Monday, October 26, 2009

Make Every Word Count! by Marjorie Flathers

Marjorie Flathers is an accomplished author, and I'm proud to call her my friend. It is a delight to know Marjorie and a privilege to learn from her expertise as a writer!

This knowledgeable free-lance writer has been published for over 27 years! Marjorie's work has appeared in print well over 300 times in a variety of magazines, newspapers, e-zines, and anthologies for writers and knitters. This writing pro has a degree in English, and is a source of inspiration as well as knowledge about the world of publishing. She has graciously permitted me to present another helpful post for those of us who are just a bit too wordy! If you want to make every word count---pay close attention!

Here's Marjorie:
Years ago, when I was just beginning my writing career, I heard the advice, “Make Every Word Count.” I tried to put this tip into practice, with varying degrees of success. But, about 8 years ago, when I began writing short, short (300 words!) stories for the “Kids’ Reading Room” page of the Los Angeles Times, I knew it was truly time to make these words of wisdom work. In other words, this was when push came to shove!

At first, I didn’t think I could write a complete story (beginning, middle and end) with such a limited word length. I was already writing the longer (1500 words) 5-part serialized stories for that page. This was my specialty, I thought. But then the Kids’ Page editor called me and said she desperately needed stories for the Sunday page (where these shorter ones were featured) because “writers don’t want to tackle them.” Would I? Well, what could I say but “Yes!” And, I soon learned that the skills I was developing writing these stories would also apply to longer stories for children, for adults, and even for non-fiction.

Here, in brief, is how I approach what sometimes seems a daunting task.

To begin, I write a rough draft, not worrying about word length. I just get everything down that I want to say, remembering that any story or article is basically opening with “A” and closing with “C.” However you decide to get from “A” to “C” is “B.” This formula works with just about any manuscript.

Then, I ruthlessly cut out adverbs and adjectives. These are weak words that we (I) tend to use when we don’t believe our writing is strong enough. We want to make sure the reader “gets it.” The more we eliminate these words, the more we are forced to make the nouns and verbs work harder.

Next, depending on the word length I’m working with, I substitute dialog for narrative. Some narrative is, of course, necessary, but most readers do prefer dialog, and it makes a story come alive.

I also make sure I haven’t said the same thing more than once. This is an easy trap to fall into, at least for me, but once is enough! At this point, I need to put the work aside for a day or more, come back to it with fresh eyes, and once again, make sure I’m not relying on over-explaining instead of using forceful, active words.

Next, I re-work the opening to make sure it’s powerful, attention-getting, and sets up the rest of the story or article. This is where words are crucial. One carefully-chosen word can make all the difference.

Now it’s time for the Final Cut. Once again, I set the story aside for a few days or even a week. (You can see deadlines need to be planned for accordingly, but it’s most important not to skip this last step!) When I come back to my manuscript, I read it with fresh eyes, as someone reading it for the first time. I make sure it holds together and that every word pulls its own weight.

The great Richard Peck once remarked that when we don’t “write tight,” when we over-explain, we are, in fact, “begging” the reader to understand what we are saying. It’s only when we make every single word pull its own weight that we gain the confidence to know the reader will understand. Our writing will be compelling and when it comes to writing, less is definitely more!

This approach works for me, as (among other acceptances) I have just submitted my 20th story to the L.A. Times! Thanks to Sherri for asking me to share these tips with all of you, her readers.

c October 2009 Marjorie Flathers

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Meet Author Nancy I. Sanders!

Meet award winning author (and my dear friend) Nancy I. Sanders! This amazing author of over 75 books is on her Virtual Book Tour and she's stopped at Sherri Tales! Nancy's blog tour is reaching across the country, teaching and inspiring writers all along the way! On October the 3rd Nancy was a featured speaker at the SCBWI Editors Day at the Santa Ana Zoo. Writers were so eager to read about Nancy's successful strategies that ANY writer can use---she sold out of her books! Don't worry, you can get one on!

Are you ready for some exciting news? Nancy teaches you how to SIGN A CONTRACT without first writing the book. That's right. That's exactly what many writers do---but Nancy is the FIRST author to write a book about how to do that! Nancy and I signed contracts as coauthors for seven books BEFORE writing them---and YOU can too! Are you excited yet?

After reading this great interview, you'll want to pick up her one-of-a-kind book that even editors are talking about:

Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children's books,
Get Them Published,
and Build a Successful Writing Career!

by Nancy I. Sanders

Q: Nancy, what kind of encouraging comments or opinions have you received from editors about your thinking outside-of-the-box approach?

A: I’ve learned that there are two main types of editors: 1) Editors who are used to acquiring a completed manuscript and 2) Editors who are used to acquiring proposals and offering a contract before the manuscript is written. Usually, the editors who are used to acquiring a completed manuscript require agented submissions only. Or, they might require a completed picture book manuscript submission but will accept a proposal and offer a contract for a middle grade or young adult novel.

Most of the editors I work with are the ones who acquire proposals and offer contracts to write the book before it is actually written. These editors work in a full range of genre from picture books, to nonfiction books for kids, to middle grade novels, to educational books for teachers. It’s funny, but these editors don’t think my approach is outside-of-the-box. That’s the way they work and they usually work with career writers who are familiar with this procedure. They don’t want to acquire a manuscript that’s already written because they want to give their input from the outline on up to the finished project. They require this input so they want to offer a contract based on an author’s pitch or proposal for the projected manuscript.

I’ve learned to look for publishers who accept queries. If I’m not sure, I’ll query them first to check. If they respond and say that they require the completed manuscript first, I just move on. I keep looking for a publisher until I find one that accepts proposals. I want to earn income while I’m writing so I want to have that contract signed before I start to write. Of course, if I want to spend time writing a completed picture book or middle grade novel for personal fulfillment, then I go ahead and do that. Those are the manuscripts that I send out to the editors who require a completed manuscript up front.

Q: You have a helpful section in your book about writing and time management. What specific advice for writing time management would you give to moms of children still living at home? Many are talented, motivated writers, but find it hard to schedule writing time in their busy and often exhausting day.

A: I started writing when our second son was born, so I have a heart for busy moms with children at home. And yes, I offer a very detailed section on time management in my new book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. In this section I tell how writers can start to build their career if they even just have one hour each day that they can sit down and write.

The exciting thing about being a mom with little ones at home is that they are actually in the best position to be a children’s writer! You see, even though technically I’m writing for 6-8 hours a day, I’m not sitting down at the computer for those many hours straight! I’m sitting on the couch reading current picture books for research. I’m washing the dishes while I brainstorm the next scene in my middle grade novel. I’m making a craft for my next nonfiction book for kids.

Moms with kids at home are in a fantastic position to start building a career as a children’s writer. If you’re a mom with your precious little ones in tow, here are some ways you can manage your time:

* Research: Grab the kids and head for your local library. Sit down with your kids and read them every book you can find on the topic you’re writing about. Then grab a huge stack to take home. Be sure to lug home more books than your library card allows ‘cause you’re lucky! You have extra library card carriers standing with you in line! Your kids!! Fill tote bags to overflowing and head back home where you can read, read, read your way through your research books while snuggled up with your toddlers on your couch at home.

* Study your craft: Watch your kid’s favorite videos over and over again sitting next to your children with pen and paper in hand. One time, study plot development. The next time study character development. The next time take notes on story arc, dialog, and setting. Take lots of notes and write down actual samples so you can learn from the pros.

* Lean How to Market Your Books: Take your kids to storytime, children’s shows, or go to school assemblies. Learn how to do school visits and author presentations. When you write a proposal for a new book, tell the editor you’ve got lots of ideas to get out there and help market your book.

* Setting: Go on a hike with your kids and hold brainstorming sessions for the manuscript you’re writing. Practice describing your surroundings together for words and ideas to develop your setting. Ask your kids to use words to describe the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of their world around them. Use these to jumpstart the setting in your manuscript.

* Dialogue: Invite your kids friends over for a play date. Listen in as they play together, eat snacks together, or even squabble together. Write down actual snippets of their dialogue. Your own skills at writing dialog will improve.

* Test your material: Want to give your manuscript a test? Test it out on your kids. Make a craft with them for a children’s magazine to see if it’s age appropriate and interesting enough to hold their attention. Read your story aloud to them and ask what parts they liked the most. Let them vote on three different titles or two different endings to your story.

The key is to develop the heart of a writer. Learn to look at everything through the eyes of a writer. Bond with your children during this precious and fleeting time of life and maximize the opportunity to grow as a writer. And then, during naptime or half an hour before they get up or after they go to bed, grab time at the computer and write that next scene in your manuscript. If you do, you’ll be all ready for tomorrow when you can get new material with your kids for the next part of your manuscript.

Thanks, Nancy! Great information!

Visit Nancy on her blog tour at:

She would love to read your comments!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Nancy Sanders Blog Tour Stopping Here on October 12th!

Meet award winning author (and my dear friend) Nancy I. Sanders! This amazing author of over 75 books is on her Virtual Book Tour, teaching and inspiring writers all along the way! Follow Nancy as she "travels" from blog to blog, answering questions about her newest book---

Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children's Books, Get Them Published,

and Build a Successful Writing Career.

I've had the privelege of co-authoring seven Scholastic books with Nancy! (I'm sorry, I just can't keep that to myself!) Nancy's book is unlike anything you've ever read on how to get your books published and actually build a writing career.

Nancy stops HERE on her Virtual Blog Tour Monday, October 12th!

Don't miss this exciting and informative interview.

Meanwhile, join Nancy's Virtual Book Tour every day for something new, fun and exciting, from

Monday, October 5th through Friday, October 16th by visiting

See you back here at Sherri Tales on the 12th for an inspiring interview!

Sheryl (o;

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Check It Off! Writing a Magazine Story for Children

Personally, I LOVE writing for children's magazines! It has taught me to write "tight". Kids can't wait for the next issue to arrive in their mailbox, and some children who won't read books WILL read magazines. What an opportunity we have to introduce kids to the world around them, and turn them into readers! If you're just beginning your journey writing for children's magazines, check out htis list of some of the basic elements needed for writing a magazine story.

  • MAIN CHARACTER: Will your readers LIKE the main character? Is he or she too “perfect” or did you give your protagonist a “wart” (flaw)? Is your character believable to children?
  • THEME: The theme is the main idea or message developed in your story. Is your theme universal and age appropriate? Is your story too preachy? Does the plot (what happens in the story) follow the thread of your theme from beginning to end? Did you avoid going off on “rabbit trails” (another theme or two)? It’s important to stick with only ONE theme all the way through or you will confuse the young reader with mixed messages.
  • CONFLICT: Is your character’s conflict, challenge, or dilemma age appropriate? Is it resolved by the protagonist without an adult taking over and "fixing" everything?
  • SHOW DON’T TELL: Are you “showing” instead of "telling," through dialog and the actions and reactions of the characters? There are very few illustrations in a magazine story. Your words must create “illustrations” in the readers mind.
  • STORY STRUCTURE: Does your story have a clear beginning, middle and end? Do you know the role of each part? Check these out:
Beginning: Is the main character’s conflict or challenge introduced within the first
few paragraphs to “hook” the reader?

Middle: Does the problem intensify and build in a series of several episodes (usually
three), each one more difficult than the the last?

Ending: Is the problem resolved in a way that will not disappoint the reader? Is the ending satisfying? Has the character grown in some way or had a “come to
realize” moment?

  • FACT CHECK: Are your facts correct for fiction and non-fiction? Kids are smart! They'll catch wrong information about animals, the environment, and lots more. So will editors!
  • FINAL MANUSCRIPT: Did you check the spelling and grammar? Is your story presented in proper manuscript format? Did you follow the magazine publisher’s guidelines and stay within the word count? If they accept simultaneous submissions and you’re sending it to several publishers, did you mention that at the end of your cover letter?
Read stacks of your favorite children’s magazines and familiarize yourself with the kinds of stories, rebuses, poems, and non-fiction they like to publish. Hopefully, what you write will be a perfect fit for many magazines. Don't forget your checklist. Happy writing!
Copyright 2008 Sheryl Ann Crawford