Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not Published Yet? Cheerios Contest!

Are you a children's writer but yet to see your work in print? The Cheerios Contest could be your opportunity to see your picture book published!

The entry Deadline is July 15th for a picture book story. The grand prize is $5000! The runner up prizes---$1000

Writers who have never been paid for their writing are allowed to enter. Only writers from one of the 50 states (or DC) can apply, and must be 18 or older.

Because I'm published, I can't enter---but I'll bet someone reading this, CAN!

For all the details go to

Hmmm. Makes me want to have a bowl of Cheerios (o;

Monday, March 15, 2010

Seven Easy Ways to Keep Dialogue Sharp By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

1. Keep it simple. "He said" and "She said" will usually do. Your reader is trained to accept this repetition.

2. Forget you ever heard of strong verbs. Skip the "He yelped" and the "She sighed." They slow your dialogue down. If you feel need them, look at the words,the actual dialogue your character used when he was yelping. Maybe it doesn’t reflect the way someone would sound if he yelped. Maybe if you strengthen the dialogue, you can ditch the overblown tag.

3. When you can, reveal who is saying something by the voice or tone of the dialogue. That way you may be able to skip tags occasionally, especially when you have only two people speaking to one another. Your dialogue will ring truer, too.

4. Avoid having characters use other characters’ names. In real life, we don’t use people’s names in our speech much. We tend to reserve using names for when we’re angry or disapproving or we just met in a room full of people and we’re practicing out social skills. Having a character direct her speech to one character or another by using her name is a lazy writer’s way of directing dialogue and it will annoy the reader. When a reader is annoyed, she will not be immersed in the story you are trying to tell.

5. Avoid putting internal dialogue in italics. Trust your reader. She will know who is thinking the words from the point of view of the narrative.

6. Be cautious about using dialogue to tell something that should be shown. It doesn’t help much to transfer telling from the narrator to the dialogue. It just makes the character who is speaking sound long winded. Putting quotation marks around exposition won’t draw the reader into the scene or involve him more than if you’d left it part of the narrative.

7. And magic number seven is, don’t break up dialogue sequences with long or overly frequent blocks of narrative. One of dialogue’s greatest advantages is that it moves a story along. If a writer inserts too much stage direction, it will lose the forward motion and any tension it is building.

For more on writing dialogue check out Tom Chiarella’s Writing Dialogue (Writers’ Digest) and for more on editing in general--from editing query letters to turning unattractive adverbs into metaphoric gold--find The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success on Amazon.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writer's Program. The first book in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books, The Frugal Book Promoter, won USA Book News'Best Professional Book Award and Book Publicists of Southern California's Irwin Award. The second, The Frugal Editor, was just released and includes many editing tips on dialogue, the use of quotation marks and more. Learn more at

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

So, You Think You Need an Illustrator?

I love to draw. LOVE it! It’s therapeutic for me. There's a box full of paintings, sketches, doodles, and pastel drawings sitting in my cedar chest to prove it. And that’s where they’ll stay. In my cedar chest. You will never see my art in a picture book or on the cover of a children’s magazine. Why? Because it’s obvious that I’m NOT a professional illustrator! I’m self-taught and not good enough for today’s publishing standards. I’ve had no formal training and would never send pages of my artwork along with my manuscript submissions. That doesn’t bother me at all.

Want to know how to make an editor REALLY MAD? Ignore their Illustrator guidelines that say, “Send brochures, resumes, samples, tearsheets, promo sheet, or slides.” That means they are speaking to professional illustrators. If you are not a professional and you send your art anyway, it’s no different than completely disregarding the writer’s guidelines. You’re basically telling the publisher they don’t know what they’re talking about. That can be the kiss of death for your manuscript.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received manuscripts for critique with artwork included. Rarely were the authors or their illustrator friends or relatives true professionals. Eraser marks. Whiteout. Crayon shavings. Smudges. Disproportionate, stiff characters. No movement. No life. Not professional. Sort of like MY drawings!

A few of the drawings I’ve seen over the past few years were average to good---but not good enough for the high standards expected by book publishers. It’s always difficult for me to break the news to the writer/artist in my manuscript critique. It’s especially tough when the writer says something like this in the cover letter:

“These fantastic illustrations for my book were drawn by my 10 year old!” Okay, they were fantastic for a ten-year old! In fact, they will likely impress anyone looking at the refrigerator door, or even framed on a family room wall. They won’t impress a publishing house. The bar is set HIGH. The ten-year old will have his or her heart broken after I give the bad news to the writer-mom who sent them in. Please don't do that to a child! You are setting them up for great disappointment. Even tears )o;

If you are not a professional illustrator but insist that your art is good enough, here’s a suggestion---ask a professional illustrator at a writers conference to give you an honest evaluation. Don’t forget to look at all the portfolios on the table. How do your illustrations stack up? Be honest. Personally, I don't need to do this with my artwork because I'd embarrass myself. I KNOW my stuff isn't up to speed!

Here’s another suggestion. Compare your illustrations with at least 25 children’s books. How does your art compare? Again, be brutally honest. Unless you are a true professional your art will probably fall short.

I have a friend in our critique group who IS a true professional illustrator! Veronica Walsh illustrated a WONDERFUL picture book, Too Many Visitors for One Little House, by Susan Chodakiewitz. Look at the facial expressions of the characters! Drink in the color, the life, the movement, the emotions. To view samples of Veronica's artwork go to

In my humble opinion, 99% of the time your publisher knows just the artist to make your book come alive!

When it comes to picture books, illustrations make half the book.

So, if your best friend, Aunt Beatrice, your child (whose heart WILL be broken), or your spouse want to illustrate your book, please just say "No," but say it gently. Tell them it's nothing personal. It's just the way it is in publishing, and YOU as the writer need to follow the guidelines.