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How to Build a Good Mystery Part 1 | Writing for Children 096

TO BUILD A GOOD MYSTERY JUST ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION This episode is based on a post from Jan Fields, a ICL regular contributor. The experiences I refer to are hers, not mine. At this point, Jan has sold well over two dozen mystery novels for adults and has written and sold mysteries for children, both as short stories and chapter books. In fact, many of her adventure stories have a strong mystery structure along with the adventure. This is because mysteries are puzzling and kids love...


Why Entering Contests Helps YOU | Writing for Children 095

INTERVIEW WITH A CONTEST JUDGE In this episode I interview frequent ICL contest judge and longtime instructor Nancy Coffelt. As well as being a multi-published picture book author and illustrator, Nancy is a fine artist and has been showing in galleries across the country since 1984. Her work is included in personal, public and corporate collections around the world. She works in both 2D and 3D, primarily in oil pastel and in paper mosaic. Animals are her main subject matter and Nancy...


Basic Story Elements | Writing for Children 094

CHARACTER, SETTING, AND THEME Today, we’re going to discuss three basic story elements: characters, setting, and theme. Characters, of course, are the lifeblood of fiction, whether they be human or animal. Setting denotes a story’s time and place (sometimes including its weather). There’s the point of the story—its main idea or theme. Listen to the full episode as we go more in-depth with each of these and how to use each element in the appropriate way for the type of story you are...


What is Story Form? | Writing for Children 093

UNDERSTANDING THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF STORY STRUCTURE Inspired by our course, Writing for Children and Teens, we discuss: • A story beginning establishes a main character and a basic situation. • The middle develops a problem or difficulty and builds to a climax, which is then resolved. • The ending concludes the story’s events. • This structure applies equally to a two-page tale for small children and to a 400-page adult novel. • The story problem may not take the form of an urgent...


Get Children to Read Your Book | Writing for Children 092

ENGAGE THE READER BEYOND THE FIRST PARAGRAPH Snagging the attention of a reader so that he or she will sit down with your short story or book can be challenging. We all know that short story illustrations and book covers play a part in grabbing reader attention. This part is often out of the author's hands. The same is true with things like the back of the book blurb. Grabbing that first interest is often a team effort, which is great. We can use all the help we can get. But once the...


What are the Rules? | Writing for Children 091

WHAT ARE THE RULES? If you've tried writing fantasy in any form—picture books, magazine story, chapter book, or novel—you know that a key element of fantasy is that things happen in the story that cannot happen in real life. Thus, you are deciding that your story will violate natural universal laws in some way. Some stories only slip outside the real world a little, and some create a totally extreme world that has little "normal" in it. But all stories abide by rules—you just get to...


Talking Story Development with Chris Tebbetts | Writing for Children 090

STORY DEVELOPMENT In this episode, I interview author Chris Tebbetts. Chris is the author and co-author of many books for young readers. Titles include the #1 New York Times bestselling MIDDLE SCHOOL series, as well as PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO, with James Patterson and illustrator Laura Park; the New York Times bestselling STRANDED series with Jeff Probst. He has lectured and led writing workshops for kids and adults at schools, libraries, and conferences around the country, including the...


Hello, Editor? Here's a Submission. | Writing for Children 089

HOW TO SUBMIT TO AN EDITOR When writers don't know how to submit to an editor it's often because they don't think like editors. Writers think about their reasons for writing something. At the submission point, editors do not care what your reason for writing something was. They don't care that you want to encourage children to obey their parents. They don't care that you want to share with kids the joys of playing outside. They don't care what motivated you to write the thing. At some...


How to Choose Your Educational Writing Sample | Writing for Children 088

THE SECRETS TO SAMPLES Many who write for educational publishers are very familiar with samples. These are the bits of writing publishers use to judge whether you're a writer who can do the job for them. If you've never handled writing samples, they can be scary. How do you know if the sample you're sending will wow the publisher? What about reading levels? The questions and fears can build to the point that you let a great potential opportunity pass simply because you were too scared to...


Making Your Submissions Plan | Writing for Children 087

WHAT'S YOUR PLAN? There is nothing like the thrill of finishing a story or article or book. You're worked hard on it, you know it's the best you can do, and you're probably still a little in love with it. Now all you have to do is send it out. So you scramble for an agent or market. You discover it's harder than you thought to find a place that really fits with what you've written, and that's discouraging. But you pick somewhere. It fits okay. You send it out. And then you either haunt...


Top 3 Submission Tips

TOP 3 SUBMISSION TIPS In this episode, I interview author and 12 x 12 founder Julie Hedlund. Along with Emma Walton Hamilton, Julie co-created the Complete Guide to Picture Book Submissions. With experience on both sides of the submissions desk, they know what makes a query stand out—in any genre. Julie Hedlund is an award-winning picture book author, 21st century publishing expert and founder of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. Since 2012, 12 x 12 has encouraged thousands of...


When You Have No Ideas | Writing for Children 085

WHEN THE IDEAS WON'T COME One of the questions writers tend to be asked a lot is "where do you get your ideas?" Of course, two other questions are "can you read something for me?" and "can you pass this on to your publisher/ agent?" but let's stick with the question of ideas. Ideas are both the most valuable and the least valuable thing a writer can have. They are valuable because an idea is the seed from which a story grows. They are the least valuable because no one is paying you just...


Idea Theft | Writing for Children 084

WILL SOMEONE STEAL YOUR IDEA? Writers sometimes worry that someone will steal their idea. It's rare. If a publisher sees an idea that suits their publishing line and is executed really well, it's improbable they do anything but buy it. But if they see an idea with amazing potential that isn't realized in the story––well, it is possible to be unethical and go looking for an author who can make that idea blossom. Still, one of the best ways to protect your idea from creative theft is to...


Idea Mining | Writing for Children 083

WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM? It is a common question that is difficult to answer. Ideas are elusive and their sources hard to pin down. In her guidebook Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft, Jane Yolen, prolific author of more than 300 books for children and young adults, reflects, “How much easier it would be if there were some central warehouse where ideas were stored, waiting to be claimed.” Alas, this is not the case. Yolen offers the image of writers as idea archeologists....


700,000 Copies and Six Figures Later ...

FROM SELF-PUBLISHED TO PUBLISHER In this episode, I interview bestselling, self-published children's book author and publisher Maria Dismondy. Award-winning author and founder of the publishing company, Cardinal Rule Press, Maria Dismondy inspires and educates others in the book industry. Maria’s background in early education and research enables her to touch lives the world over while touring as a public speaker in schools, community forums and at national conferences. Maria also...


How to Make it a Happy New Year | Writing for Children 081

HAPPY NEW YEAR: NOW WHAT? The New Year is galloping toward us at an alarming rate. Are we ready for new challenges and the work to meet them? For many of us, preparing for the New Year means setting goals. Now, goal setting can get us in trouble as we either set unrealistic goals, goals dependent on the behavior of people and factors outside our control, and goals that reflect what we think we ought to do rather than things we are actually motivated to accomplish. This year, I've decided...


Be Kind When You Rewind | Writing for Children 080

A KIND ASSESSMENT OF YOUR YEAR (AKA DO NOT USE YOUR PAST YEAR TO BEAT YOURSELF UP) For many of us, as the end of the year creeps closer, so does the inevitable assessment. • How did I do at meeting my goals? • Where did I fall short? • Why did I fall short? And those are perfectly reasonable questions as long as they’re not used as a stick with which to beat ourselves up. For many of us, the yearly assessment looked good for the first month or so. And then we began to slide farther...


Writer's Hibernation | Writing for Children Podcast 079

ARE YOU FEELING WRITER'S HIBERNATION? It's been my experience that one of two things happen this time of year. Editors work in a white-hot frenzy to clear out all submissions before holiday break (so things you've been waiting to hear back about forever may suddenly pop up with responses) or editors become covered over with all the “stuff" that comes around this time of year and anything you submit basically gets an extra month or two added to the response time. So, I said all that to...


How to Know Where You Can Get Published Part 2 | Writing for Children 078

WHO'S ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS? There's is a lot of research that goes into figuring out which publishers and agents to submit to when your manuscript is ready. In this episode, Katie interviews Marni McNiff, the editor of the ICL Market Guides. The Book Market Guide for Children's Writers and the Magazine Market Guide for Children's Writers comes out each year with updated information and new listings for publishers and agents. Marni and her team have done the legwork to help you find the...


Thankful | Writing for Children 077

I'M GRATEFUL FOR WRITING Writing for a living can be scary, frustrating, exhausting, and just plain hard. And things like rejection or lack of support from the people around us can cause us to lose sight of all the wonderful things about writing. So, since Thanksgiving is a great time for meditating on good things: here are some of the things I'm most grateful for relating to writing. I'M THANKFUL FOR READERS Without readers, writing can still be a wonderful pastime. It can help you...


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