Monday, November 30, 2009

An Open Letter: Guidelines for Choosing

Hello Lynnda...I read on one of your blog posts that you were taking the Apprentice course through Christian Writers Guild.  I am a new writer and wondered about the course.  Have you found it helpful?  Any other suggestions.  God bless your writing ministry. Connie C.

Good morning, Connie;

Congratulations on your decision to become a writer! You are starting out on a marvelous adventure that makes anything Indiana Jones experienced in the movies seem tame by comparison.

Like anything else that is worth doing, becoming a professional writer is not easy; it's not even simple. Becoming a published professional writer in today's world is difficult and complicated. Becoming a Christian writer adds another dimension to this. What you write will reflect on who God is. For that reason, adding professional skills to the talent God gave you is important.

Which brings us to formal training to improve your skills. I have worked through the first seven lessons of fifty in the apprentice program of The Christian Writer's Guild, and so far, I love it. For me, signing up for a formal training program was important. That may not be true for you. Here are some guidelines for deciding if you want to take that path.

1. How much money can you afford to spend? I can afford the $60 a month the apprentice program costs me. From the prices I've seen for independent mentors, this is a bargain. I have personal attention from a seasoned professional for every sentence I write in the lessons. Since the program lasts two years, my mentor will be a major factor in the polishing of my skills. Make sure your budget can allow for the extra expense. No formal course worth doing is without significant cost. Remember though, this is an investment in your career.

2. How much time can you commit to the lessons? This was another easy one for me, since I am physically handicapped and spend 90% of my time at home. Keeping to the schedule of sending in a lesson once every two weeks can eat up large chunks of your time, if you get everything you can from the lessons. Any formal program will demand that you give up something and spend your time studying the craft of writing. Look at what you can give up doing so that you can replace it with learning to write.

3. What other formal education courses are available for you to consider? I researched several other options before I chose distance learning. If you live in a rural area, distance learning may be the best process for you. If you live in or near a city, check out continuing education courses. If you are fortunate enough to live near a university that has a degree program for writers, look into that.

4. Do you have the energy, stamina, and determination to complete the course? Many times, I have started projects I did not complete (like most of my New Year's resolutions!). Learning how to write is work. If you get discouraged by the feedback on your lessons, if you are depressed by the latest rejection letter, if you have family or friends who cannot understand why you study so much, can you persevere and do the work required? Be sure you have the focus and determination to overcome the obstacles that will come your way.

5. What is your goal in improving your writing skills? For me, the answer is that I want to become a Master Writer. Whatever the goal is, it must be your goal. Put it in writing. If you do not know why you want to take the course, how will you know if you're getting out of it what you need?

6. Is God leading you in this direction? While I researched my options, I prayed. Our minds are as malleable as clay. I wanted to be sure that what I was learning molded my mind to honor God more. As I learned about the programs available, I was sensitive to catch that inner snick of certainty that told me I was on the right path. If you get all the other things right but fail to consider God's will for you, it can lead to a catastrophe.
Taking a formal writing course is not the only way to learn the craft of writing. Books on writing abound (look in a library), as do blogs on writing. Conferences have writing classes and local writing organizations primarily exist to help their members learn how to improve their writing.
For everyone, the best advice is to stay alert to make the most of every opportunity and to glean every advantage from your resources as you go on this adventure. Becoming a professional writer requires courage, a love for words, mental toughness, determination, excellent writing skills, and a burning desire to see others read and appreciate the words you've written. Anyone can do it.

Be blessed,


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Children’s Books – Who Reads What

Hi, Mary Jo! It's nice to have you back at the table. I always look forward to the days you come in. Do you have time to drink a cup of café au lait while you're here? That's perfect drink for this blustery day. I know you've come to tell us helpful information for writing children's nonfiction books. Why don't you get started?

"Lynnda asked me to tell you about age levels in children's nonfiction books. I'm also going to touch on the different types of children's books within the age levels.

"Generally, children's book publishers break down age levels in children's books as follows:

"Baby, toddler:
ages 0-3: board books, touch-and-feel books, cloth books, bath books. Because book packagers often produce these books, it isn't an easy area for aspiring writers to break into.

"Preschool: age 18 months to 3 years. Very simple picture books, novelty books, such as lift-the-flap books, board books. Information books for this age might include concept books (colors, counting, size and shape), books about everyday objects (cars and trucks), or animals (farm animals, animal babies).

"Picture Books: Preschool to grade 3. Classic picture books, generally 32 pages long, in which pictures and text are of equal importance. Longer picture books or photo essay-type picture books might be geared to older readers, ages 5-9.

"I've read recently that the publishers have cooled on longer picture books (retellings of fables, folk or fairy tales), but are looking for picture books with spare language for the very young. Multicultural books continue to be popular.

"Nonfiction picture books include: biographies, behind the scenes (how a crayon is made), explaining money (How Much is a Million), historical events (the Oregon Trail), science and the environment, astronomy, pets, animals (polar bears, sharks, whales), holidays (particularly multicultural), dinosaurs, and sports.

"Easy-to-read, easy reader, or leveled readers: Grades 1 and 2. These are the first books that children read to themselves and have controlled vocabulary that increases in difficulty at each level. In a bookstore or library, easy readers are usually shelved separately.

"In nonfiction, easy readers might be about animals, the rainforest, sports, biographies, dinosaurs, easy scientific concepts (why leaves change color), space, etc. Leveled readers are also usually published in series.

"Chapter books:
Grades 2-4: Some publishers no longer use this term, but these are the transitional books between easy readers and thicker middle grade books. Jon Scieszka's Time Warp Trio series and the Captain Underpants books come to mind. Many of these chapter books are also published in series. However, publishers are in search of good books for boys, so it might be worth a try writing a nonfiction chapter book. Many boys get lost in the shuffle at this age and fall behind girls in their reading skills, and boys at this age often prefer reading nonfiction to fiction.

"Middle grade. Grades 3-6. This is the prime reading age for kids. They often have their own topics in which they become experts, and gender difference becomes more apparent in the nonfiction books they choose to read (for example, horses, ballet, or gymnastics for girls, and space or sports for boys). There are two types of nonfiction books for this group--books designed primarily for libraries and schools (unfortunately called the "institutional market") and the fun, lighter fare for recreational reading--nonfiction you might find in bookstores or sold through book clubs.

"The series I co-wrote, the Undersea Encounters series, was designed for school/library market, but we tried to make the books fun and appealing enough to be in bookstores (fun design, amazing photos, etc). Some Undersea Encounters paperbacks were sold to bookstores, but for the most part booksellers don't want to carry books they perceive to be school support books (no matter how lively the design!).

"To get an idea of library-type nonfiction books, look in the children's room of your local library. These types of books about countries, states, biographies etc (for example, the various Children's Press series) are usually shelved separately. Each book in the series will have a similar format and must include the following: table of contents, subject broken in chapters, index, glossary, and bibliography. Generally the books have also been reviewed by experts in the field (either chosen by the publisher or by the author). For the Undersea Encounters series, for example, we asked renowned marine biologists to be our consultants.

"Trade books for this age include ephemeral mass market books (paperbacks about the latest fads, celebrities, etc), and more substantial books such as the DK books, which have spectacular photographs and interesting designs. The DK books cover all sorts of topics of interest to kids.

"Some of the nonfiction topics for middle grade level include: biographies, environmental issues (rainforest, ecology, being green), animals, sports, books about historical events, music, ballet, how things work, geography, horses, science experiments and projects, fun facts book, nature, cookbooks, craft books, holiday books, computers, drawing books, pop culture.

"YA: Ages 12 and up. This area has grown increasingly important in recent years, though I think primarily in fiction, not nonfiction. YA nonfiction books would include school support material (books, for example, about anorexia and drug abuse), or books that speak to the concerns of young adults: pop culture, music, puberty, self-empowerment, stress, cliques, identity, health, and social issues. Some interesting historical nonfiction has been written for this age level. See, for example, Ann Bausum's With Courage and Cloth, about the women's suffrage movement.

"Final thoughts: If you don't have much contact with kids or teens, it's important to read magazines, watch TV shows and movies, talk to kids, and read books for kids to get a handle of what might interest them. If you're writing primarily for the school/library market, look at what's been written on the topic already. Are the books on this subject already out of date? Check, for example, National and State Educational Standards. Perhaps you can think of a topic that might fit perfectly into the school curriculum.

"Also, I recommend joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - scbwi. As a member, you will receive information about SCBWI conferences around the country (where you can meet editors and agents), and you can network with other children's writers. In addition, the SCBWI bulletin has a section called "what editors and librarians are looking for," which often includes nonfiction topics."

Thanks, Mary Jo. I will return to your advice often as I decide what to write for whom when I have an idea for a children's book.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. You are definitely at the top of my list of people for whom I'm thankful.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Perpetual Researcher

Hello, Ethel. Welcome back! Sit here at the end of the table, get your thoughts together while I order you something to drink, and tell us more about research. (If you missed her first installment on research, click here.)

OK, you have our complete attention.

"Research is not a thing you do.

"Research is a passion for information and the truth it represents. This passion translates into a frame of mind where every wind that brushes across your cheek whispers secrets, opens doors, dispenses treasures. These all enrich your person and give your project unexpected substance and relevance.

"I recall one day, years ago, fuming because I had to take time out from researching the book I was writing to take my mother-in-law to the doctor. Sitting in the office waiting, I browsed through a magazine in search of diversion. Instead, I found an address that promised to hold important materials for my research.

"In the end that one address led to another which led to another and another… This little discovery proved to be one of my most valuable finds in the whole process for that project. If I hadn't already developed what I've since come to call the mind of a perpetual researcher I might have missed it altogether.

"When you research, you must submerge yourself in your topic. As we used to say, you learn to eat your topic, sleep it, think it, breathe it. It consumes you. No matter whom you meet or talk with, you always have one ear open for the magical words that tell you this person my very well be bursting with some expertise, opinion, or experience you are searching for - or they may know someone else who is.

"Become an expert at steering all kinds of conversations in the direction of your topic. Whether they know it or not, you are interviewing everyone you talk with. You are searching their minds and hearts for fresh nuances and personal connections that will give your work both depth and breadth and make it different from anything else on the market.

"Of course, there's more - TV programs, radio talk shows, books, newspapers, magazines, seminars, guided tours, even junk mail. All these and many more contribute to the flood of information that surrounds us. Each source is a potential gold mine for the writer with antennae tuned to the topic that holds you in its grip.

"In the introduction to one of his biographical novels about Michelangelo, historian/novelist, Sidney Alexander talks about walking through the city of Florence in search of his hero. He called it doing research "through the pores." The passionate researcher opens up himself to it all and lets it invade his mind and his person.

"Ideas fill the air we breathe. So do the sensory observations that bring our writing to life. The whole world is one vast library just waiting to be consulted, but we never know which corner will yield the treasures we are looking for. So, as researchers, we keep the eyes and ears open, the antennae attuned. We never assume that some resource we encounter has no value for us. Rather, we dig it all up, take it apart, question it, give it a chance to make our work great. We become The Perpetual Researcher."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Community Spotlight

Hi, everyone! Sorry I'm late. Let me squeeze by so I can get to my chair.

Don't you just love it when your favorite relative comes to town? My sister and I get to see each other only a couple of times a year, so her visit was a real treat. Unfortunately, catching up with my writing responsibilities afterwards always take more time than I think it will.

I see the table got bigger while I was gone. I want to welcome Jennifer Ortolano. Jennifer writes Blogging It Out and Through the Eyes of a Bulimic. Check out her blogs, but watch out for her sense of humor. She got me with her video.

Lori Calabrese has also pulled a chair up to our table. Link here for her web page. Lori is an award winning children's writer with lots to offer writers of children's books on her web site. Right now, she has a "Fishing for a Free Book" thing going on that looks like lots of fun.

Berta is the third new member of our community. I'd like to put Berta in the spotlight, too. From the list of blogs she's joined, I'm guessing that she lives and writes in Kentucky, but she has no links for me to connect and share. Berta, would you care to leave a comment and tell us more about yourself?

Do you remember what I wrote about not re-inventing the wheel? (Scroll down and read Day 7 if you don't know what I'm talking about.) While I was researching publishers, I found two more places of interest for our community: Funds for Writers , which is full of leads to paying jobs, contests, and grants for writers.

The second one is Selling Books. Don't let the title fool you. Along with marketing savvy, the site calls itself the "guide to writing, publishing and marketing books and ebooks" and it's not an empty boast. While I was exploring the web page, I took the opportunity to participate in their "blog carnival." That was new to me, too. Link here then scroll down until you find the paragraph about Ethel Herr's research article on our community blog. Look for me to use this again for other posts.

I also have a new nonfiction agent for our list (aka "The N-F A-List"). Loren Grossman represents a wide array of nonfiction book topics. To quote the news article, "The Paul S. Levine Agency is pleased to announce that Ms. Loren R. Grossman has joined the Agency. She will primarily handle non-fiction books in the areas of Archeology, Art/Photography/Architecture, Child Guidance/Parenting, Coffee Table Books, Education, Gardening, Health/Medicine/Science, Memoirs, and Sociology." So if you have a book idea in one of those categories, think about querying Ms. Grossman.

Links to Funds for Writers, Selling Books, and Ms. Grossman have been added in the column on the right for future reference.

That's it for today. Sorry I can't stay longer, but I still haven't caught up with everything. See you soon.

Monday, November 2, 2009

And the winner is...

Hi everybody!

I'm in a hurry this morning, so I can only stay a minute. I wanted to let you know that Marsha Moore won Ethel Herr's book, An Introduction to Christian Writing.

Be back again soon.