Monday, December 31, 2007

My Writing Resolutions: 2008

In no particular order:
  1. Use the word often less often in my nonfiction writing.
  2. Redo my author site.
  3. Say no to writing projects I don't want to do.
  4. Write at least one children's piece without a contract in place.
  5. Identify publishers that might like to see my back-burnered novels. See if they wanna see 'em.
  6. Apply for one writer's grant.
  7. Cut back on some of the industry-related volunteer work I do.
  8. Get intimate with all of my writerly software.
  9. Flex my weekday schedule enough to enable me to sit in on the local Tuesday morning writers' group once in a while.
  10. Address the bookshelf situation in my office.

I Get Questions

I frequently get emails from strangers asking me about various issues related to children's writing. I sometimes get them from distant friends of possible acquaintances, too. Questions generally fall under these broad categories:

(1) How to write for children/how to "break in" to the business

(2) What publishers want

(3) Where to find publishers/editors/agents

(4) Requests for comments on a story idea (or an attached work)

(5) How to get a child's story (one written by a child, that is) published

As much as I wish I could personally correspond with everyone who gets in touch, I can't.

I can, however, add an FAQ feature to this blog. So I will. Starting . . . soon. Appearing . . . on no particular schedule. Just like my other posts.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dazed, Confused

That's how writing during a holiday week makes me feel. I sent off a project at 9:45 tonight after working practically nonstop since early on the 26th to finish it. I'd done nothing but holiday on the 25th, of course, and very little work of note on the 24th. The 26th went well, but the 27th was a killer. Apathy, envy, and seeming ineptitude ruled the day. Extreme exhaustion was my constant companion. Luckily, though, today went well. But it was a long haul to get where I needed to be. I don't think I moved anything but typing and darting (of the eye) muscles for my last several hours of work.

I joined my husband at 10 on the main floor for a saaaaad little orangey dinner of blue-box mac and cheese. (The beautiful prime rib of the 25th and 26th it was not.) I must say I was shocked that he'd waited to eat with me. I told him at 4 that I fully expected to be done by 7, at which time I'd love to get a pizza. You'd think that 17+ years into the relationship, he'd know that my prediction would be hours off the mark and not in my favor. That his best course of action by far would have been to save himself and eat something already. But he waited for me and supportively suffered through the same blah late-night dinner. Sweet.

I often feel too keyed up after working late to think about sleep right away. My wheels just keep spinning. So I've been sitting around, flipping through magazines, surfing the Net a little, and just trying to get a handle on what day it is. I keep swearing it's late Sunday night because it feels like I missed a weekend. But it really is a Friday. I'll take it since I don't plan to work again until the afternoon of the real Sunday coming up next.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Office-Job Envy

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (and again). I love freelancing. Taking my business full-time 5 years ago is one of the best decisions I've ever made. It's rare for me to think wistful thoughts about being back in an office. But today is one of those days where I'm struggling with extreme Office-Job Envy. Why? For the simple reason that I know I would have taken this week OFF. As in, no working period. No guilt about down time or family time or personal time. Instead, though, I am struggling to stay productive and focused on my several remaining 2007 deadlines.

Publishers love to collect as many projects from freelancers by the tail-end of the year as they can. It's nothing new, just tradition. Now, I know the same thing goes on in-house: writers are scrambling to pass copy to editors; editors are scrambling to move manuscripts into designers' hands; and on and on and on. Worker-bees/departments/companies in publishing and every industry want the decks cleared for a fresh start on January 1.

It's just that as an expendable freelancer, I often can't afford to schedule my breaks exactly when I want them. Yes, my days are my own to structure as I wish. But to make a living at this, I have to make myself available when it suits the clients. I have far less input — usually none — into any schedule (besides saying "No, can't do it" and waving good-bye; something I do on occasion) than office workers who can jockey for those last gulps of conference-room oxygen and better project schedules than their in-person colleagues. So, if I really want to work on a given project, my schedule must be more flexible than the client's and the nameless, faceless next writer-editor on the client's contact list.

Whine over. I'm happy for the work. Really, I am. I'm just sleepy from too many sweets in the house and a cold rain that's keeping me from a brisk "shake it off" walk. All the out-of-office autoresponders coming back to me aren't helping, either, but at least I don't have to fully engage with anyone this week. Big plus! The only thing left to do is completely erase from my mind that my husband is "vacationing" upstairs. And to start thinking ahead to my next dedicated block of vacation that I hope doesn't pan out due to loads of great work I coudn't bear to turn down.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Day in the Morning

Christmas has been in the air at my house the past few days. We're running last-minute errands, playing holiday music all day long, preparing special meals, indulging in goodies (again, all day long), arranging gifts under the tree, making special phone calls, and taking long light-viewing walks after dark. We've even dressed the dog in a holiday collar. It's fun.

Last night I spent some time with two wonderful seasonal picture books you might enjoy checking out:

A Christmas Memory
by Truman Capote wasn't written for children — it's a memoir of Capote's childhood experiences in rural Alabama, and a companion piece to The Thanksgiving Visitor — but its rich characters and beautiful story about true friendship and the search for Christmas meaning make it a great read-aloud for the whole family. The tale gives young ones something to think about, and Capote's beautiful yet accessible writing exudes warmth and comfort without hitting you with a trite or treacly message. Beth Peck illustrated the picture book version of this story (Knopf, 2006). Her subdued paintings perfectly capture the action and mood, making it seem as though she and the author worked together to create this gem of a book.

I read Pearl S. Buck's Christmas Day in the Morning for the first time last night. I enjoyed it so much that I reread it first thing today. The story was first published in 1955, but this is the first picture book interpretation of it. Illustrator Mark Buehner's gorgeous artwork (look for embedded symbols in the clouds, quilts, and wood grain) brings to life Buck's spare, sincere tale of a boy's Christmas gift of love. The story is easy to grasp even for the very young, but — as with Capote's story — the very old, and every age in between, will find beauty in the universally meaningful tale. (I read it while carrying on a brief conversation with my husband — meaning just half my focus was on it — and I still teared up.)

I probably won't do any more reading today. It's time to prepare our pre-Christmas Eve service hors d'oeuvres. We'll spend the latter part of the evening with a few more cookies and holiday spirit(s) as we listen to Dylan Thomas reading his A Child's Christmas in Wales. Then it's the traditional watching of Holiday Inn and off to bed to listen for reindeer on the roof.

Here's wishing all of you out there in blogland a peaceful and very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Multiplatform Kids' Series Coming to Bookstores, Toy Stores, and Web Sites Near (or Accessible By) You

Stand-alone children's books are so century-before-last.

Publishers Weekly is reporting that Scholastic is developing a multiplatform middle-grade adventure series called The 39 Clues. Each book will be penned by a different author, with Rick Riordan writing the first (I love his Percy Jackson series).

Here's what makes the series "multiplatform":
  • 10 books published over the course of 2 years
  • collectible cards
  • online game
  • more than $100K in prizes
Whew! Readers will use the different platforms to solve clues that lead to the satisfaction of cracking a good mystery (and, I'm assuming, the satisfaction of winning a licensed ancillary product).

The games begin September 9, 2008. Should be an interesting ride to watch. Don't even try to tell me that a TV or movie series is not already in the works for 2010. Because I wouldn't believe it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What Sells in the World of Children's Publishing?

That's an easy one — the books that kids actually read. has an article today called "Kids Are the Experts in Reviewing Children's Books." It reminds us that even children's-lit heavyweights have faced rejection, and that publishers can't always predict what will sell. And trust me, what will sell to a publisher's target market (and every publisher has one; that's just good business) is much higher on the agenda than what's special or unique or "good."

From my acquisitions and reviewing experience, I know firsthand that what I think is good differs from what others think is good. Good is so subjective. And as an author, I know that one publisher can hate an idea while another loves it; or an agent can think a book is so-so even as it becomes a steady seller and garners more reader fan mail than anything else I've done.

In the final analysis, it always comes down to the books children read. Not just what parents, teachers, and librarians buy for them because they like a book or think it's appropriate — but what keeps a child's interest, awakens her imagination, speaks to her real-life experience, gets her talking about reading (and sneaking extra chapters after bedtime), and inspires her to recommend that book and seek others. Kids know what they like to read. And those books become the biggest sellers, the classics. Fad and celebrity-penned books may open with strong sales, but they won't go the distance if lots of children aren't really, really reading them.

The point to this post? Oh, I don't know. How about, "Enjoy seeing real children reviewing books, courtesy of the article."

And consider my advice —
  1. Take rejection, reviews (good and bad), and shiny bookstore displays with a salt lick.
  2. Continually work on developing ideas and techniques that will help you speak to your intended audience.
  3. And — by all means — take a page from Theodore Geisel's career (that's Dr. Seuss to you, buddy) and keep traveling your own best writing path. In other words, write what feels right to you, do the best work you can, seek out publishers who produce the types of stories you're really, really writing (hmmm, think there's a connection to what kids are really, really reading?), and hope that after 27 rejections your work will make it into the hands of generations of delighted youngsters who will never get enough of your timeless books.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Plug for the Literacy Site

Have you visited the Literacy Site recently? I hadn't clicked on it for quite some time, but I "went there" today to tie up some loose ends on the holiday shopping front. I'm glad I did because I found a few "just the thing"s.

I get no benefit from plugging them, but I thought other book/education lovers might like some of the site's gift options, especially those in which you give a donation and they direct 100% of the money toward providing books for needy children, sending Afghani girls to school . . . and even heating that school for the winter. They have other options of that type, all very affordable. And they also donate books with any merchandise purchase. Have a look!

Friday, December 14, 2007

December "Hooked on Reading"

My book review column went live today. This month's picks include a duet of lovely winter-based stories; a fun, informative collection of Chinese holiday tales and traditions; a book celebrating the individual in each of us; and an evergreen novel series that's still relevant 75 years after its first title was published.

  • First Day of Winter by Denise Fleming (prereaders)
  • When Winter Comes by Nancy Van Laan (ages 4–8)
  • Moonbeams, Dumplings, and Dragon Boats by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz, and the Boston Children’s Museum (ages 4–8)
  • Unique Monique by Maria Rousaki (ages 4–8)
  • The Little House Box Set by Laura Ingalls Wilder (ages 8+)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Biz Buzz: Rowling's Handmade Book Sold for $4 Million

From today's PW Children's Bookshelf:

London auction house Sotheby's sold J. K. Rowling's handmade book The Tales of Beedle the Bard today for 1.95 million pounds (or a cool $4 million U.S.).

Wow! Of course the sale broke all sorts of records.

Rowling created 7 copies of the book after finishing her work on the Harry Potter series. She gifted 6 individuals with copies and offered 1 for auction, with proceeds earmarked to benefit her charity The Children's High Level Group.

I know one little girl who loves, loves, loves all things Potter — and who asked Santa to bring her this book for Christmas. I'm sure she'll understand, though, that Santa decided to let the buyer have it instead so children in need can live a better life. That money will do a lot of good!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New Book: The Great Chicago Fire

My new book The Great Chicago Fire was recently released by ABDO Publishing. Thought I should mention that here since I'm not updating my author site for the time being.

I finished Benjamin Franklin last December and then got right to work on this one. I really enjoyed both books, but this one was especially fun to research and write because I lived in Chicagoland for a few years and could visualize the city and its post-fire growth.

The book gives the middle-grade audience an exciting overview of the devastating 3-day conflagration — from the first smoke sighting to the peak of the deadly fire to the lasting controversy about how it started (and who was to blame). Also included are survival stories, a look at how the city literally rose up from the ashes, and fascinating period images, such as maps and artworks depicting the fire and the city's response to it.

What I'm Reading

On my desk:
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (new picture book)
No Applause—Just Throw Money
by Trav S. D.
And more! (think textbooks, articles, picture books)

Next to my favorite reading chair:
My Antonia by Willa Cather*
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

On the nightstand:
Leonard Maltin's 1997 Movie Guide
and Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide (What!)

On deck (ready when I am—I'm looking forward to them):
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
by Tom Brokaw
Harry Potter Books 4, 5, 6, 7
The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester
Pop Art Painter by Susan Goldman Rubin
Summer Crossing by Truman Capote
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

*My main selection at the moment and my short answer to "What are you reading right now?"

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Seeing Other Platforms

I registered at WordPress and started an L. L. Owens blog there too — it's just for testing purposes, though. I didn't enable the publicizing options.

So far I like the Blogger posting interface a bit better. But that may well be because I'm used to it. Hard to tell right off the bat. I do like the WordPress option that lets you add extra tabs/pages, even in the free version. A lot. The single-page view on here drives me crazy. I know you can view each entry as a separate "page," but I want tabbed areas to make the whole thing more useful and easier to work with.

I keep going back to my original wish to keep the blog and my author site separate, but maybe that's not as necessary as I once believed. With the right setup, the blog could easily be its own section on the overall site . . .

Friday, December 07, 2007

Building the Blog

While printing what seemed like a tree's worth of documents to digest over the weekend, I messed around with the blog this afternoon. I've said this before, I think, but MAN it takes (me) good chunks of time just to figure out what all I can do at the most basic blogging level. It's not that I expect whatever features I think of to easily materialize within two or three clicks. It's just that I want it to be that way.

I looked more closely at what FeedBurner does — and can do — for me; then through that account I added a headline animator and an email subscription form. Changes I'd like to make very soon include replacing the list of writerly books with a relevant blogroll and finding a different template. I'll tackle larger issues after those.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

End-of-Year Ramp-Up

Here I sit, in the peaceful glow of my Christmas tree (with some mellow B. B. King holiday tunes playing in the background), checking and re-checking my schedule and task list for the final weeks of 2007. During my short time back to work after an unexpected break, I've managed to sign up for a boatload of toil that's blowing my plans for a slower-paced, recovery-focused year's end. I'm not complaining, though. The financial boost will be worth any December frenzy I've created for myself. And it feels good to fully re-engage the old noggin.

My complete re-entry into the land of the active began last Saturday when I audited the Editorial Freelancers Association book proposal workshop. It was the first time I'd spent more than an hour or two away from home (wearing non-elastic-waisted pants! and cute street shoes!) in 6 weeks. I went partly to represent EFA/assess the day's success and partly to reintroduce myself to normal activity before a busy week. I'm feeling strong and doing great, but I still get sore and definitely experience sensory overload out in the world. Six weeks is a long time to be at home, mostly still, and fairly quiet.

Anyhoo, the workshop went well. I enjoyed being out and being there. The basic content wasn't new for me, but I didn't expect it to be (it definitely did cover the info bases for its intended audience very well). I still got a lot out of it, though. Namely, a full page of strategy notes for a pet personal project I focused on in relation to the course content. My ideas sprang directly from the instructors' many BTDT insights into the adult nonfiction industry (which, see my blog description, is not my niche). Inspiration is always great!

I think I'm ready to face the rest of the workweek now. And, well, I'm sure that the rest of the work year will take care of itself.

Author Harlan Ellison Says, "Pay the Writer!"

I first saw this on the Renegade Writer blog. Had to add it to mine, too.

My thoughts on those who ask writers to give them free work — and the many, many writers who supply it — mirror Mr. Ellison's. Hope you enjoy the clip as much as I do! (You'll want to use earphones at your workplace; if you're at home, send any young ears to another room.)