Magic Monday & WFMAD 21

My weekend was a quick research trip, lots of library time, weeding the garden when the rain stopped, and – last night while hanging out with the family – cracking open dried cherry pits so the meat inside the pit could be added to the dark cherry liqueur I am brewing up for Christmas time.

This dog was the funniest thing I saw while researching.

I think his owner was reenacting a soldier from the British 24th Regiment of Foot. Which means the dog belongs to the 24th Regiment of Paw, of course.

WFMAD Day 21

The headshrinkers say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. If you have written every day for the last 21 days, then congratulations. Poof! You made it. You have a new writing habit! Like all habits, this one needs constant watering and attention, so please remember to write tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that, etc., etc.

If you haven’t been able to write for 21 days in a row, write down the reasons why – what interfered? I know for a lot of you the answer is “vacation.” Nothing wrong with that. But if you couldn’t make the time to write when your time was truly your own, what’s it going to be like when you’re back in your work routine?

I’m not scolding here. This is all about helping you reprioritize a little so you can make the time to follow your writing dream. We have ten days left in the Challenge. Imagine that from now until the end of the month, each one of your waking hours represents $1,000. Think of your choices about spending your time as money-spending choices. Be mindful where you spend your everything.

Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes.

Today’s mindset: fresh-start

Today’s prompt: if you fall off a horse, you have to get back on again or else, what’s the point? Start fresh today by choosing a different place to write in. Putting your body in a different space to write can help your mind be open to new ideas and perspectives.

Today I’d like you to write about your writing dream – what are you trying to accomplish? Be specific and detailed. If you are a calender-based person, what do you want to accomplish by January 1st? If you are a season-based person (like me), what do you want to have done by the Winter Solstice (December 21st)?


More Getting Published Stories & WFMAD Day 20

It finally rained last night and I slept in. I feel like declaring today to be a national holiday.

Another faithful reader of the blog posed a few publication questions yesterday: Have you ever spent time (be it weeks, or months) on a story proposal to the publisher and they (for whatever reason) turned it down?

If so, how did you feel about it having put all that time and effort into it and then have it get slapped down?

Or….do you suggest ideas that may interest you and submit it to them first so that you don’t waste any time on it?

Funny you should ask, because yes, I’ve gone through that. I am one of those folks who has acres of rejection letters from just about every publisher in America. Nobody likes rejection.

When I was breaking into this field, I must have proposed at least fifty different non-fiction book ideas to various and sundry publishers. With the crystal-clear glasses of hindsight, I can see now that most of them were bad ideas. Some of them were good ideas, but I either a) did a poor job explaining how the book would be structured or b) because I was still a pre-published author, no one was going to take a chance on me, so I should have written the whole thing without a contract and then tried to sell it.

Let me tell you the story behind INDEPENDENT DAMES. It started in the mid-1990s. I wanted to write a book that would highlight the Revolutionary War exploits of six unknown heroines, and I wanted the book to put the roles of women and girls in the Revolution in context of the larger war and society.

Nobody wanted the book. They all sent me form rejections. I had done a fair amount of research and had enormous files stuffed with information, but I realized the idea wasn’t going anywhere, so I packed them away in my drawer.

Over the next five years, I had a number of picture books and novels come out. At Simon & Schuster, I published FEVER 1793 and the editors there knew loved American History. They also knew (because of my earlier picture book, TURKEY POX (now out of print)) that I loved Thanksgiving. One of the editors suggested I investigate the exploits of Sarah Josepha Hale. There was no promise, no contract. I researched and wrote and researched and wrote and sold THANK YOU, SARAH to those editors a couple years later.

SARAH (illustrated by Matt Faulkner) turned out so well, the editors asked if I had another historical subject I’d like to pursue with the same illustrator and format. I brought up the idea about women in the American Revolution, thinking about that treasure chest laying in my file cabinet. The editor liked the concept, but encouraged me to go beyond six women, far beyond. I went home and did oodles more research and wound up with eighty-nine women and girls. I put together a giant proposal, including biographical information on each woman, sent it in and was offered a contract.

Which is a long story. I guess the moral is, don’t throw out your old files and keep moving forward.

Note for next week: Colleen at Chasing Ray has suggested we use this week to discuss some of the issues that have been brewing in the kidlitosphere. Are you interested?

WFMAD Day 20

Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes. Then take a nap.

Today’s mindset: adapting to overcome.

Today’s prompt: This combines observation with perspective.

1. Describe what your house or backyard looks/feels/smells like to a four-year-old. Don’t write more than four paragraphs.

2. Now describe the same place from the Point Of View of a fourteen-year-old.

3. Now describe the same place from the POV of an eighty-year-old.


More Financial Truth and WFMAD Day 19

Yesterday post about the financial realities of writing provoked a lot of comment. Has SCBWI ever done a workshop about this? It’s the kind of practical nuts-and-bolts stuff people should know, IMHO.

In response to the post, a Constant Reader on MySpace posed this question: When you go to conferences- like the ALA and such- do you pay your own way and use that as business expenses come tax-time or does your publisher/etc ever pay for it (like if you were the one that won the Newbery that year)? Do groups ever pay you to come, like if you are speaking at an event?”

These days (I’ve been writing for 16 years and have published 6 picture books, 6 novels, and a 12-book series) the publishers pay my way to big conferences such as American Library Association, International Reading Association, and the National Council of Teachers of English. But not every year. They pick and choose from their authors depended on if that person has a new book out, and the distance (= cost!) of getting said author to the event.

We are not paid for our time or for presenting at these big events. On my recent ALA trip, I was gone from home for five days. Two of those days were so jam-packed with book-and-librarian stuff I was only able to sneak in an hour of work. The other days I was able to work on the new book a fair amount. (That’s why I didn’t go play at Disneyland.) I have gotten much better at working on planes and in airports, too.

If you like speaking in public and are good at it, you can ask to present at state and regional conferences of librarians and teachers, and, of course, you can visit schools. If you are just starting out, you’ll probably have to pay your own expenses, and they won’t pay you a speaking fee. If you’re a good speaker and your reputation grows, you’ll gradually be offered an honorarium, and sometimes they’ll pay your expenses. Legitimate business expenses associated with this kind of travel are tax-deductible, but please, please consult with a tax professional about this.

In addition to conferences, I used to spend 60 – 100 days a year visiting schools. That’s how I paid my bills. It was fun and I loved it, but it wicked ate into writing time. (I’m on a hiatus from school visits right now – I promised my publishers I’d focus on writing for a while.) I always arranged my own travel, but a lot of authors rely on people like Catherine Balkin to set up their appearances and coordinate travel details.

What other facts of the writing life do you want to know?

WFMAD Day 19!

Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes. Try to avoid melting.

Today’s mindset: humid

Today’s prompt: If you’re going to do this prompt, don’t scroll down to Part Two until you’ve completed Part One.

1. Write a list of five objects between the size of a hardback book and a toaster oven. Describe each item in glorious, precise detail.

scroll down for Part Two…

keep scrolling….

almost there…..

2. Imagine you’re on a vacation on a remote island; wo weeks and no electricity. You do have ample food and clean water, and a safe shelter, and you are fairly comfortable, but there are no stores around. You open your suitcase and instead of the clothes you packed, you find your 5 objects sitting there.

Write about what you’re going to do with them.


Cold Hard Facts About the Writing Life & WFMAD Day 18

This question came into my Facebook page earlier in the week: I am sure you are asked this question constantly, but do you have any advice for aspiring authors? i am so passionate about writing, i read often, and i hope to publish a novel one day and share my writing with others. it’s funny, i feel like saying i write constantly, because i always have ideas and stories in my head, but life is so busy that i seldom find time to write it all down! any suggestions would be very much appreciated! =]

Writers get this question a lot. It is second only to “Where do you get your ideas?”

I’m going to start my answer by posing a question: how far do you want to go with your writing?

It’s OK to recognize that you enjoy writing, that it’s important to you, and that you want to get better, but also knowing, deep down, that you’ll probably never make a living at it. But if you want to make your writing your career, if you expect it to pay your bills….

Warning: cold financial realities ahead…

….There is no nice way to say this. It is almost impossible to make a living as a writer.

Please don’t throw that tomato at me. Do not harm the messenger. I’m just saying what’s true.

I think the average advance for a novel might be up to $20,000 these days. (That is an optimistic number.) Your agent gets $3,000, and then you have to throw at least 30% of what’s left at the federal government for both halves of your Social Security and your income taxes, more if your spouse’s income or your other job boosts your tax bracket.

Let’s say it took you a year to write that novel. That means your take-home pay is around $12,5000…. for a year’s worth of work. And remember: it’s an advance against your royalties. Your book has to sell around 10,000 copies to pay your publisher back. (Last number I heard was that the average middle grade or YA novel in America sells 5000 copies a year. If I have that number wrong, someone please correct me.)

Using that average, it will take two years to earn out the advance. If the publisher hasn’t taken the book out of print, you’ll start to see royalties in Year 3. (This assumes a 10% royalty, which not every one gets. If your book mostly sells in chain stores, it will probably be subject to the deep-discount clause in your contract and you see a considerably smaller royalty.)

Of course you’re not just sitting at home, waiting for the mail to arrive with your check. You’re hard at work on the next novel. Excellent! That’s the approach that works. If you can write a solid novel every one to two years, if you can live frugally, if you can balance family and life and publicity efforts with writing, after about third or fourth novel (so Year 6-8 of this effort), you should be able to quit your day job and make a living from your writing.

There is no glamor in the writing life, no fame in the mode of Hollywood. It’s a life of quiet dedication. It’s a life of writing every single day, like we’re doing here this month. You don’t have to become a monk, or live in a cave (though that helps sometimes). But you’re probably going to have to prioritize how you spend your time in order to make a good chunk of writing time available daily.

It’s almost impossible to make a living as a singer, too, and a dancer, and an artist, and a film maker. The course of a creative life is littered with lots of crappy temp jobs. It’s nice to get paid for living your dream, but the truth is, the real benefit of an artistic life comes in the joy and excitement of the work itself, the moments that no one else can experience; when you are in the story and you are surrounded by magic.

So it’s OK to decide to have a paying job (with health insurance!) and to write on the side. In fact, many successful writers do this. They are smarter than me (and they have affordable heath insurance!) and I think about joining their ranks about once a week.

If you’re still with me, and you didn’t throw a tomato at the computer, here’s my advice:

1. Learn how to live inexpensively.
2. Focus on the quality of your writing, not the publication process.
3. Turn off the television and step away from the Internet. You’ll be shocked at how much free time you have to write if you cut back on those activites.
4. Surround yourself with all kinds of art and people who enjoy it as much as you do.
5. Make time to write every single day, if only for fifteen minutes.

Any thoughts about this? Am I being overly harsh? Am I being too optimistic? What is your experience with trying to make the writing dream your reality?

Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes.

Today’s mindset: silly-creative

Today’s prompt: Today’s prompt is a riff on the Poetry Friday that so many folks enjoy. Start with an idea. I’ll give you a few to choose from in case you’re feeling stuck:
1. the love of your life
2. the battle over the whether the toilet seat should be left up or down
3. one hundred things you can put on a peanut butter sandwich
4. the presidential election
5. fish

Now take your idea and shape it into a song. Feel free to borrow a tune (I cannot teach you how to write music) and turn your lyrics into something fun and loud. The style choice is yours; opera, country, scat, Broadway musical, blues, you-name-it. Write and sing!


Nose to Grindstone & WFMAD 17

The 18th century beckons so I’ll keep this short today.

Bookavore has a wonderful interview with Cory Doctorow.

I know that Gossip Girls and their ilk upset a lot of people, but how is it that they can’t see all of the literary books in the bookstore? What do you think about this rant?

Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes.

Today’s mindset: terrified

Today’s prompt: What smell represents fear to you? Why? Write about a memory with that smell, or give a fear/smell relationship to your character and write a scene in which it comes up.