress about the book’s success or your future work. (Note that “getting published” is a purpose that is entirely dependent on the decisions of other people.) See if you can find a purpose for your writing that will make the process worthwhile for you even if you never publish the book.

Another question to consider here: What’s at the end of your trail of stepping stones? If you write and revise well and the book is published well, then yes, a first publication can lead to more publications, and perhaps an entire career as a full-time professional writer. But if that’s what you’re aiming for, I hope for your sake that you enjoy writing and have a purpose for it in all the ways suggested above. Otherwise, you’re working hard toward a career doing something you don’t like very much, and that’s not a recipe for a satisfying life. 

Any words of wisdom for internationals trying to publish a first novel in the U.S.? 

The challenge with international authors is that you’re less available for in-person marketing (in particular bookstore appearances and school visits for children’s books); you may not have much of an American literary community and connections; and you are disqualified from some awards that can be very useful to U.S. sales (if you’re lucky enough to win one, which of course by definition few books do). Also, some publishers and booksellers will find the international angle exciting; others will believe that American readers (and young readers in particular) are too narrowly self-focused to connect with a story with an international protagonist or setting.

But a great book with a creative author and the right publisher can overcome most of these problems. To start, I’d suggest approaching agents rather than publishers, as an agent intrigued by your work can help you shape it for the particular needs of the U. S. market. If you want to go to publishers directly, look for houses with a particular international bent (like Melville House in the adult market, or my current or former employers). Note any American connections you might have in your cover letter—you visit the States often, say, or you’re a member of SCBWI, which is distinctly America-centric. And some kind of American connection in the text itself doesn’t hurt, I have to say (though if it would hurt the Gestalt of your book, by God don’t do it).

Finally, I will say:  Why not bend all these efforts toward publication in your home country? The market may not be as large, but you’ll have homegrown support for its development and publication, and if the book does well, the international rights could very well be sold to the U.S. . . . work that will then be done by your agent or the house’s foreign-rights manager, and not by you. 

How does one secure one’s work-in-progress, copyright-wise?

You can, if you really want to, write to the U.S. Copyright Office and register the text. But in 99% of cases, you don’t need to do this, because the work’s mere existence establishes an unofficial copyright, and your publisher will register the book officially once it is published. If you’re concerned about this in regards to having your work on submission, don’t be:  Publishers do not steal writers’ submissions, because you will have written evidence you sent the ms. to us, which would mean you could sue us and win if we stole your idea, and we are not stupid enough to invite those kinds of lawsuits. (Indeed, many publishers do not accept unsolicited submissions in order to avoid any chance of this kind of lawsuit.) So I’d advise you to save yourself the time and money. 
What is the difference between the educational market and the trade market?

The trade market is the bookstore market:  Barnes & Noble, independent booksellers, Amazon. The educational market is any school- or education-based market:  books sold directly to school districts and school and public libraries (though marketing for the trade may cross over here). Educational-market books are often written and sold in sets/series focused around some particular topic and/or at a very specific reading level, or as “high-low” books, which means they have a high-interest topic with language written at an easy reading level for struggling readers. Many trade publishers have an education division, and individual titles from educational publishers are often still available at online retailers, at the least. Some notable educational publishers include Abdo, Capstone, and Lerner; notable trade publishers include the Big Five, Scholastic, Candlewick, etc.


Are you an unpublished writer of color with a draft of a book for children or young adults? You should submit it to the Lee & Low New Voices Award for picture-book manuscripts, or the Tu Books New Visions Award for middle-grade and YA novels. The winners of both contests receive a cash prize and a publication contract, and the chance to work with me and the other excellent editors at Lee & Low and Tu Books in publishing your work. The New Voices deadline is September 30, and New Visions submissions are open through October 31. For more details, click here.


Do people in publishing ever talk about how to get kids to enjoy reading?

We try to put out books that kids will enjoy reading, and we pay attention to what data or professional opinions we can gather about the books they DO enjoy reading. (See, for instance, Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report.) But generally, the work of getting them to read is left to teachers, librarians, and literacy specialists. 

Book trailers:  Pros of making one vs. cons. Do they help sales? 
I do not have any real data on this, but these are my impressions of the pros and cons:

  • Fun!
  • Good for marketing to kids, and those who work with kids. (E.g., it’s easy for teachers to show them in class, and it gives librarians an instant book talk.)
  • GREAT for school visits.
  • Can build up anticipation and interest in an ongoing series especially.
  • Hard to do them well on a meager budget.
  • Fresh, creative ones can be useful; bad ones—PowerPoint slideshows or iMovie clip jobs—probably don’t hurt, but they might be a waste of money and time if you don’t do a lot of school visits or have a way to get the clip in front of a significant audience. 

Agree? Disagree? I'll post this question on my blog at; feel free to come by, opine, and share links to especially great trailers. 

Two Upcoming Conferences Including Me!

Novelists Inc. Conference (NINC)
October 4-8, 2017
St. Petersburg, Florida


I'll be talking about characterization & narrative suture, and working with what makes you weird.

Returning the Gift Native & Indigenous Literary Festival
October 8-11, 2017
Norman, Oklahoma


I'll be part of two sessions at this conference for and celebrating Native writers, talking about the extraordinary picture book The People Shall Continue, and offering a 101 on writing for children & YA. I look forward to learning a great deal as well.

New Books I Edited, Out Now

by Adam Lehrhaupt, illustrated by Jared Chapman. Like many of you, I’m sure, I am an elements-of-writing nerd—the kind of person who has strong opinions on Oxford commas, and who named her self-publishing imprint after a punctuation mark. Thus, when the manuscript for Wordplay landed in my inbox, I was helpless before its charms. Here Verb is a hyperactive playground star—she runs! She jumps! She slides!—and  earns the admiration of Adjective, Adverb, and Interjection in the process. (“WOW!” says Interjection.) Meanwhile, the new kid Noun is a quiet shapeshifter—he can be any person, place, or thing. But when his transformative powers steal attention away from Verb, she sulks . . . until a crisis inspires the whole team to work together in perfect grammar. Each of these parts of speech finds distinctive character in Jared Chapman’s bright and brilliant illustrations, and the result is witty, educational, and emotionally satisfying—a can’t-miss gift for language lovers. 


The Book He Wasn't Supposed to Write. "Two weeks after I sent [my editor] the manuscript, I received a most unhappy e-mail back from him. 'I fear that the disconnect over what this book should be might be fundamental,' Scott wrote to me, clearly pained to do so. What I had sent him was exactly the book he had told me not to write." . . . And what follows is one of the most interesting and in-depth revision stories I've heard in some time.  

Why I Stopped Talking about Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking about White Supremacy. "Racial Reconciliation assumes an innocent reading of history. This is a term I learned from theologian Justo Gonzalez. An innocent telling of history is foundational to maintaining unjust and racist systems. When have white people ever been in just relationship with black people? During slavery? During Jim Crow? During the War on Drugs? What are we RE-conciling? It pretends that there was a time when everything was fine, we just need to get back there. However, that idyllic time has never existed."

Literaticast. The excellent agent Jennifer Laughran (aka @literaticat) has started a podcast, with episodes so far focusing on agenting, picture books, publicity, conferences . . . a whole raft of good advice delivered with personality and great guests. Check them all out! 

Magic and Mentions. Sady Doyle writes beautifully and painfully about being a new mother, and a feminist on the Internet, and the way our public-private Internet lives have made her motherhood a target for hatred.

How to Write a Synopsis. An oldie but goodie:  Daniel José Older tells you all you need to know in this six-minute video. (His marvelous new book, Shadowhouse Fall, launches September 11 at Housing Works Used Bookstore Cafe in New York. Come out!)

A Sermon on Anger. I delivered a lay sermon a few weeks ago at my beloved church, Park Slope United Methodist, talking about the deadly sin of anger, with reflections on both theology & our present political polarization. 

Finally, the Marley Picture of the Month.

Unfortunately, CAT is only worth five points.
(A P.S. for people who actually read this far:  If you recognized the lyric in the subject line without Googling it, send an e-mail to with the name of the song and the character who sings the line. One randomly chosen reply will win a signed copy of The Magic Words, which continues to be available at a fine bookstore near you. Thanks for reading!)
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